Friday, July 29, 2011

Are DC schools really that bad

Or is there a cupcake bubble?

Bill Kerlina won a plum assignment when he was hired away from Montgomery County in July 2009 to become a principal in Northwest Washington. Phoebe Hearst Elementary was a small, high-performing school, right across the street from Sidwell Friends.

He grew to love its students, teachers and — for the most part — its parents.

Instead, he said, the dysfunction he encountered in D.C. public schools led him to quit this month, fed up and burned out.

Kerlina, a baby-faced 39, is leaving Hearst, not a struggling school in a poor neighborhood. He’s also leaving education altogether after 17 years — to go into the gourmet cupcake business.

He said he is quitting a system that evaluates teachers but doesn’t support their growth, that knuckles under to unreasonable demands from parents, and that focuses excessively on recruiting neighborhood families to a school where most students come from outside the attendance zone.

Kerlina signed on just as Rhee was rolling out the IMPACT evaluation system, which called for five classroom observations to assess criteria such as clarity of presentation, content knowledge and ability to teach children with varying skill levels. Some teachers would be held accountable for student growth on standardized tests. Those with poor evaluations were subject to dismissal.
It was a major change. ... He said he came to believe that the initiative offered virtually no provisions to help teachers improve.

“The reform, in my opinion, is getting rid of people,” he said.

Kerlina said that he had good relations with most parents but that some could be a trial.
One parent called his cellphone over Memorial Day weekend to complain that a tutor from Sidwell had not shown up at Hearst for her child that Friday. Another couple was convinced that delays by teachers in writing private-school references had ruined their child’s chances. Kerlina said he called each of the schools to assure them the applications were on time.

More problematic, Kerlina said, were parents who went straight to the central office without trying to speak to him. D.C. principals are often undermined, he said, by a system that indulges questionable parent behavior. Kerlina criticized the school system’s “critical response team,” which he described as a cadre of young staff with little school-level experience.

In April, Kerlina said, the response team told him to readmit a student who had been removed from Hearst two months earlier after an investigation found that his family lived in Prince George’s County. Kerlina said team member Jared Solomon told him the family had established residence in Southeast Washington.
Hearst had a long waiting list, he said, and the student in question was a “behavior nightmare.”

“It’s in the best interests of the child,” Kerlina recalled Solomon saying.

“I have the best interests of a school to think about,” Kerlina said.

Soon after the student returned to Hearst, Kerlina said, he was suspended for stabbing another student with a pen.

And then later:

It looks like another D.C. school principal has decided to trade classroom observations and irate parent calls for the cupcake business.

District officials confirmed Wednesday that Noyes Education Campus Principal Adell Cothorne has resigned after one year at the school in Northeast Washington. Officials would not elaborate on the departure.

According to a new Web site, Cothorne, 40, is joining former Hearst Elementary principal Bill Kerlina as co-owner of Cooks ’n Cakes, a gourmet cupcake venture.

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