About the Cardozo Class of 2005

V. Dion Haynes and Aruna Jain
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 8, 2007 12:00 PM

Dion Haynes and Aruna Jain were online Monday, Oct. 8 at noon ET to discuss their story about the Cardozo High School class of 2005.

A transcript follows.


Dion Haynes: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.


Washington, D.C.: My daughter is a student at Cardozo High School. When she arrived at Cardozo, in the 10th grade he was an A+ Student transfer from Archbishop Carrol High School. My daughter repeated 10th grade again this year and having the same problems (F's) with English and Math. I have just read your article this morning and I'm in tears. I can not believe what I have read. Everyday I say to my daughter what is your problem I know you know the math and English. She went to summer school this year and still did not pass. I sent her back to Cardozo. I just got a call from Cardozo on Friday informing me that my daughter has failed (F's) in every class again this advisory.

Please, I thank you for your article and I have been praying for an answer and I got it this morning from The Washington Post. This will be her last week at Cardozo.

This school needs further investigation on the teachers and staff. They have been appointed in these positions to help prepare our children for college and successful futures. Cardozo should be closed until they are in compliance and can met there responsibilities required by Office of the Chancellor, Michelle Rhee and our Mayor, Adrian Fenty. I myself as a parent will not sit back we need to fix the problems.

Dion Haynes: Wow! I'm so sorry. What a tragedy. My heart goes out to you and your daughter.

The situation that you described was, unfortunately, a common theme. We talked to several people who were good students before they enrolled in Cardozo but who slacked off once they got there.

They told us that smart people were often teased by their peers and they felt it was easier to just go along rather than become targeted. They also told us that they felt some of the classes there -- not all -- were not challenging enough for them. They also said that the overall poor condition of the building made them feel that the school system didn't care about them and so they stopped caring, too.


Arlington, Va.: Have you asked the 2005 Cardozo graduates how they would suggest improving their school and DC schools in general? If so, what did they say and what do you think?

Aruna Jain: We did ask that question. Students consistently talked about the extremely poor facilities at Cardozo and the urgent need for renovations. They talked about how a building like that badly affects morale. While many had great things to say about Cardozo teachers, others complained about about teachers who either didn't know how to teach or who weren't invested in the students. Many said that fights and security were a big problem -- that there needed to be better more well-trained security. Based on all our conversations with students, these points seemed more than justified.


Logan North, D.C.: I found yesterday's story well reported. As a D.C. taxpayer living six blocks from the school, I continue to be dismayed how the school system squanders tax money.

You indicated in both your print story and the online slide show that Cardozo is both underutilized and physically decrepit. About 1.5 miles north of Cardozo on 13th St. is another D.C. high school, Roosevelt, which appears to be similarly underutilized and in sorry physical shape. Why can't the two schools be consolidated and put into a single, upgraded building? The site of the Cardozo building, in particular, would appear to be very valuable real estate which the city could sell and use the proceeds to rehabilitate other buildings.

Dion Haynes: DCPS enrollment overall is declining; every year, the system loses thousands of students mainly to charter schools.

The previous administration was proposing to close about 20 schools over a 15-year period, and consolidate enrollment at underutilized schools. The plan did not call for closing Cardozo or any other high school.

Currently, the new school administration is studying whether it will make changes to the school-closing plan.


Baltimore, Class of '95: Great article. Sad, but true. Did you interview any of the Trans-tech students? I was fortunate to be a part of the program, and even though we had all the added help and advanced classes, I still had a tough time adjusting my freshman year. Good to know O'Leary is still teaching. He was my favorite teacher -- always made class fun!

Dion Haynes: Yes, we talked with numerous TransTech students -- including valedictorian Lorena Harper, Laura John-Toussaint, Stephon Hunter and Ashlea Johnson. It seemed clear to us that the TransTech students were the most well-prepared students in the school.

Aruna Jain: And, yes, Mr. O'Leary still teaches English at Cardozo, and he remains very popular with students.


