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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.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 21, 2009; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Switch Skulrak for Presswood.

Posted by: edlharris | October 21, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Rhee and Fenty prove that "tough" doesn't necessarily mean "competent".

Spare our kids from self-promoting "change agents" who can't manage programs, budgets or people.

Posted by: GoDoZo | October 21, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Bill, for adding some depth. I'm just sorry so few people will see it here, compared to the print version.

Were you there when the young teacher from Hearst stood up for her RIFd colleagues, saying she "couldn't rest" unless she did?

Sh criticized the new IMPACT model, saying she had worked on the original while teaching in Michigan. There, evaluators were give a week to learn the materials and teachers were trained for a day in it. However, here in DC training time was a day for evaluators and an hour for teachers!

She said the social-emotional component had been removed for use in DC and when she pointed that out, her concerns were dismissed, as - we don't deal with that here.

Posted by: efavorite | October 21, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

correction: I think it was the "Learning and Teaching Framework" that the Hearst teacher was referring too.

(Next time, I'll take notes)

Posted by: efavorite | October 21, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

More examples of how when you scratch below the surface of Rhee's reform efforts you can see right through the tough rhetoric and gleaming press releases. She is creating more chaos and problems.

The union contract is going nowhere now since the RIF debacle. How long has our fearless leader been in negotiations with the union?

She was late in rolling out IMPACT so we had to be trained a month into the school year.

For god sake, they could not even get the school calendar out in time. Last Friday (October 16th) was when the 2009/2010 school year calendar was sent to schools and parents. Rhee should not have bothered including the month of September and saved some paper.

So what exactly is she doing right??

Posted by: letsbereal2 | October 21, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Rhee brings in "new blood" like Robin Skulak--who is clearly intelligent, caring, and creative--but ultimately fails to support even her? What Rhee attempted to do, obviously, was pit new teachers against the veterans. She (Rhee) is doing right either group (new teachers vs. veterans). That's despicable. Replacing Presswood with Skulak, by the way, was an excellent suggestion. A principal could at least explain his actions by answering calls and emails.

Posted by: Molly2002 | October 21, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

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