Chapter Four-Complete (Installments 1 to 9)

31 Dec

Chapter Four—December

Confessions of an Urban Principal

by Frank Murphy

Installment (1 of 9)

Today was a pleasant start to a new month.

In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours changing the hallway decorations. I put up the winter banners and windsocks. As I labored with this chore, I amused myself by conversing with the students who passed by on the way to the bathrooms or on an errand for their teacher.   The younger children were excited to witness the hanging of the holiday decorations.  One very perky second grader said, “It is the night before Christmas?”  I enjoyed the reactions of the kids.


Five new students enrolled in the school today.   The coming and goings of students never ceases.  I meet with all the parents and caretakers of the children who come into the school. On some days and weeks, these interviews can take up a good chunk of my time. I had just finished with the last parent of the day when I heard the sound of chaos at the front counter. Mr. Powel, the boyfriend of Wayne Histon’s mother, was standing at the counter. Wayne is a student in our fifth grade special education class.  Mr. Powel was shouting at Lorraine, the mother of a fourth grader named Rashid.  I focused on what Mr. Powel was saying to Rashid.

“I wish I was your uncle, then I would grab you around your scrawny little neck and choke some sense into you.  Who do you think you were talking to last night?”

Rashid’ mom jumped into the squabble.  “Don’t you try and choke my boy.”

I was trying to make sense of this argument.  Apparently last night, Mr. Powel had gone to Rashid’s house to talk to his mother because Rashid had been bullying Wayne. Rashid had gone nose to nose with the man.  He had repeatedly told Mr. Powel to “get the fuck away from his house” and to “suck his dick.”  This was a nine year old talking to a grown man.  What really set Mr. Powel off was when Rashid put his hand into his pants, like he was pulling out a gun.  From the conversation in the office I learned that Mr. Powel had grabbed Rashid after the boy did his gun pantomime.

Mr. Powel screamed, “You cried like a fucking little baby when I grabbed you.  You weren’t a bad ass then.  Who do you think you are?  Acting like you are pulling a gun on a man.  You’re a punk, a punk.  You cried like a fucking little baby.”

After he made these remarks I stepped into the fray. “That’s enough! Stop screaming at the boy.  Stop making these remarks.”  Lorraine began to yell at Mr. Powel. “Get away from my son.”

Nottingham got in front of Rashid.  I came up alongside of Lorraine and started to move her away from the man.  I told Rashid to go into my office.  He went through the door and I guided Lorraine by the arm in the same direction.  I almost had her into my office when Mr. Powel’s next remarks struck a new nerve with Lorraine.

“I don’t have to put up with that boy talking like that to me.  I don’t care who he says he will get.  His mother doesn’t do anything. I’m not afraid of his father.”

Lorraine turned and screamed, “Watch what you say, his father is dead.”

She went back to the man at the counter.  Their screaming was thunderous.  I looked at Rashid.  I told him to sit down.  I shut the door to my office, cutting Rashid off from this conflict.  I walked back to the counter and leaned right into the ear of Mr. Powel.

“Stop screaming.  You are disrespecting my house.”

I have known Mr. Powel for several years.  We weren’t strangers.  Abruptly he stopped screaming.  He looked right at me and said, “You’re right Mr. Murphy, I’m disrespecting you.  I’m sorry I don’t mean you any harm.”

I put my arm around his shoulder and started to guide him out of the office.  “Come on, brother, let’s go outside and talk.”

He didn’t move.  He had a few more barbs he wanted to throw in Lorraine’s direction.  I insisted that he leave.  Finally I managed to move him outside.  I stood on the front steps of the school talking to him for several minutes.  I understood why he was upset.  I have known Rashid long enough to know too well how much he can get under your skin.  Lorraine had even gotten tired of coming up to school to deal with his trouble.  Towards the end of third grade last year, she sent him to live with his father and grandfather.   He went to another school.

Rashid wasn’t at this other school for long before his father was shot and killed on the street in front of the school last spring.    Rashid was a witness to his father’s death.  The children of the murderer went to the same school.  Lorraine didn’t want Rashid in the same school with these children.  She brought her son back to live with her.  Lorraine did not reenroll him in our school until the end of September.

The courts had offered Rashid emergency counseling, but his mom didn’t follow through with getting him this help.  Rashid came back to us even more angry and aggressive than he was before he left.   He has been very busy in the last two months, starting fights. Rashid is well on his way to getting a serious butt whooping on the street. He seems to be following his father’s path to destruction.

I said to Mr. Powel, “I feel you, he is a boy who can pluck on your last nerve.  But think how it will look when the police show up. You’re a grown man, threatening a young boy.  His mother is crying.”

“I know, I know Mr. Murphy, but you don’t understand. When you don’t have anything but your pride, you can’t let someone take it away from you. It’s not right to have some young boy disrespect me. He acted like he was going to shoot me, Mr. Murphy.  I’m forty-two years old. I don’t got nothing but my pride.”

“I know.  He really got to you.  No man should have to listen to the way he talks.”

“You do understand.”

I put an arm around his shoulder.  “Come on, my brother, don’t jam yourself up over this boy.  Go home.  Chill out.  Don’t let him take any more from you.”

He got on his bike.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Murphy.  I didn’t mean you any disrespect.  I shouldn’t have been talking like that in the school.”

He rode off.  I went back inside to talk to Lorraine.  It was the same conversation we have had a dozen times before in the last month.  “Rashid needs help.  What are we going to do?”

Installment (2 of 9)

By all accounts in the local media, the big dogs have been snapping and snarling at each other. Mayor John Street, and the school district CEO Paul Vallas have been publicly disagreeing about the wisdom of deploying police officers to patrol within our neighborhood public schools. It is a debate that has surfaced in the wake of the Strawberry Mansion death. The mayor is opposed to placing armed police officers in our schools. Mr. Vallas wants a display of force in the presence of our unruly high school students.

In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, a front-page article is titled, “Tempers, Guns Key to Child Deaths.”  The piece was a fairly thoughtful analysis of the causes of death of 129 people under the age of eighteen. The reporter looked at all deaths in this age group since the year 2000 in the city of Philadelphia.

I found it interesting that the Inquirer reporters choose to examine the role that tempers play in deadly gunplay among children. If our societal focus is to help kids manage anger, than perhaps more attention should be given in school to early intervention and conflict resolution programs. This objective makes more sense to me as an educator than putting armed police patrols in school corridors. It would cost more than what we currently spend to provide such services in our school programs. I’m sure this funding wouldn’t be found easily, but then where would the cash for added police officers come from?  Providing more direct services to children in our urban schools is an approach that recognizes our need to allot more resources to high poverty, low performing schools in order to deal with complicated issues.