Northeast Washington, D.C.: There was a time when black students went to school in the worst conditions imaginable and they still made it their business to learn because they knew it was the only way for them to have a better life. They didn't say, well, no one cares about me because the building is raggedy, the books are old, etc. I agree that DCPS should do a better job with the facilities, but really, are the students SO focused on what the building looks like that they can't get the education they are there to earn? They are there to learn, so DO THAT.

Dion Haynes: Several students who succeeded -- including valedictorian Lorena Harper -- made that same point. She and others said, sure the building is bad -- and there are numerous problems -- but there are some bright spots in the school, too. She benefited from caring teachers and counselors, she worked hard and kept herself busy in extracurricular activities. She said it is up to students to decide whether they will do well or not.


SW, D.C.: I applaud the young man who fought to get back in school to graduate even though it's three years later and he's three years older.

Aruna Jain: Yes, that would be Anthony Michaux. Here's a video about him.


Laurel, Md.: If this wasn't an eye opening article for some people I don't know what is. I wasn't too surprised about the school conditions at Cardozo and that's the sad part. Why are the schools in such bad shape in D.C. and what is being done to fix them? I mean ONE working bathroom for the ladies in the entire school?

Dion Haynes: There is no easy answer to explain why the facilities at Cardozo and other schools are in such bad shape.

As you probably know, there has been much turnover in the leadership of the school system -- there were four superintendents during the four years the Class of 2005 moved through the school. With each new superintendent comes a new staff and new procedures for handling maintenance and other issues.

The school system also has a history of underfunding maintenance, which resulted in a steady reduction in the number of people on staff to keep the buildings in shape.


Washington, D.C.: It seems as if D.C. schools are the "perfect storm" of all the bad things that can destroy a school system.

I am 72-year-old black woman who was raised in the Deep South, dirt poor, and attended a segregated one room rural school, dropping out in the 6th grade to go work in the fields. But we absolutely learned how to read, write, spell, do basic arithmetic and speak proper English. Our teachers and parents insisted. Poor grades meant a whipping. I came to D.C. to do domestic work in 1954. A kind employer encouraged me to get secretarial training, and I worked for many years in the D.C. Schools Central Office. While children today have much easier lives in many ways, they do not have the loving discipline needed to be successful. If more parents and teachers were like mine, the problem would be much smaller.

Aruna Jain: Thanks for your comment...


Washington, D.C.: Here's what was missing in these stories: the parents. The blame for their fates seems to lie solely on the schools from the stories' perspective, but a kid dropping out of school? That's also a poor parenting problem.

I wasn't allowed to act out in school. The one time I got smart with a teacher (I told my 8th grade French teacher I didn't feel like doing my work one day) when I got home my mother said, oh, so you didn't "feel like doing your work today?" And then I was punished. My parents made it clear that my job was to go to school and make good grades. To that end they developed a relationship with my teachers and counselors and principals and together they ALL made sure I matriculated.

I'm just tired of the parenting element being left out of the "education reform" discussion.

Dion Haynes: You make a good point -- parents are key players in a student's academic life. One student we talked with credited Cardozo administrators and teachers for calling her grandmother whenever she got out of line. As a result, she said, she graduated and went on to college.

But on the other hand some parents complained that they weren't notified soon enough that their child was skipping class sometimes weeks at a time. When they did find out, it was too late -- their child had already dropped out.


Columbia, Md.: This story is heartbreaking. Our young black youth have yet to realize their history and how our ancestors fought and died for the right to vote and go to school and these kids just drop out because they didn't want to be sent back to ninth grade or they think there's money to be made instead. I know people with bachelor's and master's who have hard time finding jobs. How far do they think they will get without a high school diploma? The children are our future? Really?

Dion Haynes: Some of the students who dropped out quickly realized that the job prospects for them were slim. The good news is that in several cases those dropouts have returned to school or opted for GED programs.


New Carrollton, Md.: The principal has a point (even if it might be an excuse in his case) that 1 percent can mess things up for the rest. I've seen it happen. What does the DCPS do to deal with the 1 percent?

Aruna Jain: This is obviously a big problem at Cardozo and at other schools. The former principal (now a regional superintendent) talked about the need for more individual and alternative programs as well as vocational instruction across DCPS for students who have different needs. One size doesn't fit all, he said, and in several cases a lot of time and resources went into trying to meet the needs of those students.


