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Problems at Hamilton Education Center

Hamilton Education Center, a special education school in Northeast, serves some of the highest-needs children in DCPS: those diagnosed as emotionally disturbed. It's also become dangerously disorganized, according to a letter from Hamilton staff to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

The May 6 letter, circulated Monday by schools activist Marvin Tucker, accuses first-year principal Scott Sugarman of contributing to the unstable environment with weak leadership. Classes have been led for weeks at a time by instructional aides or behavioral technicians. Student infractions involving sex, bullying, fighting or leaving school without permission have gone undisciplined, the letter said.

It also alleges a series of staff injuries at the hands of students:

"October 26, 2009: Paraprofessional was pushed into the wall. Her left eyebrow area was swollen and discolored. She had a small cut and the frame of her glasses was bent.

--November 5, 2009: Behavior Tech had a chair thrown at her by a student...and she was struck in the lower right leg and severely bruised.

--November 20, 2009: Paraprofessional was bitten by student on the left side of his stomach.

--November 25, 2009: Teacher had a torn rotator cuff on the left shoulder while trying to break up a fight. Returned to work in April 2010.

-- December 17, 2009: Staff member had her front tooth knocked out.

-- January 7, 2010: Behavior Tech sustained hyperextension of left arm and had swelling [while] guarding movement of a student.

-- January 8, 2009: School Psychologist injured left wrist as student tried to break out of...room with others and pushed her into the locker.

--January 20, 2010: Paraprofessional was kicked by a student in the left shin and sustained a contusion.

--February 24, 2010: Teacher had a clipboard thrown at her by a student and upper arm was highly bruised.

--April 20, 2010: Instructional Aide had her glasses broken trying to break up a fight.

--April 23, 2010: Instructional Aide had her hair pulled out by a student and numerous fingernail scratches on her hand and left side of her neck."

One senior schools official said Sugarman, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, inherited a difficult situation with some underperforming staff. Rhee said Monday evening that the situation is under review.

"What we're doing is trying to understand what the real issues are and to address them," she said.


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By Bill Turque  |  May 11, 2010; 12:08 PM ET
 
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Comments

All though staff members should be fired and replaced with good teachers who can follow leadership. Its not the children, parents or principals fault it is the fault of those lazy incompent low level teachers and techs for the behaviors these children exhibit. Just replace them with "rock stars" and I know the school will soon be a blue ribbon school. LOL

Posted by: truthseeker3 | May 11, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Amen, truthseeker3.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | May 11, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

This is crazy and something needs to happen immediately. What type of "leader" allows these things to take place without immediate punishment. It is all speculation until the investigation is done. Who is this school official who said the last "statement". What does this say about this school official who has allowed this school to continue to under perform. So I question this school official job performance and lack of due diligence in hiring the right "leader" for this school.

Posted by: bigboi56 | May 11, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Can you imagine what has to happen, what kind of behaviors need to be seen and documented, for a child to be ruled emotionally disturbed, as a special ed designation, in DC public schools? This is a center where students are educated separately from their non-disabled peers. And it must be friggin off the chain.

Posted by: chelita | May 11, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Another shining example of Rhee's new leaders.

Yes unidentified senior official--blame it on the teachers.

Sounds like the staff needs combat pay.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | May 11, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

This sounds like the perfect location for some Teach for America voluneers to support an amateur principal. Perhaps in their youthful exuberance, they will be able to demonstrate to veteran Special Education teachers like me how to do the job correctly.

Posted by: marian_higgins | May 11, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is doing a marvelous job in DCPS! NOT!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | May 11, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

"Classes have been led for weeks at a time by instructional aides or behavioral technicians"

Maybe that's why they're "underperforming." They're under-trained and undersupported and under paid.

They probably can't pay qualified teachers enough to work in that environment, knowing how little control they have and that they'll get blamed for whatever happens.

Posted by: efavorite | May 11, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Having worked with behaviorally disturbed children myself - I can tell you that you are going to have these type of problems.

Most likely the school needs an increase in staff and in on-site security.

People don't understand just how difficult it truly is to handle these type of kids.

Posted by: resc | May 11, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

If this is the first year Sugarman has been a principal, there is no way he should have been assigned a post at a school for emotionally disturbed kids.

Posted by: jlp19 | May 11, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey do not worry folks, now that Rhee has found the money for her groundbreaking contract, she will be able to devote more time in supervising her rock star principals.

Oh, I forgot--she delegates. She will not get her hands caught in this mess.

How much experience or not did Sugarman have before coming to DC.

Finally, it is against the law to have paraprofessional holding classes without a certified teacher in the room.

Mr. Sugarman you have dodged a bullet.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | May 11, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Is this Mr. Sugarman's first year ever as a principal, or his first year as principal at this school?

Posted by: sanderling5 | May 12, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

It is Sugarman's first year as a principal. Prior to Hamilton Center, he was the assistant principal at Truesdell EC and is a product of New Leaders for New Schools.

Posted by: deedoesdc | May 12, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

deedoesdc, thanks for the info. To me it sounds risky assigning a new principal to a school with a population of students who have serious behavioral problems.

Posted by: sanderling5 | May 12, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I spoke to a teacher the other day who swore up and down that teachers always take personal responsibility and never pass the buck or try the "not me" defense. ha! All I have to do is print out today's conversation and show her how every teacher here is pointing fingers at everyone else and refusing to act like an adult. Very funny posters, you continue to act immature like children. Watch how you will continue to diminish the respect once given teachers by your actions. You have no one to blame for the bad press teachers get but yourselves.

Posted by: bbcrock | May 12, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock

What are you talking about? There are classes being led by aides and behavior techs and not teachers. If kids are not being taught they are more likely to act out especially if they are emotionally disturbed!

