What a week for the District's public schools.
After months of preparations for the first day of classes, top administrators learned early Wednesday that Eastern Senior High School, long known as the "pride of Capitol Hill," could not open because the schedule of classes and room assignments had not been completed.
The complex and tedious scheduling process was supposed to be finished in August, but several high schools worked on it until the last minute. Eastern was the tardiest, but officials from the school and the central technology office, where the schedules are printed, assured Interim Superintendent Robert C. Rice on Tuesday night that the remaining problems would be fixed by morning.
At 6 a.m. Wednesday, Rice learned of the situation and decided to send students home "to avoid a tense and stressful situation of students arriving without assigned classes," as an official statement put it. About 3:30 p.m., Rice made the decision to fire three officials: Norman S. Smith Jr., Eastern's principal since August 2003; Juan R. Baughn, an assistant superintendent in charge of high schools; and Henry Thompson, a technology specialist.
About 5 p.m., Wilma F. Bonner, a veteran educator who oversees the use of federal grants in the system's central office, agreed to serve as Eastern's interim administrator. A former principal at Wilson Senior High School and the School Without Walls, Bonner is the sixth person to lead Eastern since 1997.
Ralph H. Neal was Eastern's principal from 1984 to 1997, when he moved to a job in the system's central office. Rice at first ordered Neal, who is now assistant superintendent for student and school support services, to return to Eastern to run the school temporarily. But Neal refused, officials said.
Neal, who has taken indefinite sick leave, said he has high blood pressure that has worsened. "I will do whatever it takes for this system to become effective, as long as it does not jeopardize my health," he said in a telephone interview.
With Bonner in charge, Eastern finally opened Thursday, although students spent the day in homeroom. After working round-the-clock, school officials completed the schedules Friday afternoon. They expect to begin regular classes Tuesday.
Elsewhere, there were glitches. At McKinley Technology High School, which gleams after a $75 million restoration, a gas leak about 10 a.m. Thursday forced students and staff to evacuate. Students were moved first to the football field bleachers, then to the auditorium of Hyde Public Charter School.
After shutting off the gas, sweeping the school and finding the leak, officials from Washington Gas Light Co. declared the building safe at 12:30 p.m. The gas was left off pending repairs.
If there was a silver lining in the week's hectic events, it was the teamwork and collaboration that school employees demonstrated, Rice said.
Starting Wednesday night, many employees went to Eastern to help out, including a group of principals: Aona H. Jefferson of H.D. Woodson Senior High School, James H. Wilson of Anacostia Senior High School, Maria Tukeva of Bell Multicultural Senior High School, Kenneth A. Parker of Kramer Middle School and Gary K. Washington of the Choice Academy at Douglass, an alternative high school program.