Chapter Nine: May

11 May

Confessions of an Urban Principal / The Foot Soldiers of Homeland Defense

by Frank Murphy

Installment 4 of 9

Midway through our citywide principals’ meeting, with lunch nearly finished, we were instructed to stand up and take a stretch at our tables. Our first luncheon speaker had just concluded her lengthy Merchant of Hope speech.  Now we were to be addressed by CEO Vallas, who followed with his own long monologue.


Vallas began by describing the businesses of his day so far. In the morning he had worked on negotiating a bond deal in New York.  “I have four bond deals on the table right now.  Convincing people to invest in me has been difficult”, he informed us. “When I first came here, no one wanted to have anything to do with us.  We were a money hole.  Now people can see the district we are becoming.  As I put reform into place, this district is no longer viewed negatively.  I was one of two districts in the nation who dared to quickly move on a comprehensive package of reforms.  At the end of the day, we will get the job done.”

Vallas continued with a call to action for principals in the district. He informed us that we, the principals of Philadelphia, are the new civil rights activists of our times.  We are the also the foot soldiers of homeland defense.  “Reforming public education will be the defining moment of our generation”, he declared.  “Schools and school districts must be the transformational agents for our society.  Through the opportunities we provide children in our public schools, we will protect their civil rights.  We will protect our nation.  Making better schools is the work of homeland defense.”  According to Mr. Vallas, terrorists will not be able to find a foothold in a well-educated nation.

By the time he was finished, I had more than my share of inspirational speeches for one day.   Imbibing in too much of the happy spirits can leave you tired and nursing a nasty headache.  I didn’t need to soak in any more inspiration.

After the meeting, I found myself in the hotel lobby with several principals of CAR designated schools.  One of them was relating to us how she had heard from a reliable source that all of the principals of the CAR schools were going to be replaced.  Her comment created quite a stir within the group.  After a lively discussion, we concluded that in the current climate of the school district anything is possible.  I left the hotel thinking that I need a “merchant of hope” who will encourage me to keep on with my work.




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