Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (2 of 8)
In the morning every inch of my body ached. I couldn’t move my head without experiencing blazing pain. At eight o’clock, I called the office to let them know I wouldn’t be in for the day. At eight-thirty, Ms. Sample, the school secretary, called me back to let me know that Ms. Mills, Donisha’s mother, and Ms. Thompson were in the office.
“They’re screaming at each other.”
I could hear the shouting in the background. I asked Ms. Sample to bring Ms. Mills into my office and to put her on the phone so I could talk to her. When she took the phone I explained to her everything that I knew about the incident.. When she spoke, she told me that they had taken Donisha to the police special victims. unit yesterday afternoon. The police had photographed Donisha’s face and taken a statement from her.
I tried to convince her that the other parent was not intent on harming her daughter. “This mess is the making of a clique of girls who are only interested in stirring up trouble.” She knew about these girls. She said, “They’ve been making crank calls to my house. They’ve also been trying to start fights in the neighborhood. I told Donisha that I didn’t want her hanging around with those girls. They’re trouble. There are two sisters who seem to get everything started. One minute they want to be Donisha’s best friend, the next they are telling stories about her. I’ll take care of this.”
I spoke to Ms. Thompson next. She complained about how her kids were new to the school and that everyone was picking on them. I listened to her ventilate for a few minutes. When I thought she was ready to listen, I pointed out to her that she had problems:
“Donisha’s mom has made a complaint to the police. She’s filed a report stating that you assaulted her daughter. I’m willing to speak up for you, but you have to calm down and cooperate.”
“I don’t need the police. I was arrested once before for grabbing a kid who was attacking my kids.”
“Okay, that is not going to look good. Let me see what I can do. It would be best if I meet with you and the other mother and try to settle this.”
She agreed. I spent the next couple of hours on the phone sorting out the facts. I talked again to the staff members who had been in the yard during the fight. I had several conversations with Mrs. Sample and Mr. Nottingham. I talked to the classroom teacher of the two girls. Saundra was the new girl. She was being teased by a group of girls in her classroom, girls who were members of the clique led by Christie Sims’ daughters. The Sims girls kept telling Saundra that she was dirty and that she talked funny. The clique was trying to lure Donisha in. These were popular girls. Donisha who had always been quiet and respectful seemed to be flattered by their attention. So Donisha fought with Saundra in order to prove herself to her new friends.
I requested of Mr. Nottingham that he arrange for Donisha’s mother to come in to meet with the teacher. Mr. Nottingham and Ms. Martin are the school’s community liaisons and they also attended this meeting. The staff laid out for Ms. Mills everything that we had found out about the fight. Ms. Martin and Mr. Nottingham both knew the mother well. Ms. Mills wasn’t too pleased to hear that her daughter was picking on another child. Though this meeting went well, she still wanted to see me. I arranged to meet with her the next day at 3:30.
So much for my sick day! It’s hard for principals to take off, even for just one day. The work follows us. Around 11:30 AM, I finally was able to get some sleep. I was out cold until after 4 PM, when Mr. Nottingham called. He wanted me to know that there had been another fight at dismissal time. Two different girls were involved in this altercation, but the fight was a mirror image of the day before. The same mean girls egged two others into a battle. A crowd swarmed around them. The clique was up in the front kicking and punching the two girls on the ground.
The next morning, I didn’t feel any better. I called up to let the office know I wouldn’t be in until later in the day. I had an appointment with Ms. Mills at 3:30 PM that I didn’t want to put off. I also wanted to be in the yard at dismissal. Mr. Nottingham and I talked concerning the new fight. I asked him to get together with the staff to identify the kids who had joined yesterday’s fight and to find the kids who were kicking and punching the fighters. Many of the staff had been in the yard. Nottingham told me that this fight was worse than the first. At the end of our conversation, I also asked him to suspend the fighters for three days, and to suspend any of the other kids who’d joined for one day. When I checked back later, I learned that he had identified twelve kids who had swarmed the two fighters. A message needed to be sent right away to the whole school that this kind of behavior wasn’t going to be tolerated.
I arrived at school about fifteen minutes before the end of the day. Dismissal went well. My message had been heard loud and clear when the suspension notices were given out in classrooms.