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Posted at 9:19 PM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Arlington principal resigns: Read the letter

By Washington Post editors

Kathleen Francis, principal of Williamsburg Middle School, announced her resignation Tuesday in an open letter to the school community that criticized the county superintendent. Read it below and Arlington Public Schools' response farther down.

The letter:
Dear Parents and WMS Community,

Open Letter to Williamsburg Middle School Community
February 1, 2011

Williamsburg is an outstanding school with wonderful students and a dedicated staff. I’m proud to have served as part of this community for 18 years and hopefully contributed to its educational excellence. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I inform you I am resigning as Principal and will be leaving WMS in March. I do this recognizing the regrettable disruption this may create. However, it is unavoidable because of the untenable and hostile work environment created by Superintendent Murphy for me and Arlington Public Schools.

At this point, it is unproductive to dwell on all the details of the difficult year long struggle that has precipitated this decision. However, since you may be impacted by this disruption, you deserve to know some of the reasons.

In summary, Dr. Murphy, and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Hobbs acting at his direction, has engaged in an ongoing series of actions to harass me and mischaracterize my performance and professional reputation in the hopes of encouraging my departure from APS.

These actions were taken in response to my fulfilling my responsibilities to ensure a safe learning environment at WMS and requesting that the Superintendent and Central Office take action on a longstanding and serious personnel situation at Williamsburg. That situation involved an individual with a well-documented, multiple year record of non-performance and who was extremely disruptive to the educational environment of the school.

Dr. Murphy refused to act and made it clear that he was concerned about the “perceptions” around such actions and, therefore, did not want difficult personnel matters brought to the Central Office. Following his directive, I fully utilized the limited school-based tools at my disposal, but the situation worsened. When the individual’s behavior became more disruptive, I again requested that Dr. Murphy take action consistent with APS policies.

The Superintendent refused to exercise his responsibilities and expressed displeasure at me for bringing it to his attention. Nonetheless, when the situation became a potential safety concern, in the interests of the students and staff, I was obliged to persist in requesting Central Office action. After many months, I finally prevailed and forced action.

Although there was overwhelming documentation for removal, the individual was transferred to another school.

In my mind, this resolution should have been the end of the matter. However, as a direct result of my requesting Central Office action on this personnel matter, Superintendent Murphy’s attitude toward me and the WMS leadership team changed dramatically. He became adversarial and initiated steps designed to discredit the academic achievements at WMS, my professional performance and reputation, and force my removal from my position. Some of these actions constitute impermissible discrimination.

One act came in the form of an Unsatisfactory performance appraisal for the 2009-2010 school year despite my meeting all of the APS performance criteria. Prior to this incident, I had received Satisfactory performance evaluations from a range of supervisors and Superintendents for the entire three decades of my service to APS as a teacher and administrator.

Nonetheless, in August, Dr. Murphy informed me that that the educational progress at WMS had suddenly become unacceptable and that my leadership of the school was unsatisfactory. In pertinent part, Dr. Murphy’s evaluation states that, Ms. Francis’ leadership has “not moved the school and the students to an overall higher level of performance.”

I know we aren’t perfect at WMS, but I think we do darn well and are always striving for improvement. I know we aren’t “unsatisfactory.” Therefore, this allegation mischaracterizes the hard-earned performance of WMS students, insults the exceptional efforts of the WMS teachers and staff, and discounts the superior support of the WMS parents and community.

I strongly objected to Dr. Murphy’s description of WMS performance and provided him with extensive evidence of superior student accomplishments; how all the requirements in my performance standards had been achieved; and, the documented success of WMS on the Standards of Learning tests. In fact, during the 2009-2010 school year, WMS’ achievements on the SOL tests were exceptional, and our initiatives produced the best improvement in student subpopulation performance and surpassed Dr. Murphy’s expectations of 4-year growth in only one year. Although he was unable to contradict the factual evidence, he said the Unsatisfactory performance appraisal would stand. I was advised that it would be best to just go along with his plans. He discussed his belief that the most important characteristic in his staff was personal loyalty to him and agreement with his desires, and that I had failed that standard in pushing for resolution of the personnel matter.

An Unsatisfactory rating is a precursor to a dismissal action. More broadly, I’m aware that such an attitude toward WMS by the Superintendent can adversely impact employee morale and school performance. Therefore, I formally requested reconsideration.

As part of that request, I pointed out that schools with lower performance against the APS rating criteria had not been similarly adversely evaluated. Dr. Murphy responded that didn’t matter because he wasn’t bound by the written criteria and could use any basis he wanted for the rating. He dismissed my claim that ignoring the evidence constituted discrimination and made it clear that he was not interested in compromise, arbitration or re-establishing a collaborative working relationship. I told Dr. Murphy that to protect my professional reputation (and the reputation of the WMS staff and community) and future employment prospects, I was obligated to seek redress.

However, I learned that, in violation of basic due process, School Board Policies allow no appeal to a neutral party for principals from such an unfair evaluation. This allows the Superintendent to utilize the performance appraisal process for professional bullying of subordinates while cloaked in anonymity.

Disappointed, I nonetheless focused my energy and attention on the responsibilities of running the largest middle school in Arlington County and complying with every request from the Superintendent. However, Dr. Murphy and Dr. Hobbs have made it clear to me they want me to retire despite my commitment to WMS and my plans to work longer to complete the excellent initiatives we have launched.

