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Friday, November 30, 2007

2 Principals Are Honored For Transforming Schools

Post Award Goes to Educators in Germantown and Brunswick

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007; GZ13

When Suzanne Maxey arrived as the new principal at Seneca Valley High School
in 2003, students and teachers were struggling against a pervasive feeling
that the Germantown campus had descended into mediocrity.

Today, Maxey is widely credited with having orchestrated a turnaround:
improved test scores, higher staff morale, energized students and freshly
painted hallways. She is the winner of the 2007 Washington Post
Distinguished Educational Leadership Award for Montgomery County.

"In Suzanne's four years at Seneca Valley, she has transformed the school
from a gloomy, moribund place to one of the most vibrant and well-respected
schools in the region," wrote County Council member Michael Knapp
(D-Upcounty) in a letter supporting her nomination.

Maxey was hired away from Bowie High School in the Prince George's County
school system, where student performance was strong. She arrived at Seneca
Valley at a time when the new Maryland High School Assessments and a
regionwide focus on expanding Advanced Placement participation were taking

In the four years since, the school has improved in several areas. Passing
rates have risen 10 to 20 points on each of the four HSA tests. AP testing
has increased. SAT participation is up, and the school's ranking in the
county for average SAT score has risen from 20th four years ago to 18th this

Maxey has worked to reconnect Seneca Valley students to their school by
attending numerous sporting events, increasing school spirit exercises and
holding monthly meetings with groups of students. At spirit events, she has
kissed a pig and been dunked in a tank. She made hard hats for school
employees bearing the logo Team Seneca. She arrived at one football game
with boxes of noisemakers and cowbells.

Seneca Valley was "a school crying out for change and strong leadership,"
wrote Anita Weinstein, a parent. "She has made that change happen."

In Frederick County, the recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished
Educational Leadership Award is Gerald DeGrange, principal of Brunswick
Elementary School.

Last year, the school was visited by a top official of the Department of
Education to recognize improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind
law. Faculty members and parents credit DeGrange's leadership for the
changes at the school.

Since his arrival at the school in 2005, overall passing rates on the
Maryland School Assessment have increased from 54 percent to 83 percent in
reading and from 58 percent to 86 percent in math, helping remove the school
from a state watch list for low performance.

DeGrange, 57, designed a spreadsheet-based program called Interventions to
help teachers track test data for individual students, as well as how each
student is progressing and what instructional help each receives.

Teachers and parents say DeGrange arrived at the school with a large
repertoire of jokes, a collaborative style and a fondness for cooking chili
and chicken corn soup for staff luncheons.

When employees said they wanted a cleaner building and stronger student
discipline, he responded quickly. The new principal took a cloth and cleaner
and explored the building himself. He set up a new student behavior system
that stresses recognition for improvement. He makes a rule of checking into
every classroom at least twice a day.

DeGrange calls parents to share both good and bad news about students. He
took home the school yearbook upon his arrival and learned every student's
name. He introduced literacy events such as book cafes and winter reading
nights for students and parents to attend.

"To most of us, it seems Jerry practically lives here," wrote Karen
Fitzpatrick, a school reading specialist, in a letter supporting his
nomination. "He comes early and stays very late. He always takes the time
needed for every detail."

Richland 2 service blitz | Kids get dose of giving

Posted on Tue, Nov. 27, 2007

... and friendly competition
A whole lot of kindness, mixed with a healthy dose of competition, fuels the
ever-growing winter giving blitz at Richland 2's four high schools.

The students know their goals are ambitious - donate a total of 76,000 food
items, raise more than $10,000 for local charities, sponsor 550 foster
children, and collect thousands of books and toys.

But the cheerful givers - students at Blythewood, Richland Northeast, Ridge
View and Spring Valley - look forward to their winter service projects each

They see giving back as both a privilege and a responsibility.

"Every can, every donation that we raise from the community really and truly
makes a difference in the lives of those in the community," said Ashwin
Shahani, a Spring Valley student who leads the school's winter service
project. "I get the opportunity to spread hope and prosperity to those who
need it over the holiday season."

In 1984, Spring Valley was the first Richland 2 high school to form a winter
service project, "Winter Days," for the entire student body. Eventually, the
other three high schools came up with their own programs.

Each school has a core of student volunteers who organize the giving
campaigns, which include choosing the charities, deciding the goals, asking
businesses to donate and hosting celebrations. The schools typically have
themes and look for giving ideas that will set them apart.

Students start planning over the summer months but bring other students into
efforts in November. Most schools complete their projects in December.

For the student leaders, organizing the immense tasks can be stressful.

"It is a really big responsibility, but I enjoy it," said Richland Northeast
senior Stephanie Sharpe, who heads up the school's winter giving campaign.
"This is something that I'm passionate about."

Efforts this year include:

. Richland Northeast High students are gathering toys and collecting money
for Camp Kemo, a weeklong summer camp organized through Palmetto Health
Richland for young patients with cancer and their siblings.

. Blythewood High is collecting items for the James R. Clark Sickle Cell

. For the past 17 years, Spring Valley High has helped Children's Garden, a
day-care center for homeless children.

. And this year, Ridge View High began a letter-writing campaign for people
serving in the military.

