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Posted at 8:05 AM ET, 12/17/2010

Therapy for D.C. teachers

By Bill Turque

Linda LaScola, a member of Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray's Education Transition Team, is a clinical social worker whose Connecticut Ave. practice includes in-depth interviewing, focus groups and qualitative research involving "sensitive topics and difficult respondents," according to an on-line description. Among her projects is a study of clergy who don't believe in God.

Who better to probe the psyches of D.C. school teachers who might feel battered and bruised after three years of Michelle Rhee?

LaScola is part of an ambitious outreach effort to broaden Gray's understanding of District education issues. Transition team leaders Katherine Bradley (CityBridge Foundation) and Michael Lomax (United Negro College Fund) have been holding a series of invitation-only stakeholder meetings for principals, teachers, parents and community members. LaScola was tapped to meet with teachers not accustomed to speaking out, and those who wanted to do so in a more confidential setting. On Wednesday, LaScola convened a group of educators in what her invitation called "a neutral, central location."

LaScola, who referred all questions to Gray's office, said in the invitation that she will prepare a report of her findings for the transition committee but that they will not be attributable to any particular teacher.

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By Bill Turque  | December 17, 2010; 8:05 AM ET
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Souns like a good start. I hope it is a comprehensive report that will be presented.

Posted by: ggant | December 17, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Referring all questions to Gray's office, where they will be ignored.

That sounds like DCPS professional development for the past couple of years, where the presenters have what is called a "parking lot" where you should put questions (since we don't want to interrupt their powerpoints).

In three years, I have never heard of anyone ever having the "parking lot" questions answered. I suspect this is more of the same.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | December 17, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Who was in charge of formulating this invitation only guest list? How do you tap into teachers who are not accustomed to speaking out? Did someone snitch on them or did you offer some type of teflon protection?

The best way to squash an in-depth to respond with mind your own business. Really, when one inquires they are a good interviewer, when one becomes an in-depth interviewer they are just being nosey. LOL

Posted by: PowerandPride | December 17, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Excellent meetings.

Posted by: axolotl | December 17, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Not all teachers feel battered by the last three years, and I really wish Mr. Turque, would stop assuming that he speaks for all of us! It's possible that some DCPS teachers see the union as working diligently to protect the status quo and to protect jobs for teachers that are not doing their jobs. If expecting your workers to DO THEIR JOBS is battering, then I hope it continues. That's not to say that everything in the last 3 years has been perfect, there have been some mis-steps HOWEVER, mis-steps when your trying to improve the system and the quality of our students' education are still better intentioned than trying to provide job security for individuals who are not pulling their weight.

Posted by: DCTeacher13 | December 17, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

"and I really wish Mr. Turque, would stop assuming that he speaks for all of us!"

Check again.
I don't see that in Mr. Turque's reports.

Posted by: edlharris | December 17, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

"Who better to probe the psyches of D.C. school teachers who might feel battered and bruised after three years of Michelle Rhee?"

Or, more likely, feel battered and bruised by their disrespectful and violent students, don'tcha think?

Posted by: IncredulousAsEver | December 17, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Turque - You and Valerie Strauss are my heroes!

Posted by: educationlover54 | December 17, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

While it remains to be seen whether, and/or how much input teachers will have in shaping the future of DCPS, efforts like these are very important and can be built upon.

The most progressive and successful school systems have teachers positioned at most critical parts of school development (or reform), in curriculum, in assessment practices for teachers and administrators, and many long range policies.

Teachers need to be empowered, and made to feel an active part of the success of our schools. Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee have never understood this critical element of "Sustainable School Reform."

Unless we truly put our children's interests ahead of politics we will continue to make Much Ado About Nothing, except not nearly as funny.

Posted by: AGAAIA | December 17, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

@ Wyrm1:

"Referring all questions to Gray's office, where they will be ignored."

This process is not a question collection box. It is much more, and your comment displays the type of cynical attitude that usually guaranties that your questions will remain unanswered.

Posted by: AGAAIA | December 17, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse


In the past three years there has been almost no effort to speak to teachers about issues that impede education in DCPS. I've actually been fairly supportive of some of Ms. Rhee's changes, but to claim that teachers have had much input in them is laughable.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so cynical, but I have found that there is a lot of talk about getting input from teachers, but seldom does that amount to anything.

As to my characterization of the "parking lot" in DCPS' professional development, I am afraid it is fairly accurate. We have had 4-5 professional development sessions from downtown folks who refuse to answer questions and refer you to the parking lot, where questions will "be answered and you will get feedback within 2-3 weeks." but somehow never are addressed.

