Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (3 of 8)
Ms. Mills arrived right on schedule. Our meeting was productive. I talked to her about dropping the charges against Ms. Thompson. She agreed to do so. She explained that the only reason she’d been involved in the police idea was to calm her own family. “My sisters wanted to go around to the Thompson’s house and confront the mother. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I had to do something. So I went along with the police idea. I’ll take care of it,” she said.
After Donisha’s mother left, I gave a call to Saundra’s mother. I informed her that I had convinced Ms. Mills not to press charges. I also let her know that I wasn’t pleased that Saundra’s dad had been up to school earlier in the day complaining that nothing was being done. She protested that this problem had been going on for three weeks and no one did anything to help her. I cut her short. “No one at the school knew about your concerns before the fight. You didn’t contact anyone. I just dug you out of a hole. I don’t want to hear you complaining that no one is doing anything.” She backed down and thanked me for my help. I told her, “If any other problems develop, that she should immediately let me know.”
On Thursday morning, the Temple Partnership staff and principals came to Meade for a meeting. They were going to do a walk-through of our classrooms. I wanted to be there. I was still feeling a bit sick, but I got myself going in the morning.
We were just getting the meeting started when I was called to the main office. Christie Sims was demanding to see me. She was irate that her daughters had been suspended.
Malika had created a disruption in the classroom. She wouldn’t follow the teacher’s directions. She kept walking around the room, talking and giggling with the other kids. She had opened a bag of chips and a one-portion serving of dip and was snacking while snapping at the teacher. The teacher took the chips and dips. Malika got up and went to the teacher’s desk and to took them back.
Ms. Sims’ response to the teacher’s discipline referral was, “I’m tired of the teachers picking on her.”
I told her that the suspension would be enforced. Christie didn’t press her protest of Malika’s suspension. She was more insistent on having her other daughter’s suspension rescinded. Tia was one of the girls who had been kicking and punching the girls on the ground during the fight on Tuesday.
“Mr. Nottingham has no right to suspend my daughter.”
“Mr. Nottingham didn’t suspend your daughter, I did.”
“Well you had no right to suspend her.”
“Your daughter was observed by Mr. Nottingham, a school staff member, punching and kicking two girls who were fighting.”
“That’s not what Tia’s friends told me happened. They said she wasn’t doing anything.”
“She was observed hitting and kicking the other students. In fact, she almost kicked Mr. Nottingham as he tried to break up the fight.”
“That’s why he’s telling a lie about her—he’s mad that she almost kicked him.”
“I suspended your daughter based on the facts which were reported to me.”
“Well, you’re wrong. That’s not what her friends said happened. I want the suspension removed from her file.”
“The suspension stands. Your daughter is not permitted in school today. You will take her with you when you leave.”
Christie stormed out of my office, shouting as she went, “He isn’t going to put a suspension on her.” She left the building with her daughters.
I went back to the principal’s meeting. I was only there for a short while before I was once again pulled out of the meeting. A representative from the Office of School Management was on the phone. Christie had gone directly to the School Reform Commission with her complaint that I was picking on her children.
Sherry, the administrator who had been assigned to deal with Christie’s concerns, was pleasant. She wanted background information. I provided her with a verbal synopsis of Ms. Sims’ long disruptive history at Meade. I also faxed fifteen pages of various letters I have sent to Christie over the last few years. Throughout the day on Thursday I talked to Sherry several times. She wanted to find a way to permanently remove Christie and her children from our school. I wasn’t opposed to this option. I missed almost the entire principal’s meeting while I was dealing with this problem.
The next day, I met with the parents of the other children who had been suspended for joining the fight in the schoolyard. It took more than two hours to meet with all of them.
Every one of them was very supportive. They were upset with their children’s behavior. And they made it clear to me and to their children that they didn’t approve of the meanness their children had displayed. Several of the parents mentioned that the Sims sisters were leading their daughters in the wrong direction. They assured me that they would put a stop to their children’s misbehavior. It was a very productive morning.
Shortly after I saw the last parent, I received a call from Dr. Rider, a community activist. She was investigating complaints filed by Christie Sims. “From what Ms. Sims tells me, there are serious things wrong at that school. She has given me power of attorney in order to handle this matter for her. I hope I can get these complaints resolved before I have to meet with Mr. Vallas. I meet with him every month.”
Later in the afternoon, I contacted Sherry. We discussed what I should say in my written response to Ms. Sims’ recent accusations.