Chapter Nine: May

04 May

Confessions of an Urban Principal / My Reality Is Nonfiction

by Frank Murphy

Installment 2 of 9


The final days of another school year have begun to play out.  The last few weeks have been peaceful.  Tense moments with disruptive students and angry papers have been few and far between. The flow of new admits has slowed to a trickle.  Lately, I’ve been able to spend most of my time visiting classrooms. There I am consistently observing students who are engaged in interesting and instructionally appropriate activities.   I am pleased.

In this calmer time, I have found many opportunities for extended conversations with children as well as teachers.  I’ve been so busy with these interactions that there hasn’t been time to engage in idle thoughts about the murky future.  It is good to enjoy the normal life of a principal.

John DiPaolo had his own meeting with the CAR regional superintendent.  She informed him that a team from Johns Hopkins University will be visiting Meade.   Afterward they will submit a report. We should receive a copy of it by the end of next November.  It is the expectation that Temple will address the recommendations that this team suggests.  John is confident that the management agreement between Temple and the school district will remain as it is for the next school year.


Today John updated all of the Temple Partnership principals on the status of negotiations between Temple and the District. He informed us that a verbal agreement had been reached with the District.  All four schools will continue as Temple Partnership Schools.  Meade and Ferguson will receive district support through the CAR Region.  Duckery and Dunbar will stay connected to the District through the newly formed region that will support just EMO schools.

After the meeting ended, several of the principals became involved in a lively discussion concerning the future of Paul Vallas.   The day before, The Inquirer had reported on numerous rumors circulating around the city concerning Vallas.  In July he will be awarded a three hundred thousand dollar bonus for having remained as the CEO for three years.  There is speculation that once he receives this money, Vallas will leave town.  Many people believe that he will soon declare himself as a candidate in the Illinois gubernatorial race.

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook reported that an Internet website has begun to advertise the services of consultants who will help districts to implement a “Vallas-like” reform effort.  Vallas denied having any involvement with this endeavor and shortly after the publication of this report, the website was taken down.  In today’s paper there was an account of Vallas’ brother and his efforts to organize a petition drive in order to change the Illinois residency requirement for those who seek the governor’s office in that state.  Vallas says he has nothing to do with his brother’s activities.  He claims he is not running for anything and that he is going to finish the job he started here in Philadelphia.

I wondered about the future of the CAR region should he choose to leave. How long would it last under another leader’s regimen?  It is starting to look as though Vallas is in his final laps of Philadelphia school reform.


Last night I met with the members of the Home and School Association.  I gave them an update on the progress we have made in maintaining our status as a Temple managed school.   They were pleased.


This school year and thus this story are nearing an end.  When I decided to write this book I had no idea of the challenges that would face me.  My initial plan was simple.  I would describe the day-to-day life of a principal.  As this project evolved, I found myself in the center of events that were far from routine.   Many of my experiences during this year have been disturbing in nature and have left me in a confused state of mind.   I am not quite as sure of my purpose as a schoolman as I was when I started this year.  For the first time in my career, I am questioning whether I want to continue with this work.   I still do want to change the world.  But in these current days of school reform, I am disheartened.  I fear that I will not be as successful in making the kind of difference that I long to create.

If the accounts I have offered here were a fiction, then the characters, settings, and plot of my narrative would all be within my control.  As the author, I would determine the outcome of the Meade story. All of the problems I introduced would be resolved to my satisfaction, and I could leave the reader with an inspirational and happy ending.

But I am not an all-knowing first-person narrator.   I have no idea as to how this story will end.  My reality is nonfiction.  My school’s fate and ultimately my own fate will slowly unfold over the course of the next year or two.  I am sure that there will be no neat ending to this tale.


  1. Anonymous

    May 25, 2011 at 9:03 am

    As a younger teacher, the lines, “For the first time in my career, I am questioning whether I want to continue with this work. I still do want to change the world. But in these current days of school reform, I am disheartened. I fear that I will not be as successful in making the kind of difference that I long to create.” really stand out. I feel that things have only gotten worse in the School District of Philadelphia since the year that your book was written. I too want to change the world. I hope that the system won’t make me feel like you felt when you wrote those line.