Kim Sanders, the faculty adviser for the H.O.P.E for the Holidays project at
Richland Northeast, said more students get directly involved in the planning
every year. Like homecoming, she said, the winter service project is
something the students look forward to every year.

"That's what I love about these kids," she said. "It's amazing what they
want to do and what they do. They don't just let it sit around and be an

The money and items collected by the schools reach many Midlands families.
Leaders of area nonprofit groups credit the high school students with
providing significant help to their organizations.

"The goodness of these high schools is just extraordinary, said Elizabeth
Quackenbush, director of development for Volunteers of America Carolinas,
which facilitates Children's Garden. "It just restores your faith in the
next generation to see them commit their resources to ... those in need."

Shahani, the Spring Valley student leader, said giving back is about taking
a stand against poverty and making communities stronger.

"It's our role as citizens. It's up to us. It doesn't really matter who you
are or what you do. Anybody can donate; anybody can give back to the

Reach Woodson at (803) 771-8692.

Teaching to the Test

Monty Neill,

I read your article in the Inquirer and couldn't agree more. I went to St.
Joe's Prep (a long time ago) and now teach 9th graders in a public high
school in South Carolina. Needless to say, I speak as a veteran teacher.

The End-of-Course tests in this state--as in others--are beyond merely a
negative factor in the ways you mention, they are outright MADNESS. I refuse
to let EOC pressure wear on my mind like other teachers, but then again, I'm
56 and will be out of this madness soon. I feel sympathy for young teachers
walking into the horror of having this millstone of politically-mandated
crap hanging over them, and that is why I'm writing to you.

For, here's the biggest reason against exit testing that's left out of
these discussions: good, new, dedicated teachers will leave the profession
instantly when they go through even one year of this insanity. I know of two
examples right off the top of my head, who would have been excellent
teachers. I was in a "curriculum standards" teacher's meeting Tuesday of
this week, and thinking exactly that.

The politicians drive administrators to walk into these meetings and say,
"Now, we don't want you to teach to the tests, but . . ." And teachers are
sitting there knowing full well that's a load of nonsense. OF COURSE, they
want us not only to teach to the test, they want us to gear the entire
curriculum in lockstep to it. No new teacher worth a grain of salt will want
to kiss up to that kind of phony approach. Good luck to schools of education
finding the saps who want to go through the robotic, insipid teaching
routine embodied in that concept. In the meantime, the politicians are not
"accountable"--their favorite word--and are on their merry way making up
another soundbite about their deep concern with education. Spare me. It's
absolute madness.

Bob Strauss, Jr.
Greenwood, SC

10 Leading Schools Silence the Critics: Innovative Teacher Prep

Pioneering programs show the way to better teacher preparation.
Here are our favorites.
published 11/16/2007

a.. Academy for Urban School Leadership: Seasoned Professionals Bring a
Passion for Reform
b.. Alverno College: Making Higher Ed Accessible to Nontraditional
c.. Bank Street College of Education: Hands-On Training and Mentoring
Create Leaders
d.. Boston Teacher Residency: Real-World Training and Cost Incentives Keep
Teachers Teaching
e.. Curry School of Education:A Fieldwork-Filled, Five-Year, Dual-Degree
f.. Emporia State University: Rigorous Assessment Makes for Hall-of-Fame
g.. Michigan State University: An Ambitious and Ever-Evolving Program
h.. Montclair State University: An Interdisciplinary Approach
i.. Stanford University: Where Theory and Practice Meet
j.. University of Texas at Austin: A Formula for Preparing High-Quality
Math and Science Teachers


Source URL:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

District Three News 11-29

York County's four school boards have been selected by the S.C. School
Boards Assn. to receive the Advocacy Program-of-the-Year Award. The
boards, which work together several times yearly, were guided by members
of the Rock Hill School Board, which was the first winner of this award
in 2005. RH board members Mildred Douglas and Ann Reid will accept the
award Dec. 1 at a state school board conference.

Marsha Bennett, a reading recovery teacher, has been selected by the
Palmetto Council of the International Reading Association as the
Elementary Distinguished Teacher of Reading.