Since September, I have been subjected to further baseless and demanding actions. These include requirements for excessive reporting and innumerable meetings to monitor my performance; violations of APS confidentiality policy by revealing personnel information to unauthorized parties; and discriminatory discussions of my hoped for premature retirement. The latter even included an announcement at a meeting of all APS leadership staff that Dr Hobbs and I had been discussing my retirement. Since I had previously informed both Dr. Murphy and Dr. Hobbs that I had no plans for retirement, this was an attempt to undermine my leadership effectiveness by making me appear to be a lame duck to my peers.

The continuing misconduct reached such a level that I was forced to file formal age and gender discrimination complaints with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Council and the Arlington School Board. In apparent retaliation for my filing these actions, the Superintendent confirmed his threat to place me on a formal Performance Improvement Plan. This would impose enormous additional micro-management of school activities and endless information generation on top of an already demanding work load.

I am confident that if I pursued these claims through the APS and federal procedural and litigation processes, I would prevail based on the facts. Yet, this could take years. I am willing to invest the effort in seeking justice and modeling persistence in defense of my personal reputation. However, my professional responsibilities to put the WMS students first will not allow me to let this unnecessary and corrosive situation to drag on indefinitely.

Beyond the personal stress, it is a major distraction from our core educational purpose to have to constantly defend WMS to a Superintendent who should be aware of its outstanding achievements and educational environment. We have exciting initiatives at WMS that I hate to abandon. But, it is ultimately unproductive for the school to have a principal the Superintendent does not want and will not support.

I appreciate the support I have received during this difficult time from my colleagues. On their behalf, I must note that my situation with the new Superintendent is not an isolated incident. It is merely representative of a larger problem in the Arlington Public Schools.

In conversations with my school-based and Central Office colleagues, it is clear there is a widespread concern in Dr. Murphy’s leadership. In his short tenure, he has created an environment of distrust between himself and many of the leadership staff. Rather than building a spirit of teamwork in pursuit of further educational excellence, he has created a divisive and blame-seeking environment. Some of these outstanding educators are dispirited; others are angry; some have been cowed into silence. Unfortunately, a number of individuals are considering premature retirement or are seeking employment opportunities outside the system. Some have already departed because they didn’t wish to work in an environment where they are neither valued nor supported.

This is not a case of legitimate professional disagreements on APS direction, means and priorities. While it is hoped that a Superintendent would sincerely seek the input and experience of the leaders on important educational matters, it is the prerogative of the School Board’s appointee to set his own course and for the career staff to try and implement it. Rather, this unfortunate situation is the result of his treatment of those who work for him and disrespect for the opinions of others. It reflects his belief that any disagreement with his ideas is not acceptable professional discourse, but rather personal disloyalty. I have not seen a comparably hostile atmosphere in my three decades of service to Arlington Public Schools. It is contrary to the professional and collaborative approach that has made APS one of the top school systems in the country. I am not alone in this opinion.

In conclusion, I wish to thank you for your personal support during my tenure at WMS. It is gratifying and appreciated. More importantly, thank you for your contributions to the Williamsburg educational community. Our students have benefitted enormously. I will miss you all. You have my best wishes and will be in my prayers.

Here is the response from Arlington Public Schools:

Arlington Public Schools Statement re: The Resignation of the Williamsburg Middle School Principal:
We were saddened to hear that Ms. Francis has chosen to resign her position as principal at Williamsburg Middle School in the middle of the school year.

Her letter suggests that she is very angry, but we feel that it is unfortunate she has chosen to express her opinion by publicly attacking the professionalism of others.

It has always been the practice of the Arlington Public Schools to not discuss Personnel issues.

While it is regrettable that Ms. Francis has decided to air her opinions in this manner, APS will continue to respond with a higher level of professionalism and cannot discuss Ms Francis's actions now or in the future. However, we deny that there has been any discrimination, and we are exercising our authority to take steps to provide the best educational learning environment for students.

At this time, our primary focus is to take appropriate and immediate steps to put a highly-qualified team of administrative leaders in place at Williamsburg to ensure that we provide the best instructional support and leadership for the school, our students, family and staff.

As this process evolves, we will keep the Williamsburg community informed about our deliberations and decisions.

By Washington Post editors  | February 1, 2011; 9:19 PM ET
Categories:  Educational leadership  | Tags:  arlington principal, arlington principal resigns, arlington public schools, arlington schools, principal resigns, williamsburg middle, williamsburg middle school  
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This is what happens when Unions and their rules run our schools. Principal Francis violated the first commandment of Unionized employees. They cannot be fired no matter how bad, unproductive or dangerous they have become. Unions ruined our schools just as they have ruined auto manufacturing, steel production and the budgets of states, cities and towns across the country.

Posted by: jaguar6cy | February 1, 2011 9:49 PM | Report abuse

@APS will continue to respond with a higher level of professionalism and cannot discuss Ms Francis's actions now or in the future.

Because the facts are on her side??

Posted by: edlharris | February 1, 2011 10:01 PM | Report abuse

L@@ks like that school system f'd with the wrong employee...

