Coolidge, one of three failing D.C. high schools that will be run by a private management firm next year, is losing its principal. L. Nelson Burton has told his staff that he will not be back.
Burton, principal for the last four years, said his departure has nothing to do with Coolidge's impending takeover by Friends of Bedford, operator of the highly regarded Bedford Academy High School in New York. Schools that fall short of "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind law for five years in a row must be overhauled. One of the options open to Rhee is hiring an outside organization to run the school. Coolidge will remain part of DCPS, but day-to-day management will be turned over to Bedford.
"I was part of the team that sought them out and brought them here," Burton said, adding that it "would make sense" for Bedford to have its own leadership at Coolidge. In any event, Burton said he is ready to move on.
"Professionally, the principals thing is done for me," he said, adding that he might stay on with DCPS in some other capacity.
Coolidge made some strides on Burton's watch. Fifty-one percent of his students reached proficiency in math in 2008, up from 22 percent in 2007. Reading scores rose more modestly, up five points to 29 percent, not enough to reach "adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by federal No Child Left Behind Law.
Burton also generated some opposition among parents with his heavy emphasis on Advanced Placement courses and exams. Only two percent of the students who took the exams received passing grades. Some teachers and parents said the AP programs were of limited use to students so far behind in basic academics. Burton said that they would make more progress than in ordinary classes and that AP fostered a sense of accomplishment despite the low scores.
Friends of Bedford, selected by Rhee and the Coolidge community last spring, has spent this school year observing and planning. It emphasizes small-group instruction, and offers a four-week "summer bridge" academic immersion program for incoming ninth graders. The organization will also take over Dunbar High School next year. Friendship Schools, operators of Friendship Public Charter School in the District, is scheduled to manage Anacostia High School.