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Boston educator, author, is new Eastern principal

Rachel Skerritt, chief of staff for Boston Public Schools, will be the new principal of Eastern High School beginning with the 2011-12 school year, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced Thursday.

Skerritt, also a former Boston school headmaster (that's what they call principals up there) and a teacher at Boston Latin School, will take over one of D.C.'s most closely watched education reform intiatives. Once known as the "Pride of Capitol Hill," the school was closed to new students in 2008 after years of poor academic performance while it underwent a $76 million reconstuction and reboot of its programs.

Rhee and other officials see Eastern as the linchpin of a plan for revitalizing public education in Ward 6, where young families have committed to -- and in some cases helped revitalize -- the community's elementary schools.

The school, which has only a senior class this year, will begin admitting freshmen again next fall for a college prep program and smaller "academies" focusing on science and health careers. Eastern is also the new home of the D.C. Youth Orchestra.

"For any school leader this is a dream principal job," Skerritt said in a phone interview. "To have a partnership with community and alumni to reimagine a school is a very unique opportunity. I already have images of that class of 2015."

Skerritt, who holds two masters degrees, is also an accomplished "chick lit" author. She self-published her first novel in 2001 based on her experiences at the University of Pennsylvania and later won a two-book contract with Kensington Books. Here's a synopsis of "When the Lights Go Down" (2008) that appears on on her website:

"Kahlila Bradford keeps a written record of all of the qualities she wants in her mate. With hundreds of items on her list and counting, it's no wonder that she's still single. Realizing that she could stand to cut loose a little, Kahli decides to leave Boston for a spell and spend a sizzling summer in Harlem -- no lists and no limits.

Once in New York, Kahli meets the one man who can actually exceed her expectations. Darius Wilson is the hottest thing in R&B, with charisma to spare and a genuine interest in what Kahli thinks of his music. It isn't long before Kahli is dying to give him more than just her opinion, and she suddenly she is center stage at the side of a celebrity.

But autumn's arrival means returning home and getting back to reality. Now it's time for Kahli to ask herself some serious questions about how much she's willing to give up to keep living in the spotlight, and what's really important . . . when the lights go down."

Skerritt, who also blogs and wrote a 2009 piece for The Root about the year she spent interviewing ex-boyfriends to find out why they dumped her, said she's had much less time for fiction lately and that education comes first.

"I always lead with my educator hat at all times and never write anything irresponsible," she said.

She starts next month.

By Bill Turque  | September 30, 2010; 7:14 PM ET
 
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Comments

I have a terrific headache.

So she was a principal for one or maybe 2 years and now she's ready to take on Eastern.

Seriously, this is a joke. Right? Didn't this search take 2 years? This really isn't happening, is it?

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | September 30, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Title1SoccerMom,

Not to mention the fact that the current principal of Eastern is an acclaimed principal with both staff and students. This Michelle Rhee's MO: firing experienced, credentialed principals and replacing them with inexperienced, unqualified candidates.

Posted by: thebandit | September 30, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Slightly more bio details are here:
http://www.theleagueonline.org/alumni_spotlight.php?submit=detail&uid=250

Unfortunately they seem depressingly thin given the DCPS promises for nationwide searches for highly experienced and effective principals and teachers. Given that the above links to info from 2007, that would suggest maybe 2 or 3 years of SHS admin experience at the most.

Posted by: interested8 | September 30, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Why is Rea hiring for next year does she not know she is not in the Plan for the next 4years so whom ever Gray picks to run the schools next year they can fire her to Rea has toe a real dumb ass well she is. Because she keep David Pinder after John Davis fired him twice

Posted by: Darksecrettt | September 30, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Makes sense to me. Only a person who plans to write a book about it would take a job in DCPS now.

Posted by: efavorite | October 1, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Makes sense to me. Only a person who plans to write a book about it would take a job in DCPS now.

Posted by: efavorite | October 1, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

We in Boston are extremely disappointed to be losing the extraordinary talents of Rachel Skerritt to the DC public schools. The difference between this comment and the rest of the comments on this page is that this is the only one based on first hand observaton and evidence.

