Photo not worth 1,000 words

chokehold
A Facebook photo of a principal restraining a girl who’d been fighting resulted in suspensions — for 10 students who “cyber-bullied” the girl.

Principal Todd Whitmire isn’t in trouble, despite a Facebook photo that appears to show him choking a ninth-grade girl. Ashley Johnson, 15, fell as he was pulling her away from a fight, Whitmire told the Contra Costa Times.

Ten students were suspended for “racist and derogatory comments” about the photo, the principal said. ”It was the reposting, the retweeting, and keeping it alive and assigning negative comments to it and creating a hostile environment.”

The fight apparently had been planned on social media, which is why the principal was right there.

Johnson and the boy she was fighting also were suspended. She’s now wearing a neck brace and blaming Whitmire. In an at-home interview, she claimed to be “unable to move,” but a classroom video taken the day before by a school resource officer shows her moving easily, the Times reports.

Turnaround dream turns to nightmare

When Jill Saia was hired to turn around a low-performing Baton Rouge elementary school, she was promised autonomy in decision-making and School Improvement Grant funding to pay for extra staff and a longer school day. Her turnaround dream became a nightmare, she writes on Teacher in a Strange Land.

Two months into the first school year, the new district administration dismantled the “dream team” that had planned the transformation of Delmont Elementary and moved two teachers and an aide to another school. Saia was cited for insubordination for insisting SIG entitled the school to extra staff.

Still, Delmont started to improve. While there was little progress on test scores in the first year, “we did change the culture and climate of the school, increase enrollment, and foster a high level of parental involvement,” Saia writes.

In the second year, she got funding for the extended day program.

We began to turn the corner – more children were reading, asking questions, and flourishing. Fewer behavior problems, more time on task. Children were communicating with each other, with teachers, with staff. They understood what the parameters were for being a student at Delmont, and they rose to our challenges. We planted our vegetable garden, had choir concerts, and participated in the Kennedy Center for the Arts program to integrate arts into the curriculum. We partnered with the local hospital’s health program to host the “Big Blue Bus” every week, which provided medical and mental health care to children and families. We were awarded a sizable grant from a local foundation to adopt a parenting program, and worked with a local university to design a new playground.

But, in November, the superintendent told her Delmont would close after two years of its three-year turnaround plan. Then the board decided to turn it into a K-2 school, then a pre-K center and finally a preK and K school. The final decision was announced in the middle of state testing week.

Students were assigned to a school three miles away, which has an F rating.

. . . because I stood up for my school and tried to keep it open, I was given another letter of insubordination. I was also rated “ineffective” at midyear because of my refusal to change my ratings of teachers to match their pre-identified quota in the value-added system. Their assumption was that if test scores were low, then the teachers must be ineffective.

. . . I was placed on an Intensive Assistance plan. Two months later, I turned in four binders full of data, observations, meeting notes, mentor reviews, etc. My mentor was a local award-winning principal who was part of the original “Dream School” team. Needless to say, she loved Delmont and what we were doing there. . . . After looking at all of my documentation, the director said that it “looked complete,” but then a week later told me that I was still ineffective and would have to wait for his final evaluation.

Saia began looking for a new job, but found “no public school district in this area would hire me because of my track record in a ‘failed’ school.”  After 29 ½ years in the state retirement system, she retired with less-than-full benefits to become dean of instruction at a public charter school about ½ mile from Delmont. Many former Delmont parents have enrolled their children.

Test scores from Delmont’s second turnaround year were “outstanding,” Saia adds. Delmont would no longer be a “failing” school — if it had remained open.

‘No confidence’ petition included teachers

A Los Angeles parent trigger campaign forced out the principal of a low-performing school, but most teachers say they’ll leave too, disappointing the parents. Here’s a new wrinkle: In June 2011, months before Weigand Parents United was formed to launch the parent trigger campaign, parents and six teachers signed a petition expressing “no confidence” in the principal, Irma Cobian. Several parents complained she was rude to parents and hostile to special needs students.

The principal stayed at Weigand and all six teachers who signed the petition left, according to Parent Revolution, which helped organize the parent trigger campaign. Teacher turnover has been high at the school: Of 22 teachers at Weigand in Principal Cobian’s first year, 2009-10, 14 have left the school.

During Cobian’s tenure, the school’s Academic Performance Index fell from 717 (23 points above average for Los Angeles Unified schools) to 689 (56 points below the average).

‘Trigger’ parents fire principal: Unfair? Satanic?

A majority of parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School signed a parent trigger petition asking for a new principal for their chronically low-performing school. Los Angeles Unified will replace Principal Irma Cobian.  Parents had hoped to keep Weigand’s teachers, but 21 of 22 teachers say they’ll transfer, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The story portrays Cobian as a child-hugging, teacher-mentoring paragon who had a plan to turn Weigand around.