<Fifth graders at Finley Road will lead a community sing along of
holiday carols at the "Deck the Hall" concert at 7:00 tonight (11/29) at
City Hall. Other school groups participating will be the Oakdale SPICE
Club and the Saluda Trail Middle School Band.
<Congratulations to our high school choral music teachers whose students
recently auditioned for All-State choirs. Of the 1,375 students who
auditioned, only 471 were chosen. Of those, 20 were students of
Elizabeth Mixon at Northwestern; 13 were students of Mary Ann Helton at
Rock Hill High; and 8 were students of Beverly Laney at South Pointe.
One of Beverly's students was the highest scoring second soprano in the
<Michael Waiksnis, assistant principal at Castle Heights, has been
selected to serve as one of 15 administrators from across the nation on
a Task Force of the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals. The
Task Force will study the topic, "Redefining the Assistant
<The students and staff at Sullivan Middle School have gotten into the
"season of giving" by conducting a canned food drive for the Salvation
Army. More than 2,000 cans have already been collected.
<Hats off to teacher and advisor Cathy Griffin and the Northwestern
Model UN Team on its excellent performance Nov. 16 at the Clemson Model
UN regional competition. Team members won 8 of 16 individual debating
awards, and the team representing Israel won the first place Outstanding
Delegation Award. Most of the students running the event were products
of the Rock Hill School System.
<To raise money for a school track, the Richmond Drive Elementary Health
Committee and "Girls on the Run" are collecting household items and
slightly worn prom dresses for a sale in late January.
<A brief article by Connie Grant, asst. principal at NHS, appears in the
Dec. edition of SaltWater Sportsman magazine. Connie tells how he keeps
his surf reels clean by using cotton swabs and toothbrushes!
<Tickets are now on sale for the NHS Choral Dept.'s Winter Concert that
will be held on Dec. 6 and 7. Tickets at $8 for adults and are available
by contacting Elizabeth Mixon at the school.
<On Thursday, December 13, the South Pointe High School Music Department
will hold it's first annual "A Time for HOPE" Benefit Concert. Band,
Orchestra and Chorus will collaborate to bring the audience sounds of
the season while collecting canned food for local charity HOPE (Helping
Other People Effectively). HOPE gave out 4000 issues of food to
families in the Rock Hill area last Christmas season, and they project
that much or more to be given out this year. Admission to this concert
is at least one can of food per person and our goal is 1000 cans. The
benefit concert will be held in the South Pointe auditorium at 7 p.m. on
December 13.
<The Rock Hill High Choral Christmas concert will be at 8:00 pm on
Tuesday, December 11. Contact the school for tickets.

South Pointe's Stephon Gilmore #42 of top 100 College Prospects

Hear Moody on Straight Talk Here

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

School Assignment Numbers

Below are the assignment numbers with the proposals approved on Monday night. Items in blue are out of line with desired numbers. There are some issues with the numbers. India Hook shows 99% of capacity, but their numbers will not be anywhere near projected by next year. Capacity numbers for the schools are not exact either - our middle and high schools have more capacity than what is stated. Regardless, these numbers are the best the district can come up with and are better projections than any done in the past.

School Percent of Capacity Percent Lo PACT
Belleview 70.9% 61.1%
Ebenezer 93.9% 54.6%
Ebinport 96.6% 40.6%
Finley Road 91.8% 47.1%
Independence 92.9% 51.2%
India Hook 99.3% 28.2%
Lesslie 96.4% 43.0%
Mt. Gallant 96.2% 39.2%
Mt. Holly 93.7% 43.5%
Northside 85.1% 53.8%
Oakdale 90.9% 59.0%
Old Pointe 98.1% 44.0%
Richmond Dr 100.5% 43.3%
Rosewood 99.7% 48.7%
Sunset Park 61.8% 55.9%
Sylvia Circle 71.0% 79.4%
York Road 98.6% 37.3%

Castle Heights 86.6% 50.2%
Dutchman Cr 94.7% 39.3%
Rawlinson Rd 98.7% 46.3%
Saluda Trail 91.0% 52.5%
Sullivan 90.7% 45.4%

Northwestern 91.7% 45.4%
Rock Hill 99.3% 45.9%
South Pointe 86.6% 49.4%

11-26 Board Meeting Results

These were the events at a meeting of the Rock Hill school board on November 26, 2007:

approved minutes of the Oct. 22, Nov. 3, and Nov. 12 meetings of the board; personnel recommendations; and overnight field trip requests from Sullivan, South Pointe, and Rawlinson Road; vote was 7-0

appointed Bryan Hullender, a fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary in York School District One, as assistant principal at Old Pointe Elementary effective in January. He will succeed Latoya Dixon who will become principal of Mount Gallant Elementary in January. Vote was 7-0

recognized Michelle Crissinger (Belleview) on her selection as the 2007-08 South Carolina Dance Educator of the Year; Castle Heights Middle School on its selection for a state Relay for Life community involvement award (coordinated by Asst. Principal Michael Waiksnis); and community volunteers who have served as facilitators at the District's Challenge Course;

listened to citizens Edward George, Jesslyn Carothers, Felicia Moseley, and Dwayne Davis who spoke against their children’s being reassigned from Oakdale to Belleview;

heard Supt. Moody make the following announcements:
        …Sullivan Middle School will host the board's next work session on Monday, December 10, and Mount Gallant Elementary will host the work session on January 14. Both work sessions will begin at 5:30 p.m. in each school's media center with a presentation by the principal on the topic "Student Achievement."

        …All schools will be closed for the winter holidays December 20 through January 2. The District office will be open during the holidays on Dec. 20, Dec. 27, and Dec. 28. All schools and the district office will be closed on January 21 in observance of Martin Luther King's birthday.

        …January 17 will mark the end of the 90th day of school and second grading period this school year. Students will receive report cards on January 24.