Thinking about this problem slightly distracted me as I crafted talking points for John DiPaolo.  He is meeting the District’s Chief Academic Officer (CAO) on Monday.  All of the directors of the Education Management Organizations (EMO’s) have been summoned to meet with the CAO, who is looking closely at the progress of EMO schools that have not demonstrated Adequate Yearly Progress. The CAO wants explanations. Meade is one of the schools with which he is not satisfied. I wanted to make sure that John is well prepared for this meeting.  Our Instructional Leadership Team has been carefully examining the factors that affect our student’s testing performance.  A careful review of various data sources has convinced our team that there are two main factors hindering our ability to show the required test score gains demanded by NCLB. They are our high student mobility rate (70%) and the difficulty of converting from a K-4 to K-8 school without the benefit of significant additional resources. We have gathered a variety of relevant and interesting information that supports our hypothesis. It was my job to pull it all together into a short and easy to read report.

In between frequent interruptions, I spent all day last Friday working on it.  Around ten a.m., just as I was getting into a writing groove, I received a disciplinary referral from one of my eighth grade teachers. It stated that Kendal had been threatening one of the island twins.  He loves to get on people’s nerves.  Kendal was the boy who caused Jordon’s meltdown. Now he was working another victim.  I directed Ms. Martin to prepare a suspension notice for him.  It was time that he took a day off from these attacks.  The district’s new discipline referral forms had just recently arrived.  The forms included a new rule prohibiting bullying. This was the cause I listed for his suspension.

After I handled Kendal’s paperwork to him, I went back to the report. I was struggling to sort out a tedious section that described the statistical progress of our students on the PSSA and Terra Nova test over the last three years.  Keeping my focus on this task amid the interruptions of phone calls, student squabbles, and staff drop-by conversations wasn’t easy.

Around noon, I took a break.  Isaiah another eighth grade student had asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him.   I had already read over the materials in a school application packet he had given to me earlier in the day.  He was applying for admission to a private prep school in New England.  It was a small and exclusive boarding school, which enrolled only two hundred-fifty students in grades nine to twelve.  The school brochure, described a very upper crust boarding school.  Isaiah’s father’s boss was an alumnus of this school.  Isaiah’s father had already taken his son to the school for an interview.  He felt very confident that Isaiah would be admitted.  His boss had put in a good word for Isaiah.   The father had asked me to write a letter of recommendation for his son. I was happy to accommodate his request.

Around two o’clock, Mrs. Martin interrupted my solitude.

“ I thought you would want to know that Tysen is crying up in the classroom.”

I asked her to call for him.  It seemed more important at that moment to deal with his hurt then to slug away with the test score accountability report.

Installment (3 of 9)

When Tysen came into my office, we barely talked.  To be more precise, I talked and he nodded his head. He was hard to understand. Tysen has a thick accent.

“I know you have been having a really hard time since you came here.  I guess you miss your friends, your grandparents and the rest of your family.  It isn’t easy to make a big change like this.  When kids are mean to you and they make fun of the way you talk, it is even harder.”

He was nodding his head as I spoke my monologue. I asked him if he had made any friends yet at Meade.  He shook his head no.

“Do you talk to anyone?”  “No” was his response.

“Does anyone talk to you?”  I was given another negative headshake.

“I know it’s hard for you to talk.  You’re afraid that people won’t understand you or they will make fun of you.  But when you don’t say anything, people can take you the wrong way.  They might think that you feel that you are too good to talk to them.  You have to make some effort to be friendly yourself.”

I tried to get some more information from him concerning what Kendal was saying to him.  It was hard to understand his responses. I kept him with me for a while. He needed some time to regain his composure. When finally he seemed settled down, I sent him back to his room.

I sent for Isaiah after he left. I had a question about his application. I could have waited for this answer, but I knew that Isaiah could give me the scoop on what was happening between Kendal and Tysen.

After Isaiah answered my question about his application I said, “Isaiah what’s going on up in the room today? Who is giving Tysen a hard time?”

“Kendal has been saying stuff to him but he isn’t the only one.”

“What are they saying?”

“They are calling him a monkey and making fun of how he talks.”

“That isn’t right. Doesn’t anyone tell the kids who are picking on the twins to stop?”

“Yeah, I said something today to Malick.  He’s been busting on everybody.  I told him to knock it off.  Malick got mad and started saying things about me.  I almost hit him but I decided to let it go.”

“How about Kendal.  Did you say anything to him?”

“No.  He was acting all mad and stuff.  He said he was going to get Tysen after school.”

Malick, like Kendal, is another of the smallest boys in the eighth grade.  I couldn’t help but think about the nerve of these tiny boys who are messing with these sleeping giants. Malick and Kendal both act like eight year olds.  They are always getting into everyone else’s business.  It would be nice if he along with Kendal would give us a break.

During the rest of our discussion, I learned that Isaiah had invited Tysen to sit with him and his friends at lunch. I appreciated this kindness.  It was getting close to dismissal and Ms Sample was waiting for me to give her the rest of the report to type.  I sent Isaiah back to his classroom. I asked Mr. Nottingham to bring the twins back to the office ten minutes before dismissal. I wanted to give them a head start for home. I also wanted to avoid another street confrontation.

The brothers were in my office in the blink of an eye; it was three o’clock and I still wasn’t finished writing the report. I had another paragraph to go.  Ms Sample said she would stay late to finish, but I didn’t want to hold her up on a Friday.

I asked Mr. Ong if he would escort the twins out of the building and watch them as they walked the two blocks to their house.  While he was doing this, Nottingham came in the office.  He wanted to know where the twins were because Kendal had snuck out of class and was looking for them.  We both took off for the corner.

Mr. Ong told us that he had seen Kendal outside waiting for Tysen.  He chased him away from the corner.  I went back and got into my car.  I decided to take a ride down to the twins’ house just to make sure that Kendal hadn’t headed in that direction.  While I was gone, all hell broke out in our schoolyard.  Malick had gone home to get his older brother whom he brought back to the school in order to jump Isaiah.  Mr. Ong, Mr. Berkly, our new promising gym teacher, and Mr. G, the school police officer, stopped them and sent them out of the yard.  A few minutes later, they returned with several older high school boys.  They jumped Isaiah and started to punch him.  Mr.Ong, Mr.Berkly, and Mr. G tried to stop them.  They knocked Mr.Berkly to the ground and shoved Mr.Ong and Mr. G before running out of the schoolyard back to Gratz Street.

