Chapter Two: October

13 Oct

Confessions of an Urban Principal

by Frank Murphy

Installment (4 of 8)


The teacher’s contract dispute has been resolved, but the details of the settlement are sketchy.  The newspaper reports offer little  in the way of information.  Last Sunday, a third contract extension had expired.

On Monday, there wasn’t any news in either of the daily papers concerning the status of negotiations.  During other contract negotiations, the newspapers have been filled with regular reports.  This is the first contract negotiation between the District and the teacher’s union since the state takeover.  I had expected front-page coverage for this historic event.

There is a report that a compromise has been reached regarding the principals’ right to select their own staffs.  It is hard to tell what the real deal is from the paper.  I’d have to wait patiently for an explanation of the settlement to be presented at a future principals meeting.

On this day of an alleged historic breakthrough regarding staffing procedures, I am sending out the NCLB mandatory letter to my parents regarding my seventh grade teachers.  These two apprentice teachers are not considered to be highly qualified.  They each have a B.A. degree and are in a graduate program to complete their certification requirements, but in accordance with a provision of the NCLB Act, our parents must be notified every four weeks that these teachers are not highly qualified.  I feel like I’m branding them with a scarlet letter.

Of course it is important for a teacher to be certified.  However, even though we have site-based selection for several years, we often cannot find individuals to fill our middle grade positions who meet the rigorous requirements of NCLB.  The original intent of the law would have allowed our students to receive vouchers for private schools where many teachers are not certified at all.  How could anyone justify allowing students to transfer to a private school staffed with non-certified teachers using a voucher as a legitimate school choice?  Are non-certified private school teachers better than my two intern teachers?


It would be nice to take a three-day weekend by skipping school this Friday. I am sick of the bullies in my life.  I resent how much energy I’ve wasted composing written responses to Christie’s attempt to defame me. Pushing these thoughts away, I dragged myself out of bed and went to work.  I am feeling empathy for every one of my children who has ever been the victim of a bully. Belly aches and tears in the morning are the telltale signs of the child who is overwhelmed by the thought of another day of facing the schoolhouse bully, feelings I know well.

Right after the yard emptied in the morning, I made a dash for the third floor.  I was avoiding the office.  If I don’t go there my bullies won’t be able to find me, I told myself.   During the next three hours, I visited almost every classroom in the school.  It was a great pleasure.  In the midst of the black clouds which surround the main office, the school sometimes looks and feels like a disaster.  In the classrooms though, the sun shines brightly.

Everywhere, from kindergarten through eighth grade, the school was humming with the sounds of happy people engaged in productive learning activities.

As I worked my way through the classrooms I saw good instruction taking place almost everywhere.   The quality of instruction and classroom management throughout the building is light years away from what it was when I started at Meade.  Back in the beginning, if I had two or three bright classrooms I was happy.  Now the lights are on in the whole house.

It was near noontime when I returned to the main office.  Before I was able to get into my office, an aide approached me.

“Did you hear the news?  Kia’s mom has transferred her to Washington School.”

Kia was Ms. Yates’ daughter, who had not been in school for the last seven school days. I guess she decided to take her personal issues and demons somewhere else.  I think her unexpected departure might be a lucky break for us.

In the afternoon, I met with the members of the Meade Leadership Team.  They were working on finishing several projects.  Robert Ong, our technology leader, and Pat Costello, the Reading First coach, were working on the last section of the School Improvement Plan.  Several grids needed to be filled in with data from many different sources. It was a tedious chore.

Ellen Lube was putting the finishing touches on the job description for the extended school day program. Alison, our Temple Partnership literacy coach, and I went through the prep schedule for both Meade and Dunbar School, which is another of the Temple Partnership schools.  We were creating a coaching schedule for the two schools. The afternoon passed smoothly and we managed to complete much of our work. The time I spend together with my leadership team reminds me to appreciate having people around me whom I can trust. Having friends you can count on makes the bullies seem to be less of a problem.  Dismissal went smoothly.  The mean girls didn’t stir up any fights.


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