Posted by: ntlekt | February 1, 2011 10:34 PM | Report abuse

The principal was not protected by a teacher's union. Most school administrators are not in a union. It was unprofessional of the principal to send this letter to parents. If the teacher or staff member she wanted removed from her school was such a problem, how could she be okay with the administration moving him to another school? She only went public when the administration began to examine her performance. As for the district, they sound immature and unprofessional in their response to her resignation letter. Parents should demand to know of the problems of the teacher or staff member transferred to another school. Drama Drama Drama.

Posted by: dcsmartie | February 1, 2011 11:41 PM | Report abuse

The comments about teachers unions are irrelevant for this story because Virginia is a "right to work state", which means they don't have unions that arbitrate on behalf of the workers. The teachers in APS can be fired with cause any time,they are not protected by a union which is why we have such a excellent school system. Murphy was always going to have big shoes to fill, it seems he has taken a different approach than our last superintendent; who quite frankly helped make APS what it is today.

Posted by: pbschaufhotmailcom | February 2, 2011 12:35 AM | Report abuse

If these allegations are true, Dr. Murphy will soon be out of a job. Creating a hostile work environment is against the law.

In a situation such as this one, it's best to report it to organizations outside of the school or district. And of course parents need to know.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 2, 2011 12:52 AM | Report abuse

God bless her. She's got a big fight on her hands. For her sake, I hope all of her allegations are true.

Posted by: destewar | February 2, 2011 1:46 AM | Report abuse

There are many bad principals and supritendants in schools around the US. Unions are not doing what they are supposed to.

Posted by: freegastanker | February 2, 2011 4:51 AM | Report abuse

Why would you just reprint the letter without giving the skinny on the canned teacher? What good is this little amount?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | February 2, 2011 5:07 AM | Report abuse

It's difficult to make sense of all this without knowing the specifics on the teacher in question.

The principal sounds like she's the victim but we are only privileged to her side of the story.

Does the superintendent have a friend or a relative waiting in the wings to take her position?

This also sounds like a good argument for an objective component (VAM) to be incorporated into the teacher evaluation process. If there were student tests that could be linked to the teacher in question (over time), perhaps the principal could have used that information to substantiate her claims against the teacher. She also could have used the same data to point out to the teacher any problems he/she were experiencing and additionally to improve his/her practice.

A tragic ending to an apparently effective life-long career as a public school professional. Always VERY SAD to see. I wish her well.

Posted by: phoss1 | February 2, 2011 7:21 AM | Report abuse

Right or wrong, Ms. Francis did not advance herself professionally. She did not gain much support by detailing a short story about her side of a he said - she said event. Even if what she says is true, she missed the issue by not getting legal advice. The school was able to take the right approach which was to say nothing.

While emotions tell us it feels good to vent, it is also a trail of history that just weakens her case for continued employment. Would you hire her for a position knowing she vents openly to the public? At what point would she stop venting and naming names?

The stress obviously played a huge role in her letter, but a calmer approach and moving on would have been far less stressful. She will now drag this concrete letter around on her ankle for quite some time. Applying for a new position will probably resurrect this letter and the events leading to the submission.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 2, 2011 7:35 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Francis has been an empathetic, fair, and responsive principal. For someone who stewards such a large school, she has always taken the time out whenever I had a question about my child's educational experience. This is quite a loss for the school.

While such a letter may be considered a bit over-sharing, I think the mere fact that she revealed this information reflects her frustration with her current situation. If I cared deeply about my position and felt like I was hitting a brick wall, I think I might have written such a letter as well.

In any event, I can state that Ms. Francis has been a lot more responsive to concerns I had about my child's education than the Superintendent's Office has been in the past 12 months.

Posted by: wrekehavoc | February 2, 2011 7:45 AM | Report abuse

"This also sounds like a good argument for an objective component (VAM) to be incorporated into the teacher evaluation process."

really? What if the teacher's (assuming it's a teacher) students did well, but the teacher was somehow terrorizing the school community? No case then as long as scores are up?

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2011 7:58 AM | Report abuse

"What if the teacher's (assuming it's a teacher) students did well, but the teacher was somehow terrorizing the school community?"

Sounds a bit incongruent and unlikely. Would someone in the classroom with an effective teaching performance likely resort to "terrorizing" the school community?

Posted by: phoss1 | February 2, 2011 8:13 AM | Report abuse

also, did anyone else notice this snide aside in the APS letter: "While it is regrettable that Ms. Francis has decided to air her opinions in this manner, APS will continue to respond with a higher level of professionalism."

a *higher* level of professionalism? i think those words speak volumes about the situation.

Posted by: wrekehavoc | February 2, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Phoss1 - It's in-congruent if you think the its only the teacher that causes increased VAM and that a teacher capable of that is not capable of causing harm to the school community in another way. I see that attitude as deifying teachers - they can do no wrong, as long as their students are "performing."

Posted by: efavorite | February 2, 2011 8:53 AM | Report abuse

There really are some strange comments posted here.

(1) Unions have nothing to do with this particular situation, nor do unions hinder quality education. Some of the best public schools are in strong union states (Maryland, Massachusetts) and some of the nation's worst are in non-union states (MIssissippi, Alabama).

(2) It is very unusual for a principal or teacher to resign at this time of the year, effective in March, and odder still to make the reasons public. People can quarrel over whether or not it was "professional," but it certainly was passionate and, one could argue, principled......If

(3) If even half of what the principal says about the superintendent is true, then the Arlington school board had better intervene quickly. And if what she says is true, then others had better get involved too.