Takoma Park, Md.: I read with interest your article on the failure of D.C. schools to prepare students for their future (as well as the Metro section article about UDC teacher constantly getting ill-prepared students). My wife happens to teach in Montgomery County schools and it has been our experience that the phenomena of pushing kids along and grade inflation are quite evident in the county school system. My wife is a rigorous but fair teacher, but the administration of every school she has taught in constantly pressures her to inflate her grades and not hold kids accountable for their behavior or decisions (mustn't damage their self-esteem). This pressure is due to a combination of No Child Left Behind standards, as well as fear of over-zealous and enabling parents. Do you plan to expand your study to include more affluent suburbs, such as Montgomery County?

Dion Haynes: Your comments are interesting. I will forward this to my colleagues who cover education in the counties. Maybe they would be interested in checking into this.


Washington, D.C.: I was so disgusted by the Cardozo article that I literally threw up. That is not a joke, as I read it my stomach got worse and worse until I lost it. My son started pre-K in D.C.'s schools and I was shocked at the uneducated and ignorant teachers. They put in almost no effort and really don't teach enough, aren't strict enough, and in general are the laziest group of teachers I've ever seen. Yet they still complain that the "real problems" are at the administration level. Luckily we got one of his teachers transferred after two weeks -- she couldn't seem to teach and be a parent at the same time and cried on my shoulder about her children in daycare. Ugh! Don't touch me, loser! I'm happy she's gone and hope she gets fired. What are the chances the loser teachers at Cardozo will get the boot?

Dion Haynes: I hope you're feeling better today. New DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is exploring ways the system can more quickly get rid of bad staffers in the central office and the schools.


Such a waste!: It sounds to me like the poor teachers at Cardozo are caught between a rock and a hard place. The students don't show up to class, they don't do their assigned work, they didn't pay attention in years past so they're not prepared for the current classes -- but they blame the teachers if it turns out they're not prepared for college.

And the bright girl who let her grades drop because she didn't want to get harassed: That right there is a strong reason why a lot of black kids don't go to college. "You tryna' ack white?" The high school one attends does have a strong influence, but the building doesn't teach skills -- or prevent them. Current black culture strictly limits the achievements possible to young people, and if a kid wants to make something of himself, he has to fight his way through constant persecution. Symphony conductors bemoan the lack of black orchestra members -- but before you can have a professional musician, you have a kid in elementary and high school orchestra, and woe to the black kid who's carrying a bassoon. Black engineers, black business professionals, black research scientists, black executives -- you've got to have the basic skills down solid before you can add to them, and black kids don't let each other do that.

Yes, Cardozo is in bad shape. So is the culture. Black kids from well-to-do areas with good public schools have lower grades because they don't work at their studies: They don't want to be accused of tryna' ack white.

Do you think anything can be done about this terrible state of affairs?

Dion Haynes: You raise a very good point. That is something that the students said over and over again. Many of those former students now regret having allowed themselves to be negatively influenced by their peers.


Silver Spring, Md.: Former DCPS graduate.

I take issue with the 1 percent argument. The valedictorian had to struggle. It is the level of instruction and the qualification of a large percentage of teachers. Many need to be removed. But the flip side is it is hard to get teachers to teach in D.C. Implement huge incentives to draw better staff.

Aruna Jain: A comment from a DCPS graduate...


Washington, D.C.: I have a 19-year-old son that went to my Cardozo, was mentored by many, many teachers and staff. Entered the Trans Tech Academy, took AP courses from Mr O'Leary, had a nurturing supportive H.S. experience, was placed in a government internship and is learning extensive Web design. Do you think I'm grateful to Cardozo and their team led by Mr. Ballard?

Dion Haynes: Congratulations. I hope the article conveys that, despite all the problems, it was very possible to have a positive outcome at Cardozo. There were dedicated teachers, counselors and administrators and were students who worked hard and did well.