Posted by: jerryhowland | October 1, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Wow!!! The more I hear about the replacement of principals, the more I know they will grab anybody breathing to fill the positions because anybody with any common sense would stay away from Rhee. A school leader, a real school leader just wouldn't waste the time to re-locate, only to be fired at the end of the year. DUH!!! That revolving door has everything to do with money. There is no money to negotiate a contract with CSO. No need to negotiate if you keep turning them out.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 1, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

You know, she's probably a lovely person with a great deal of promise as an administrator.

I'm just confused why, after a years long nationwide search, Rhee couldn't come up with a candidate who has some significant experience leading an urban school?

Based on the resumes I saw at the principal search conducted at our ES in June, the pool of candidates willing to work for Rhee is extraordinarily thin.

I wish Ms. Skerritt all the luck in the world, but forgive me if I'm not willing to let her learn how to be a principal on my child.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | October 1, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I don't doubt that Skerrit was a fine principal of Boston Latin, which is a fine, high-performing (I think, selective) school of the type that Eastern may aspire to be.

I agree with soccermom, that she seems an unlikely choice for Eastern.

I stand by my comment that the best result for Ms. Skerrit is that she gets a book out of it.

Posted by: efavorite | October 1, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Here's some of what wikipedia has to say about Boston Latin:

Admission is determined by a combination of a student's score on the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) and recent grades, and is limited to residents of the city of Boston.[25] Although Boston Latin runs from the 7th through the 12th grade, it only admits students into the 7th and 9th grades. Consequently the higher grades have fewer students than the lower grades, as a relatively large number of students transfer out. The school has historically been described as having a sink-or-swim environment, but in recent years there have been notable efforts to create a more supportive atmosphere.

Because it is a high-performing and well-regarded school in a city school system that is among the worst in the state, Boston Latin has been at the center of controversy concerning its admissions process. Admissions are very competitive, and it is not uncommon for fewer than 20% of applicants to be admitted. Before the 1997 school year, Boston Latin set aside a 35% quota of places in its incoming class for under-represented minorities. The school was forced to drop this policy after a series of lawsuits involving non-minority girls who were not admitted despite ranking higher than admitted minorities.[26] Boston Latin subsequently defeated a legal effort to do away with its admissions process entirely and conduct admissions by blind lottery. Since 1997, the percentage of under-represented minorities at Boston Latin has fallen from 35% to under 19% in 2005, despite efforts by Boston Latin, the Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Latin School Association to recruit more minority applicants and retain more minority students. Some advocate instituting a quota for the number of students that must be admitted from Boston's public middle schools.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Latin_School

Here's the school site
https://www.bls.org/podium/default.aspx?t=113760&rc=1

Posted by: efavorite | October 1, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

efavorite:

I don't think the post implies that Ms. Skerritt was the headmaster of Boston Latin. According to her bio on her own web page, she is the former headmaster of a small Boston public academy called ACC.

The bio lists her as a faculty member at Boston Latin. I don't think she was in charge of its admission policy, but thanks for sharing.

Posted by: gardyloo | October 1, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Seriously, people? You are going to whine and complain and go all chicken little on this appointment? She was a teacher for seven years. She was a principal and chief of staff for Boston Public Schools. There was community engagement in the decision making process. And that acclaimed principal, while perhaps the nicest man in the world with the most wonderful set of teachers, had 22% of students proficient in reading and 9% in math.

Posted by: horacemann | October 1, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

At least she is an African American. If Gray had not won I doubt if that would have happened. Rhee and Fenty have racist hiring practices. The more Whites the better is their slogan.

She sounds young and hip....the kids are going to love her and she's going to love D.C.. She'll have the energy to get the job done and find that Black man she's looking for. :)

I support African American Teachers.

Posted by: kentonsmith | October 1, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

btw, she is more qualified than Michelle Rhee. I hope you all are aware of that. Rhee is an educational fraud!!! She's never been a principal or headmaster. I'll leave that one alone... :)

Posted by: kentonsmith | October 1, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Opps - missed that about her principalship. Thanks for straightening that out.

Still - type of teaching experience counts too.

I suspect hiring her was in the works long before the election and whatever she or any principal does will have to be in tune with the new superintendent and mayor.

Here's info from the ACC site:

History
ACC was founded in 1976 as a college preparatory educational program for highly motivated juniors and seniors who decided that they wanted or needed “another course to college”. The program was designed for district school students who needed a more rigorous curriculum in a small setting. Over time, ACC also began to enroll students from Boston’s exam schools along with students who were new to Boston.

