Friday, June 5, 2009

She's an Angel...


Thus spoke a number of former colleagues. Hold onto your hats. I'm talking about a Leadership Academy Principal.

I was in Williamsburg Wednesday where I left my car on the way to Yankee Stadium and decided to pop into a few schools to see some friends. I started with the school where I spent most of my 35 years in the system.

Now I won't go into the full history. Only the abridged version. I'm saving the real goodies for my novel.

I arrived in 1970 (after 3 years at another school) just as a powerful traditional principal of the old school was leaving. He was replaced by a long-time AP and teacher at the school, with the assistance of an AP who also came up the traditional way.

These guys were pretty open to listening to teachers so we pretty much did as we wanted.

In 1975 someone politically connected with little teaching experience was inserted as an AP and we knew things would change. She immediately leaped over the long-time AP when in late 1978 the district pulled a coup d'etat that made her principal, dumping the long-time AP into another school and forcing the old principal to retire (they locked him in a room at the district office and didn't let him pee). Thus we got an early taste of a non-educator running a school, which she did for a quarter of a century.

She imposed a data driven, high stakes testing system and we saw the impact. The school scores rose, but the kids knew no more and their lives were impacted not at all. Thus an early lesson in achievement gap bullshit.

She was forced into retirement not long after the BloomKlein takeover when 4 districts with different cultures were made into one region. They sent a principal from district 16. Her first act upon the start of the year was to make every teacher change rooms - apparently an old D.16 tactic to show people who was boss. She left for an admin position after one year.

Then came the Leadership Academy principal from hell. Rubber rooms, attacks on teachers, irrational decisions. The school's scores rose to the top and she got A after A (her husband worked for Bloomberg). Lots of people left, including a core of excellent teachers, many of whom went to other schools in the district where tales of the Lead Acad horror story spread.

Last summer she went on to bring her light and cheer to some very lucky school in New Jersey. Call it passing the Klein lemons.

Lots of cheering for the wicked witch being gone. But---another Leadership Acad principal who looks all of 29 years old takes her place.

We've heard plenty of stories of these hot shots who come in and think they know everything and attack, attack, attack.

But reports immediately start filtering out this one is different. Nice. And open. And welcoming. A friend who had built a serious library out of nothing but left due to you know who, was invited back for the opening of a brand new library and was raving - about the library and the principal.

So I went to see for myself. As I ran into former colleagues almost all of them were smiling, as if they had been liberated from a prisoner of war camp. One said she was going to leave on the day she was eligible for retirement without telling anyone, but was now going to stay. She can do the work of 5 people if properly motivated. Sometimes a "please" or "thank you" is all it takes.

Another colleague told me that test scores were down, but they were more realistic and there was no hysteria. The school had been so divided and tense before. But now she felt people would all be pulling together.

I was escorted into the Principal's office. Maybe she was 29. I introduced myself as a 27 year school vet and said "I have been hearing nice things about you."

"Well, you can stop by anytime," she smiled as she shook my hand. (Her predecessor would not even acknowledge me when she saw me and rebuffed any effort to assist.)

We chatted for about 30 seconds and before I knew it I was volunteering to help out in some way. "Do you want to work F-status," she asked? "No, I'll just stick to volunteering," I said. I told her about FIRST LEGO League and she knew all about it.

Well, what is the moral of this tale? From the coup d'etat in 1978 until Sept. 2008 when this new principal took over, the school had never experienced complete peace. Though the gal who took over in '78 eventually calmed down a bit, it was always her way no matter how dumb and irrational her decisions were. So this may be the first time in 30 years with a somewhat humanist principal. I have no idea what she knows, but she seems to know at least how to treat people with respect.

I know things can turn, especially if the scores don't move. This school may be one of the few places where people will fight like hell to keep their principal.

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