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Honored in February, Sacked in October

Certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBCT) is a signal achievement in the education world. It means that a teacher has completed between one and three years of rigorous study and self-appraisal that includes a portfolio of student work, classroom videotapes and tests of content knowledge.

In February, Marie Fonrose, then a counselor at Anacostia, was one of the 20 newly certified DCPS teachers honored by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten at a reception. Nearly 74,000 teachers nationwide have won certification, but they are rare in DCPS, which has just 39.

On Oct. 2, she was one of the 266 teachers and support staff laid off to help close what Rhee has called a $43.9 million budget gap. Like many other educators shown the door, she said that Rhee's formula for determining who should go--involving broad categories such as "needs of the school," was no formula at all but a license for administrators to fire at will.

"In gathering data for this RIF [reduction in force], one will find that many principals use their own criteria in deciding who to let go. Many of them did not even take the time to get to know what skills and talents to retain," Fonrose said in an e-mail.

Fonrose didn't stay at Anacostia when it was was taken over by Friendship Public Charter Schools at the end of the 2008-09 school year. Friendship wanted to make its own decisions about teachers, so Fonrose was "excessed" into a pool of instructors assigned elsewhere by the school system's human resources department. She landed at another high school operated by an outside organization, Friends of Bedford.

"Many of us were set up during the placement process by HR this past summer because the partnerships (Friends of Bedford and Friendship) wanted the rights to hire their own personnel for the school year," Fonrose said. "Even with a doctorate and a national board certification, I spent the first six weeks of the school year explaining my worth to the partners. Each time I attended a meeting, my peers had to hear that I was the only one who was not "chosen" to be here. I made a joke of the matter by saying sometimes the "sent" ones are more skilled than the "chosen" ones."

The District placed her at Dunbar as the school's pre-engineering counselor, but when administrators tried to change her title to "helper," she felt the writing on the wall was clear.

"Later on, I learned that helper really meant training their new senior counselor before they get rid of me," she said. "That's called being a team player, anything else is unacceptable."

DCPS has been hit by at least one wrongful termination lawsuit growing out of layoffs at Dunbar. Last week, the D.C. Wire wrote about the case of second year English teacher Michael T. Green. Friends of Bedford CEO George Leonard did not return a phone message Monday.

Fonrose said one of her students called her about the RIF, unaware that she had been included. "She said 'I guess I have to make sure I am as good as you so this does not happen to me' when I graduate from college," Fonrose said.

"I said, 'Well, I was riffed.' Her answer was 'no way.' She is now thinking about changing her major."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 12, 2009; 4:01 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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I'm surprised Rhee even attended that awards ceremony -- she's made it quite clear that she doesn't think advanced certifications or degrees make better educators.

I bet though that she wishes she'd gotten her principals together and told them not to RIF any high-profile people - because it will look real bad. Maybe she did put out that warning, but poor Dr. Fonrose just "fell through the cracks" because no one at the new school she was shipped to knew enough about her to realize she was valuable and that she wouldn't go quietly.

To Dr. Fonrose - I'm terribly sorry this happened to you. Thank you for speaking up. Please testify at the upcoming city council hearings. Your voice is needed and I truly think that it will make a difference.

Posted by: efavorite | October 12, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

In one respect this article begins to touch upon the wide delta between what educators have traditionally valued (academic achievement) and what soceity will value in the new millenia (execution). I'm sure that Dr. Fonrose is a well-educated individual, and certainly knows how to accomplish tasks and pass tests reuqired to receive board certification. Unfortunately, academia, along with corporate america and the global economy no longer equate achievement in these areas with an ability to execute and raise the level of performance by our students. It's pretty clear the new "partners" have other views on what skills are valuable in the classroom or as a counselor and Dr. Fonrose was repeatedly viewed as not demonstrating those skills. This has been life in corporate america and on the global stage for 15 years now. It's about time education got with the program - however, its still a tragedy when someone like Dr. Fonrose is expected to make this transition in 6 months. If nothing else perhaps her story will help others recognize the wave of change coming and plan accordingly.