ACC is a small school with rigorous academic standards and a caring and energetic staff who fully support students. The small school environment has allowed students to receive individual attention and establish relationships with their teachers and peers.

In school year 2003-2004, ACC added 9th grade and transitioned from being a program to becoming a high school. In 2004 ACC enrolled its first 10th grade class. ACC will continue its commitment to provide high standards and a caring environment for all students. Students who graduate with an ACC diploma are well prepared for college level reading and writing, and the majority of ACC graduates attend college upon graduation.

In school year 2003-2004, ACC moved to the annex of the Taft educational complex and shared the building with Taft Middle School in its last year of existence. The move to the larger facility helped ACC meet the needs of serving a larger student population. Currently ACC shares the Taft educational complex with Boston Community Leadership Academy

http://boston.k12.ma.us/acc/school/history.htm

Posted by: efavorite | October 1, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with the time frame. This all started on October 29, 2009. Here it is September 2010 and we finally have an announcement. There were approximately 3-panels with a combined total of 7 candidates over an 11 month period. If we had our druthers it would have been a seasoned well-versed white woman from Montgomery County. Yet, she moved on and in hindsight probably made the best choice. We had another panel of which everyone so awful that we were insulted that DCPS presented such a farce of applicants before us. Now, hold on to your seats...all those applicants were subsequently hired by Rhee for schools in Ward 4, 6, 7, and 8.

Then months later we were presented with another group of applicants of which Ms. Skerritt was part of that group. The attendees/community had dwindle down significantly; as many were exhausted at the fact that it has taken this long. Also with the outcome of the Mayor's race many were hoping that the task of selecting a principal for Eastern was going to fall upon someone else.

Remember at the ground breaking the politicians in attendance stated to the mass group that Principal Chiselom was not going anywhere...so that was promising enough.

Okay, weeks later we were summoned to sit before a panel with an unrealistic representation of the community came about 15 in all. Clearly one had the credentials the white candidate but did not interview well at all. Then you had Ms. Skerritt her resume' was on the light-side and her experience combined was a total 10 years with only a recognizable 3 years as a headmaster/principal. With her current job being outside the education/administrative realm as she is serving as the chief of staff for her superintendent. She was the perfect interview, said all the right buzz words but I took that as being a person who's a chief of staff for a superintendent she's probably a good study of principal applicants for her school district.

I didn't compare her to the other candidate but I had to compare her to what is at Eastern currently. The current principal has about 20 years with 7 years consecutively at the adminsitration level. He is considered to be the only DCPS principal at the comprehensive level with seniority.

If Gray's creed was to ensure that his administration staff is reflective of the city. Then I do hope when it is time to award a state of the art school to a principal that it is reflective to those who have a proven track record with DCPS and not just given to an outsider because of the cute-factor.

Finally, if DCPS is experiencing a 25-mil deficit then how is that we can secure a new principal at 130k just to plan for a year. Quite frankly, the line-item will reflect that Eastern has two-principals at a combined salary over 200k...is that over-kill.

Principal Union, how does one get a planning year at full salary with less than 3 years as an administrator. Don't hate the player, hate the game or better yet hate the owner. LOL

Posted by: PowerandPride | October 1, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Trying to be less cynical... one of the virtues of a progressive democracy as this is the freedom to express one's opinion or perspective in criticism of another without penalty, exceptions notwithstanding. This avalanche of criticism directed at Chancellor Rhee, regardless of political stripe or one's depth of thought causes me pause, because it doesn't appear that any of the cynics or whiners participated in the process of selecting the new principal for Eastern.

I was a member of the interview/selection team, which consisted of several others from: the Capitol Hill Community, Eastern alumni, school advocates, past and present PTA members, retired educators from DCPS and other area school systems, and a professor from Georgetown University.

Needless to say, it's easy to criticize from the sidelines when you do it from the shadows without direct knowledge. WE accomplished our mission in spite of the long and auduous process of interviewing candidates, some of whom we believed were NOT ready to lead a school like Eastern. If anyone wants to criticize someone, criticize us. We did what we believed was right and in the best interest of students, the community, Eastern High School's loss legacy, and this great city. We recommended Rachel Skerritt to become the next principal for Eastern Senior High School.