(4) If there is little or no merit to what the principal alleges, then she made the right choice to leave....

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 2, 2011 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Dealt with Francis as a parent a number of years ago. She got mad at me over the phone because my child was not at an event at which my child was to make a presentation. I explained that my child was not told to be at the event. Francis continued to harangue. Other assistant principal called my child to apologize for having forgotten to inform my child of the event. Francis never apologized to me or my child. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Quite familiar with Williamsburg as a student, sibling of students, and parent of students. It's had some good principals and some bad. Francis is one of the latter. She also doesn't use the proper form of has in the first sentence of the third paragraph of her letter.

Posted by: Arlingtony | February 2, 2011 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Comment from a parent of Williamsburg Middle School (WMS):
Mrs Francis is an outstanding principal and a large majority of WMS parents and students are sorry to see her leave. She has done an outstanding job for our community and our kids and has always been available to talk, listen and work with us and our kids but this can't not be said about her assistant Dr Wentzel. After many year of abuses by Dr Wentzel upon WMS rules, staff and students, Dr Wentzel was finally fired by Mrs Francis last week. Dr Wentzel who required to be called "doctor" is famous for using overactive and out of proportion punishments and could be easily described by the majority of parents, kids and staff as a pompous, pretentious, closed minded, threatening, manipulative and mentally abusive person. It is sad to hear that Dr Murphy and Dr Hobbs main priority is not the education of our kids but their personal agenda. Dr Wentzel shouldn't be allowed on any school ground but thanks to Dr Murphy's and Dr Hobbs' politics and protection, she's now teaching at McKinley. Dr Wentzel, Dr Murphy and Dr Hobbs should resign or be fired. Please The Washington Post, investigate!!!

Posted by: FredericArlington | February 2, 2011 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I read the letter from Mrs. Francis. The experience she shared is eerily familiar to some of our experiences with APS when we challenged the instruction our daughter was receiving. I feel for what she has gone through. I hope she can prove all her allegations. APS needs to be held accountable for the atmosphere it creates.

Superintendent Murphy needs to get his own central office house in order. He was given information that his assistant superintendent, Dr. Alvin Crawley, was is consistently and routinely sharing student's confidentially information with his partner (a doctor at NIH - Dr. Mark Levine) who is not an APS employee via his APS computer. Yes - I have the emails to prove this claim.

Did Dr. Murphy/Hobbs take the same type of aggressive disciplinary action against Dr. Crawley?

I applaud Ms. Francis for taking the fight public. I'm trying to do the same with this posting!

Posted by: recsahkids | February 2, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Certainly from her perspective, it sounds like Principal Francis exercised reasonable means to endeavor to deal with a disruptive individual and to appeal an unsatisfactory performance appraisal. It sounds like the disruptive individual was retained by APS, apparently despite the potential for creating safety concerns at another school (which is cause for some concern to me, as an Arlington parent), and the evaluation was confirmed despite facts to the contrary.

The response from APS sounds unresponsive and somewhat supercilious. It also seems hypocrytical, in that apparently there was an announcement before leadership staff that Principal Francis' retirement was being discussed - when that potential forced retirement was a private personnel matter that, one would think, should not have been aired in a staff meeting, unless the only attendee was the senior human resources manager for APS.

For a principal to be moved to such a public discussion does indicate recourse to the Arlington way and indicates significant issues existed. Even if those issues existed only in her view, then the superintendent should have taken the time to discuss these matters with her, calmly, helpfully and thoroughly, listening to her point of view and endeavoring to suggest satisfactory solutions, until understandings could be reached on what options were feasible, and the best choice from those options - the best choice for *students*, that is - since that is the population served.

Regarding the comment preceding this - if unions (or fear of a wrongful discharge suit) caused the retention of an individual hazardous to safety, at the expense of losing a strong principal (who in fact ended up filing suit), that should have been cause for the superintendent to publicly consider union power (or analysis of lawsuit risks) regarding schools personnel. Leads me to wonder what other facts might have been at issue.

I look forward to hearing how the superintendent, other APS leadership, and other principals plan to better deal with such matters in the future.

Posted by: Jarla | February 2, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

why was my comment deleted? all i said "God bless her. She's got a big fight on her hands. For her sake, I hope everything she said actually happened"

Posted by: destewar | February 2, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

This is very disturbing. All of the PTA's in the County should get together and have the superintendent explain himself and his actions.

Posted by: chinnymcchipstah | February 2, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I would love to speak at a meeting of all the PTA's regarding my post about assistant superintendent Alvin Crawley. I'm happy to share the emails between Dr. Crawley and his partner, Dr. Levine, regarding students in APS with any PTA.

Posted by: recsahkids | February 2, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Very interested by "recsahkids" comments, please tell us more. Thanks

Posted by: FredericArlington | February 2, 2011 1:37 PM | Report abuse

What more would you like to know? I'm happy to disclose everything that I have. I've been trying to get this story out to the public. I contacted the Sun Gazette editor and he refused to even look at the evidence I have. I have emails from a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) from NIH that cover a six year period in which Dr. Crawley was writing to his partner, Dr. Mark Levine regarding various children in APS.

I am hopeful that the Washington Post will force an investigation into what is going on at APS.