I heard Mr. Nottingham on the walkie-talkie calling the main office.  He was requesting that Ms Sample call the police.  I started to drive back to school. When I arrived Isaiah was sitting in the hallway.  He was upset.  I took him into my office. He explained that Malick had brought his brother and some older boys back to school to jump him.  Malick didn’t like that Isaiah had told him to be quiet earlier in the day.

Isaiah’s aunt arrived, and then his dad called.  I assured his father that Isaiah was all right and that the matter was being handled.  A police officer arrived shortly after I got off the phone. It was close to 4:30.  My office was filled with people: police officers, Isaiah, his aunt, Mr. Nottingham, Mr. Ong, and Mr.Berkly.   Ms Sample was still waiting for the end of the report.  I asked her to e-mail what she had completed to me.  I would finish it over the weekend.  I couldn’t keep her any longer.

The police officer was taking Isaiah’s statement when John DiPaolo called.  He had two questions for me. “John, I’m in the middle of a serious incident.  Some high school kids jumped one of my eighth graders.  The police are here now taking a report.  Can I talk to you later?

“Oh that’s a shame.  Sure you can call me back.  It won’t take long.”

I knew I wouldn’t feel like calling him back later.  I said, “What are your questions?”

“Well first, Dana Bedding sent me a listing of all of your suspensions since the start of the year.  There are eighty, which seems high to me.  I’m concerned.”

I looked at the scene that was unfolding in my office.

“I suppose that might seem high.  There are three brand new teachers in seventh grade.  The kids are giving them a very hard time.  There are other teachers new to the fourth and sixth grades that are also having a hard time.  I’m working on it.  Remember, it is only me here.  I don’t have an assistant principal or any other disciplinary help.  It’s hard to be proactive when you are constantly responding to crises.  Peer mediation and conflict resolution instruction would be great, if there was someone to implement it.  What is your other question?”

“The regional superintendent also sent me this interesting spread sheet.  He examined all of your teacher observations and computed the average score you gave your teachers.  It’s pretty high.  He felt that you hadn’t written enough observations that cite your teachers for poor performance.  He thinks that you should have lower ratings for your teachers considering how low your student test scores are. Your average does seem to be too high, considering how poorly your students are doing on the test.”

The teacher observation form we use does not give scores.  It has a scale of one to five from which an observer selects a number in order to indicate the amount of evidence observed for each indicator listed on the form.  For example, “the teacher relates to the students in a respectful manner” is one of the indicators on the form.  The rater can check 1, which stands for no evidence, 2 for little evidence, 3 for sustained evidence, 4 for a high degree of evidence, and 5, which stands for not applicable.    During a typical observation, it is likely that a supervisor will not see evidence related to every indicator listed on the observation form.  This would be perfectly normal, since an observation is a brief snapshot of a teacher’s work.  Therefore, many fives might be checked off on the form.  To add up the evidence indicators and then average them is not an appropriate use of the form.

I was stunned by the regional superintendent’s conclusion.  Poor student test scores can be the result of many factors.   Ineffective teachers do have a detrimental impact on their students’ achievement.  I would write an unsatisfactory observation for any teacher who I observe doing a poor job of instructing students.  I wouldn’t however automatically assume that a teacher is doing a poor job of instruction simply on the bases of a test result.

I am concerned by this new view from the school district’s hierarchy that poor student test scores should result in an unsatisfactory observation for their teacher. The notion that I should increase the number of unsatisfactory teacher observations I write on the basis of student standardized test scores sounds like an attempt to manage by intimidation. I didn’t feel like getting into a deep conversation with John on this topic.

“John, that surely is a novel way to misuse the observation form.  The heart of this document is the comment section.  This is where I give a teacher useful feedback.  Our teachers are very hardworking, committed, reflective practitioners.  I don’t see the correlation that the regional superintendent is trying to make between student test scores and teacher performance as being generally valid.  His assumption seems to be that if student test scores are low, teachers should also have low scores.  I don’t agree with this argument.   The logic behind this faulty hypothesis does not take into account any of the many variables, which can effect a teacher’s performance in a classroom.

“John, I don’t think this is exclusively his point of view. I’m pretty sure he is getting his marching orders from the central office administration on this issue. I really need to get off and finish with the police.  I will e-mail you the report I have prepared regarding our students’ test performance.  I have listed for you what our team considers to be the most significant variables affecting student performance.  I’m really too busy right now to talk any longer.”

We ended our conversation.  Fifteen minutes later, the police officers were done.  I was tired and disgusted.  I can manage the stress of helping my children and their families deal with senseless violence.  It is the professional violation that I feel after dealing with my superiors ethically challenged practices and ideas that most pains me. The thought of quitting entered my head.  I could just walk away from this mess and never look back.

Installment (4 of 9)


My morning “wake up and go” is a regular routine. Shower, press the clothes, dress, and drink coffee in the car. These are the “one foot after another steps” I take into the workday. The ride to school is a very predictable eighteen-minute trip. As I pass Fortieth and Market, heading east, I stop to pick up my two papers, The Daily News and The Inquirer.

There is a man in the middle of the street who sells the papers. For the longest time it was Nick. Then one day, he disappeared. The hustler who replaced him said, “Oh Nick, yeah I heard he took off. He owed money to a dealer. So he’s hiding out somewhere.”

I have learned from my experiences on the job not to rush to judgment. Nick had been my regular man in the street for over a year. That is a long time for a paper man. He knew what I wanted. When I pulled over he had my dailies ready. The Daily News and the Inquirer would be laid down on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. In my hand was the dollar ten and my daily tip; Nick had been so regular that I had even given him a twenty-dollar bill as a present at the holiday last year. I was grateful for his skill at recognizing me and knowing what news I needed.

I suspect Nick is a man, who has little to call his own other than his pride. He is a fifty-something-year-old man selling papers in the middle of the street. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the dream job he imagined as a boy. At least he still has enough pride to earn the money for his drugs. Was he once a boy like Rashid? Did he have teachers who were young and inexperienced? Were they teachers who couldn’t even imagine what a boy like Nick might already have seen and experienced?

Nick is gone, and I’m back to trying to break in a new guy. The guy who has taken his place thrust a Daily in my face as I pulled over to the middle turn lane. I said, “I’ll have an Inquirer too.”