Third-grade teacher Kate Lewis said Irma Cobian is the best principal she’s had in nine years at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.

Joseph Shamel called Cobian a “godsend” who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.

The story implies Weigand was making progress during Cobian’s four-year tenure, which started in 2009-10. The school’s low Academic Performance Index scores have declined slightly; students are doing about the same in reading and worse in math. The school rates a 1 out of 10 compared to all elementary schools in the state, a 2 compared to schools with similar demographics.

LA Times commenters attack the parents — most are low-income Latinos — as too stupid, lazy and uncaring to help their kids learn at home or appreciate their principal’s efforts. Many blame Parent Revolution, which is organizing parent trigger campaigns.

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch assigned a “special place in hell” to Parent Revolution and its supporters. Ben Austin, who runs the group, is a “loathsome” person who . . . ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre, she writes.

I agree with Rick Hess. Replacing Cobian may not help, but it’s not unreasonable for parents to seek new leadership.

Llury Garcia, coordinator for Weigand Parents United, said in a private communication, “We love the teachers at our school and don’t want them to leave. However… many of the teachers have turned on us, calling us ‘uneducated’ and unable to make good decisions for our children. By trying to support the principal who is leaving after years of failure, the teachers are the ones now trying to divide our community.”

It’s possible the principal was “on the cusp of turning things around . . . but parents didn’t think so,” Ben Austin wrote Hess. “The parents felt they had waited long enough.”

Hess knows both Ravitch and Austin personally, which I don’t. He thinks Ravitch has gone off the deep end rhetorically: Austin is “smart, well-intentioned, passionate, humble, and nice,” according to Hess.

Austin is a liberal Democrat who thinks empowering parents is the way to force schools to improve. I’m not sure he’s right, but I’m fairly sure he’s not doomed to burn in hell for trying.

“Once-respected education historian Diane Ravitch no longer deserves to be taken seriously,” writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Big bully

A California principal used an anti-bullying assembly to accuse — wrongly — a freshman boy of cyberbullying. Arroyo High School Principal Larry Smith pointed out the boy as he sat with 400 classmates.

“The student was saying he didn’t do it, but then the principal kept saying he did,” said freshman Kenneth Lee. “The principal said he posted an inappropriate picture about someone, but he deleted the picture knowing he did something wrong.”

Smith later admitted the boy “didn’t do anything wrong.” He re-assembled the freshman class to apologize.

Via Reason’s Hit & Run blog.

Parent trigger used to oust principal

Using the parent trigger law, Los Angeles parents have ousted the principal of their low-performing elementary school. The school board voted 5-2 to accept the parents petition after 61 percent of parents signed on.

Weigand Elementary parents didn’t ask for a charter school. They want to fire the principal.

“We support our teachers,” said mother Llury Garcia.

“I think that the teachers are very intimidated right now” by Principal Irma Cobian, whom Garcia said is rarely on campus and has been unresponsive to parent complaints in the past.

The district will name a new principal for the school, which serves low-income Hispanic students.

Parent Revolution, which helped Weigand parents organize, is touting the campaign as evidence trigger laws are about empowering parents, not promoting charter schools.

“We keep hearing about how “parent trigger” is anti-teacher and about privatizing schools,” writes Eduwonk. The Weigand trigger could change the debate.

Heroes

When an elementary school became a combat zone, Newtown’s teachers were heroes, reports CNN.

When Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, Principal Dawn Hochsprung ran toward the gun shots with school psychologist Mary Sherlach and Vice Principal Natalie Hammond. Hochsprung, 47, and Sherlach, 56, were killed.

Four teachers were killed with their students.

Victoria Soto, 27, moved her first-grade students away from the classroom door. The gunman burst in and shot her, according to the father of a surviving student.

“She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children,” her mother, Donna Soto, told CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Anne Marie Murphy’s body was found in a classroom, slumped over young children killed in the shooting. The 52-year-old special education teacher was apparently attempting to shield them, her father told the newspaper Newsday.

Rachel D’Avino, 29, was a behavioral therapist who worked with autistic children. D’Avino’s boyfriend was going to propose to her on Christmas Eve.

Lauren Rousseau, 30, had dreamed of being a teacher since before she went to kindergarten herself. She had only been hired last month by Sandy Hook and was substituting for a teacher on maternity leave, when Lanza killed her.

Kindergarten teacher Janet Vollmer locked her classroom door when the shots rang out. She took the children into a nook between bookcases and a wall and read them a story to keep them calm. ”We’re going to be safe,” Vollmer told them, “because we’re sitting over here and we’re all together.”

I tutor first graders in reading at a California elementary school. There’s no way to bar entrance to outsiders:  Every classroom door opens to the outside. I only know a few teachers there and a few aides, but I’d bet they’d stand between a gunmen and their kids. I’ll be back there Wednesday.

