Confessions of an Urban Principal / The Opt-Out
by Frank Murphy
Installment 8 of 8
I was planning on spending the morning in classrooms. I needed a break from the CAR drama. Focusing my energies on supporting the instructional program would be good for me. I hoped to recapture a sense of normalcy. Before I was able to get going, Jordan came to see me. He was upset. A group of boys were harassing him. They were throwing things at him, calling him a girl, and making life generally miserable for him. He was having the most difficulty during art class. According to Jordon he has been suffering through this forty-five minute period for weeks. The boys were hurling taunts as well as crayons at him there. The classroom management skills of the art teacher aren’t the best.
Jordan’s other classes were okay. He said that his main teachers didn’t tolerate misbehaver in their classes. Recess, however was a problem. In the more loosely managed schoolyard the bullies were throwing footballs at him. Jordan listed for me the names of his tormentors. I suggested that he could help in the office during his art class and lunch period. The school year is almost done. Worrying about him missing one art period per week didn’t seem to be that important. Protecting him from any further abuse was my main concern. Jordan liked this idea.
I decided that I would deal with these boys one by one over the next few days. Most of them are decent people. They like most young adolescence are trying to fit in with their peer group. They need to hear a respected adult tell them that they are acting in an inappropriate manner. Each of them has a healthy sense of fairness. I planned on pointing out to them that their actions towards Jordan were cruel and injustice. The poor management skills of the art teacher also called out for my attention. He wasn’t doing a very good job of creating a safe environment for all of his students.
After I finished talking to Jordan, I spent the rest of the morning in classrooms.
Arthur’s teacher sought me out during her preparation period. She told me, “I’m a little worried about him. Arthur says that he is having problems with the other boy he shares a bedroom with in the foster home. He calls him the devil child.” I assured her that I would have a talk with Arthur.
Close to the end of the school day, I caught up with him. In our conversation he didn’t express any complaints about his foster home nor did he mention any devil child.
Afterwards I wasn’t sure what I thought. Was he keeping stuff to himself or was he playing with his teacher’s head?
The building union representative had requested that I attend an after school meeting with the staff. The teachers were worried about the impending takeover by the CAR district. The opt-out transfer requests that I had distributed to them had heightened their concerns. With the exception of two teachers, the entire staff was in attendance.
The teachers asked many questions concerning the future of our school. Many of their queries concerned me. They wanted to know if I would be the principal for the next school year.
“As far as I can tell from what Temple and the school district has said, the answer is yes. I personally plan to stay. They will have to carry me out of here, if they want me to go.”
“What is this CAR district? Can they make us work a later day and a longer year? Will we be paid more? What help will we get? Is this some kind of punishment? What is the union going to do about this? This isn’t fair.” I tried to help them make some sense of the situation. Finally one of the teachers said to the group, “Frank isn’t the person who should be talking to us about this. Where are the school district leaders? Where are the union leaders?” I didn’t know the answers to these questions.
I had expected to meet for five no more than ten minutes. It was well after four by the time this meeting concluded. In the end it was apparent to all of us that we are facing an uncertain future. I said if we hang tough together, we could get through this.
The Union staffer assigned to our school came out this morning to address the staff. By the time she was finished, she had upset everyone even more. She didn’t offer any answers. “The Union can’t respond to the plan for the CAR district since no real plan has been presented. We can’t object to something when we don’t know what it is,” she said.
Several teachers carried the opt-out transfer around with them for the rest of the day. They were unsure as to what to do. When it was time for me to hand deliver the transfer requests to the Human Resources office, only two out of our thirty-five teachers had decided to leave. The staff was going to stand with me. It might be hell next year, but it will be a hell that I share with the people I trust.