The headline on the front page of the Daily News declared that some school principals were failures. These were principals who were remiss in making reports of violence in their schools. In the body of the story reference is made to Paul Vallas’s threat to fire principals who fail to report violence or weapon’s possession in their school. Principals have become the prime targets of the school reform witch-hunt. It feels like it is becoming increasingly likely that one day I will find myself tied to a pole at the center of a bonfire, waiting to be lit on fire.

I can hear mob shouting.

“Let’s fire this wicked principal.”

I wanted to read the article when I arrived in the office, but that read didn’t happen until much later in the day. A busy Monday morning lay before me. There were several parents waiting to see me.

Isaiah’s dad was fourth in line. He had decided to let me handle the aftermath from Friday’s incident. He didn’t want to press charges against the high school boys who had jumped his son. We didn’t have a long conversation; Isaiah’s father is a man of few words.

The rest of the school day was filled with the normal business of a school principal. I was constantly on the move. A few minutes before school let out, I took up my position on Gratz Street. I stood on the corner across from the one where the high school age drug boys were stationed. They watched me as I was watched them. If they had any plans of returning for a round two in the schoolyard, they would have to just roll over me. Making a school safe takes more than just talking tough. In order for me to protect my kids’ I have to stand in the way of trouble.

The dismissal went well. The kids flowed out of the schoolyard and into the neighborhood. I was thankful for an incident-free closing. I headed back down Gratz Street towards the main yard. When I reached the gate I saw that there was a girl fight-taking place by the main exit door. The two girls involved were swinging hard on each other. Their mothers were looking on as their daughters fought. The adults were trading insults.

Mr. G, the school police officer along with Mr. Ong and Mr. Berkly were trying to diffuse the situation. By the time I arrived at the doorstep, the girls had stopped throwing punches and the mothers had taken over as the main actors in this drama. They were throwing accusations at the staff members.

“You grabbed my daughter. Who do you think you are throwing my daughter against the wall? You punched her in the nose.”

No one tried to pull me into the fray. I just stood there and watched. One of the woman lived across the street from the school. A few times a year, she erupts. Her daughter picks on everyone, but according to her mother, she is never wrong. When the daughter receives a penalty for her poor behavior, the mother has a fit. In the seven years I have known her, I have heard this women say at least forty times, “I’m reporting you to the board.” The other mother was Mrs. Thompson (Saundra’s mother).

The mother who lives across the street from the school walked into the building. I followed her. She went to the nurse’s office. While I was watching her, Ms.Thompson came up behind me. Her sisters soon joined her. They all started to shout at once. The sister of the other mom entered the hallway through the front door. She too started to scream. Suddenly the hallway was a swarm of angry people. My role as a quiet observer was over; I moved in to end this confrontation.

One of Ms. Thompson’ sisters was screaming at the school police officer. She was in his face. I put myself between her and the officer. We were nose to nose. She was screaming and I was softly repeating to her, in a measured voice, “Leave the building.” Ms.Thompson pushed her sister out of the way and she started her own verbal confrontation with the officer. I put my arm around her shoulder and started to guide her towards the front door. She didn’t resist. Her sisters followed along in our wake. I was walking them down the foyer steps when the parents of Samuel an eighth grade student entered the front door. Ms. Thompson’s sister was still screaming so it was hard for me to hear what Samuel’s mother, Mrs. Mitchell was saying as she walked up the steps.

I did hear her say.

“Do you know why my son was arrested?”

“He was arrested?”

I had no idea what she was talking about. I asked her to please wait for me in the office. It took a few more minutes before I was able to push the Hatfields and McCoys out of the door.

Once back in my office, I was able to focus on Samuel’s parents. According to the story they told, two boys had come to their house. Mrs., Mitchell thought that they were Donte and Derrick. They informed her that Samuel had been in a fight with Tyson (one of the island twins). The boys said that Samuel had been bitten in the face. The police came and stopped the fight. They had taken Samuel and Tyson away in a police car.

I wondered, should I report this incident? It wouldn’t do for me to be a bad principal who didn’t report violence. Then again, I thought what would be the point? The boys had already been arrested.

I decided to ignore this incident. I didn’t have to add to these boys’ problems by suspending them. I should have, according to Vallas. He claims that the school district discipline policy is in effect twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In the Daily News article, “Mr. Vallas is quoted as saying that any principal who fails to report weapons or violence in his school would be fired.”

I guess I was looking for trouble.

Installment (5 of 9)

Shortly after arriving in the office this morning, I received a call from Samuel’s mother.  She provided me with an update on Samuel.  He has a court date in two weeks. We talked for a short time.

The rest of the morning quickly passed.  At 1:00 pm I had to be at the regional office for a scheduled principals’ training. A staff member from the labor relation’s office was scheduled to lead the principals through a review of the new teacher contract.

The meeting started with the outgoing regional superintendent introducing the Interim Regional Superintendent. The former regional had accepted a superintendent’s position in a nearby suburban district. This was his last week.  The Interim Superintendent is a former Philadelphia Regional Superintendent. He is coming out of retirement.   The principals sitting beside me whispered in my ear, “So we are going from the Baby Super to Old Man Super.”

Baby Super introduced the interim.  Old Man Super’s introductory remarks were brief.

“I prefer to be called Doctor. I am a formal man, old school.  I want to make it clear that I am not a substitute. I am the Regional Superintendent. I will be continuing the good work that has been started here by my predecessor. Our work is about the children. We will expect the most of them. Student test scores will continue to rise.  There will be no excuses.”

I could see then, that the new was going to be more of the same old, same old.

Later in the day, I had more of an opportunity to observe Old Man Super.  He was in attendance at the meeting of Senator Kitchen’s Education Committee.

This meeting didn’t start until six o’clock.  I was tired after the long contract training.  It would have been nice to have gone home, but this committee meeting was a priority for me. I was a bit surprised to see Old Man Super when I entered the Senator’s conference room.  The Baby Super never attended.

The Senator hadn’t yet arrived. Most of the committee members were already at the table.  Ernie, one of the Senator’s aides, called the meeting to order.  He pointed out that the Senator had a scheduling conflict and she would only stop by for a few minutes to say hello.

Just as he finished his explanation, the Senator entered the room.  She apologized for not being able to stay. She said, “I have one thing I want to check on before I leave.  What is being done about this woman, Christie Sims, who is harassing Mr. Murphy?  I want a status report.”

Barbara, the Administrative Assistant for the Central Region, summarized the Region’s efforts to deal with Christie Sims’ issues.  There were also two representatives from Mr. Vallas’s staff who made comments.  One of these representatives ended his remarks by stating, “Senator, we want to assure you that Mr. Murphy will not be removed as Principal of Meade because of this woman.”

