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Eastern High's PTA Seeks Staff Changes

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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The PTA at Eastern High School has urged D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to replace many, if not all, of the teachers and other staff at the Capitol Hill school in Northeast Washington.

Eastern is one of 27 schools that must be reorganized because students have failed to make adequate yearly progress on standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Students at the 10 high schools and 17 elementary and middle schools have remained below target for five consecutive years. The law gives Rhee five options for fixing the schools: hiring nonprofit education groups to run them, converting them to charter schools, turning them over to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, replacing staff or trying something else.

"The school's climate and culture have suffered greatly. We think it best for the leader of Eastern to be allowed to select the staffing at Eastern," said John Gibson, outgoing president of the PTA, who wants Rhee to make the acting principal, Monica Taylor, permanent.

"I just don't want the students to suffer," said Gibson, a 1992 Eastern graduate. PTA members don't want teachers with the attitude, " 'I've been here 20 years, and we've never done it that way.' It defeats the purpose of change," he said.

Over the years, D.C. school chiefs have tried to reverse academic decline at Eastern by firing a succession of principals, establishing a freshman academy and hiring a private company to introduce new curricula.

Gibson said the PTA supports Rhee's proposal to hire several nonprofit education groups to help some of the 10 high schools. Eastern teachers and parents will meet today with officials of Talent Development High Schools, based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he said. Officials from the organization say they also will meet today with parents and teachers at Spingarn High in Northeast.

They are among meetings scheduled over several days to discuss proposals aimed at overhauling schools in restructuring. Rhee is holding meetings today at Bell Multicultural High School, 3101 16th St. NW, and April 29 at Anacostia High School, 1601 16th St. SE. Both meetings will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. On Thursday, she plans to meet with students from the 10 high schools at Ballou High in Southeast.

Her office also has tentative plans to bring together representatives of several nonprofits and high schools, Rhee spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said. Officials from Mastery Charter Schools of Philadelphia are scheduled to meet with parents and teachers at Woodson High in Northeast tomorrow. Representatives of Friendship Public Charter Schools in the District are scheduled to visit Dunbar High in Northwest on Thursday. Staff members from the Institute for Student Achievement in Lake Success, N.Y., will visit Eastern on Thursday and Dunbar on Friday.

Rhee is having meetings with parents and teachers "to talk to them about what options would work best for them," Hobson said. "They're giving her feedback, and she's considering all points of view in determining her final decision."

The proposal at Eastern to replace staff has spurred dissent between the PTA and teachers. The school restructuring team -- a panel of parents, teachers and community members who advise the principal -- were split on the proposal and could not agree, teachers said.

Through all the chaos at Eastern, "teachers are the ones who have held the building together," said Sandra Byrd, who has taught English at the school for 10 years and opposes replacing the staff.

"Maybe 2 to 5 percent of the parents have been involved. More involvement would help in terms of the students' success," she said.

But Mark Roy, a community member on the restructuring team, said teachers are the main impediment.

"There's no way the principal can get the school in the right direction if she constantly has to face the wrath of the teachers," he said.

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