Ex-principal: Adult cheating hurts students

Test scores were up sharply at Communications Technology High in Philadelphia. The new principal, Saliyah Cruz, wondered how so many students could score proficient on the state exam while also testing into remedial reading and math. Two years later, an investigation found evidence of cheating by adults, reports NewsWorks and Philadelphia Notebook. Students paid a high price, says Cruz, who quit in frustration.

In 2010, 75 percent of 11th graders at Comm Tech scored proficient or above in reading. That was a 22 percentage-point jump over the previous year. In math, 70 percent of Comm Tech 11th graders scored proficient or above, 40 points higher than the year before.

. . . In both 2009 and 2010, a high number of student response sheets at Comm Tech had suspicious patterns of “wrong-to-right” erasures – a telltale sign of adult cheating.

When Cruz asked the school’s staff why scores had soared, they credited “Study Island,” a computer-based test prep program used at many Philadelphia public schools. Cruz expanded use of Study Island.

Reports generated by Study Island suggested that students didn’t understand the material. Interim tests used to predict PSSA performance pointed to huge score drops. Cruz’s own eyes told her that students weren’t learning.

Her staff resisted her efforts to get teachers to “change their instruction or re-teach content.” After all, the test scores were great.

As a result, says Cruz, students at Comm Tech got a Band-Aid when what they really needed was surgery.

With Cruz as principal, there were no more suspicious erasures. The school’s scores dropped 38 points in reading and 45 points in math.

At the district level, principals were pushed to show rapid gains, Cruz says. Slow, steady improvement was not good enough. Principals under suspicion of cheating have been promoted, including Cruz’s predecessor at Comm Tech, reports NewsWorks and Notebook.

Why do teachers quit? Bad principals

Why Do So Many Teachers Quit Their Jobs? Because They Hate Their Bosses Writing in The Atlantic, John Tierney summarizes research on why new teachers quit.

. . . the most important factor influencing commitment was the beginning teacher’s perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole. This was a stronger factor than the adequacy of resources, the extent of a teacher’s administrative duties, the manageability of his or her workload, or the frequency of professional-development opportunities.

A third of teachers in their first two years change schools or quit teaching altogether, Tierney writes.  Turnover is higher in urban schools with low-income, hard-to-teach students.

The new research affirms much of what earlier studies have found. For example, an earlier (2003) multiyear study of 50 teachers in Massachusetts found that teachers who left the profession often “described principals who were arbitrary, abusive, or neglectful.”

It’s not just new teachers, Tierney adds. Job satisfaction for all teachers depends on the principal’s managerial style.

The elephant in the integrated classroom

Clashing parenting styles, cultures and expectations undermine school integration, writes Jennifer Burns Stillman in The Elephant in the Classroom in Education Next. She interviewed white, upper-middle-class parents in gentrifying neighborhoods about their school choices.

. . . white, upper-middle-class families prefer a progressive and discursive style of interaction with their children, both at home and in school, and lower-income, nonwhite families prefer a traditional or authoritarian style of interaction with their children in these same venues.

White parents who try an urban school and then leave cite overly strict discipline and  ”near-constant yelling—from principals, teachers, school aides, and nonwhite parents who come to drop off and pick up their kids,” Stillman writes.

White parents who wanted to volunteer said principals and non-white parents saw them as pushy interlopers.

One principal was angry when white parents gave each teacher a $100 book card donated by Barnes & Noble, seeing it as “bribing” teachers. Parents called various principals “not the brightest bulb in the box,” “insane,” “crazy,” “incompetent.”

White parents didn’t do enough “ego stroking,” one mother said.  When parents offered to help out, “it came across as, ‘You’re broken and you need fixing,’ rather than, ‘We’ve got extra hands, we’ve got extra energy, let’s build up what you already have.’ ”

“Creating a successful, truly diverse charter school is enormously difficult to pull off, ” writes Alexander Russo, also in Ed Next. Students come with a wide range of abilities and background knowledge. Parents have different cultures and expectations.

. . . the list of strategies applied is a long one: frequent online assessments to diagnose and direct students to the appropriate activity; open-ended assignments allowing kids of varying skill levels to engage at their own levels; coteaching in which two teachers share responsibility for a group of kids; and looping, in which teachers follow kids from one grade to the next.

In one Brooklyn Prospect classroom, the English teacher makes as many of her lessons open-ended as she can and coteaches half of her classes with a special education teacher. She also offers additional uncredited projects called “Seekers” so that kids who want to can go faster without disadvantaging kids still working on basic skills.

“You can’t just put a heterogeneous population together and think it’s going to work,” Summit cofounder Donna Tavares tells Russo.

Mike Petrilli’s book, The Diverse School Dilemma, offers three ways to create integrated schools in newly gentrified neighborhoods.