This comment created a momentary silence in the room.   Harold, one of the committee members, broke the silence. “What exactly is that supposed to mean?  Was someone thinking of removing Mr. Murphy?”

Harold is a retired principal.  I had worked with him at Vaux Middle School.  I was his assistant principal.  I had learned a lot about school administration from him. He is a friend.

“No, that’s not what I meant.  I mean that we have looked at this woman’s claims and we have decided that Mr. Murphy hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Harold responded, “ You have decided that he hasn’t done anything wrong! Well, that is really an inspiring message for principals.  What kind of support is that?”

The senator directed her next remark directly to the interim superintendent.  “Something has to be done about this woman.  We should look at what legal actions we can take.  This is criminal harassment the way she keeps after Mr. Murphy.  I don’t like it.  He is a good man and one of the best principals in this city.  I want something done.”

The Christie Sims discussions continued for over twenty minutes.  I was impressed with how much of a priority this matter was for the Senator.  I was also touched by her views of me as a person.  In a few brief minutes, I had received far more affirmation and true support from her than I had received from all of my supervisors over the last several months.  Forty minutes after the Senator had just stopped by to say hello, she finally left.  I felt a lot better.  It’s good to know someone is concerned about my well being and reputation.

Installment (6 of 9)


A local business community leader spent time today at Meade as a Principal for a Day.  This is an event sponsored by Philadelphia Cares, a local non-profit organization.  I have hosted a principal for a day each of the last four years.

My guest this year was Lana Felton Gee.  She owns her own public relations firm in the city. Lana is a graduate of Meade School.  She was a student here in the 1950’s. I didn’t know she was coming until yesterday when I received e-mail from Philadelphia Cares that stated she would be my Principal for a Day.  She told me that they originally had slated her to visit a school in Mt. Airy, but she asked them to place her at either Meade or John Wanamaker.  Meade had been her K-6 school; Wanamaker had been her junior high school.  Lana didn’t want to go to any other schools.  She wanted to revisit her childhood roots.

When she arrived we grabbed a quick cup of coffee and began to acquaint ourselves.  There wasn’t much time for office chitchat. Lana had to leave by eleven-thirty, in order to be on time for a business meeting at noon.  We conversed as we walked and toured the building and classrooms.

Meade is a far different school community than the one Lana had experienced as a child, over forty years ago.  As we talked through the morning, those differences were made quite clear to me.   I listened to her recollections of her childhood in Meade and North Philadelphia.  It was a trip down memory lane for her.

“At the top of these stairs was my safety post.  I was elected school president when I was in fourth grade.  I was the youngest president ever elected.”

She asked questions about the current students and their parents.  Lana observed the small number of students in each of our classrooms. I explained how I used the school budgets and additional grant monies in order to reduce class size. She was mildly surprised to see the students in uniforms.  We watched bits of lessons and she chatted briefly with each of the teachers whose classrooms we visited.  When we went through the lunchroom, Lana pointed out that it used to be the boys’ gym.  In her day, everyone went home for lunch.  I commented that it is quite a walk to where some of our children live.  She replied, “We got a lot of work done in those days.  In an hour’s time, we walked home and then back to school.  We ate lunch and still managed to jump rope.”

Her old home was on Sixteenth Street, between Oxford and Master Streets.  It was three blocks from the school.  This was and still is a block of very large and beautiful homes.  There are several mansions located there where yesteryear’s rich and influential people once lived.  The neighborhood around Meade had been built in the time just following the end of the Civil War.  Most of the public schools in this area of North Philadelphia are named in honor of Civil War generals.

Along Broad Street and the nearby blocks of Fifteenth Street, elaborate homes were constructed by the wealthy as they built their way north and eventually into what would become known as the suburbs.   Farther away from Broad Street, the houses changed block by block gradually losing height and elegance until they settled into the solid squat row homes, which surround Meade.

In the fifties, Meade was an integrated school.  According to Lana’s recollection, at least a third of the school was white.  I knew the school had been integrated as early as the twenties and thirties.  I had seen the racial makeup of the school reflected in old photographs of graduating classes that I had found, buried in dusty file cabinets

The boy students shown in those photos were dressed in suit coats, shirts and ties and the girls wore long white dresses.   Meade School was built in the late 1870’s.  The current school building was built in 1937 on the site of the original school.  In the 1950’s, an addition was constructed.

It wasn’t until after the Columbia Street riots that the socioeconomics of the school started to take a serious change.

The childhood world of Lana Felton Gee was middle class.  Her family lived in a large single family home where Lana had a beautiful fireplace in her bedroom.  Her grandparents and parents owned businesses along Columbia Avenue. They were part of the hidden black middle class of the time. Her family was prosperous and successful.

After the riots along Columbia Avenue, Lana’s parents and grandparents decided to leave the neighborhood.  They sold their businesses and other properties and moved to Mount Airy.  This is a neighborhood of Philadelphia renowned for its high degree of integration in a city long known for its racially isolated communities.  Many of their other North Philadelphia neighbors did the same.  Her old home, she sadly related , was converted into a number of apartment units.  This fate befell most of the housing in the community. The riots had a profoundly negative effect on the neighborhood. There was a mass exodus of middle class residents during the sixties and seventies.  The housing stock in the community deteriorated.  The cost of upkeep was more than what those who remained could afford.  Today her glorious childhood neighborhood is a ravaged shell of by gone grandeur.   I learned much of the neighborhoods history from her.

The day continued to move quickly after Lana’s departure.  A constant stream of problems, none of which were memorable, captured my attention until late in the school day.  Sometime near two, I sent for Samuel.  It was time to follow up on his street misadventure.  I started our conversation by stating my regret at his having been arrested.  He pretended to not understand what I was saying to him.  I shot him a look.  He dropped the act.

“What I don’t understand Samuel is how you managed to get yourself into this eighth grade feud. I didn’t think you had anything to do with this busting game that the wise guys have been playing on the big boys.”

“No, I don’t know nothing about that.  Here’s how it goes.  I was hanging on the corner over at Bolviere Street after school.  I was chilling with my friends.  We were talking like boys talk, joking and making cracks.”

“Who were you with?”

“Taron and Derrick and Donte.”  As he started to list his friends, the connection between him and the twins became clear: Samuel was hanging with the main troublemakers in the eighth grade.

