Parents, Teachers Protest SW Principal

Jefferson Junior High School has been without a permanent principal and an English teacher since fall.
Jefferson Junior High School has been without a permanent principal and an English teacher since fall. (Photos By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 3, 2005

A group of parents and teachers from the District's Jefferson Junior High School held a protest yesterday in front of D.C. school headquarters, demanding that Superintendent Clifford B. Janey immediately replace Jefferson's acting principal with a permanent leader.

The 11 protesters said that the Southwest Washington school, long recognized for academic excellence, has declined this school year under the acting principal, Willie L. Reeves, and that their repeated pleas for a permanent principal have gone unheeded.

For two months, teachers and parents have sent letters to Janey and other officials complaining that Reeves has allowed five seventh-grade English classes to go without a qualified teacher, staffing them with a librarian and librarian aide. Moreover, they contended, students have become more disruptive -- fighting, cursing and threatening teachers -- since Reeves took over. They also said that a rodent infestation has worsened.

In response, a deputy of Janey's pledged yesterday to have an English teacher in place next week for the seventh-graders and a permanent principal by the beginning of next school year. He also said the school would be deep cleaned over the summer.

"We acknowledge it has been an unsettled year. We regret that," Dale A. Talbert, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, told the group. "We're going to do everything we can to address those concerns."

Talbert said in an interview that he could not explain why the seventh-grade classes had been without an English teacher for so long. He said the students in those classes would be asked to attend summer school and be provided with extra English instruction in the fall.

"We know they lost instruction," Talbert said. "We want to make sure they're on track."

Marva Scott, a member of the Jefferson PTA, whose son was taught by a librarian aide, said: "My son is on the honor roll. He should not have to go to summer school for something that was not his fault."

Talbert would not say whether Reeves would face disciplinary action for his leadership of the school. A message left for Reeves at the school yesterday was not returned.

Finding qualified principals to serve at urban schools is a nationwide problem but one that is particularly pronounced in the District.

About 50 percent of D.C. principals are eligible to retire, said Jacquelyn Davis, executive director of the D.C. program New Leaders for New Schools, an organization that trains principals. The school system has turned over 100 principals in the last three years, a figure that is slightly higher than the national average, she said.

Currently, the school system is attempting to fill about 30 vacancies, said Nicole Wilds, the system's director of recruitment. She said it is taking a while to fill the positions because the requirements of the job have grown. A principal these days, she said, is required to be not only an education leader but also a business manager, budget and data expert, facilities manager, fundraiser and community relations person.

"It wasn't our intent to [delay the process], but we're trying to bring the best people into our schools," she said.

Turmoil at Jefferson has been brewing since fall, when school officials replaced Deborah Holmes, a popular principal who spent more than 20 years at the school, working her way up from a teaching position. Jefferson teachers said she was reassigned to central administration without explanation.

Carrying signs that read "Resolve School Unrest! Now" and "7th-graders Need English," the demonstrators contended that Reeves has created a chaotic and dangerous environment at the school.

In April, teachers sent Janey a list of 17 demands and held a protest outside the school, singing "We Shall Overcome," and since early May, parents have staged daily demonstrations outside the building.

They said they decided to move their protest to the central schools office in Northeast because of Janey's failure to respond.

"The system abandoned us. This year, we got no help," said Angela Rice, who has taught English at the school for 25 years. She and other protesters said they were skeptical about Talbert's promises. "We begged and we pleaded. But nothing was done, and our children are suffering."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company