Posted by: caliexec | October 12, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Fonrose was probably not good at drilling on the test items, changing answers and otherwise gaming the system so that test scores would go from the 13th percentile to the 90th. I'm guess that counselors in particular were expected to "cooperate."

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 12, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Fonrose is a fine administrator and it will be such a loss for the children...which are the ones who will be really affected by these RIFS.

As we find out, good service practically doesn't account for much of anything and we wonder why our children can't progress in schools these days.

Posted by: DARDON23 | October 12, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

caliexec,if Dr. Fonrose was viewed as repeatedly not meeting the expectations of Friends of Bedford where is the documentation? It is an injustice to even make comments like this when there are novice counselors who had to be trained by Dr. Fonrose; including her supervisor. How do you effectively plan for this when school has already started. It is obvious that you do not understand the ramifications of staffing or rather educators finding jobs this late in the school year. Education is not corporate america; have you noticed the salaries?

Posted by: Rattler1 | October 12, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

I just hope that this is the turning point and that all judges are sick of this Fenty,Rhee, Lanier, Nickles crap! I hope that Rhee will be Fenty's waterloo. The stories get more tragic and crazy by the day. Who ever needs to, please testify on October 16th!
PLEASE Get your story out!

Posted by: candycane1 | October 12, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine what Rhee was thinking. Firing a National Board Certified Teacher? Absurd. She mastered her craft with rigorous training. It is probably the fact that once you become National Board you are worth more, and once you are worth more, you are to be paid more -- and that's what Rhee wanted to get rid of. She wants cheap, bottom of barrel and she doesn't care if some of them will be wasted. How dare we have a society that values and prioritizes education and educators? Rhee is in charge and failing in at least this way. I know that for sure.

Posted by: bravobravo | October 12, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

caliex- You don't understand the skills involved in board certification. It must be earned by implementing high quality lessons that actually work in the classroom. They are very different from the kind of multiple choice training drill favored by Rhee and her ilk.

Heaven help us because, thanks to business leaders and tools like Rhee, education IS getting on board with the business community, and it is to our detriment. Execution without careful, morally responsible motivation created the sorry ethics that brought us to the mess our economy is in.

Posted by: aed3 | October 12, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

By the way, I'm a teacher, a highly successful one (according to test scores for those of you that it matters to) and I was once an eager first-year teacher who was also talented and energetic. Well, I would *never* apply to DCPS now! I wouldn't advise young teachers to touch this school system with a ten-foot pole. How silly it would be for a bright young person to apply to DC! Look at some of the people who were fired. Read! (Yes, you must read!) Some of these firings are arbitrary! Who would step into a fire-pit like this place for their job? Does anyone really think you can build up the system like this?

This is not the way to invest in your children. "Papa doesn't bat mama around to prove to the children he loves them!"

Posted by: bravobravo | October 12, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

You think corporate America should be our model in DCPS? Do you remember what has happened over the last year or so with banks and Wall Street going belly up and needing to be bailed out?

Is this such a great model where people driven by profits look for loopholes and cheat and mislead the public?

I think the financial meltdown has revealed that the corporate model is not all that is cracked up to be.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | October 12, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

A note to other recently terminated individuals. Using a RIF event and a CDLF procedure gives the employer practically all the options and impression of fairness in the process but with such wide latitude in assigning scores to the categories, much capriciousness could be involved. The veil of privacy in invoked by employer. However, every terminated or RIF'ed employee is entitled to a complete copy of the own personnel record including all of the CLDF forms just recently used to "justify" each termination. This should includes all evaluations and all paperwork regarding employment even including everything associated with a "90 day improvement plan". Terminated employees should ask for a copy of their complete file when terminated or as soon thereafter as possible. The individual can then decide what to do with this information. Possibilities include an individual lawsuit, joining others in a combined law suit, sharing some or all of the documents outright to the public or news media or writing up a paraphrased versions for larger consumption. Or none of these possibilites and just file it away for when one decides to write one's memiors. Possibly some parts could be used to apply for other positions. At any rate, the paramount action is to ask and get this file to preserve one's options. Without it, the options are greatly limited. I know! I have mine! Good Luck!