“So I was standing there talking and this dude came up real fast on me.  He had a belt and he started swinging.  He caught me in the face with it.  I started swinging on him.  It was like real unpredictable the way it happened.  I was really surprised.”

“You were at the wrong place at the wrong time.  The other guys you were with are the guys who the twins wanted.  Some of those guys are always busting on people.  They have a gift for getting people hurt.  Do you know that?”

“We are friends, we like to joke.”

“Well it’s no joke that you’re going to court.”

“I guess you’re right.  My parents are mad.”

“They were scared.  They don’t want to see you get hurt or go to jail.”

We talked for a while longer.  In the course of the conversation, he dropped some interesting information.  He had been to court before when he was in his old school.  Samuel isn’t a choirboy.  I wondered, was he really just an unsuspecting by- stander? Our meeting ended abruptly with an urgent call from Amy a fourth grade teacher.

Installment (7 of 9)

Rashid was tearing up Amy’s classroom. She needed help.  I sent Samuel back to his classroom and headed upstairs to room 216.  When I arrived it was in shambles.  Bookcases were turned over, desks were flipped, and bulletin board displays were ripped down.  The teacher and her students were clustered together in the back of the room.  They looked like they had just witnessed a tornado in the classroom.

“Where is he?” I asked the teacher.

“He ran out of the room.”

I spent the next five minutes searching  for him.  Finally I found him in the hallway outside of the Kindergarten rooms.  He was standing next to the water fountain.  Rashid was holding the water fountain button down for the kindergarten kids who were getting drinks after coming from the bathroom.

Slowly I approached him.  I didn’t want him to run.  I put my hand gently on his shoulder.  I whispered into his ear, “Let’s go to the office.”

He started to move with me.  As we passed the kindergartners who were lining up near their teacher, he started to yell, “Let go of me, you are choking me.”  I hustled him up the steps towards the main floor.

When we reached the main hallway, he started to wrestle with me.  He was tugging and pulling on my arm.  All the time he was screaming,  “Get off of me bitch”.

He repeatally  punched me.  Moving him down the hallway was a feat.  Just as he was starting to get the better of me his mother arrived.  She settled him down.

I was  breathing heavily and my chest was pounding.  For a moment or two I couldn’t speak; I went back to my office and sat down.  It took me a long while to catch my breath. I was feeling pain in my chest.  Mr. Nottingham came in to check on me.  I joked with him that I might be having a heart attack, but I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t.  The right side of my chest  was sore, so I figured that I had just strained some muscles.  It was obvious to me that I wasn’t capable of the same level of physical exertion that I was able to perform in my younger days.  I asked Mr. Nottingham, “Where is Rashid now?”

“His mother took him home.”

Mr. Nottingham sat down in in a seat across from me.   I suspected he was was keeping an eye on me.  I welcomed his company.  We joked a bit  more about my having a heart attack.  He said, “You better get yourself together. If I  have to give you mouth to mouth, what would Christie Sims have to say?  She would spread such a story about the two of us.”

We laughed.  The laughter relaxed me.  I decided that the pain was muscular.  We sat and talked for a while longer until we  were sure that this wasn’t the “big one”.  I decided to go home.  When I got there I took some Motrin and then stretched out on the sofa.  I read the newspaper.  Even though I was sore I  still enjoyed this  peaceful solitude. Contently I flipped through the paper until I came across an article concerning President Bush’s newest appointment to head the National Civil Rights Commission.  The headline read, in part, “Bush appoints a conservative African American who has differed with other civil rights leaders.”

The article sited a quote from the proposed candidate, Gerald Thompson.  He said, “The obstacles facing African Americans today are not problems of discrimination but of not seizing the opportunities that are available.”

I thought what are the opportunities that the people who live in the Meade neighborhood are  failing to seize?  What access to opportunity do they have?  The world available to them is one of low paying jobs, substandard housing, unsafe communities, under-funded schools, poor access to health care and more of the same every day.   Where are the opportunities my Meade children are failing to seize?

Reading this article was the final nail in the coffin of a deadly day.  I felt overwhelmed and trapped in an absurd world.  These days of school reform are grinding me down.  This new civil rights orthodoxy that Mr. Thompson is promoting is more than I can endure.  I am not sure if I am strong enough for this battle.


When I came in this morning, another Arthur discipline referral was in my mailbox.  He had refused to follow the teacher’s directions and had given her some back talk.  For the last few weeks his behavior has concerned me.  I am starting to wonder if he is causing trouble just so that I will send for him.  If it were any other kid who was acting out as much as he was, I would have contacted his parents.  In Arthur’s case, I didn’t see much point in involving Cindy.  He is more reasonable than his mother.

I decided that the best approach was to deal with him directly. It was time to sit down and have a talk with with Arthur.  Hopefully I could encourage him to behave out of respect for me.  This was a potentially  messy plan.  But then the world the two of us share is a messy place.

When we talked I said just enough to make my point.  I told him that he wasn’t acting right and that I expected better of him.  He was apologetic.   I didn’t draw out this correction.  After he promised  that he would show his teacher more respect, I sent him back to his room.

John DiPaolo gave me a call, later in the day.  He wanted to tell me about his meeting with the CAO.    John said that all of the EMOs were under the gun to show better test results.  He used business metaphors to describe the expectations communicated by the CAO:  the chief wanted better outcomes and increased production.  If the schools can’t deliver, then the staff can be replaced.

I didn’t want to what the downtown managers had to say.  What I was hearing everyday at Meade was already more than my head could handle.

John continued to talk.

“What they are saying  is that we need to take a hard look at you.  Your school hasn’t made AYP yet and you have been there a long time.”

“John what you need to tell them is that I have only been the principal of this K-8 school for less than a year.  It doesn’t seem as if anyone can remember that we have taken this school from a K-4 to a K-8 in the last four years.  We didn’t get any help with this conversion.  What we did get was more problems and fewer resources.  We have a seventy percent student mobility rate.  Only four of out of thirty-four of our teachers have been in the same grade assignment for more than three years.  I’m not doing enough?  My team isn’t doing enough?

John conceded my point. “I have to admit there is a certain element of silliness in their expectations, but this is what we have to deal with as we move forward.”

Installment (8 of 9)


The previous day’s depression clung to me like the remnants of a spider web that had accidentally entangled me. I started the day off by meeting with my leadership team. We formulated plans that would address the Chief Academic Officer’s concern about our student test data.