Perhaps Ms. LaScola and the transition team are interested in what stakeholders have to say, but that has not been the case for the past 3 years, so I'm afraid that a little cynicism may be in order.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | December 17, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse


"... Perhaps Ms. LaScola and the transition team are interested in what stakeholders have to say, but that has not been the case for the past 3 years, so I'm afraid that a little cynicism may be in order."


I am very sympathetic with your frustration regarding your interactions with DCPS Central Office, and a Mayor who rubber-stamped even the most outrageous decisions and policy in the name of progress.

As I stated in my original post. teachers need to be empowered, and made to feel an active part of the success of our schools. Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee have never understood this critical element of "Sustainable School Reform." This was a major emphasis of Gray's platform, and we all should hold him to his promise.

If Mayor Gray does not change the status quo in significant ways, I will be personally devastated. I worked very hard towards the goal of Gray's election and Rhee's exit from local politics. What I have seen and heard from Kaya Henderson in her short term as interim Chancellor has not been encouraging.

With regard to Hardy Middle School, the politics of Wards 2 & 3 have overwhelmed both the short and long term interests of the children in attendance. The problems surrounding Rhee's handling of Hardy was a launching pad for Gray's campaign in many ways.

The school is suffering seriously under inept leadership. This past week Chancellor Henderson and instructional superintendent Eric Redwine have met with representative groups of parents, and teachers who have warned that without immediate intervention, Hardy MS will lose it's most effective staff, teachers, and families. The escalation of violence and frustration of the school community are not being taken seriously by Henderson, and it appears that she is willing to let the school fail rather than take the immediate steps required to save the school. Her advise to these desperate stakeholders is to "be patient."

Chancellor Rhee's intentions to "establish Hardy's reputation as a neighborhood school" has backfired, with many in-boundary families now actively seeking apartments in the Deal Middle School catchment in order to get their children out of Hardy by January 3rd, when class resumes. Still more are looking to move at the end of this academic year.

The Middle School Fair held at Key ES this past week had very little interest from in-boundary families, with Hardy principal Nerenberg and DCPS staff talking to mostly empty space. Last year, former principal Patrick Pope was a lame-duck, but still there was far more interest. It is hard to imagine that any in-boundary families with options to send their children to another school will not actively avoid Hardy MS.

The debacle at Hardy is pathetic, as all of this could have been avoided. And ... If Mayor Gray and Henderson do not listen very carefully to the stakeholders, their New Year is going to be very disappointing. That is a resolution they can count on ...

Posted by: AGAAIA | December 17, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

You can't improve health care by leaving doctors out of the discussion. The same goes for the work done by engineers, social workers, hairdressers, teachers, you name it. Mr. Gray has demonstrated his grasp of this bit of common sense by reaching out to the stakeholders in education.

The fact that Mr. Gray has asked Ms. LaScola to meet with teachers speaks volumes. It shows that he understands that improved education must begin with the people who deliver it. I suspect that he also knows that you can't recruit and retain talented people by subjecting them to public humiliation.

I'm also impressed with Mr. Gray's desire to have a seamless web of social and educational services for poor children from birth to college. Now we're getting somewhere!

I can tell from the comments above that people are already coming together. Now we're sure to see some real progress for the children in D.C.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | December 17, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

I hope you are right. I was actually invited to be in the focus group for teachers, and would have gone if not for a meeting I could not reschedule. If Ms. Henderson and Mr. Gray are serious about fixing education then this is a good first step.

However, after 3 years of being criticized at every turn by people who have no clue about education, it is not surprising that teachers are wary. If Mr. Grey and Ms. Henderson are serious then lets see them do something to show it. Examples might include such things as inviting serious conversation about IMPACT, support some reasonable disciplinary measures for teachers so that classrooms are not ruled by one or two misbehaving students, etc...

Both Mr. Gray and Ms. Henderson have been involved (in a small way) in the unending drumbeat of DC teachers as useless, lazy incompetents, and if they want trust and support from teachers, they are going to have to earn it. If this is a first step, that is fantastic, because most teachers want to be able to actually educate students and having a supportive political leadership would help a lot.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | December 18, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse


What happen to the "outrage" expressed by Mr. Gray when Rhee replaced Pope at Hardy? Was he faking or has he become a Fenty clone?

I hope Gray will find the guts to rescue this wonderful school before it completely collapse under Rhee/Henderson reform.

The parents who started this mess should be forced to send their children to the "new and improved" Hardy the neighborhood school. Can you imagine "renting an apartment in another hood to ensure your child a placement at Deal". Everyone should be so lucky.