Posted by: zen37 | October 12, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Caiexec says: "It's pretty clear the new "partners" have other views on what skills are valuable in the classroom or as a counselor and Dr. Fonrose was repeatedly viewed as not demonstrating those skills"

It's obvious that you are not using your corporate executive skills to read the article. Dr. Fonrose was excessed from her previous school along with the entire staff when it was "taken over" by a firm Michelle Rhee hired. Dr. Fonrose was then fired by the new staff at another school after six weeks on the job, i.e., no chance for repeated assessment of her skills.

This was a mistake - a big one that everyone involved but Dr. Fonrose should suffer greatly for.

This kind of mistake is not unusual in Michelle Rhee's world. While I'm fairly sure she did not want such a high-profile person to be fired (just because it makes her look back), I'm just as sure that Rhee is so sloppy that she let it happen, to the detriment of everyone, most of all the kids, whom she professes to care so much about.

Posted by: efavorite | October 12, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse

So, is Jo-Ann Armao going to argue that Dr. Fonrose was one of those showing movies to the kids while she played on the computer.
Caiexec, meet Mrs. Rhee, meet Jo-Ann Armao.

Posted by: edlharris | October 13, 2009 2:10 AM | Report abuse

Hi, EdLharris - We could start a blog speculating on how various journalists will handle Rhee issues going forward.

I used to be more hopeful, but now I tend to think Joann Armao is completely immersed in Rhee’s alternative universe. A devoted follower until the end, she will be sending communiqués from Rhee’s bunker.

As for a response to this particular situation, Rhee could feed Armao the old saw, “she didn’t fit” or “personnel rules preclude us from saying….”

Only after the ensuing riot in front of the Wilson building, the Washington post and 825 North Capitol would they realize how ineffective those responses have become.

Posted by: efavorite | October 13, 2009 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Professionals like Dr. Fonrose have been wronged by the system that was supposed to have protected them. There are other avenues of mitigation that will reinstate this wonderful educator to her rightfully earned position in DCPS. If not, monetary wrongful termination settlement will be DCPS' only way out. Rhee's days are numbered. Once Fenty is out, so shall she be. What a bully she is. She better watch out; kharma is a biXXX.

Posted by: inickdc | October 13, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I am so surpriesed that they even had the heart to let Dr. Fonrose go. She is the best educator there is in this city. Out of all of my years in high school, she has been the only counselor that got the job done correct. Dr. Fonrose cared more about the students and their education than her own self. She would stay after school just to help students that needed help. I am not pleased at all with Michelle Rhee and what she has done to our school system. How could you vote her as one of the best educators than let her go? It doesn't fit at all. We really need Dr. Fonrose back. With all of her work and her experience and her caring heart for the students, there is no way that sh eshould be laid off. How could you even rest knowing such a thing.

Posted by: ricacoo | October 13, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

To Dr. Fenrose and others with a story to tell: Please testify at the upcoming city council hearing to be held Friday, 10/16/09, in room 500, of the Wilson Building.

Follow this link for full information on it:

Basic info:
“Persons who wish to testify at the roundtable are requested to contact Aretha Latta at (202) 724-8196 or by e-mail at to sign up by close of business on Thursday, October 15, 2009”

“Each person presenting oral testimony many be limited to THREE (3) minutes….”

“Written statements for the record are [also] encouraged.…”

Posted by: efavorite | October 13, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

So DCPS is not fully in control of Anacostia HS or Dunbar? What exactly is Rhee running? DCPS has fewer students and lower scores than Prince William. All that is left is the drama, publicity, and access. Rhee is being paid $275,000 of my tax money to run a sideshow at best and an ego trip at worst.

Posted by: chgobluesguy | October 13, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Caliexec has his/her "wide delta" backwards. Corporate America does indeed place considerable value on education as evidenced by earnings and unemployment numbers: the higher qualified the more you earn and the more you are in demand. You can find the national data at:
Education is still the best proxy for performance - the market certainly seems to think so.