Let it be clear and understood, what has plauged the DC public school system happened (decades) before the arrival of Chancellor Rhee--she's not the problem; apathy has been the villian. And, the apathy has come from some disengaged parents, some complacent citizens, some politicians who have been tone deaf to the real issues over the years, some disruptive children from dysfunctional beginnings, etc. There is enough finger pointing to go around for all to share the cancer that has eaten away at our public school system; let's critique that.

With that aside, I believe that a new frontier is on the horizon in public school reform in our great city, and I'm hopeful that the resumptive mayor-elect, Vincent Gray, is up to the task of making this city come alive again with a sense of pride and urgency. I believe that he is, without doubt.

My fellow citizens the campaign is over, at least in my mind, and it's time to rise above petty criticism and pickering.

If this is going to be truly (One City), as Mr. Gray would like to see, then each citizen is going to have to be a committee of (1) to make it a reality, or remain in the sandbox of naysayers.

For what is it worth, that's my opinion.

James W. Preston, Sr., Class of 1965
Interim chairman, Eastern HS Alumni Assoc.

Registered Independent since 1969, Ward 4

Posted by: jamespreston | October 2, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

BTW... this is a comment from another panel member involved in the principal interview process......

(Wendy Glenn) on the concerned4dcps blog wrote the following:

The Eastern SHS community, which included, parents, community, alumni and education advocacy groups were all allowed to weigh in on this selection process. The process was open and very inclusive and was ongoing since October 22, 2009 and it took almost an entire year to find this caliber of educator to steer the helm of Eastern SHS as it transitions in the new building with the new academic program.

Principal Skerritt was put through the paces by all who attended the panel selection and she was chosen by the panel as someone who was leagues above the other candidates that were presented and there were also very capable and exceptional candidates presented.

Ms. Skerritt is "not" being moved, rather she is choosing to work at Eastern SHS after a very successful career in Boston.

We, the school community, welcome her and support her as she endeavors to guide the lives of our children. I prefer to look forward instead of looking back. Eastern SHS is new, the Administration is new and the students will be new; let's allow them all to grow a vision together that works for all concerned.

Posted by: jamespreston | October 2, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Rachel Skerritt will bring a wide breath of experience to DCPS via her experience as a teacher, principal, Chief of Staff, novelist and being a product of the public school system herself.

We are very sad to loose her. DCPS is gaining a knowledgeable, hard working, caring individual who will do what is right for the students of Eastern High School.

Posted by: lesleyryan | October 3, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I too participated in the selection process. I have to agree there was a vast array of people who earlier on participated.

C'mon it took 10-months, 7-candidates and announcement of Ms. Skerritt of which I am NOW hearing the panel wants to take the bullet. I be darned, if I am going to let DCPS off the hook that easy. We wouldn't have to be so outspoken and vigilant if we truly thought that Ms. Skerritt was the best candidate by-far. Why frankly, instead of us announcing...the Boston school district should be announcing Ms. Skerritt's departure.

Don't get me wrong I liked Ms. Skerritt and will support her in all of her future endeavors for Eastern but I had to compare her with the current leadership. As those from DCPS headquarters have stated that the culture at Eastern "MUST" change. So, with that statement and this selection what culture is DCPS stirring up to change?
The past 11 years of culture has always been cultivated by DCPS.

It was the first of its kind to have such a group to form. Yet, I am still bewildered at the fact of the process as it does not reflect the DCMR legal way of principal selection. Let us not forget the oops-factor of just 3-years ago regarding DCPS hiring practices for principals. So, if those are truly advocates of Eastern then listen, look and learn regarding the process of how DCPS is legally bound to select principals.

The nuts and bolts of it, is this, it is not who was allowed to interview but who was not even considered.

For christ-sake their own person in headquarters has stated that every candidated didn't even go through the entire application process, regarding this position. Again, prohibited personnel practices that is being demonstrated.

Albeit the one who did not go through the paces might have lucked-up but what about those who did everything by the book and was not given a second-look.

Again, Ms. Skerritt interviewed extremely well and from the comments I heard it was more of a "let's give her a chance" instead of "she's the best candidate that we ever seen." Yes, all that were on the panel somewhat knew the type of principal we wanted, but at this stage it was the type of principal we settled for that has secured Ms. Skerritt.

We were told that Ms. Skerritt would not have accepted the job if only Mrs. Rhee would have wanted her. It was that the panel selected her...and again I would like to know the ratio of the 15 who said yes to the ones who said no?