Instead of once again blaming teachers, you should express horror that these poor kids are allowed to be in such a violent and unstable environment without teachers and adequate leadership. One would hope you would also have sympathy for the staff who are getting assaulted or fear for their safety on a daily basis.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | May 12, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock

You are a "crock" and down right stupid.

Take your sorry behind to Hamilton and volunteer for the rest of the school year. They can use someone like you.

You will probably last a day if someone does not bite you, throw a chair at you, and/or try to rob you.

As far as bad press--this kind of conduct occurs all over DCPS and usually the teachers (in fear of losing their jobs)and the administrators (in fear of losing their jobs)will cover-up this kind of madness.

Posted by: bnew100 | May 12, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

haw haw, again people have nothing better to do than point fingers.

At no time did I even comment on the situation at Hamilton, I commented quite clearly on the posters here. There are people here so far down into the weeds that they will never see what the parents see.

I volunteer for my kids way too much as it is. I am involved now with two kids soccer teams. I had to lessen my involvement with the PTA so I could be more successful with limited projects. But we both know that DCPS teachers strongly discourage volunteerism because they don't want parents seeing how bad they are compared to our childhood teachers in Bethesda, McLean, Potomac and other suburban enclaves that gave birth to the gentrifying class that bought condos in Penn Quarter and million dollar houses in Columbia Heights. I am dealing with one teacher like that this year.

I don't have enough information about Hamilton to discuss the specifics but hell, neither does anyone here save for one poster above.

Posted by: bbcrock | May 12, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock,

I am a DCPS parent. Your stereotyping of teachers is just plain inaccurate.

Why don't you continue your stereotyping and start complaining about how all black people are criminals or on welfare. Why not? With your logic as long as you know that a small minority of a group is a certain way than you can claim the entire group is that way.

You should follow the advice of the previous poster and volunteer at Hamilton. I'm sure your beliefs will be shaken, especially your unending praise for the chancellor.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | May 12, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock

You are a gift that keeps on giving. You work with two soccer teams. Boy, I am impressed.

Can you tell me where the Penn Quarter section is located?

Posted by: dccounselor72 | May 13, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

efavorite and letsbereal2 have a good grasp on this topic.

Too many people (probably including Michelle Rhee) do not understand how serious it is for a student to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed - and to be admitted to a school for those who are emotionally disturbed.

This kind of school is one of the least desirable places to work because, even if you are well trained and experienced (that means psychology, content area,medication knowledge, extensive experience, and self defense), the unpredictability of the student behaviors and likelyhood of poor support makes it very dangerous.

And to find a principal who can actually
run such a school and be successful at it?!?

Society needs to stop bashing the people who are trying to improve these intolerable situations and get in there and HELP.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | May 13, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

efavorite and letsbereal2 have a good grasp on this topic.

Too many people (probably including Michelle Rhee) do not understand how serious it is for a student to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed - and to be admitted to a school for those who are emotionally disturbed.

This kind of school is one of the least desirable places to work because, even if you are well trained and experienced (that means psychology, content area,medication knowledge, extensive experience, and self defense), the unpredictability of the student behaviors and likelyhood of poor support makes it very dangerous.

And to find a principal who can actually
run such a school and be successful at it?!?

Society needs to stop bashing the people who are trying to improve these intolerable situations and get in there and HELP.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | May 13, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

efavorite and letsberea2 understand the incredible difficulties in running a school like Hamilton.

It is very serious for a student to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and even more serious to be sent to a school like Hamilton.

It is difficult to get adequate staff at schools like Hamilton because 1) you need all kinds of special training (range of psychology courses,content areas,teaching experience,self defense, understanding of medication issues, etc.) and 2) you have to be willing to put yourself in dangerous situations due to the unpredicatable behaviors of such students and the likelihood that the school/leadership will not be able to provide adequate support.

Society needs to stop bashing people attempting this heroic work and get in there and HELP.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | May 13, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

letsbereal2, you are paranoid and projecting the weird ideas in your head onto other people. I cannot argue with you because you cannot even remotely represent anything I wrote correctly. You need to print out what you wrote and ask someone you trust, doctor, colleague, pastor if they think you interpreted what I said correctly. Talk to someone.

Posted by: bbcrock | May 13, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

dccounselour72, what are you possibly trying to say? Your post calls me out but makes absolutely no sense. If you can't find Penn Quarter on a map then why ask me? Just look on a map yourself.

Posted by: bbcrock | May 13, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Hey bbcrock

I took your advice and looked up the Penn Quarter section of DC. Here is how newcomers to DC describe this section of town.

Penn Quarter is a revitalized historic neighborhood in downtown Washington, DC. The name “Penn Quarter” is relatively new and not so widely known. The area may also be called Old Downtown by some. Most people refer to the neighborhood as “near the MCI Center” (now the Verizon Center). Since the opening of the MCI Center in 1997, Penn Quarter has become an arts and entertainment district with new restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, art galleries, theaters and trendy stores.

As a Washingtonian, I am happy to see that you finally had some useful information to share. I am one of the old folks who can still remember "Old Downtown" when this area was a favorite shopping district for most black families in DC.

As far as you being a gift that keeps on giving, every time you attack others and rant about DC teachers, you make my day. When you express your never ending love affair for all things Rhee, it becomes clear why you think the way you do.

I will be looking forward to your next attack.


Posted by: bnew100 | May 14, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Why was the previous Principal remove? Did he/she have control of the school?

Posted by: shortlady2 | May 14, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Why was the previous Principal removed? Did he/she have control of the school? I don't recall hearing about these issues last year at Hamilton.

Posted by: shortlady2 | May 14, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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