Posted by: recsahkids | February 2, 2011 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Jaguar6cy has an interesting, if narrow view of possible causes. Perhaps this person is aware that there Teachers' Unions are illegal in the state of Virginia. If the employee is a teacher, unions were not the problem.

Posted by: lhreiche | February 2, 2011 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Whether any of Ms. Francis' claims are true or not, it is completely unprofessional to write a letter such as this and send it to the parents of the students you claim to care about. Having graduated from the APS system and knowing plenty of students who went to WMS, there are very few students who will be saddened to see her go, specifically because of her tendency toward being unprofessional.

Also, I'd be interested to know if she was the principal of WMS about 11-12 years ago when the Post exposed the oral sex ring that was taking place at the school (in bathrooms and at parties).

Posted by: katuohy1982 | February 2, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Bravo, Kathleen Francis!

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 2, 2011 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Bravo, Kathleen Francis!

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 2, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I don't know any of the parties involved nor do I have any children in the school system.

However, the principal's letter carries a lot of weight with me because she gave specifics and put her reputation on the line by naming names.

Posted by: rlj611 | February 2, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

This is a sad situation and sounds like an HR debacle. As a parent, I have lost faith in our school system to keep good people. We have seen so many excellent teachers leave Jamestown Elementary because a bad principal doesn't support them; and now our middle school will be compromised.

The superintendent's response is weak and his refusal to address Mrs. Francis' claims makes him appear weak.

In my experiences with WMS Principal Francis, I've found her to be direct, honest, candid and a positive force in supporting the students.

Anyone who is over the age of 13 knows what a challenging time the middle school years are - and our children deserve a strong principal and excellent teachers. For Mrs. Francis' to spend 18 years at WMS and be able to maintain a positive outlook speaks volumes to her dedication and qualification in the job. This is endemic of a larger problem in Arlington Public Schools. I can only hope resolution will keep Kathleen Francis at Williamsburg where she belongs.

Posted by: Suzaroo | February 2, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

This is a sad situation and sounds like an HR debacle. As a parent, I have lost faith in our school system to keep good people. We have seen so many excellent teachers leave Jamestown Elementary because a bad principal doesn't support them; and now our middle school will be compromised.

The superintendent's response is weak and his refusal to address Mrs. Francis' claims makes him appear weak.

In my experiences with WMS Principal Francis, I've found her to be direct, honest, candid and a positive force in supporting the students.

Anyone who is over the age of 13 knows what a challenging time the middle school years are - and our children deserve a strong principal and excellent teachers. For Mrs. Francis' to spend 18 years at WMS and be able to maintain a positive outlook speaks volumes to her dedication and qualification in the job. This is endemic of a larger problem in Arlington Public Schools. I can only hope resolution will keep Kathleen Francis at Williamsburg where she belongs.

Posted by: Suzaroo | February 2, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Is Arlington Country's Public Schools really being lead by a Superintendent whose only teaching experience is three years of physical education? Is this a joke? How can a great school system be lead by a failed physical education teacher? If he was a good teacher, he'd still be teaching. He couldn't cut it in the gym, so he moved into administration,... just like Rod Paige.

Arlington has great school, and great teachers. It has great parents who are very involved in their children's education. Unfortunately, the administration is set on destroying this in the name of high standards and the CEO-approach mind set. What do parents know? Arne Duncan would be proud! Another great educator driven from a great school by being told she is "not moved the school and the students to an overall higher level of performance." Brand education a failure and bring in the corporate consultants!

Dr. Murphy and Dr. Hobbs, for the good of Arlington students, please set the example and resign. Admit your huge failure and beg Ms. Francis to take her job back. The eyes of Arlington are watching how you handle this,... and honestly, I'm not sure you'll be able to recover from this. I'm sure a lot of parents would love to get a chance to talk with you about your management approach and why your policies are driving great educator from Arlington Public Schools.

Posted by: VeryConcernedAboutAPS | February 2, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

She sounds honest. I remember when a former president of William and Mary, circulated to the whole alumni body his letter of resignation, I immediately knew he was a bafoon. Good luck to Ms. Frances and hope she has some sleep tonight.

Posted by: Silly_Willy_Bulldog | February 2, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I teach in a school division in Va and our teacher evaluations are not grievable. If that is the case across Va, then I'm almost certain her evaluation, as a Principal, would not be cause for filing a grievance.

Her other charges, however, might be.

I am not surprised by her charges (be they true or not) even though I do teach outside the DC area. Superintendents bully. Principals bully. (Which makes all bullying teacher inservices concerning students laughable.)

All it takes is the guts to speak up and the persistence to follow through. Been there and am paying the price.

I have sat at School Board meetings and watched Principal's and Asst Sup's, and Superintendent's lie to cover their behind,
which is why I believe school reform needs to start at the top.

Posted by: ilcn | February 2, 2011 5:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree - Dr. Murphy and Ms. Hobbs should resign. Ms. Hobbs is also known to be a bullier of teachers and administrators.

I am surprised Dr. Mark Johnston has not been mentioned as he is often carefully orchestrating these types of things behind-the-scenes like a master puppeteer.

The veil is being removed - finally showing the chaotic management mess that is Arlington Public Schools. School Board - where are you?

