Lessons From Laid Off Teachers
There may never be another D.C. Council hearing quite like the 18-hour epic last Friday/Saturday that saw more than 40 public school teachers, most of them among the 266 laid off on Oct. 2, come to the witness table.
Whatever level of skill each possessed as an educator-- asked by Chairman Vincent C. Gray, nearly all said they had good evaluations. Although it's difficult to imagine anyone giving a completely candid answer under the circumstances, there was great power in the collective story they told. It was about a group of people who worked against often overwhelming odds to help the District's schoolchildren.
As they described it, those odds include a DCPS bureaucracy that both terrorizes and infantilizes teachers. The crystallizing image conjured by the marathon roundtable was of Maurice Asuquo, a blind instructor who said he was presented a copy of the system's new Teaching and Learning Framework in print.
There's the odyssey of April Battle, "excessed" from her assistant principal post at Winston Education Campus last spring, fired on July 27 and told later it was a mistake. She said was reassigned to Winston before a follow up message that this also was an error. She was sent to Beers Elementary as a classroom teacher, although she is not certified as such, and later received an e-mail to report to there as a counselor. When she arrived at Beers Aug. 21, principal Gwendolyn Payton told her she'd already hired a counselor.
Robin Skulrak came to the public schools from the D.C. Teaching Fellows Program, one of the alternative recruiting organizations Rhee has looked to for fresh ground troops to execute her reforms. She left a career in tech research to be part of Rhee's movement, and as she prepared for her fourth grade class at Stanton Elementary in Southeast, the message was that she was there to save students from the malpractice of older, ineffective instructors.
"I was told that my colleagues were not as worthy as I was and that I was the future of education," she told the council.
But Skulrak said promises of mentoring and other support never materialized. The heating system in her classroom sometimes drove temperatures past 100 degrees, she said. Birds flew in through holes in the windows created by missing panes of glass. Because she considered herself "a part of Rhee's gang," she e-mailed her directly when the principal didn't respond to complaints about the conditions. She said maintenance showed up the next day.
She believes that Principal Donald Presswood placed her on a remedial "90-day plan" as payback for going around him to Rhee. She said that after observing a history class she taught on events leading up to the American Revolution, for which she prepared a PowerPoint and excerpts from the HBO "John Adams" miniseries, Presswood told her that the lesson was "perhaps a little too middle class." He suggested having the students develop a rap as part of their study of the period.
"I thought maybe they should get the basic facts first," said Skulrak, who was let go in July. This time, her appeal to Rhee didn't help.
Presswood did not return e-mail or phone messages seeking comment.
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