D.C. parents rally to save Miner Elementary principal’s job

June 26, 2013

Parents of students at the District’s Miner Elementary are trying to save the job of its principal, LaVonne Taliaferro-Bunch, who has led the school since 2006.

Taliaferro-Bunch’s supporters said she was told last week, two days before the last day of school, that she was being “non-reappointed,” or let go.

“We’re all shocked,” said Lauren Kabler, the school’s PTO co-president, who helped organize a Friday rally to support the principal. “Most of us, we send our kids there because of LaVonne.”

More than 260 people have signed an online petition calling for Taliaferro-Bunch’s reinstatement and another 500 have written letters that Kabler plans to deliver to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) midday Wednesday.

The group has also written an open letter to Chancellor Kaya Henderson, demanding an explanation for the school system’s decision to part ways with their well-liked leader.

But schools officials do not comment on reasons for individual principals’ departures, citing the need for privacy in personnel decisions. Leadership changes can be due to retirement, resignation or “non-reappointment.”

Miner Elementary, located just northeast of Capitol Hill in the gentrifying Rosedale neighborhood, enrolls students who are mostly from African-American and low-income families.

The school does not boast excellent test scores — 36 percent of kids are proficient in math, a number that’s fallen slightly since 2008. Reading proficiency has dropped more steeply, from 49 to 35 percent.

But parents and teachers say that Taliaferro-Bunch has worked hard to shape Miner into something special, emphasizing arts and theater education and bringing in countless volunteers through community partnerships.

“Ms. Bunch has always been the type of educator who has taught out of the box, looking at the whole child rather than just focusing on academic [test] scores,” said a teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her job.

The principal’s departure, the teacher said, “is going to be a tremendous loss to this community.”

Taliaferro-Bunch started the “Men of Miner,” a group of men from the community who served as role models and mentors for the school’s young boys, and was widely known in the neighborhood, where she reached out to parents of infants and toddlers in an effort to persuade them to consider enrolling in Miner someday.

“Miner, under Principal Bunch’s watch, is a place where people come together to learn, grow and thrive,” wrote Mary-Helen Perry, the parent of a former Miner student, in a letter to Henderson.

Taliaferro-Bunch did not respond to a request for an interview.

Miner was one of seven DCPS schools flagged for possible cheating on the 2012 standardized tests. Two teachers may have unfairly assisted students by reading test questions aloud and explaining the meaning of words in the test questions, according to investigators.

School system officials would not comment on whether those allegations were related to Taliaferro-Bunch’s departure. Asked whether officials had taken any disciplinary actions related to cheating allegations across the city, a school system spokeswoman said that “investigations continue to ensure we have the sufficient information to take the appropriate personnel actions.”

Principals in the District’s school system work on one-year contracts that can be non-renewed for any reason. The principals’ union, the Council of School Officers, has been petitioning for change, asking D.C. lawmakers to require that principals be dismissed only for cause.

“The non-reappointment process is very subjective,” said CSO President Aona Jefferson. “Too many excellent principals have been removed from their schools without being given a reason.”

Turnover spiked in 2008, when then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee hired 46 new school leaders in one summer, but has since slowed.

As of late May, officials planned to replace principals at 16 schools in the fall. Miner is one of three schools that have since joined that list.

The two other principals vacating their positions are Annie Mair, longtime principal at Cleveland Elementary, who said she is retiring, and Patricia Pride, the interim leader at Stoddert Elementary.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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