Posted by: skaneateles1 | February 2, 2011 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Skaneateles1 knows exactly what he/she is talking about. I love my students and my school but these three are running the system into the ground with their questionable hiring and management practices and inbred alliances. Help us before it is too late, School Board.

Posted by: woodstock132 | February 2, 2011 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Skaneateles1 knows exactly what he/she is talking about. I love my students and my school but these three are running the system into the ground with their questionable hiring and management practices and inbred alliances. Help us before it is too late, School Board.

Posted by: woodstock132 | February 2, 2011 7:18 PM | Report abuse

I’m sure the superintendent was way out of line, but i must say, I’m sorry she didnt resign before i had to endure her. She created an unhappy enviornment at wms. she didnt get to know anyones names, and closed her self off from the students. she handled the few teacher dismissals poorly, for example: mrs hall was never on drugs, yet she did nothing to subdue the terrible rumers surrounding her departure. she also seemed to only care about a dresscode that was ludicris. my 8th grade year was tramatized by having to change my outfit every single day in the spring time. i would buy shorts and skirts 3 sizes to big so that they would pass the test, yet they “looked” to short on me, and i would have to change into old gym clothes. i also witnessed her ignorance towards culture. she made no attempt to even try and prenounce foreign names. Just poll any student in the past years from both swanson and willimasburg, the sms kids will tellyou how much they loved swanson and the teachers there, and how they felt like a family, where wms students will tell you how much they hated their time there, and the school system was cold and hard.

Posted by: student21 | February 2, 2011 8:11 PM | Report abuse

To those of you who say it was unprofessional for Principal Francis to make this a public issue, DID YOU READ HER LETTER CAREFULLY?

She states in the letter that she's already tried all the discreet methods of resolving all the issues and claims with the superintendent and Ms. Hobbs.

Ms. Francis has exhausted all the other alternatives and I applaud her for having the courage and heart, to not only name specific people (vs. throwing baseless, half-baked accusations out and being elusive about her allegations herself) but also for allowing the community to know about her sudden plans and about the many issues that the parents and surrounding community should now be hammering for answers to from APS.

In reading her letter, I felt that she was heartfelt and profoundly vexed with her decision and both saddened and stressed by the situation. The letter was written with thought and care and should be taken seriously, that there is a sincere problem in the higher rankings of the school system.

Had she just gone quietly as APS officials and many of the posters on here have expressed, she would have been victimized by these high office officials, apparently as others have been. It seems some have already gone out quietly - and nothing came of it because no one outside the realm of the issue knew about the issues. Nothing can be fixed unless the problems are identified.

It's time for those who were also victimized and are being victimized currently, to step up and voice their statements and evidence. Ms. Francis has been brave enough to step forward into the light for you and given you a platform to speak.

God speed Ms. Francis and I truly hope the APS can get it's act together and re-evaluate itself in time to make a difference in the near future.

Posted by: concernedParent127 | February 2, 2011 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Sounds eerily similar to the situation faced just across the County line in neighboring Alexandria. A work environment there has been created which has forced hordes of teachers and administrators to quit, retire, or find employment elsewhere. The Alexandia Gazette Packet ran an eye-opening three part series on the mess. There is even a blog: ACPS Underground dedicated to giving all a voice in matters concerning what is taking place in Alexandria City Public Schools. It is time that teachers, parents, and concerned citizens take up the rails and give Superintendents like these a free ride out.

Posted by: learytimf | February 2, 2011 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like APS needs a new head of HR. What a train wreck. We need a public accounting of what's happened here.

Posted by: ArlingtonResident2 | February 2, 2011 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Murphy,

As long-time residents of Arlington County and parents of children attending the public schools, my wife and I are appalled by the way the recent situation with Principal Kathleen Francis at Williamsburg Middle School has been handled.

Two of our children have graduated from Williamsburg and another is about to attend. To have left the students without a principal and caused such havoc in the middle of a school year is unconscionable. Throughout all of our dealings with Principal Francis we found her to be positive, professional and capable. The children reported that she was strict, but fair. Principal Francis's long tenure at Williamsburg is testimony to her talents and resourcefulness. On the other hand, the person in question, with whom Kathy Francis had a grievance, exhibited few of these qualities and was demeaning, unpleasant and abrasive in her dealings with the children.

What should have happened, if you had legitimate concerns, was to maintain good relations until the close of the school year when you could have dealt with this in a more appropriate, professional manner with little direct impact on the students. By managing the situation this way, you have created a huge disruption and have adversely affected the children's educational environment. You have also given people cause to wonder about your own leadership abilities.

As tax payers, we expect much more from both you and the members of the School Board. Arlington County Public Schools enjoy a stellar reputation that you haven been entrusted to uphold and foster. The dismal manner in which you have handled this situation causes us to fear for the future of Arlington County schools.

Posted by: davidjhardy | February 2, 2011 10:27 PM | Report abuse

That's a long letter and it seems to be setting the grounds for a law suit, although what lawyer would allow a client to send out something like that?
The principal wanted to fire someone for safety reasons.
Eventually it was done, but, according to her, this irked the

I don't know anything about APS or WMS, but why would
anyone write this letter? There must have been a better
way to handle this.

Posted by: brianford58 | February 2, 2011 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone know if the School Board members -- Libby Garvey, Abby Raphael, Sally Baird, Emma Violand-Sanchez and James Lander -- have made a comment on any of this? These are all elected positions, and I believe the people who ultimately hired Dr. Murphy. As elected public officials, it would be interested to hear what they plan to do.

