D.C.’s School Without Walls principal wants to hire his wife

March 8, 2013

Should Richard Trogisch, principal of the District’s selective and sought-after School Without Walls Senior High School, be able to hire his wife Cynthia?

Walls has been buzzing with that question since February, when attendees of a PTA meeting at Francis-Stevens Education Campus said Cynthia Trogisch introduced herself as an incoming assistant principal.

Francis-Stevens, an elementary and middle school, is merging with Walls next fall, part of Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s citywide plan to consolidate and reorganize schools across the city. Richard Trogisch, a veteran educator under whom Walls was named a National Blue Ribbon School, is set to serve as principal of both campuses.

Trogisch first told the Foggy Bottom Current that when he agreed to take on the job of merging the two schools, he was given permission to hire his wife by DCPS Chief of Schools John Davis.

“He called me and said would I be willing to do that, and I said I would, provided my wife would be able to work with me,” Trogisch said in an interview. “He said he wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

The Walls principal said it’s still not clear in what role his wife, currently a DCPS middle-school teacher would be working. He has not hired her as an administrator because she’s not yet been vetted for a leadership position by the central office, he said.

Trogisch said he asked his wife to attend the Francis-Stevens PTA meeting in his stead because he had another commitment. He denied that she introduced herself as an assistant principal and said only she was acting “like an assistant principal” attending in her husband’s absence, Trogisch said.

Cynthia Trogisch also said she never introduced herself to anyone as an assistant principal. She said she described herself as a math teacher at Hardy Middle School with an administrative degree, and she asked teachers interested in working at the school to send her and her husband resumes for review.

Cynthia Trogisch said she respects the work her husband has done at Walls and is excited about working with him. “I know what he can do for the climate of the building,” she said.

Richard Trogisch said he wants to work with his wife, a teacher at Hardy Middle School, because she’s a strong educator who would bring two decades of needed experience with elementary and middle-school children.

“I’m putting together the best team possible that’s going to be good for students,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to promote a member of my family who wasn’t more than qualified than most, if not all, of the candidates so far.”

But not everyone sees it that way.

“I was really surprised,” said Jackson Carnes, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who said he heard Cynthia Trogisch describe herself as an incoming school administrator at the February PTA meeting. “It does raise a red flag, just that Mr. Trogisch is hiring a family member into such a high leadership role.”

School system spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said no hiring decisions have been made, but that the school system would follow all applicable rules and regulations. Responding to a request for comment from Davis, Salmanowitz reiterated that no hiring decisions have been made.

So what are those rules and regulations?

The District’s ethics manual is pretty clear. “A District employee must not appoint, employ, promote or advance any ‘relative’ to a position in the District government,” the ethics manual says, referring to a federal statute that prohibits D.C. government employees from hiring relatives. “In addition, an employee may not advocate for a relative to be appointed, employed, promoted, or advanced in the District government,” the manual says.

City regulations echo those prohibitions.

The merger between the two Foggy Bottom schools has triggered protest and frustration from Walls parents, who say that the high-performing school has little to gain from sharing its principal with a school a mile away — a distance Walls students will have to traipse when their courses are held at Francis-Stevens.

Some of the most vocal critics of the merger also have been critical of the questions surrounding Cynthia Trogisch’s hiring.

“The highest standards of performance and integrity are what the parents expect and the students deserve,” said Walls parent Terry Lynch. “Anything less — be it in hiring practices or performance by adminstrators, staff, or students — is unacceptable.”

Many Francis-Stevens parents, on the other hand — who proposed the merger as a way to keep their school from closing altogether — say they are just thrilled for the opportunity for reinvention.

“We fought so hard to stay open. We just want have a chance to see all that hard work come to life,” said PTA co-president Tom Martin, who declined to comment on Principal Trogisch’s hiring decisions.

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