Posted by: peskyfacts | October 13, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

yes, peskyfacts, while the education/income ratio may apply in corporate America, the change that Caliexec sees coming is that higher education is not longer considered as important for educators.

Hard to fathom, I know, but there it is - the new wave of the future: less educated educators.

Posted by: efavorite | October 13, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I have had to live in fear of this happening to me. I am also national board certified with a doctorate. When organizations take over a school, they wish to be surrounded by people who will not oppose policies as well as have lower qualifications. You did not fit this mold. As a result, you were fired. They did not deserve someone of your worth. This opportunity to shine can create roses among thorns. I wish you the best. It is sad when education is not a profession but a social club where your connections mean everything.

Posted by: lesliebirdon | October 13, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

If you'd like to make unions less powerful in schools then QUIT MAKING STUPID DECISIONS! There are so many ways to get rid of underperforming teachers. How could a $250,000+ "Chancellor" make such a mess of this? The nation better find a better poster child for school reform leadership because Rhee's approach is staggering in its lack of insight. Bank of America may be hiring soon- I'll write Rhee a letter of recommendaton.

Posted by: CDuerr | October 13, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I am really sad about what happens to those counselors especially to Dr. Fonrose, who is a hard worker and very professional in what she is doing. I still can’t believe she was between what they call “incompetent” with a National Board Certification, it is really absurd. If education is about money, so what is the goal of DCPS for students in the USA? I am sorry Dr. Fonrose. Remember God is justice

Posted by: thalied | October 13, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher who worked with Dr. Fonrose at Anacostia, I am saddened by DCPS' stupidity! The students have lost a skilled and dedicated educator and advocate.

Posted by: damccarey | October 14, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

As a teacher living near the Chicago area, I too, after receiving National Boards and an advanced degree, was sacked immediately for the new school year. Politics in education are sickening and dumbing down American kids in the public political school system. School "elite" officials could care less about "what you know in your profession", as to "who you know". I loved my profession and was blessed everyday. Now, even though I have only excellent remarks in my personal file as a teacher, a lawsuit could mark me against any other educational position in the future. How low can education go by letting go of the teachers that are passionate, honored professionals?

Posted by: zoe732 | October 14, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Fonrose is beyond highly qualified, everyone who come into contact with her is aware of that. Who are these Friends of Bedford people? As a parent, I would think twice before allowing these people to educate my children if their idea of making a difference is to get rid of professionals like Dr. Fonrose. This is the counselor who will put her lunch away to serve a parent with a smile. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she called me at 10 pm from her house number to invite me to a parent workshop. I was not planning to attend parent-teacher conference that day, but I decided to go because that showed dedication. Her power-point workshops are always informative and make you want to come to the next meeting. My daughter's grades improved because she wrote a grant and designed an attendance program to help students understand how what they do now affects their future. She gave all the students an alarm clock as part of the plan. How many dedicated professionals that are like her. Chancellor Rhee, why would you allow Friends of Bedford to rif an educator of this caliber? As a parent, I am appalled. Students need counselors like that, what a loss.

Posted by: parent5 | October 14, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Dr Fonrose was my couselor at Woodrow Wilson SHS. I would have been lost without her, and know many more who would say the same. She was the most dedicated couselor in that school. I remember having friends, whome she wasn't a cousilor to, going to her for advice or when they had a problem. Dr. Fonrose didn't need to be "Board Certified" in order for me to know that she's a very valuable asset to the Education System. Having it only makes her more valuable. The Education System is supposed to be about the kids Chancellor Rhee, not about you, the budget or politics. DCPS has suffered a big loss. Dr. Fonrose, wherever you are, i just wanna say thank you for everything that you have done for me. Good luck with everything. I'm sure that this happened so that Rhee could be exposed in her lack of integrity and so that you could go on to a better opportunity and help kids that need you even more.

Posted by: concerned48 | October 14, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

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