Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (7 of 8)
The next few days passed well. I dragged a little with the discomfort of a cold. I sniffled and sneezed my way through the week. Friday was a messy day. Many student discipline problems occupied my attention through out the day. Keeping up with the increased demands of our expanded school is becoming hard to handle by myself. I could use the help of an assistant principal. Unfortunately there aren’t any funds available to hire someone to fill this role.
At around four o’clock on Friday afternoon, I was talking to John DiPaolo regarding the scheduling of several partnership meetings that were to take place next week. Toward the end of this conversation he said, “Oh by the way, the regional superintendent has received a letter from a parent who is complaining about you.”
“Who is the parent?”
He didn’t know; he hadn’t seen the letter. After I got off the phone with him, I decided to call the Regional Superintendent. One of his secretaries answered. She said, “I’m not sure if he is back there. I’ll give a buzz”. After a few minutes on hold, she transferred me. He picked up.
“Mr. Beddin speaking.”
“Hi, Dana, this is Frank. John tells me that you received a complaint letter from one of my parents.”
“John DiPaolo will be handling that. I’ve sent him a copy of the letter.” His tone was cold. He seemed to be put off by having to talk to me.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“I don’t remember. It was someone who didn’t like the way you talked to them,” A light went on in my head. Could it be the kindergarten parent who felt that I was lecturing to the parents on the opening day?
“Is it a kindergarten parent?”
“Yeah it is,” he replied. “But I don’t remember anything else, I gave the letter to my secretary and she is out today.”
We didn’t talk for long.
When I came in from the yard today, Ms. Yates was sitting on the bench outside of the main office. She didn’t speak to me. Once inside the office, I asked the staff if any of them knew what was up with her. No one knew what she wanted.
We had scheduled three back-to-back assemblies to introduce our “Read Three Times A Day” literacy program to the students. I didn’t need a major distraction to disrupt this busy day. I went by the bench several times as I shuffled back and forth between the auditorium and the main office. During several of these passes, she was sitting with the classroom assistant from the kindergarten class. They appeared to be having a calm discussion. At the end of the first of the assemblies, I noticed that she was gone. The morning passed quietly and calmly
It wasn’t so quiet over at the Regional Office. Barbara, the assistant to the regional superintendent, had various parents from different schools lined up to see her. Ms Yates had joined them unannounced. I learned this from Barbara when she gave me a call around noon. The assemblies were over by then and I was meeting with the leadership team. We were figuring out how to set up a service-learning program for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. We wanted to have the older students work with the younger students on a regular weekly basis as reading buddies.
Barbara had some routine questions for me. When I finished answering her questions, she described the litany of complaints from Ms Yates. I had screamed at the kindergarten parents. I lectured the parents. We didn’t feed her child. She didn’t like the school. Ms Yates also didn’t like the way the classroom assistant had talked to her. “She talked down to me,” she had told Barbara.
Barbara teasingly said to me, “Your Meade parent stories are too long and complicated. They are giving me a headache. Christie Sims was in to see me last week. She said you suspended her daughter and she didn’t do anything. Frank, what are you doing to me?”
Ms. Sims is another parent who is very much like Ms. Yates. For many years Ms. Sims has been a regular complainer at the regional office. Her daughters often disrupt the instructional activities of their classrooms. When I meet with Ms Sims to discuss the girl’s misbehaviors, she insist that my staff and I were picking on her daughters
Barbara and I chatted for a while about Christie’s never-ending complaints. We conjectured as to the true nature of Ms Yates’ agenda. I thanked Barbara for watching at for my interest. She is one of the few folks at the Regional Office that I trust to handle delicate matters well.
The rest of the day was calm. I was able to work on the real business of an instructional leader, instruction. I stayed late in order to finish the work, which I can never get to during regular school hours. It was almost six o’clock when I heard someone knocking on the counter in the main office. When I checked it out I saw Ms Miller standing there in the main office.
In her whispery voice she said, “Can I talk to you about a problem my son is having in class.”
“Sure”, I said.
“Well some boy touched my son on his chest. I don’t like it. I also heard that the same boy was in the bathroom touching other boys on the behind. Maybe it isn’t what I think it is, but if it is, I don’t like that stuff.”
I promised her that I would look into the matter first thing in the morning