To the poster who has felt the current principal is not worthy. Again, he would not have been able to remain there, if it was not for Mrs. Rhee wanting him there and reappointing him every year during her tenure.

Also, I will say-it some want change for selfish-reasons and not student reasons. It was not that we wanted Ms. Skerritt it was those who didn't want Mr. Chiselom. It's a sad state of affairs when the color spectrum of a selected principal carries the same aesthetic of an elected politician.

Posted by: PowerandPride | October 4, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

@PowerandPride... you said that you participated in the process? Then you know that the matter concerning Mr. Chiselom was discussed in our forum; in fact I raised the issue about his tenure, and the rumor about the "white conspiracy to take control of Eastern".. do you recall that?.

I don't know who you are referring to who didn't want Mr. Chiselom. It was stated by a DCPS official that evening that Mr. Chiselom came to Eastern with the understanding that he would be acting in an interim capacity. Do you remember that being said?

I don't know of anyone who has a problem with Mr. Chiselom or his abilities to be an effective principal and a great administrator; he certainly did better than the previous principal in keeping Eastern quite and orderly. The people who might not care for him are those teachers that he got rid of because they were ineffective, or some other reason. Mr. Chiselom is going to be fine, you can believe that, he's a soldier.

As Wendy Glenn stated let's look forward and not backwards. The decision has been made, Eastern has a new principal starting 2011. I would have been fine with Mr. Chiselom as the permanent principal, but that wasn't in the offering. Do you hear him whining about the outcome?

Good people like Mr. Chiselom always finish on top.

Posted by: jamespreston | October 4, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Once again you have missed the point. Yet, my overall concern is about the process of selecting a principal was not done properly and in order. Reading is fundamental so I beg of you to read the DCMR and let's have an intelligent discussion after that reading. The understanding of acting as the phase-out principal is all well and good. Because Mr. Chiselom is champion at that maneuver but not be able to apply for the permanent position is quite a prohibitive personnel practice. See, it is like the basic term employee who's hire with the understanding that when his term is up...so is his employment. But to tell this employee that any and all positions regarding Eastern is out of your reach, has all of the implications of being pre-selection.

Apparently your status of an alumnus only gives your the right and privileges setforth by your bylaws and not DCMR laws.
The soldier in Mr. Chiselom is even more valuable in regards to his veteran leadership through DCPS. Again, the Chancellor has validated Mr. Chiselom over and over again through her reappointments but to dangle a carrot and to have the white posse' of DCPS state that he [Chiselom] does not possess the skill-set to re-launch Eastern is quite thought provoking. Really, can someone supply Mr. Chiselom's resume's in comparison to Ms. Skerritt, considering what is being disseminated by DCPS as the right and best choice. DCPS is somewhat predictable in their hiring practices merely because all that they've presented as candidates for principals have been placed into school, even when they were deemed just awful by previous panels.

So, if those previous candidates of 6 were not deemed good enough for Eastern and yet placed at other schools. Wouldn't one think that placing Mr. Chiselom in the mix with the knowing that he is worthy for another placement wouldn't have not hurt the process. Also, it would have even out the male to female ratio in the applicant pool. You see the females applicants had new leaders to veterans but the male applicants did not have one veteran in the mix; such as Mr. Chiselom

This is all water under the bridge she can only be as strong and survive as long as the last predecessor in the position. Remember, the only difference between this principal appointment and the others, it is the facilities. One has to remember the new Eastern is now and the first and current principal at the helm is Mr. Chiselom, therefore Ms. Skerritt is not the new principal for the new Eastern but she's the number 12 principal in eleven years. If history is correct Ms. Skerritt is the first female appointed to the helm of principal without the title of interim or provision of temporary. In some instances that can be a good thing and worthy a published book referenced in the not so distant future. Hint,hint,hint Rachel. Maybe there's a chapter destined for you as the Interim President of EHSAA...if that book becomes a movie deal, hopefully Kanye West secures your role.

Posted by: PowerandPride | October 4, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

@PowerandPride... ROFL

You seem to have your platform in place, be ready to throw your hat in the ring for a sit on the school board, or maybe an appointment to the DC Office of Human Rights in the Gray administration.

Good luck.

Posted by: jamespreston | October 5, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

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