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For D.C. Students, a Lesson in Disappointment

Student leaders Ike Umez-Eronini, left, Brittany Timmons and Edward Doxen say they are puzzled by some of the moves made by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. They attend McKinley Technology High School in Northeast Washington.
Student leaders Ike Umez-Eronini, left, Brittany Timmons and Edward Doxen say they are puzzled by some of the moves made by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. They attend McKinley Technology High School in Northeast Washington. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Edward Doxen ran his successful campaign for student government president at McKinley Technology High School last spring, he looked to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty as the model urban politician: savvy, hard-charging, inclusive. At home, he kept a picture of the two of them, taken when Doxen became a member of the mayor's youth advisory group. He thought about studying political science when he got to college.

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These days, Doxen is considering a psychology major. He is deeply disappointed in Fenty's handling of the Oct. 2 layoffs that resulted in the dismissal of 388 D.C. teachers and staff, including 15 at McKinley. More troubling than the cuts, he said, is Fenty's unwillingness to account for them in a town hall or other public forum.

"I'm just confused about why he hasn't talked about the whole thing," said Doxen, 17, who wants to attend Fordham University. "You always hear stories about how dirty politics is. Now I have some personal experience."

Doxen and three other McKinley seniors who marched to protest the layoffs have found themselves in the midst of a bitter adult struggle that involves politicians, educators and labor leaders. They were courted, encouraged and criticized. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee met with them for 90 minutes. One of them was invited to speak at last week's teacher rally in Freedom Plaza.

For the most part, they are not inspired by what they have seen.

"It just seems like everybody was trying to make themselves look better," said Brittany Timmons, 17, McKinley's student government vice president.

Looking back, they said they still do not understand why Rhee would introduce a new teacher evaluation system and then fail to use it in deciding who would be dismissed. They are convinced that their principal, David Pinder, pursued a personal agenda in laying off some McKinley teachers, including two popular guidance counselors, Sheila Gill and Rhonda Robinson. And they are angry at Fenty (D), who they say laughed at some classmates who tried to speak with him at Ron Brown Middle School last week.

Fenty's office did not respond to two e-mailed and two telephoned requests for comment.

Asked what he learned last week, Ike Umez-Eronini said: "The more you get into power, the less you take responsibility for your actions."

Umez-Eronini, who wants to study marketing and history at the University of California at Los Angeles, led students on a day-long march Oct. 5 across the District, from McKinley to Rhee's office on North Capitol Street and finally to the John A. Wilson Building. D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and council members, including Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward5), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), spoke to them and pledged their support.

The most authentic, in the students' estimation, was Barry, who they said seemed to speak most candidly. In the session with them, Barry accused Rhee of lying to students about the need for the layoffs.

Rhee, who invited them last Wednesday to the conference room adjacent to her office, began the meeting by asking, according to Umez-Eronini, "did we want to ask questions or talk about our feelings?"


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