          …State Supt. Jim Rex will visit several schools in York County on Nov. 27, including the following schools in District Three: Central, South Pointe, and Rawlinson Road. Dr. Rex will hold a Town Hall meeting at 6:00 p.m. at the Manchester Meadows Pavilion.

received a report on Exceptional Student Education from Director Wendy Dover.  She said that there are many new guidelines, including those for Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and that the new motto is “Special education is not a place, but a service!”

heard a report on Title 1 and parent educators provided by Missy Brakefield, Dir. of Federal Projects. Missy stated that a primary goal of Title I is to increase parent involvement, and that Marie Heckard and Catherine Frailey are now working with seven Title I schools as part-time parent/teacher specialists. Marie and Catherine will provide reading and math workshops, family nights, and parent booklets.

listened to Mary Chandler, principal at Independence Elementary, who provided information on Saturday School, a new district initiative. A number of 4th and 5th grade students who barely scored below Basic 2 on PACT have been invited to attend Independence for extra assistance with reading, writing, and math. The school will be held on Saturday mornings from 8:45 until noon, beginning January 5 and ending on April 26, with teachers from schools across the district and with Christopher Roorda as administrator on site. 

heard a report on the new Power of Mentoring Program by Coordinator Zipporah Little. The program will initially get underway in January at eight elementary schools with the goal of providing adult mentors for 10 students in each school. Mentors, who will be trained on how to work with students, will come from targeted businesses, faith organizations, and community groups.

heard Board Chairman Bob Norwood review topics discussed at the board's work session on
Nov. 12.  These included a report on how the district is held accountable for student achievement and a report on staff development.

approved new high school courses as recommended by high school teachers and the Instruction Department; vote was 6-1 with Vining against. (Primarily because of the inclusion of Total Body.  This was the Administration's justification, "Some students already take this course 4 times, differentiating levels 3 and 4 would allow students to earn credit each time rather than 2 times only." They verbally stated this would help toward improving our graduation rate above 62%. I wasn't buying any of that - Jim)

approved the proposed calendar for school year 2008-09. For the first time in many years, all school districts in York County will follow virtually the identical calendar. The first day for teachers will be Wednesday, August 13, and the first day for students (excluding transition day for 6th and 9th graders) will be Wednesday, August 20. The last day of school will be Thursday, June 4, with graduation at all three high schools slated for June 6 in the Winthrop Coliseum. Vote was 7-0

approved second reading of Policy GBEBD/BVEBD-R, "Acceptable Use of Technology;” Vote was 7-0

The Board approved the new middle school assignment plan. Vote was 7-0.  The Board approved the new high school assignment plan. Vote was 5-2 with Reid and Douglas against (didn't move enough students away from Rock Hill High).  The Board approved the new elmentary school assignment plan. Vote was 5-2 with Reid and Douglas against (didn't balance schools enough).  Unless No Child Left Behind is changed, this will probably be the last time our Title I schools can be rezoned.

Under “new business, the board discussed the possibility of using the grass in the District Three Stadium, which will be replaced by turf, at other district facilities.  The administration will bring back information on this and progress toward new field turf and scoreboard at District Three to the board in January.

Monday, November 26, 2007

WRHI Straight Talk Education Topics

Wednesday November 28th Dr. Lynn Moody, Rock Hill School Superintendent on Meeting the demands of growth and the need for another bond referendum

Monday December 3rd Dr. Jim Rex, South Carolina Superintendent of Education on South Carolina's low graduation rate


From:           Michael W. Fanning, Executive Director

                Olde English Consortium


Event:  “Rex & Blackwell Tour York County”     

Date/Time:      November 27, 2007 (9:30am – 7:30pm)

Tomorrow, November 27, 2007, State Board of Education member Dr. Britt Blackwell will offer State Superintendent Dr. Jim Rex a tour of York County schools and a chance to speak with local residents about state & regional public education issues. Dr. Blackwell, a former Rock Hill School District Board member currently represents York County on the State Board of Education. Dr. Blackwell hopes this opportunity will allow the state superintendent to see, first-hand, what is going on in York County schools. Further, local York County citizens will have the opportunity to hear from Dr. Rex and offer their input, as well. The day will include an opportunity to learn about what is going on in area schools; a chance to meet with area elected officials & administrators; a small “one-on-one” conversation with York County Teachers; and an evening  “town hall meeting” in which Dr. Rex will have a conversation with York County citizens.

    • 9:30 – 10:30am – Dr. Rex arrives in York County (Fort Mill) and visits Nation Ford High School (1084 Springfield Parkway, Fort Mill, S.C. 29715)

    • 11:00 – 11:45am – Dr. Rex arrives in Rock Hill and visits the K3-K4 - RHSD Central Child Development Center (414 E. Black Street, Rock Hill, S.C. 29732)

    • 12:00 – 2:00pm – Luncheon Meeting w/ Dr. Rex at Rock Hill City Club (140 E. Main St.)
      • { York Co. Superintendents, School Board Members, York County Leg. Delegation }

    • 2:15 – 3:15pm –Dr. Rex visits South Pointe High School (801 Neely Rd, RH, SC, 29730)

    • 4:00 – 5:15pm – Dr. Rex talks with York Co. Teachers (4 Teacher Forums) at Rawlinson Road Middle School in the  Library/Media Center (2631 W Main St, RH, SC 29732)

    • 6:00pm – “Town Hall Meeting… with State Superintendent Dr. Jim Rex” at the Manchester Meadows Soccer Pavilion (2nd Floor) – located at 337 East Mount Gallant Road. This Town Hall meeting will be held in Partnership with the City of Rock Hill. All community members are welcome to come out and be a part of this Town Hall meeting.