Washington, D.C.: Hello,

This is Ashlea Johnson. Well I have not gotten a chance to call you all, but I have read the article and found it to be very good. I see many people are responding to the news article, some with both positive and negative perspectives. People are forgetting that it takes a village to raise a child. That we first must look at all angles of the school system, and parental involvement as well. The determining factor of someone's success relies on their drive too, and having foundation. As you can see the foundation is not there. My experience was good and bad and if asked if I would change anything no I would not.

Aruna Jain: A comment from one of the students we profiled, Ashlea Johnson. Thanks, Ashlea, for all your help and for sharing your experiences with us.


Washington, D.C.: I don't have a question but a comment. I had a daughter graduate from the class of 2005 and one of the Class of 2007. The article was accurate for the most part. Cardozo has some wonderful teachers and those who should be out the door. It is up to the student to make the best of Cardozo. I relocated to D.C. from S.C. and both my daughters were appalled by their school culture but made the most of it. My daughter who graduated from the Class of 2005 did not take advantage of the many opportunities she could have as a TransTech Academy student (TransTech is for the cream of the crop students). She dropped her AP class because she wasn't motivated enough to get up early and commit to the workload. Now on the other hand, her sister, pregnant in her last year of high school, completed AP English and placed exactly where she needed to be in English at The Ohio State University where she is a freshman. It takes a great deal of parental involvement to make sure students are receiving what they need. Yes, Cardozo is in need of more rigorous and challenging courses and teachers. Just the same, parents need to be more involved. Another parent and myself worked to get Cardozo's PTSA back up and going so that we could increase the parental involvement at Cardozo and help other parents understand the importance of their involvement in their child's education. In summary, Cardozo has teachers who will let students fail if that is the attitude perceived by them. If you are the rule to the exception, you will have plenty of opportunities presented to you. Please understand that Cardozo is not the only DCPS school who will allow students to fail. My son, a junior at Wilson Senior High had a different experience from his freshman year at Francis Junior High. He went from an honor roll student to a barely passing student in his first year at Wilson and not because he couldn't do the work but because teachers allowed him to fail despite my outreach. He too was a factor in the equation.

Dion Haynes: Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your story underscores the importance and value of parents in the life of a student.


Washington, D.C.: I'm a little concerned that you are not posting the comments of parents that are pleased. I can afford to send my children to public schools , but I chose to be part of the solution ....are there teachers that don't care in America....yes but what about the awesome ones that have made educating our kids a priority? There's Mr. O'Leary, Ms Banks, Mrs. McCall, Ms. Slyvia, Mr. Fox, Ms. Hoover, Ms. Childs, Mr. Ballard....my list goes on talk with the Trans Tech Parents like me! They probably saved my sons life!

Dion Haynes: Here you go -- we're posting your comments. Hats off to all the Cardozo staff who have made a positive difference in the lives of the students.


washingtonpost.com: Cardozo Class Photo: Ashlea Johnson (washingtonpost.com, Oct. 7)

Aruna Jain: Ashlea's audio.


Washington, D.C.: I am a teacher at Cardozo who works tirelessly to provide a quality education to my students. During my 8 years at Cardozo, I have brought in many programs and opportunities to the students. I organized two State Department exchanges. The first invited 4 Pakistani students to Cardozo for a 3 week visit. Class activities and field trips allowed the Pakistani and Cardozo students to learn from one another and experience each other's cultures. The second visit involved 4 students from Jordan. We hosted them for 3 weeks and then I brought 4 Cardozo students to Jordan for 3 weeks in February 2006.

I have also worked with the Model UN Foundation to provide several students with trips to Peru, Mexico, and New York for Model UN conferences.

I could go on, but I mention these examples to show that there are a lot of good things happening at Cardozo. While we need a lot of improvement, you chose to start your article and write a subtitle that focuses solely on the negative.

What do you think that does for the morale of the teachers and students? I go to work every day in a building that is not fit for academic instruction. Meanwhile, the city is building a $611 million base ball stadium.

Instead of just looking at a school system that has failed them, why don't you do an investigative piece on how the CITY has failed them?

Dion Haynes: Thank you for your contributions to Cardozo.