We calculated how many students needed to score at the proficient or advanced level on the PSSA test in the spring in order to make our school’s, Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) target. Our count indicated that the number of students who have scored at these levels in prior test years were less than what we needed. Begrudgingly we decided to identify our” bubble students” in both math and reading. These are students whose test scores are just below the passing score of proficient. Many schools will expend a great deal of their attention and resources on working with these students. This is done by focusing less on the low achieving students who have little likelihood of scoring at the proficient level on the PSSA. I had long been resistant this idea.

We considered a plan that would provide test prep and extra tutoring for this targeted group. Our intention was to offer additional attention to this group of children without changing the quality of services we strive to give to all of our students.

Once we decided who belonged in this group we divided them into several smaller groups. According to the plan each member of the leadership team would take responsibility for one group. Making time in our already crammed schedules in order to mentor, tutor and push the students who were assigned to us would do this.

I was not completely comfortable with this course of action. Targeting one group of students for special supports at the possible expense of another group challenges my professional ethics. I am not pleased with being placed in a situation where I am forced to chose between either doing what is right for kids or keeping my job. After much discussion the leadership team finally agreed on this plan. I convinced myself that by doing so I wasn’t compromising my integrity. It was a stretch but I decided I could live with this plan.

I made a pledge to myself that we would get the needed number of kids to the proficient level while at the same time moving every other child forward. Alison concluded the meeting by resurrecting one of my more embarrassing quotes, “We can’t lie down with defeat.”

I had spoken this line two years ago when I had first realized that our school might be taken over by an outside group or worse yet completely closed down. At that time my staff poked fun at me for being so dramatic. They keep me in check when they think I am acting pompous or too self-important. I appreciate how they help me to stay honest.

But today Alison wasn’t making fun of me. When the Educational Management Organizations were introduced to our district the threat to our school’s future became more evident. She reminded the team that we had a mission to accomplish. We were going to make Meade an excellent neighborhood public school.

“We can’t lie down with defeat.”

Everybody agreed with this sentiment. I am fortunate to have such a smart and loyal team to back me.

Later in the day, a new Arthur problem developed. It has occurred to me that ninety to ninety-five percent of the bad scenes that unfold at Meade take place either between 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning or 2:00 and 3:30 in the afternoon. These are the two time frames when the doorway to our psychotic world swings wide open. There are also some days that are more prone to problems than others. Wednesdays and Friday are the days when it seems that the greatest amount of bad traffic crosses the threshold of my office. The end of this day followed that trend.

Arthur’s teacher reported to the office, shortly after two o’clock, that he had disappeared. She was worried. He had cursed at her and slammed the classroom door. She stated that Arthur had gotten into an argument with another student in the classroom. He asked to go to the bathroom, and when he returned, he looked like he had been crying. The teacher asked what was wrong, but he wouldn’t talk.

Shortly after his return, the class went to the computer lab. There, the computer teacher observed Arthur trying to connect to a pornography website. She asked him to stop. Arthur mumbled a comment, which may have contained a “fuck you,” and he stormed out of the room. A search team of aides scoured the building looking for him. When they found him, they brought him to my office.

When we spoke, Arthur was remorseful. He was also very quiet. A soulful stare was his only reply to my probing questions. Finally, he spoke.

“I wasn’t mad at the teacher. I was thinking about something which happened this morning before school.”

“Did you and your mother have an argument?”

“It wasn’t her.”

“I know you are very protective of your mother, Arthur. It is really hard work for a boy to watch out for his mom the way you do. I guess sometimes that must make you feel pretty bad. Is that why you are feeling and acting like you are today?”

“I didn’t fight with my mom. It was with the man that is living with her.”

This was a revelation. I didn’t know Cindy had a man living with her. My wheels started to turn. A few years back, a little boy named Lester had lived with Cindy. She claimed that Lester was her cousin’s son. Lester was in first grade. Towards the end of his first grade school year, Lester had demonstrated many of the signs that a child who was being sexually abused exhibits.

He frequently made sexually explicit comments to the other children. He would grab his crotch and rub his genitals. He also often reeked of urine. Eventually, we reported our suspicions to the Department of Human Services. Lester, we learned, had been sharing a bed with Arthur, but often times he ended up sleeping on the floor. There was an investigation, but DHS didn’t inform us of their conclusions.

Lester didn’t return in September for second grade. Another relative took custody of him. What had happened to Lester in Cindy’s home was an unanswered question. I had wondered if Arthur was abusing the little boy. This new information caused me to rethink the Lester affair. Could this man have been the person behind Lester’s troubles? Now Arthur was arguing with the man. Had Arthur himself been receiving some special attention from Cindy’s man friend during the last few years?

Arthur is such easy prey: a predator making a nest in his dysfunctional home could possibly have a field day with him. Arthur wants to be taken care of, but he has for the longest time been the caretaker of his alcoholic mother. I could easily see him mistaking abuse for love.

A million thoughts raced through my mind on the way home. I wondered if I should call Social Services and report my suspicions. Arthur could face the possibility of being removed from his home. I thought it was possible that any close scrutiny of Cindy could raise questions concerning her fitness as a parent. What protection would DHS offer a thirteen-year-old boy in foster care? Would they protect him from the unbearable hurt he would feel when separated from his mother? Maybe I should just confront the man on my own? I could beat him up.

I tried to push these thoughts away. I should be working on improving the test scores of my students instead of being distracted by Arthur’s problems.

For years, I have attended fully to each day’s problems and joys. At night, back in my home, I have let go of the worries of the day. In the company of my family, I have taken comfort. Lately the unrealistic expectations being forced on me by central office administrators have been messing with my mind. This pressure plus the sadness and chaos that I regularly encounter in my school is suffocating me. The discordant sounds of this bizarre world are ringing in my ears.

I have to tell myself that there is joy in my work. Being in a position where I can help kids like Arthur is a reminder of why I have chosen to live my life at Meade. I am needed here. Sometimes this thought is the only thing that keeps me doing what I do.

Installment (9 of 9)


When I was a kid, I had a lot of countdown holidays.  These were the days that I would circle on my calendar.  These occasions were highly anticipated events.  It seems that much of my childhood was spent in a constant state of hardly being able to wait for something to come.  I have always looked forward to tomorrow.

It is two days until Christmas.  When I woke up this morning, I started to countdown the minutes of the day in my head.  Six hours, fifteen minutes is the length of a school day, with an extra twenty minutes thrown in for the time it takes to empty the schoolyard at dismissal.  I can hardly wait for the holiday vacation to begin.

