Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Woodley Park was the setting for one of last year's nastier school community disputes. In May 2008 Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, whose two daughters attend the school, fired principal Marta Guzman, along with about two-dozen other D.C. school leaders.
Guzman's dismissal aggravated ethnic and class tensions at the diverse K-8 school, where a dual language immersion program divides classes between native Spanish and English-speaking children. The then-co-chairman of the PTA charged that Guzman was ousted by a cabal of dissatisfied and largely affluent Anglo parents who exploited their access to a school mom who also happened to be chancellor.
It looks like Guzman's successor, Monica Liang-Aguirre, is having her own issues with some Oyster-Adams parents. The Dec. 11 "Friday Folder" for school families included a stiff letter from the principal about some out-of-bounds adult behavior.
"Faculty, parents and students have witnessed parents yelling at security officers because they want to park in the turn-around at Oyster during morning drop off," Liang-Aguirre wrote. "I have been forwarded hurtful and insulting emails that were sent to teachers and staff. It pains me to say we've had parents yell at, insult, and humiliate a variety of personnel in phone conversations, conferences and in public meetings."
Liang-Aguirre reminded parents that this all fell a bit short of the official school values that they need to model for the kids: "Act with Integrity, Live Graciously, Lead by Example and Think Globally."
She essentially told parents to get a grip, and suggested several ways to "avoid the pitfalls of disrespectful communication," like asking for a meeting instead of firing off an obnoxious e-mail.
Susan Stevenson, co-chair of Oyster Adams' LSRT, said Liang-Aguirre's letter was on-target.
"I thought it was great letter," Stevenson said, appropriately aimed at a small minority of school parents. "I think a problem with our society in general is lack of civility. I just feel like we as a society need to be more kind to one another. I hate to see when people are hateful to security guards or teachers. There's no place for that."
Liang-Aguirre's message comes in the wake of grumbling over who got to go to a White House Halloween party. Oyster-Adams was one of eleven D.C. area schools given a limited number of tickets, and Liang-Aguirre had just 48 hours to submit names. Some parents later complained that they had no idea how tickets were distributed or that they were even available.
It also turned out that a "random sort" of the school's 650 students ended up awarding a ticket to one of Rhee's daughters--either fifth grader Starr and second grader Olivia, it's not clear who--meaning that the sibling and the Chancellor were also eligible to go. Rhee declined the tickets, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway.
In any event, Liang-Aguirre acknowledged that it could have been handled more deftly.
"I apologize that this was not done in a more public and transparent manner," she said in her Nov. 20 Friday Folder.
Liang-Aguirre, who did not respond to phone or e-mail messages, is an Oberlin College and Harvard Ed School graduate who co-founded an Arizona charter school that serves disadvantaged Latino children. Her husband, Jesus Aguirre, was DCPS director of operations until earlier this month when Mayor Adrian M. Fenty named him interim director of Parks and Recreation (replacing another former Rhee deputy, Ximena Hartsock).
Stevenson said she thought Liang-Aguirre was doing "a fantastic job."
UPDATE: Rhee spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said in a statement late Wednesday: "In order to create the best environment for students we encourage our principals to communicate openly and honestly with their school communities."