This was a story from the former students' perspective and what we published were issues that they raised with us. This was the fourth installment in our series "Fixing D.C.'s Schools" -- with more to come. When you look at our reporting in totality, you will see there is plenty of blame to go around.


Washington D.C., DCPS social worker: Let me give you an example of some of the issues that were never addressed in your article which probably have the biggest impact on student performance. This is from my direct personal experience. One Cardozo student lives with his father who regularly smokes crack in the house with the student present as well as the student's two infant nephews. The student's mother lives in the home but suffers from a major mental illness. The home life is chaotic with a lot of fighting. Both parents have extremely poor parenting skills. The student's older brother is in and out of jail. In addition the student has multiple extended family members who have been murdered throughout his life. Finally the student suffers from both learning and emotional disabilities. Most parents blame everything on the schools and fail to take responsibilities for the role they play.

Dion Haynes: You're right. We came across several tragic stories like the one you mentioned. The problem with low student achievement can't be addressed only with more money, new staff and new curricula. There has to be a way to reach the students coming from the type of family situations that you've described.


Following up...:"But on the other hand some parents complained that they weren't notified soon enough that their child was skipping class sometimes weeks at a time. When they did find out, it was too late -- their child had already dropped out."


We can blame teachers and school administrators and the government if that makes us feel better, but there is NO substitute for good parenting and that is the solution to at least some of the problems you cited in your articles. See the comment about the lady who is taking her child out of Cardozo for an example of active parenting.

Thanks for listening.

Dion Haynes: Well said. Thanks.


Rockville, Md.: Very indepth article. What made you all choose the Class of 2005 to profile? Will you do this story again with another class?

Aruna Jain: Thank you. We chose the Class of 2005 because they were a few years out of high school, just starting out in life but able to give us fresh and recent perspectives about their time at a DCPS school.


SE Washington, D.C.: To the young man, Anthony Michaux, who demonstrated a certain level of maturation by even deciding and fighting to go back to school, I applaud you. While all of the stories were touching in some way, Mr. Michaux's was especially meaningful to me because it shows that you can recover from a mistake. It's not easy and sometimes you have to fight for it but nothing is worth fighting for more than an education. Continue young man and don't let anyone tell you "no", ever...fight for your education, continue to improve yourself even after you earn your high school diploma and most of all continue to believe in yourself. Don't let others define who you are and what you are capable of.

To the others at Cardozo and other D.C. public schools, because this is in no way an isolated incident, I say rise above. There are always going to be obstacles in your way, learn how to overcome them, go around them or whatever and keep your eye on your goals, which in this case is getting a good education that you can continue to improve on throughout life.

Aruna Jain: Thank you for your comment.


Washington, D.C.: While I agree that successful students can rise above their decrepit surroundings, to me, the fact that the school is in such bad shape would send the message that the school district does not care what happens to these kids, and that, in itself, can be very demoralizing.

Aruna Jain: Yes, many students and a few teachers talked about this.


Washington, D.C.: Why did your article lead with a negative title and begin with an extreme example of a teacher who is obviously inept but when the article continues inside the paper you cite examples of students who enjoyed their teachers at Cardozo and had positive experiences. This is also when you give some examples of some of the challenges that the principal and teachers face. It seems irresponsible to have this arranged like you did so the worst coverage is on the front page of The Post knowing a lot of people will not read the entire article.

Dion Haynes: I disagree with your assertion that the story was unfairly weighted toward the negative. The story reflects what the former students told us.

We heard from a total of three students who expressed similar concerns about that math teacher -- so it wasn't a random remark by one disgruntled student.

After speaking with more than 120 former students, we heard about many, many problems at the school. But we didn't want this to be a totally negative story about Cardozo. We wanted to paint a balanced picture of the school. So we included positive examples in the story, in the vignettes and in the video and audio pieces on the Web site.

The story itself would have been more positive had the interviews and data pointed us in that direction.


Centreville, Va.: I would like to know something will come out positively out of this article.

Aruna Jain: We hope something positive comes out of this article, too.


Dion Haynes: This was a great discussion. Thanks, everyone, for your participation.


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