Confessions of an Urban Principal/A Sad Day
by Frank Murphy
Installment 3 of 9
Financial concerns have taken center stage in my mind. For days now, my thoughts have been obsessively focused on the Meade School budget. How am I going to make the figures work? How can I avoid cutting teaching positions? Will I be able to find money for an Assistant Principal? Ugh! My head feels like it is about to explode.
Walking into the building this morning, I was totally preoccupied with these thoughts. I wanted to get settled quickly at my desk so that I could continue to work on these problems. Hopefully the student entry would be quick, painless and distraction free.
The morning routine had barely gotten underway when Luis came in to the main office. He was agitated. Before I had a chance to say a word to him, he started to spout off complaints concerning his teacher.
“I can’t stand her. She has to sugarcoat everything. She doesn’t say stuff straight out, like you.”
“What’s wrong, Luis? Why are you upset?”
He didn’t respond to my question. Instead he continued to rant about his teacher. I couldn’t figure out what was bothering him. After listening to several more minutes of his ramblings, I told him to come into my office.
Luis continued on with his tirade. Mr. Nottingham attempted to calm him and failed.
Ms. Sample tried to soothe him to no avail. She gave up after several tries and went back to her desk. Her parting words were, “I’m getting a headache.”
Finally I said. “Luis stop. Stop talking. You aren’t making any sense.”
He didn’t stop. Apparently he couldn’t stop. Whatever was going on in his head, he couldn’t control. I realized that there wasn’t going to be any reasoning with him. I concluded that Luis needed to go home. In his current state of mind, he was only going to get himself into serious trouble. I was starting to get my own headache from listening to him. I sent him out to sit on the hallway bench. Mrs. Martin contacted his father.
Luis’ father came to the school soon after he was called. The two of us had a lengthy conversation. He told me that Luis has been pretty worked up during the last few days.
“We have been having a rough time these past two weeks. Money has been tight. I’ve been working late. The other day I didn’t get home until after nine. Luis was worried and upset. He didn’t know where I was. He has been mad at me ever since then.”
Once again the thought crossed my mind that Luis was terrified by the thought that his dad might not come home at all. We talked for a while longer about Luis’ fear of being abandoned. When we were finished Luis’ father took him home.
I managed to get back on track with my budget work after they left. But it wasn’t long, before I was once again interrupted. Arthur’s mom, Cindy, came into the office just before the start of the lunch periods. She wanted to visit with her son.
The tension radiating from my office staff was intense. I was sure that none of us were interested in being involved in a nasty scene with her. Mrs. Martin ushered Cindy into my office. I haven’t seen her or talked to her since before Arthur had been taken into protective custody. Cindy appeared to be almost sober. There was only a slight odor of alcohol on her breath. She wanted me to close my door to the outer office so that no one could hear her business. The thought of being alone with her raised my level of apprehension. Despite my concern, I still let her close the door.
Cindy wasted no time on small talk. She immediately launched into an animated explanation of why Arthur had been removed from her home. In her version of the story it was Arthur’s jumping hormones and his interest in girls that had caused the problems between them.
She wanted me to know that she didn’t beat her child. Cindy wanted me to believe, that she hadn’t mistreated Arthur. She appeared to be deeply troubled by the lost of her son. Her pain and sorrow was intense. Being a witness to her hurt was a painful experience.
Cindy wasn’t allowed to have contact with Arthur, except during court appointed and supervised visits. It wasn’t easy to tell her that she had to leave the school without seeing her son.
“You cannot come into the school in order to see Arthur. I know that you want to be with him but the court says no. I can only imagine how hard it is for you to have lost your boy. I also know that this separation hasn’t been easy on Arthur either.
I asked his caseworker at DHS to allow him to remain at Meade. I thought that by staying in this school, with the kids and adults he has known for most of his life, that these changes would be a little easier for him to take. Please don’t give his caseworker a reason to take him out of our school. If she thinks you will keep coming here to see Arthur, she might just do that.”
“I love my son, Mr. Murphy I would never hurt him. It isn’t right what they did.”
“I know you love him. Let us help you. We will watch out for him here.”
“I don’t want to cause any trouble. I’ll go. I just wanted to give him some money.”
“I’ll give it to him.”
Cindy handed me a little roll of money. As she did so she made direct eye contact with me. She said, “I need you to do a favor for me. Tell my boy that I love him. Will you tell him? I love him so much.”
She gave me a hug as she said.
“Thank you for watching out for my boy.”
I felt bad for Cindy. Her life is a wreck. I felt bad for Arthur. He is having a rough time himself. I’m sure he is missing his mom. Hopefully this will all work out well for the two of them.
After Cindy left, I sat quietly at my desk lost in thought. Pat Costello snapped me back to attention with the news that there was a crisis in a first grade classroom. A boy who has been acting out aggressively and violently over the last few weeks had punched his teacher in the stomach. This was not the first time he had been physical with her. I had seen his mother on several recent occasions regarding his troubling violent behavior. She didn’t know what to do for him.
Nottingham had taken him to the counselor’s office. This is where I caught up with him. He told us that he had hit the teacher because the voices in his head told him to be bad. It was just last week that we have we learned about these voices. They were telling him to do lots of bad things. This six-year-old boy is seriously ill. This is a scary situation. We need to get him the help which he needs.
The counselor contacted his mother. While I waited for her, I consulted with a member of the district’s crisis response team. He recommended that the boy should undergo an immediate psychiatric evaluation. When the child’s mother arrived I filled her in on the details concerning his latest violent outburst. I suggested that she take him to Einstein Hospital. There is an emergency child psychiatric clinic at this facility. She politely listened to me before leaving with her son. I hope that she will follow through with my recommendation. There is something alarming going on in her son’s head. It cannot be ignored.
Today the Inquirer published its school report card supplement. It listed the results from last year’s tests for every school in our metropolitan area. This is a yearly event. It’s sort of like listing the win/lost statistics for professional sports teams. Our test scores place us close to last place in the NCLB accountability league. We aren’t a very competitive team in the test score game.
In the sports world, a team can improve their prospects of winning the championship in the next season by purchasing the personnel and the resources that they will need in order to do so. If our school could do the same, then we might know what it feels like to be a winner for a change.
After carefully scanning the school standings for the past year, I return to working on the budget. I hadn’t gotten far with it on this sad day.