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Gholson Middle School has 2 principals, a Pr. George's first

By Natalie McGill
The Gazette
Thursday, July 29, 2010; PG15

Ebony Cross and Lacey Robinson are counting on two heads -- and then some -- being better than one when they take the reins at Landover's G. James Gholson Middle School this fall.

Cross, 35, and Robinson, 37, will be the first co-principal model in Prince George's County Public Schools, and they are counting on collaboration with staff, students and parents to create a vibrant learning community.

"Every child that walks through this building is a scholar," said Robinson, who will share an office with Cross. "Every child that walks through this building has a dream."

The two replace Jeff Parker, who will become principal at Suitland's Edgar Allan Poe Academy this fall. The system has not decided if it will expand the co-principal model, Tanzi West, a county schools spokeswoman, said via e-mail.

Cross, of Fort Washington, a former reading specialist from Oxon Hill's Valley View Elementary School, was named Prince George's County Public Schools' 2009 Teacher of the Year. Robinson, of Annapolis, comes from Montgomery County Public Schools' Office of Organizational Development, where she studied how race and culture affect teaching methods.

The two believe they can use the co-principal model to offset each other's weaknesses and fulfill each student's needs.

"She may have a pulse on academics one day; I may have a pulse on climate and culture," Robinson said.

Both have a number of ideas they want to present to the community for discussion, such as adding dance and drama electives and more language classes, such as Latin and French, next year.

Research is "scant" on the co-principal model, but some suggests it can reduce stress, create a balance between home and work for the principals, and allow for shared responsibility, Duane Arbogast, chief academic officer for Prince George's schools, said via e-mail.

"There is really not enough data to support or reject the idea," Arbogast wrote. "Our metric, of course, is the success of this school in terms of academic achievement."

During the 2009-10 school year, Cross and Robinson participated in the New York City-based New Leaders for New Schools program, which gives educators who seek to become administrators training as resident principals. Cross and Robinson were resident principals at Adelphi's Mary Harris "Mother" Jones Elementary and Landover's Dodge Park Elementary schools, respectively.

A resident principal shadows the full-time principal and gradually receives more administrative tasks as the school year progresses. The cost for New Leaders for New Schools is shared between the program and the county school system, Arbogast wrote.

The program required Cross and Robinson to take a year-long look at a county school in need of reform and devise a plan to turn it around. The pair identified Gholson and proposed the co-principal model for the school to Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.

Gholson also is one of four countywide to receive an annual $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for an administration overhaul because of poor academic performance. The three-year grant will cover the cost of the co-principalship, Arbogast wrote.

Since opening in 2002, Gholson has failed every year to make adequate yearly progress, a Maryland State Department of Education benchmark for measuring math and reading proficiency through the Maryland School Assessment.

For the 2009-10 school year, 31 percent of seventh graders and 29 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or better in math compared to state averages of 73 percent of seventh graders and 65 percent of eighth graders. Fifty-nine percent of Gholson seventh graders and 55.5 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or better in reading on the MSA compared with state averages of 82 percent of seventh-graders and 80 percent of eighth-graders.

The grants follow a "turnaround" model that stipulates school systems must replace principals at the schools and rehire no more than 50 percent of the original school staff to revamp the administration, according to the Maryland State Department of Education Web site. The grant is not connected to the New Leaders New Schools program, Cross said.

Dyrel Carraway, of Hyattsville, said the change in administration came as a shock to him after his wife, Sharon Carraway, attended a school meeting in May. Their daughter, Breana, 14, will enter the eighth grade at Gholson this fall.

They hope the next school year will be a smooth transition for Breana, an honor-roll student.

"We're going to try to continue as parents to support her, support the school, support the leadership," Carraway said. "I believe her mother and I will support the new administration coming in."

Cross and Robinson are hiring staff and hope to have a meeting in the coming weeks to introduce themselves to parents and students.

"We totally value the input of our community," Cross said. "We want feedback."

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