When Bad Teachers Happen to Good Students: Communication Is the Key to Change

With appropriate methods of communication and a collective voice,
students do have the power to make a change.
by Bernice Fedestin
published 2/8/2005
I'm sure teachers dream of the perfect student, but we students rarely
demand straight A's of our teachers. For us, the notion of perfection
doesn't exist. Some teachers are outstanding and obviously love their
work. They motivate us, and through them we learn to not only master the
material they present but also to love learning. These are the people
who make school fun and with whom we may stay in touch for the rest of
our lives.
Then there are the others. A painful few educators regularly appear
bored with their subject material, lecture constantly instead of
engaging students in intellectual conversation, or even seem to
specialize in classroom put-downs. A friend of mine at another school,
for instance, spends part of each day with a teacher who constantly
shouts "Shut up!" at the class. The teachers at this end of the spectrum
can be a huge problem, since even hardworking students who face
ineffective instruction can end up unhappy in school and incapable of
getting much out of their relatively short time in the classroom. True,
some students are hard for even the best teachers to reach, but for kids
who are serious about their education, dealing with a mediocre teacher
is nothing short of a survival skill.
We students actually have the power to overcome ineffective teaching.
Trouble is, most of us don't realize it. Even when we understand that we
can and should make a bad teaching situation better, we are usually
afraid to try. We may be worried about compromising a teacher's position
or being seen as a snitch.
When I find myself stuck with a problematic teacher, I first try to
communicate my frustration directly to him or her. Given all the
pressures of our day, both teachers and students can lose sight of the
importance of effective communication. There isn't anything wrong with a
student talking to a teacher about problems in the classroom, but a lot
depends on how you approach the matter. For example, talking with a
teacher about classroom manner or methods while other students are
present can make matters worse. It may seem like a public challenge to
the teacher's intelligence and authority.
But sometimes communicating about a problem is not enough to solve it.
No matter how tactful a student is, getting a teacher to change his or
her style may not work. In that case, it's time for school
administrators and families to get involved. Students have to get past
the idea that they are being a snitch. If we tune out the material in a
course because we hate the way it's delivered, we can miss out on
information that may affect our future. To facilitate discussion, both
administrators and families ought to privately ask students regularly
how their classes are going. Ask us for specifics rather than
generalities. Query us about specific topics and instructors instead of
asking an open-ended "How's it going?" This lets us know we have the
support of other adults with the power to influence change.
It's incredibly frustrating to feel that nothing is being done, or will
be done, to put an end to bleak teaching, and that we students are
powerless to make change happen. But that doesn't have to be the case.
When it comes down to it, there are many more students than teachers in
any school. Our collective voice can be loud, so we should be listened
to. We can influence change. After all, where would teachers be without
Bernice Fedestin, a senior at Brighton High School in Boston, was
featured as one of "The Daring Dozen" in our November/December issue.
She received a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to produce a
documentary about the curriculum disparity between suburban and
inner-city schools. Write to

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The Right Way to Oust the Wrong Teachers
'Peer Review' Addresses The Trouble With Tenure
Sunday, November 11, 2007; B08
The District's public schools chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee
mline> , recently made news [front page, Oct. 13] for suggesting that
she wants the authority to fire ineffective teachers. Of course,
students deserve good teachers, but any plan to rid the system of bad
teachers must be fair or it will be blocked by the teachers union or
further demoralize public school teachers in the District.
"We have to be able to remove ineffective teachers from their
positions," Rhee has said. The key question, however, is who "we" are.
For many years, particularly before collective bargaining,
administrators had the power to fire teachers for any number of reasons.
Parents who did not like the failing grade a child received would push
for a teacher's dismissal. Teachers who didn't toe the line of the
principal or who challenged his faddish educational theories could lose
their jobs.
Those who didn't vote for the right politician or who weren't of the
right race or who became pregnant could be let go. And in lean times,
more highly paid veteran teachers were fired and replaced with younger,
cheaper ones.
Over time, to address these abuses, states passed tenure laws for
teachers, and unions bargained for "due process" rights: the right to
have charges laid out when dismissal was sought and the opportunity to
defend oneself against the allegations. This right is at the heart of
unionism, and in 1968 teachers in New York City
mline> , led by the late Albert Shanker, went on strike for 36 days
after a school board in the ghetto of Ocean Hill-Brownsville summarily
terminated the employment of several white teachers without due process.
By the 1980s, however, Shanker and other leaders of teachers unions came
to acknowledge that in some school districts the right to due process
had been taken to an extreme, making it very difficult to fire
incompetent teachers. Shanker was willing to admit that there were some
lousy teachers, and he backed a compromise plan to weed out the
incompetent while preserving the basic idea of tenure: "peer review."
Under peer review, which is used in Toledo
, Ohio
<> ,
and other communities, master teachers try to help struggling teachers.
But if that doesn't work, the master teachers can recommend dismissal.
In practice, in Toledo and elsewhere, it turns out that teachers are
even harder on colleagues than principals are, because a fourth-grade
teacher doesn't want to get stuck with kids who haven't learned anything
in third grade.
Peer review would not be a cure-all in D.C. schools, where a large
number of teachers are seen as lacking. For such a system to work well,
only exemplary teachers should be placed on review committees, and peer
review programs to rid the District of the very worst teachers must be
supplemented by innovative programs to replace them with the very best.
But Rhee and Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker should
take a close look at the peer review model. Tenure should be mended, not
-- Richard D. Kahlenberg

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monday Meeting of the Board of Trustees


Monday, November 26, 2007
6:00 p.m. District Office Board Room
I. Call to Order
Approval of Agenda
(Under consent agenda, all action items will be voted on after one motion and second to approve them without discussion.

