Re: Rhee Was A Cancer Removed By DC Voters, The Healing Begins
- As difficult as it is for me to say this about a TFA, Ms. Lilly I respect and admire you. It appears to me that you are a brilliant and talented young educator. I hope you will give teaching another try soon.
Posted at 9:33 AM ET, 12/10/2010
Former Dunbar teacher: 'Neglect, zero accountability' at school
By Bill Turque
Geometry teacher Jessica Lilly found the fliers on the walls when she arrived at Dunbar Senior High School early one morning last month. They were a photo of a female student, with her name, phone number and an obscene caption announcing that she was available for oral sex with boys and girls.
"Wanna be next?????"
"Holla at Me!!!!"
It was a vile piece of bullying, and one that seemed to cry out for some intervention from school administrators. Lilly said as far she knows, there was no response from Friends of Bedford, the team of private consultants who ran the school until they were removed by Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson on Wednesday. It was one of numerous incidents of harassment and violence that she said were tolerated or overlooked. On Dec. 1, she quit the school in disgust and despair.
"Friends of Bedford created a school culture of neglect, insecurity, zero accountability and poor communication," Lilly wrote to me in a long, anguished e-mail this week. Bedford CEO George Leonard and his colleagues have stopped returning phone and e-mail messages, so there is no response to Lilly's account.
Lilly is a Teach for America recruit, one of hundreds from alternative training programs who have come to the D.C. school system in the Rhee-Henderson era. And she understands that she's easily stereotyped: impossibly young (23), earnest, energized and compulsively prepared. She came to an interview Thursday afternoon at a Cleveland Park Starbucks with a two-page, single-spaced outline of the points she wanted to cover.
But it would be a mistake to write Lilly off as a fragile suburban white girl who dipped her toe into DCPS for a few weeks and bolted. She made it through last year at Dunbar with an IMPACT score at the high-end of the "effective" category, and spent last summer planning how to raise her game in the classroom. She was thrilled when she was assigned to Dunbar, once the school of choice for the city's black elite, but now in federally mandated restructuring for persistently poor performance.
"We were all so excited and optimistic," she said "There was huge buy-in from the teachers."
She said Leonard promised "more support than we could possibly imagine," everything from high-tech promethean boards and classroom laptops to constant professional development opportunities. But as the 2009-10 school year went on, she said teachers saw less and less of Leonard and his associates, who seemed to retreat into their offices. It was unnerving to a young first-year teacher, who wanted direction and said she couldn't get it.
The only constant, she said, was principal Stephen Jackson. "He was very, very present around the building," Lilly said. "He made the kids feel like there was structure and safety." There were some bright spots that first year. Tenth grade reading scores on the DC-CAS rose about 10 points, which Lilly attributes to the relentless work of the two sophomore English teachers.
But Jackson, who was brought to Dunbar by Leonard, was removed at the end of the year. Leonard said in an interview last week that Jackson had tried to undermine his program by not being rigorous with teachers. He said that only one of Dunbar's 54 instructors had been given an "ineffective" IMPACT score, which he said he found implausible. He said it was one of the reasons he took over as principal.
The school climate, always challenging, began to deteriorate with Jackson's absence, Lilly said. Fighting in the cafeteria and hallways increased, and the smell of marijuana wafted through the stairways of the massive 13-story high-rise. More discipline problems went unaddressed. She said she wrote up a girl who aimed her iPhone at a classmate and used the app with a scarily realistic sound of gunshots. Her co-teacher reported a student who threw furniture at other students during testing, but nothing was done, Lilly said.
"Kids started to notice that no one was being held accountable for anything," she said.
Lilly called the Monday following Thanksgiving "the Monday that broke me." That weekend, reports of six students arrested Nov. 22 for an alleged rape (charges were later dropped) reached the press. She'd heard nothing from the administration, and came to school with her stomach in knots, expecting students to be acting out due to their confusion, anger and sadness. At a staff meeting, Lilly said she asked Leonard whether it was possible to get some kind of social service program or training to help the teachers assist the students in dealing with the situation. She said that Leonard's only response was that more security would be added.
"After the meeting I had to go up to my classroom and pretend that nothing happened," she wrote. "For the rest of the day I attempted to teach how to write an equation of a line in slope-intercept form in between student conversations about the attack. The students have a very limited understanding about the nature of sexual assault and they do not have the anger management skills or coping skills to deal with their emotions. For example, students were threatening to beat up the victim because she's 'a whore.' Others were denying that the event ever happened, or they asserted that the victim really wanted it, etc. I have many students who have been raped themselves and there were no supports in place to help them cope or to change students' mindsets or even to stop students from making insensitive comments. It was a total free-for-all."
