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Coolidge Principal Resigns

Coolidge, one of three failing D.C. high schools that will be run by a private management firm next year, is losing its principal. L. Nelson Burton has told his staff that he will not be back.

Burton, principal for the last four years, said his departure has nothing to do with Coolidge's impending takeover by Friends of Bedford, operator of the highly regarded Bedford Academy High School in New York. Schools that fall short of "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind law for five years in a row must be overhauled. One of the options open to Rhee is hiring an outside organization to run the school. Coolidge will remain part of DCPS, but day-to-day management will be turned over to Bedford.

"I was part of the team that sought them out and brought them here," Burton said, adding that it "would make sense" for Bedford to have its own leadership at Coolidge. In any event, Burton said he is ready to move on.

"Professionally, the principals thing is done for me," he said, adding that he might stay on with DCPS in some other capacity.

Coolidge made some strides on Burton's watch. Fifty-one percent of his students reached proficiency in math in 2008, up from 22 percent in 2007. Reading scores rose more modestly, up five points to 29 percent, not enough to reach "adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by federal No Child Left Behind Law.

Burton also generated some opposition among parents with his heavy emphasis on Advanced Placement courses and exams. Only two percent of the students who took the exams received passing grades. Some teachers and parents said the AP programs were of limited use to students so far behind in basic academics. Burton said that they would make more progress than in ordinary classes and that AP fostered a sense of accomplishment despite the low scores.

Friends of Bedford, selected by Rhee and the Coolidge community last spring, has spent this school year observing and planning. It emphasizes small-group instruction, and offers a four-week "summer bridge" academic immersion program for incoming ninth graders. The organization will also take over Dunbar High School next year. Friendship Schools, operators of Friendship Public Charter School in the District, is scheduled to manage Anacostia High School.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  March 23, 2009; 1:32 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Comments

There is one question here. What is Michelle Rhee doing if she is turning tough schools over to private groups to manage? Why are we paying here more than $275,000 to manage the easy ones?

I would hope that Rhee now focuses on getting a Union contract signed so teachers and students can move forward.

We need a vision for long range improvement and it's not turning schools one by one over to private companies unless the idea is that Rhee wants to work herself out of a job. Maybe that is the point!

Posted by: peterdc | March 23, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm still not getting it. It seems that this is a microcosm of the Wall Street bailout.

People are being shuffled around, the kids are not measuring up to these arbitrary standards, and the big salaries are still being handed out. It is, in essence, merely a way to keep the kids in school 9 months of the year, 9 hours a day. What is happening with these kids after they graduate? How many of them are actually graduating?

It seems that it's time for the WP to do some true investigative reporting instead of simply regurgitating the parting speeches from the new DCPS alumni.

Wait, theres no money in that, forget I said anything. Business as usual.

Posted by: dubya19391 | March 23, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

What in the world are D.C. students doing taking AP classes? They have no chance at all to pass these exams and the principal is lying to the parents if he is telling them they need to take these classes. They would be a lot better offering a lot more vocational courses that the students could use in later life.

Posted by: MKadyman | March 23, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

You are right, MKadyman. Most DCPS students are African American, and African Americans can't pass AP tests. They should all study for their shop and beauty parlor licenses.

Posted by: Trulee | March 23, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Did you bother reading the article? 2% of the students at Coolidge passed the AP exam! 2%! I think that you have the answer.

Posted by: MKadyman | March 23, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Kids have to pay to take these AP tests - the college board makes the same amount of money pass or fail.

These are advanced classes that should require prerequisites and high grades in previously taken related course (e.g. an A or B in geometry and algebra in order to qualify for AP Calculus). But the latest educational fad is to let anyone in who wants to take the course. Sort of like someone who hasn't learned how to swim
taking advanced diving.

Then if you take the course and flunk the national exam, well at least at the end of the day, you had the heady experience of being in an advanced course and the college board has your money.

Maybe Coolidge had a fund for kids to take the exam? I don't know, but it seems a little more fair. This way, although the college board still gets a pay-off in the end, the kids don't have to pay out of their own pockets to be a part of this silly experiment.

Posted by: efavorite | March 23, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse

So when will we call the school, will someone from India answer? I can't believe DCPS schools are being outsourced!

Posted by: taloisi | March 24, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I could never understand why Coolidge has done so poorly. It's not an inner city high school, like Woodson, Eastern, Anacostia or Ballou. There aren't tracts of public housing nearby or high drug dealing blocks in its vecinity. Yet I remember reading the Post's profile of it several months back and was shocked at the grafitti and destruction inside the old building plus the out of control students not focussed on academics. I hope its next principal can build on some of Burton's gains.

Posted by: chelita | March 24, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm guessing that Burton “went quietly" - part of a new Rhee benevolence plan for departing principals, now that firing them publicly, summarily and wholesale doesn't seems to have helped her precious public persona and is maybe cutting into her ability to hire strong administrators. This way, she quiets the witch image and he has a chance for a future in education as long as he keeps his mouth shut.

As for so many kids taking AP courses, I suspect Rhee encouraged that as an effort to show how good teachers with high expectations are everything - prerequisites and study habits be damned.

Posted by: efavorite | March 25, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Of course there is more to this story than meets the eye. Burton resigned rather than get fired by Rhee. This is the story the Post won't tell. Burton was featured on PBS early in the year.- Remember him ????

Posted by: teacherspet | March 29, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

TRULEE! How dare you say that African Americans can't pass an AP test and that they need to get their shop and beauty parlor license? Your comment shows how ignorant you really are. Taking an AP class has very little to do with where one will end up in life. In case you didn't know AP stands for Arrogant Punks like you!!!

Posted by: IM4Real | March 30, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Some of my son's best friends stayed in the failing school they were all in last year. The teacher they had was so completely incompetent and evil that they reported her to the Chancellor's office AND the POLICE.

I just learned she got fired.

Finally I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel when these creeps are losing their jobs. Clean house!

Posted by: bbcrock | March 30, 2009 10:42 PM | Report abuse

As a graduate of Coolidge High school, Class 1990, I will admit that the children in the school system now are radically different than those who graduated in my senior class. Trulee's post was ignorant, at best. We had a class of 250 to graduate that year and we had a SIGNIFICANT population in the honor society or on the honor roll. To say that all kids of a certain ethnic background need to resign to just being vocational students is an insult. We have to look at what the principals and educators are up against. I tutored students in 1996 in several DC Public Schools and I found it disgusting how many 19 year old 10th graders there were in a class. These were not learning disabled children, they just did not apply themselves. Mr. Burton's passion for Advanced Placement courses probably comes from his background of having been in the top of his class and having taken and passed AP courses almost 20 years ago. Unfortunately, today's generation does not put the same value on education. I believe that Mrs. Rhee came in to handle the dirty work by any means necessary, versus the best means necessary. There are no junior high/middle schools left in the Ward 4/5 region of the city, other than charter schools. Where are these kids supposed to go? Shoving the 7th and 8th grade into LaSalle Elementary School, versus leaving the kids at Backus is backwards. 5 year olds do not need to be schooled in the same building with 13 year olds, not to mention those who are too old to still be in middle school. I don't fault Burton for resigning. Anyone who wants to get out while they still have some sanity left shouldn't be frowned upon. The good old days of parental involvement, classroom moms, and community interaction have just about died. It's sad, but the DC Public School system probably could have been saved before we got to this point.

Posted by: candlemaker1117 | April 1, 2009 10:42 PM | Report abuse

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