If a board member wants any action item discussed or voted on separately, the board member, before the agenda is
approved, must ask that the action item be moved to the discussion item section.)
II. Citizen Participation
III. Special Business
A. Recognition of Castle Heights Middle School for Contributions to Relay for Life Event
B. Recognition of Challenge Course Facilitators
IV. Consent Action Agenda
A. Approval of Minutes
1. October 22, 2007, business meeting
2. November 12, 2007, work session
3. November 3, 2007, board retreat
B. Approval of Personnel Recommendations
C. Approval of Overnight Field Trip Requests (2)
V. Communications
VI. Report of the Superintendent
A. Announcements
B. Special Education Update
C. Parent Educators, Disclosure Documents
D. Saturday School Update
E. Mentoring Program Update
VII. Review of Work Session
VIII. Action Agenda
A. Approval of Elementary, Middle, and High School Reassignment Plans
B. Approval of New High School Courses
C. Approval of 2008-2009 School Year Calendar
D. Approval of Policy GBEBD/GBEBD-R, Acceptable Use of Technology, 2nd Reading
IX. Other Business
X. Executive Session - None
XI. Adjournment

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to Fix Struggling High Schools

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007; 11:17 AM

Last week, The Washington Post ran two articles by staff writer Lonnae
O'Neal Parker that revealed, in a remarkable way, the abject hopelessness of
inner-city American high schools. They tell the story of just one D.C.
student, Calvin Coolidge Senior High School senior Jonathan Lewis, and his
uncertain path to a diploma. But every step on his journey exposed another
failure of the educators, parents and students on whom the public school
system depends.

Lewis wants to graduate. His mother wants him to graduate. His principal and
teachers want him to graduate. But none of them make much progress toward
that goal.

Lewis neglects his homework and rarely comes to class. His mother accepts
his false account of steady progress and doesn't learn the truth until late
in the school year. His history teacher, the best educator in the story,
doesn't know Lewis is supposed to be in his class because the student never
comes and the school's scheduling and information systems fail to inform the
teacher that he is supposed to be there. Lewis worries more about defending
his friends against insults from rival groups at school than he does about
missing class. Most of his teachers ask little of him, and some are clumsy
in their methods. The principal works to turn the school around, but most of
his staff lack his passion.

This is a familiar story to many readers of this column, but you need to
read Parker's pieces. The links are here and here.

It is time to figure out what we should be doing about this.

I think the people running our high schools, as well we parents, need to
stop making compromises that sustain the cycle of failure. Kind and
thoughtful educators and parents, such as the ones in Parker's articles, are
trying to get through each day without hurting too many feelings or forcing
too many confrontations. When the choice is between letting standards
continue to slip or making a scene, few people want to be drama queens,
which is too bad.

The best inner-city educators begin each day knowing they are going to have
to confront apathy again and again. They shove it away as if it were a
kidnapper trying to steal their children. To succeed, a high school like
Coolidge needs a unified team of such people, who follow the same standards
of regular attendance, daily preparation for school, high achievement and
attention and decorum in the classroom.

It sounds impossible, but it's not. There are inner-city schools right now,
including some charter, religious and private schools that operate that way.
It takes strength and intelligence and humor and love for young people, and
an abhorrence for the limp compromises that have created such sickly schools
as Coolidge.

I asked several expert educators how they would fix schools like that.
Michael A. Durso, principal of Springbrook High School in Silver Spring,
said: "These problems did not occur overnight and will not be resolved
easily or in a short time." Michael Riley, superintendent of the Bellevue,
Wash., schools, said: "Anyone who thinks there is a quick fix, that taking a
couple of dramatic steps will make this situation better overnight, is
kidding himself."

But they have many practical suggestions. Frazier O'Leary, who teachers
Advanced Placement English at Cardozo High School in the District, said all
staff members must be "like-minded in our quest." He added: "I have been
constantly encouraged by how much our kids want to succeed . . . [but] we
have to push them to places they have never been."

Durso's ideas included a new paint job and landscaping, meetings with
students, more support and training for teachers, a campus health clinic, a
focus on reading instruction and publicizing those things the school already
does well. Riley called for better information management (so everyone would
know that Lewis was skipping class), all adults upholding the same
standards, more time to instruct students who need it, and--just as Durso
recommended--emphasizing examples of success.

Robert W. Snee, principal of George Mason High School in Falls Church,
recommended a school-wide campaign, beginning with a week-long retreat for
all staff, a strong effort to rid the school of apathetic teachers, and then
timetables, assigned responsibilities, community outreach, student
participation and many other ways of getting the whole school moving.

Debra Craig, a California teacher who has organized True Educators Asking
Californians for Honest Education Reform, called for fixing the building
(including the non-working clocks at Coolidge), hiring more counselors,
creating a new curriculum, giving discipline top priority and establishing
grading criteria for all teachers.

The Post's Parker said many readers blamed Lewis and his mother for his
failures. There is some truth to that, but it won't get us very far. As
Parker pointed out, her articleswould never have appeared if Lewis's mother
hadn't agreed to cooperate. She said the mother wanted people to learn of
her son's struggle so that they "could offer up solutions for others in the
same situation."