Lilly left Dunbar that day and never returned. As torn up as she was about leaving her students, she felt she had no choice if she was going to preserve her sanity. The school's culture, one in which sexual violence was tolerated, was one she said she just couldn't be a part of. She's glad Bedford is gone, and that Jackson has been re-hired by DCPS, which has promised to address Dunbar's many needs. But she said she can' t go back.
"There have been promises before," she said
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "pinesmoon" <pinesmoon@...> wrote:
> Dunbar High's private operator ousted; ex-principal to return
> By Bill Turque
> Washington Post Staff Writer
> Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 9:27 PM
> Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson ousted the private, New
> York-based operator of Dunbar Senior High School on Wednesday, less than
> three years after former schools chief Michelle A. Rhee hired it to
> transform the culture and academic performance of the struggling school.
> Henderson's removal of Friends of Bedford comes after a series of
> complaints from parents, teachers and other community members about
> safety, security and academics at the 750-student school in Northwest.
> She has said that during her visits to the school, she saw students
> roaming the halls and classrooms without teachers.
> "The school is no longer operated by Friends of Bedford. It will
> function as a traditional DCPS high school," Henderson said in a
> prepared statement. Bedford will continue, however, to operate Coolidge
> High School under its contract with the District, which expires in the
> In an unusual twist, Henderson named former Dunbar principal Stephen
> Jackson, who was removed from the post by Bedford officials at the end
> of the 2009-10 school year, to head the new leadership team. Henderson
> said last week that the school took a turn for the worse when Jackson
> was removed.
> Henderson's action underscores the extreme difficulty of high school
> turnarounds - especially involving operators who try to transplant their
> success into new soil in a different city. Rhee selected Friends of
> Bedford on the basis of its success at Bedford Academy, a highly
> regarded Brooklyn public school with an unstinting emphasis on college
> preparation. Anacostia Senior High School, which was placed under the
> control of Friendship Public Charter Schools by Rhee at the same time
> she hired Bedford, has also had leadership changes and discipline
> Bedford Chief Executive George Leonard, who had been acting principal
> since the beginning of the current school year, could not be reached to
> comment Wednesday. But in an interview Saturday, Leonard said the
> District's intervention was politically inspired, the product of
> disgruntled parents and former staff who had the ear of Mayor-elect
> Vincent C. Gray (D), a Dunbar alumnus, and D.C. Council member Harry
> Thomas Jr. (D), who represents Ward 5, home to the school.
> Henderson said flatly that she took no guidance from Gray on the matter.
> "Some will say it's Gray. I'm telling you unequivocally that he hasn't
> told me any direction to go in on this," she said in an e-mail. "I'm
> just going to do what I think is best. Sorry I don't have anything
> juicier to tell you."
> Six students were arrested Nov. 23 and charged with raping a 15-year-old
> girl in a stairway in an unoccupied area of the sprawling school. The
> charges were dropped, but the incident shook the school community and
> was described by officials as emblematic of larger safety issues.
> In addition to rehiring Jackson, the District has added six additional
> police officers to Dunbar. It has also detailed two additional officers
> from the "Roving Leaders" unit of the Parks and Recreation Department to
> address ongoing neighborhood disputes that have affected the school
> climate. Unused portions of the building have been closed off, and more
> security cameras have been installed, Henderson said.
> The District has also begun a series of sessions with students about
> sexual assault and inappropriate behavior.
> Leonard said Saturday that he had requested such changes of the District
> for many months.
> LaTanya Cherry, president of the Dunbar parents association, said that
> the school has suffered since the beginning of the academic year but
> that after Jackson's departure there was a downward spiral. "We were on
> the right track in June," she said. "Just to see this complete 360 is
> Leonard said Saturday that Jackson was removed for "undermining" efforts
> to improve the school. He did not elaborate.
> While he had success with his Brooklyn school, Leonard, a former biology
> teacher, faced a significantly different situation in the District. He
> built Bedford from scratch, while Dunbar, once the educational pride of
> black Washington, is twice the size and has been a failing school for
> Bedford was an application school, where students' grades, standardized
> test scores and attendance were screened by the city's education
> department. At Dunbar, Friends of Bedford was required to accept anyone
> with the legal right to attend.
> At Bedford Academy, Leonard said, incoming ninth-graders attended a
> mandatory month-long "summer bridge" program to prepare them for the
> demands of high school. In the District, the program was not compulsory,
> and few attended.