Teachers describe problems at Dunbar

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2010

Geometry teacher Jessica Lilly found the fliers on the walls when she arrived at Dunbar Senior High School early one morning last month. They included a photo of a female student, with her name, phone number and an obscene caption announcing that she was available for oral sex with boys and girls.

"Wanna be next?????"

"Holla at Me!!!!"

It was a vile piece of bullying. Lilly said that as far she knows, there was no response from Friends of Bedford, the team of private consultants who ran the school until they were removed by interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson on Wednesday. It was one of numerous incidents of harassment and violence that she said were tolerated or overlooked. On Dec. 1, she quit the school in disgust and despair.

"Friends of Bedford created a school culture of neglect, insecurity, zero accountability and poor communication," Lilly wrote in an anguished e-mail this week.

Her account is one of several that have emerged since Bedford was ousted, less than three years after it was hired by former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to turn around Dunbar. City records show Bedford has been paid $1.2 million this year as part of a three-year contract to overhaul Dunbar and Coolidge high schools. The firm remains in control of Coolidge.

Laura Johnson, a math teacher, said that after promising state-of-the art classroom equipment and rich professional development opportunities when they arrived in 2009, Bedford CEO George Leonard and his deputies seemed to disappear.

"They started coming to school really late," Johnson said. "They would roll in around 11 or 12. They would stay really late but they were not there at the beginning of the day."

Leonard declined to discuss the specifics of Lilly's and Johnson's charges. "Everybody has what they want now," he said Friday. "Any comment would just fuel it. We're ready to move on."

Johnson and Lilly are fledgling teachers, two of the hundreds of recruits brought to the District by Rhee and Henderson from alternative training programs. As a Teach for America graduate, Lilly understands that she's easily stereotyped: impossibly young (23), earnest, energized and compulsively prepared. She came to an interview Thursday with a two-page, single-spaced outline of the points she wanted to cover.

But she made it through last year at Dunbar with a strong evaluation and spent last summer planning how to raise her game in the classroom. There were some bright spots that first year. Tenth-grade reading scores on the DC-CAS rose about 10 points, which Lilly attributes to the relentless work of the two sophomore English teachers.

But when Principal Stephen Jackson, who was brought to Dunbar by Leonard, was removed at the end of the year, the school climate, always challenging, began to deteriorate, Lilly said. Fighting in the cafeteria and hallways increased, and the smell of marijuana wafted through the stairways of the sprawling campus, which includes a 13-story high-rise. Johnson said that in early October, a student who had smoked PCP tried to jump from a window and bit a security guard who restrained him. Lilly said she wrote up a girl who aimed her iPhone at a classmate and used an app with a scarily realistic sound of gunshots.

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