It takes some courage to expose yourself in that way on the front page of
your city's major newspaper. The least we can do is respond to her challenge
to come up with realistic ideas for change. Here is my e-mail address: Tell me how you would save a school like Coolidge,
and I will summarize your ideas in an upcoming column.

Will Jonathan Graduate?
His D.C. High School Needs an Overhaul of Attitudes, Academics and
Expectations. He Needs Three Credits.

By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 10, 2007; A01

No one remembers why Kathryne Lewis called Principal L. Nelson Burton that
afternoon. It was something about one of her son's teachers, but by spring
her calls to Calvin Coolidge Senior High School had begun to run together.

Burton just remembers that he wanted to resolve whatever it was immediately.
He sent a student to pull Jonathan out of English class, but Jonathan wasn't
there. Lewis text-messaged her son's cellphone. Where are you? she asked.

In class, came Jonathan's reply.

Burton went to see for himself, then called Lewis back. She sent her son
another message: Wherever you are, get back to school!

They had dealt with this last year after Jonathan failed to graduate. "I
messed up, Ma," Jonathan had said. He had been cutting classes to roam the
halls and hang out with friends. He and his mother had sat in Burton's
office promising he would do better.

But Lewis found herself planted there again and again: Jonathan was failing
algebra -- could he be moved to a different class? Why didn't she get a
warning note when he was failing geography?

Still, most of her frustration was with her son. Inside Burton's office,
crowded with students and parents, she snapped at him for claiming never to
know when his assignments were due.

"I can't deal with this," Jonathan snapped back, abruptly walking out.

"You can't deal with what?" his mother yelled after him. "You can't deal
with my hand upside your head this evening? I don't care if I have to come
up here every week. You're going to graduate."

Kathryne Lewis sees the boy her son used to be. The boy who made B's, helped
kids with their class work and won first place at his sixth-grade science
fair. That boy is gone, and if Jonathan doesn't graduate, she fears, all
anyone will see is a big, young, uneducated black man -- the exact same as
not seeing anything at all. He'll spend his days doing nothing much with
friends who dropped out. He'll become a statistic, and, good Lord, she does
not want that to happen.

Jonathan's mother attended George Washington University for two years and is
a corporate project coordinator. His father attended Howard University for
three years and is a Metro technician. The two never married, but Allen
Putman lived nearby and saw his son nearly every day, watched him play
baseball, took him for haircuts. His parents have pushed him.

Jonathan, 18, says he can see where he wants to go: graduation, college,
then owning a business, maybe doing graphic design or creating video games.
This is what education is supposed to prepare you for, academically,
socially and emotionally: to join the real world, to become a productive
citizen. But in Washington, the social contract between students and schools
has been broken in all kinds of ways.

Jonathan Lewis is short on time at Coolidge. He needs three credits to
finish: English, math and history. But for the second time, he is
struggling. Everyone knows he's smart enough.

But whether or not he'll graduate is an open question with lots of moving

"In my American government class, [Ms. Cruz-Gonzales] had brought a test
from a private middle school, and the stuff that they were learning in
eighth grade, we were just learning now. And I, like, literally started to
cry because it's sad. Like, I understand we go to public school, but that
doesn't mean that since we can't afford the education, we shouldn't have it.
. . . It made me feel ignorant. Really ignorant."

-- Tiarra Hall, 17, 12th grade

Jonathan's high school is neither the best nor the worst in the District.

Built in 1940 in Northwest Washington, Coolidge gained a solid academic
reputation and became a school of choice for the black middle class after
desegregation. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's lawyer graduated from Coolidge, as
did one federal and two Superior Court judges. And Principal Burton. The
citywide graduation rate is about 60 percent, but roughly three-quarters of
Coolidge seniors have graduated each of the past three years. Generations of
alumni cheer at Coolidge sporting events and donate time and money.

But when Burton returned in 2005, he found a school in decline. With the
proliferation of alternative charter schools, enrollment had slipped to the
600s after topping 1,000. Although Coolidge was in a solidly middle-class
area between Brightwood and Takoma Park, more than half of its students came
from out-of-boundary, drawn by athletics or fleeing bad schools in their
neighborhoods. More than half of the students received free or reduced-cost
lunches. And there were physical problems: leaking roofs, asbestos, no
central air or heat.

Burton was the seventh principal in nine years. Teachers' morale was low,
and Burton felt that many were just passing time. In comprehensive
assessments, half of the students scored below the basic levels in reading
and math. Only three Advanced Placement classes were offered. Students
thought all they had to do to pass was show up, Burton said, and teachers
would send them right along.

"We live in a culture and a time and a system where we're striving every day
to be mediocre," he said, "and sometimes we don't make it. We don't even
reach mediocrity."

Burton, 34, set out to overhaul attitudes, teachers, academics and
discipline. He wanted to make Coolidge a place where parents across the
city, including white parents in Takoma Park, would consider sending their
children. The neighborhood was 80 percent black, but not a single white
student attended Coolidge.

Still, no matter how ambitious the agenda, some realities are not easily
changed. Suddenly introducing rigor to students who have had it
inconsistently, if at all, can feel arbitrary and capricious, like changing
the rules late in the game. Some students have such painful home lives that
just showing up for school is significant. "They find a way to persevere,
and you have to honor it, but at the same time, the world doesn't honor it,"
Burton said. He doesn't want to send students into adulthood just minimally

But as one Coolidge teacher wondered aloud: If you fail kids who will never
come back to finish, "what's the benefit to society in that?"