Posted by: guylady201001 | December 18, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Copying an earlier letter to the Editor from Ms. LaScola:

The July 25 editorial "The D.C. teacher firings" supported Michelle Rhee for ridding the schools of 241 supposedly ineffective teachers and applauded the "precise standards, multiple observations by experts and clear expectations" of her new evaluation system.

Now I think D.C. residents should see the standards the chancellor's team is using to select replacement teachers. This should include a complete and verifiable list of the newcomers' stellar teaching qualifications, including their students' high achievement levels and positive evaluations from previous teaching jobs.

There shouldn't be any rookies among the replacement teachers; the situation in our schools is too dire to leave to beginners.

Linda LaScola, Washington

Posted by: trace1 | December 18, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse


Pls stop foisting that teachers = doctors garbage on us. Doctors are much more selectively screened in order to enter the study of medicine than teachers are for their line of work.

Drs also are subject to much stricter supervision, and pay a big penalty for malpractice. Teachers rarely pay a price for that. Further, for the most part they do not have a union (vs. professional associations).

In the very old days, the local school teachers had a lot of status and respect, but still not approaching doctors, I have read. You know this. Unfortunately, even while doctors' status has fallen, status and respect for teachers, in many but not all places, have absolutely cratered.

Why? Parents and others tend to make some association between their kids being poorly educated and teachers' performance, along with the many other factors we agree are also involved. Doctors do not shun responsibility for their outcomes the way many (but not all) teachers do these days (e.g., in the Distict), and doctors have a lot more to lose.

I have always agreed that some reformers, like M. Rhee, overstated the role of teachers, but she was definitely directionally correct and also right not to allow teachers to disown all of their students' outcomes. Unfortunately, that is what many teachers in these parts appear to want. Our new Mayor, his new schools head, parents and many other stakeholders will not allow that.

Posted by: axolotl | December 19, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse


If you read my post again, you will see that I was trying to make the point that you can't improve any line of work (hairstyling, nursing, engineering, etc.) without the input of the practitioners. I was not saying that doctors are more important than teachers or vice versa. Both are vital to any society. Yes, a doctor does have more specialized training than the teacher, but that does not diminish the importance of the teacher's role.

Your view of teachers is shared by many (but not most) Americans. As I've said before, I believe this lack of respect is the primary cause of the educational problems in our country. EVERY country in the world with an enviable system of education has a citizenry that respects educators. We are mired in a chicken and egg situation right now: The more we demean teachers, the more the profession is avoided by talented people. As the less talented become teachers, the lower the respect and so forth.

Like 85% of Americans with children in school, I had a very high opinion of my sons' schools and their teachers; therefore I don't really relate to your point of view. Involved and supportive parents do not send their children to "bad" schools. We recognize and exercise our right to take charge of our children's education and that's why our sons and daughters generally do well.

I know you don't intend to hurt the education of your own children and those of other people, but I'm convinced that your attitude hurts education far more than any other factor. Almost all my failing students had parents who were either uninvolved or dismissive of the school and the teacher. Almost ALL children who were successful in school had supportive parents. Think about it before you continue your tirade against the men and women who educate the children of this nation. You really are part of the problem far more than the "ineffective" teachers you constantly rail against. Far more.

One mother of high achievers said this to me many years ago: "Never let your child hear you say anything negative about his teacher, even if you don't like her. It's very important to support the school." Wise words, and I'm glad I listened.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | December 19, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse


"Involved and supportive parents" do indeed send their children to mediocre, or even bad schools here in the District.

They don't have money for private school, and not everyone can get into the better charters or out-of-boundary schools (or has the means of transportation to get there). Those stuck in poverty generally can't "take charge" of their children's education.

I know that you're in California, so I assume you don't have first-hand knowledge of what goes on here in DC.

Posted by: trace1 | December 19, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Asarason (sp?) AGAAIA:

Hardy MS has no place on this thread, no matter how much your own dragging it down over the last year weighs on your conscience.

Your analysis was wrong, not just a reflection of different values. (It may be that over half of he students attending Hardy were out of bounds to their feeder schools; demographically, it was impossible, as you have elsewhere repeatedly and incorrectly asserted that within-boundary (euphemism for "white) students could have claimed an overwhelming majority of Hardy MS seats.
But, having withdrawn your own child from public school enrollment, you shouldn't be surprised of the ripple effect on peers, as you continue so think so much of your judgment. You forecast Hardy MS would be as disorderly as many risk-averse Ward 3 parents feared; whether that came to pass or not, you've repeatedly announced it; and you shouldn't be reluctant to see what your form of parent-involvement may have contributed to.

Posted by: incredulous | December 20, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

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