Five weeks. That’s how long Victorie Thomas was supposed to spend as interim principal of W.B. Patterson Elementary in Southwest.
Just as classes were about to begin for the 2012-2013 school year, Patterson’s then-principal resigned. Thomas — a longtime educator who had served many roles in the D.C. public school system — was sent in as a caretaker while the head office searched for a new principal.
The school had been through a lot — as had its students. Patterson is off of South Capitol Street in Ward 8, the city’s most impoverished area. Ninety-nine percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. There had been an alarming turnover in leadership at the school, with six principals over the previous seven years.
Students, teachers and parents were all asking Thomas the same question: When so many others had left the school, was she going to stay?
She was and she has. Patterson still faces many challenges, but there is great hope in its classrooms. It’s the school I hope Washington Post readers will support this year with their Giant, Safeway and other grocery store loyalty cards.
Principal Thomas was born in Washington, then moved as a child to Silver Spring. She graduated from Paint Branch High, then went to Hampton University for an undergraduate degree in speech pathology, followed by a master’s and doctor of education degree at Bowie State. She became a District teacher in 1988, entering a combined kindergarten-first grade class then teaching math to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. She then became an instructional coach, helping teachers do their jobs better. Later she was a principal coach, performing the same role with schools’ top leaders. For much of her career she’s been on the administrative and management end of things.
“This is more hands-on,” Thomas said of the job she took last school year. “I missed going into the classroom and providing teachers with feedback. It’s a huge difference between this and central office.”
At the end of the last school year, Patterson was “reconstituted,” meaning that test scores were so poor that the superintendent’s office deemed drastic action necessary. The entire teaching and administrative staff had to re-interview with Thomas. When school started on Aug. 26, 80 percent of the staff was new.
“I am very optimistic we will not be in that status,” Thomas said of the reconstitution. “I’m determined we will get out of that this year.”
Patterson’s 347 students range from preschoolers to fifth-graders. I asked Thomas what outsiders should know about the school.
“We are in a community where we do have parents that are struggling, but they still care about their kids and what happens with their educational welfare,” she said. “And the teachers are committed.”
So are many in the community. The Mandarin Oriental teamed with the Heart of America Foundation to provide book bags full of school supplies for each student. Members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and employees at the Naval Research Laboratory have been serving as tutors. Groups such as Turnaround for Children, Turning the Page, the Fishing School and Blacks in Government have been providing support, too.
Said Thomas: “I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who’ve come forward and said ‘How can we help?’”
If you aren’t already linking your loyalty cards to your own kids’ school, I hope you’ll help Patterson. We should be able to raise a few thousand dollars. At the top of Thomas’s wish list are books. A reading resource room is amply supplied with sets of Scholastic titles tailored to various reading levels. If she can get more of the sets, teachers could work on the same material without leaving the classroom.
Here’s what to do:
Giant’s program, A+ School Rewards, runs from Oct. 6 through March 22. People must re-enroll their Giant cards every year. You can do that at www.giantfood.com/aplus. Put in your 12-digit Giant card number and the first three letters of your last name, then look for Patterson or enter its identification number: 17985.
Participants in Safeway’s rebate program must renew every year. To re-enroll, go to www.escrip.com. Search for Patterson, or enter the school’s Safeway group ID number: 500044630. To sign up for the first time, go to www.escrip.com and click on “members/supporters,” then “sign up.”
If you shop at Harris Teeter, go to www.harristeeter.com and click where it says to re-link your VIC card. The school’s number is 1388.
Patterson is also signed up with Target’s REDcard program. The school number is 39736.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.