The last two weeks have been frantic. I haven’t been able to relax, or work myself into a holiday mood. Sixteen new students have been admitted in this time.  Eight of those students are boys who have entered our seventh and eighth grades.  All of them have moved to our neighborhood in order to live with their fathers.  These boys were having problems in the schools they left; their mothers couldn’t handle them.  Six boys went into the eighth grade and two into seventh.  That is a lot of new personalities to assimilate.

Ms. Thompson has also stayed active.  She has been giving Saundra’s teacher a hard time.  The teacher was afraid to meet alone with this woman during report card conferences, so I told her I would handle Ms. Thompson.  Less than a half hour after I told her not to worry, Saundra’s mom was in my office, throwing a fit.  She was screaming, cursing and threatening me.  I told her to leave. She moved into the hallway where she continued to scream.

“I guess I’m just going to have to fucking swing on someone”.

Looking her square in the eyes, I asked, “What does that mean?”

“You fucking heard me, I’m gong to swing on someone.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“You’re fucking right I am, I’m going to swing on you.”

The hallway was filled with children who were waiting to be picked up by their parents.  It was an early dismissal day.  There were several other parents coming into the building for their children’s report card conferences.  Her outburst was an embarrassing and unnecessary scene.

Ms Thomas wouldn’t leave the school.  We called the police.  A half hour later, two officers appeared.  When Saundra’s mom saw them pull up, she took off through the back door.  The officers watched her go.  They took a report from me.  I called the captain of the local police district and demanded action.  The captain assured me that the report from the patrol officers would be sent to the detectives’ division.  I was prepared to press charges. I called the regional office and the office of school safety.  I wanted them to help me to follow through with the police. My calls to the regional office and the Office of School Safety went unanswered.

It seems that a parent can tell me that she’s going to swing on me and it’s no big deal.   Christie Sims can call these same offices with a complaint and I spend hours of my time responding to unfounded accusations.  Saundra’s mom could go home and call downtown and say that I was rude to her and she would get a response.  Later in the day I wrote Ms Thompson a letter that instructed her not to enter the school without my permission.

The day after the incident with Ms. Thompson, Rashid threw a girl on the floor in the coat closet and then lay on top of her.  According to the teacher, he was humping up and down on the girl.  The teacher stopped him.  The girl claimed that they were just playing. I suspended Rashid.  He received his suspension notice near the end of the day.  After he had this letter in hand, he went back to his classroom.  When Rashid arrived in the room he threatened to “fuck up” the teacher and all of the kids in the room.  Rashid called the main office on the intercom phone. When Ms Sample answered this call, Rashid told her, “Someone better come and get this bitch before I kill her.” Immediately after he hung up, the teacher called the office.  She needed help.  Rashid was trashing her room.

By the time the school police officer, Mr. Guvalla, arrived, the room was in shambles.  A bookcase was turned over, desks were thrown about the room and Rashid had broken the window in the classroom door.  This all happened in minutes.

Rashid needed a different school placement.  We clearly couldn’t manage him.  I suspended him for five days and plunged into writing the request for a disciplinary transfer.  His mother was supportive of this action.  She had no clue as to what to do with Rashid.  A Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker gave me a call when I was halfway through the process.  She was indignant that she hadn’t been informed that Rashid had been suspended from school.   “If I had known he was having trouble in school, I would never have closed his case.”

It was news to me that Rashid and his family had been referred to DHS.

“You had an open case on Rashid and his family.  When did that happen?”

“We have been working with them for over two years.”

“Oh really!  Why wasn’t anyone at the school notified that you were providing services?  We would have gladly supported your effort.”

This woman who initially had come on strong seemed to reconsider her approach to this conversation. She became more cordial. The caseworker provided me with background information that shed a new light on Rashid’ recent, troubling behaviors.  She told me more about how his older brother who is prison has been mentoring him.  The brother is a sixteen year old.  He is currently incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility somewhere near Pittsburgh.  The brother has been writing to Rashid.  In his letters, he has been instructing the younger boy on how to act in order to survive in the street.  The social worker suggested that these letters were probably where Rashid was getting a most of his aggressive ideas.

The caseworker gave me a lengthy description of the older brother:

“His older brother is quite a troubled boy.  When he was arrested this last time, he had sixteen hundred dollars in cash on him.  He was in possession of a sizable amount of crack cocaine and there were bullets in his socks.  He has an extensive list of charges pending against him.  He was charged with endangering the fetus of a pregnant woman and for abusing a corpse.  There is more.”

But I didn’t want to hear any more.  I didn’t want to think about anyone who abused corpses and endangered pregnant women.  I brought the conversation back to Rashid and his problems.  By the time we finished our conversation, she was in agreement with the idea of a disciplinary transfer.

I was looking for Christmas parties and carols.  Instead I was receiving a  ‘Dickens’ of a time. In the midst of this mess I did find a ‘Tiny Tim’ moment.  Composing a letter of recommendation for Isaiah uplifted my spirit.  I had been working on it for several days and after several drafts I was I was finally satisfied with my effort.

In reviewing his school records, I was impressed with his resilience and determination.  His standardized test scores were decent, as were his grades.  He does have academic gaps especially in his writing and math skills.  These were problems that could be addressed through the intensive one-on-one tutoring that the prep school said it would provide.  I was amazed by the fact that he has attended eleven different elementary schools since he started kindergarten.   That he is still doing well in school is a testament to his intelligence and perseverance.   Composing this recommendation letter brought me a bit of much needed holiday joy.

Many bits and pieces of information regarding Arthur has drifted to the surface in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Ms. Lube shared a conversation with me that she had with him.  Arthur pointed out to her that no male in his family has lived past the age twenty-nine.  It troubled her that Arthur was dwelling on this morbid piece of his family history.  This information made even more sense when Ms Saegar finally found out what had been upsetting Arthur.

He had told her that there was shooting near his house.  He had almost been shot. It sounded to me that there was a little more to this story than what Arthur offered. There is a speakeasy only a couple of doors away from his home. Perhaps there was trouble there and it had spilled out into the street.  What seemed more likely to me was that there had been a shooting inside of his house.  There was often a crowd hanging around Cindy’s place.  She associated with a rowdy group of drinkers.   For Arthur to be as scared and upset as he acted, I think whatever occurred happened was too close to home for him.

The pendulum of Meade swings back and forth between hope and despair.  I mark off the time there by either looking for the good in people or warding off the bad vibes of angry and disturbed people.  This is the nature of the time I serve.  It can be hard time to do.

It is almost Christmas.  I have gotten through this day – all six hours and forty-five minutes of it.  Now I can get back to the Christmas countdown. Two, one… I’m out of here.


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