Heck, I think an early campaign slogan that would win the day could be, "Remove Dr. Murphy! Vote for [fill in the blank]!" Or "Keep Great Educator in APS! Elect a New School Board!"

Find out more about the Arlington Public Schools School Board at

You can contact the School Board in a number of ways: e-mail -; fax - (703) 228-7640; postal mail - Arlington Education Center, 1426 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, VA 22207; phone: (703) 228-6015. Open office hours for citizens to visit with School Board members are on Mondays from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. (walk-in/no appointment needed) during the school year.

Please, School Board, let Arlington know where you stand.

Do you stand with great educators, or with a bullying administrator? Do you stand with the people who are essential to helping our children learn to a high level, or with a questionable administrator who can only talk about high standards and SOLs?

Please tell us who you choose, because nothing can better help us choose in the next school board election.

Posted by: VeryConcernedAboutAPS | February 3, 2011 4:54 AM | Report abuse

The school board members were made aware of the situation with Dr. Crawley sharing private information of APS students with his partner, Dr. Mark Levine, an NIH employee via his APS computer. They chose to do nothing about the situation. The school board members are enabling this behavior. We all need to go to the school board meeting tonight and demand answers! A thorough investigation of central offices and it's practices should be demanded by the taxpayers of this community!

Posted by: recsahkids | February 3, 2011 7:56 AM | Report abuse

VeryConcernedAboutAPS writes the following:

"Is Arlington Country's Public Schools really being lead by a Superintendent whose only teaching experience is three years of physical education?"

I think one of the often over-looked factors in the school "reform" discussion is that many of the people (superintendents and principals) "leading" the "reforms" have extremely limited classroom experience (and not always in core disciplines).

I can thin of one particular high school in central Virginia that through a series of seven principals only had one from a core subject area (English, teaching experience of 18 years) with the others coming from PE, music, shop (industrial arts), law and the military, and having a only few years in the classroom or no teaching experience at all.

They are in administration to make more money, because they didn't like teaching or weren't very good at it, and/or because they get to have more power and authority. Many of them do not know what good teaching is, many do not understand assessment well, and most of them have any well-defined, reasoned, or research-based philosophy of education.

They just accept what they often get told, that test scores are all that matter.

There are plenty of superintendents who have only two, three or four years of teaching experience (for many, four is a lot).

Increasingly, I'm afraid, this is new "normal."

Posted by: mcrockett1 | February 3, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

oops...."most of them do NOT have....philosophy of education.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | February 3, 2011 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I worked as a teacher in Arlington for a number of years, and I am so pleased to come out in support of this brave educator. In my years at Arlington, I was shocked at what was going on behind the scenes. For example, it was all too common for teachers to be asked to change their grades to higher grades, after the complaints of parents. This was condoned by the administration, for they were forced to comply with the demands of those in the "White building." Teachers complied with these demands, for they had learned from experience that it is better not to swim against the tide. I also watched as other teachers shared their own experiences with me. Many of them were reduced to tears, their spirits broken because they were forced to trade in their ethics for a paycheck. I sat in on a meeting regarding my own grade book. When I specifically mentioned who had asked me to change the grade, it was denied openly by not only the person who had requested it, but by the administrator who asked this individual to ask me to do it. However, I do not fault this administrator: like all of us, this individual was scared of retaliation. I know this sounds Orwellian in nature, but only because the description fits. Hopefully, because of Ms. Francis, more educators will come forward with the truth behind APS.

Posted by: FormerTeacher1 | February 3, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

The response from Arlington Public Schools can only confirm how evasive and negligent its superintendent is. I am shocked by the display of poor management and lack of accountability that APS are subject to. This is a concern to all the Arlington community.
I support a careful investgation of this issue with all its particulars.

Posted by: MrsD1 | February 4, 2011 1:11 AM | Report abuse

If this had happened in South Arlington (Jefferson or Kenmore) no one would care. It only matters when it has an effect on the limousine liberals north of Lee Highway.

Posted by: kettke1 | February 4, 2011 3:18 AM | Report abuse

Scary. I would like to know more about the tranferred employee. Is that person at OUR school?

Posted by: Merry13 | February 4, 2011 6:56 AM | Report abuse

This is a very unfortunate situation which probably could have been handled better by both sides. From the letter and a posting above, there appears to be an intersting coincidence. From Principal Francis' letter: "a longstanding and serious personnel situation at Williamsburg that involved an individual with a well-documented, multiple year record of non-performance and who was extremely disruptive to the educational environment of the school," which was resolved by the individual being "transferred to another school." From the PredericArlington posted comment: "after many year [sic] of abuses by Dr Wentzel upon WMS rules, staff and students, Dr Wentzel was finally fired by Mrs Francis last week," after being "easily described ... as a pompous, pretentious, closed minded, threatening, manipulative and mentally abusive person," who is now aaparently "teaching at McKinley." Perhaps this is the underlying factual situation that led to the HR problem that now exists. For Principal Francis' sake, I hope she has documentation supporting her claims.

Posted by: Pirates21 | February 4, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

The scenario described by FormerTeacher1 is, unfortunately, very true and continues to the present. Upper administration in Arlington puts forth dysfunctional policies that create confusion and hostility. Please pray for those of us who are trying to maintain a high level of standards and ethics.

