Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
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.