Posted by: Islander73 | February 4, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Comment from a student who graduated from the APS school system last year and attended Williamsburg Middle School:

Kathy Francis can boast about test scores and the performance of students because that is what she knows. What Kathy Francis does not know is the students who attend her school. While I understand that it is difficult to know all of the students at a large school, not once did I see her make an effort to demonstrate her dedication to the children sitting in those classrooms, as opposed to her obsessive attention to the scantron sheets sitting on their desks. She is not sincere, warm, or enthusiastic, and that is the kind of person Williamsburg needs. Middle school is a difficult time made more difficult by being in an environment where the absolute best is demanded academically, but the absolute worst is expected behaviorally. Students have no freedom. The atmosphere is harsh and stifling rather than inspiring and welcoming. While I believe Arlington residents should demand greater transparency in the actions of the school board, I do not disapprove of their actions against Kathy Francis. In regard to the personnel matter supposedly at the heart of this prolonged altercation, I do not doubt that the detached and abrasive manner that characterizes Kathy Francis's interactions with her students closely resemble those with her staff. I have had some horrible teachers in the Arlington Public School system, and some marvelous ones. It seems as if the bad ones, though, were often some of the most favored and touted by the administration. I imagine that whatever Kathy Francis disliked about the staff member in question was a subjective analysis that the school board disagreed with, rather than a serious liability. It is more likely that she is using this excuse to influence Arlington residents to lose faith in and discredit the superintendent in retaliation for his unfavorable review of her job performance. Her public letter was petty and juvenile, setting the worst possible example for her students on how to properly resolve conflicts. I hope that this entire ordeal results in a new era at Williamsburg Middle School, heralded by a new principal who is dedicated to helping WMS students become extraordinary individuals.

Posted by: danadonohoe | February 4, 2011 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I know Kathy Francis. I worked for one year at Williamsburg Middle, ultimately deciding to return to the high school in another jurisdiction from which I had come. At that point MS Francis was the assistant principal who was my immediate supervisor. I can attest to her commitment to the best interest of the students at WMS during her time there, which is why she was promoted to principal upon the retirement of her immediate predecessor at the end of the year I was there.

I have a very good idea of the teacher in question - I have stayed in contact with some I knew through WMS. I do not want to go further than that at this point. As noted in the letter by MS Francis, this has been a multi-year problem.

MS Francis sought to have the teacher dismissed. The transfer of the teacher to another school was a decision made in the Central Office. It is unfair to criticize MS Francis on that point - one the teacher was no longer in her building she had no further responsibility for what happened, even if the resolution was not what she had sought.

The timing of her current actions is, as her letter makes clear, directly a result of actions taken against her AFTER the teacher was removed from her building.

Some argue that the letter is unprofessional. I strongly disagree. I think it shows the highest standard of professionalism to alert the community - both that of WMS and that of the larger Arlington community - as to the nature of what is happening. If MS Francis is correct about how she was treated, that needs to be brought to the attention of Arlington citizens who elect the school board which hired the current superintendent.

As a citizen of Arlington since 1982, it is unfortunate to see this kind of problem so soon after the County Board had to dismiss a County Manager they had hired. Normally Arlington has a fairly strong tradition of good management. Still, it would not be the first mistake in judgment in an important position in Arlington Public schools - when William Sharbaugh retired as the long-time principal of Washington-Lee High School, the man brought in from Delaware to replace him did not last the year. As a citizen and taxpayer I would hope for a full vetting of what has happened and proper rectification of the problems.

I do not KNOW the details. I do know Kathy Francis and Williamsburg Middle. I am inclined to give credence to what she had to say to the community she had served with distinction for so many years.

Posted by: teacherken | February 4, 2011 7:58 PM | Report abuse

This looks like a situation where the principal had it in for the teacher but couldn't get the teacher fired. The superintendent got aggravated with the persistance of the principal and retaliated by forcing her to resign/retire. He probably wanted her to retire before any of this happened and her fixation on this teacher only worsen the matter. Sounds like both parties are unprofessional in the way they handled things, especially the principal who is willing to drag the people she claims to love (students,staff,parents) into a toxic relationship...selfish, selfish, selfish!

Posted by: highschool2 | February 4, 2011 8:09 PM | Report abuse

The most distressing issue of this whole fiasco is: Nobody has mentioned the affect that this has had on the WMS STUDENTS. While Kathy has been spending her time documenting every little grievance, who has been “minding the store” at Wmsburg? How can she claim to be dedicated to the students when this personal issue has been looming like a mushroom cloud? Why would she drop this bomb-shell in the middle of the school year? The 6th, 7th and 8th graders at this school are the true victims.

Posted by: arlmom2boys | February 4, 2011 9:28 PM | Report abuse

"This is what happens when Unions and their rules run our schools." jaguar6cy

Obviously you know nothing about VA schools. TEACHER UNIONS ARE ILLEGAL IN VA. Arlington School District is located in VA. The Virginia Education Association is NOT a union, but a professional organization for teachers. As non-union employees we don't have bargaining power, strike power, or any other power to affect change. That's one reason why teacher salaries in VA lag so far behind salaries in other states.

Posted by: SuzeVA | February 8, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

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