"Coolidge [is] just like a zombie zone. Just like you see these kids walking
in the hallway, that's because they have no other choice. Because they feel
like when they're in class, the teachers don't connect, and you don't want
to feel dumb. No one ever wants to feel dumb."

-- Kellyse Hood, 17, 12th grade

As the noise and rush of class changes swirl around him this late April
morning, Jonathan walks halls longer than a football field. Nearly every
other light bulb and ceiling fixture is broken, and the pervasive dimness
renders students faceless and indistinct. Students file past gutted water
fountains; only two in the school work. They duck into stairwells layered
with graffiti: the tag WSP (We Spray Paint) and defiant neighborhood
shout-outs ("Southside!" and "Rittenhouse Niggas! What?"). High ceilings
lend an echo to every curse.

"Whassup, son?" Jonathan slaps hands with one of his boys. He pretends to
throw punches at a guy as a teacher walks by, and he chases his "play
cousin," Jarriett Kiser, a kid he went to elementary and middle school with,
a kid who's always urging him to go to class.

"You too old to be acting like this, Jonathan," Jarriett says, dodging. "You
gonna be here next year, and I'm going to laugh."

Jonathan looks out for his friends when kids from Southside want to "wreck."
The large contingency of out-of-boundary students helps sustain enrollment
but fuels neighborhood rivalries, usually between kids from Southeast and
kids from "uptown" neighborhoods: Kennedy Street, Michigan Park,
Rittenhouse, Riggs Park and Sursum Corda. Beefs are based on constantly
shifting allegiances and who-looked-hard-at-whom slights.

More than a dozen fights have broken out at Coolidge since January. Five
brought in police. Twenty students were arrested. Twenty-one boys were
suspended; five were transferred. Two girls were expelled for a melee that
involved parents off school grounds. The mentoring group Peaceoholics
intervened, and police held mediation sessions, but the fights continued.

A girl passes Jonathan in a T-shirt reading "Kiss My Ass." Jonathan -- six
feet tall, curly black hair, cocoa skin and flashing smile -- envelops
another girl in a full-body hug, then pretends to push her away. "Sike! I
don't like you like that, Gabby!" he says, laughing. He is loud and quick
with a joke, a curse word or an insult, an imposing guy with a hard-edged
cool that makes him popular in the halls.

As he walks, he absently taps out a beat on his chest and thighs. Freaky
freaky freak show, freaky, freaky freak show, he chants. He is lead mike for
the Intense Drama Band, rapping and hyping the crowd at community centers.

When he was younger, he sang with the D.C. Boys Choir and played Little
League. Now he mostly hangs with friends. He shops, watches music videos and
plays video games. He started with "Super Mario Bros." and graduated to
"Grand Theft Auto." Now he'll play "Madden NFL" four hours a day.

He doesn't get high, but he smokes Newports, and his drinks are Belvedere
(vodka) and Hpnotiq (vodka, cognac and fruit juices). He says he plans on
getting tore down at prom.

He doesn't do homework or complete assignments. He says he doesn't try. He
can't say why. He considers himself average. "I could be smart, but I'm
average," he says. He remembers liking school all right before he got to

He makes two full revolutions past his second-floor Algebra II class, and
when the hallways have mostly cleared, he goes inside, 10 minutes late. He
heads straight for the back of the room. The 28-person class (far fewer show
up) typically splits in two. Those who want to hear Aaron Lee, 25, a slight
man whose voice seems just notches above a loud whisper, sit toward the
front and along the side chalkboard. Jonathan and a half a dozen others sit
along the back wall.

"Jonathan, your backpack?" says Lee, who is one of the teachers Burton
brought in.

"I ain't got it today, man," Jonathan says nonchalantly as he slides into a

"How are you ever going to pass the class?" Lee asks. Jonathan stares at him

Lee writes a warm-up equation on the board. "How do we solve this using
elimination?" he asks the class. In the back, Jonathan and others start to
argue loudly about how many Pringles each should get.

Around the room, cords from a dozen headphones snake up to students' ears.
Some are trying to drown out their teacher; others are trying to ignore
their classmates. An iPod's blare fills the room with bass.

"Quick review: One-fifth plus one-tenth, what's the common denominator?" Lee
asks as his class spins out of control. A cellphone rings jarringly. "What
the [expletive] is that?" a girl blurts out. It's 10:50 a.m., but the clock
on the wall says 1:03. Lee continues without reacting to the growing chaos.

He mostly looks at the students who are looking at him. He points to the
chalkboard and asks about X's and Y's in a voice that doesn't rise. A
10th-grader who usually pays attention gets up to chat, going desk to desk.
Lee glances her way, then finally asks her to leave. She goes, supposedly to
the principal's office, although no one tracks her and to students that
notion seems almost comical.

The chatty girl returns 15 minutes later and continues to engage classmates
from her seat.

Lee asks a girl in the back about an equation. She doesn't know, and
Jonathan laughs.

"That's why you're failing," he taunts.

"I have a 97.2 in here," she counters.

"Man, I have a 28.9," a 10th-grader says, shaking his head.

Jonathan gets up to check his average, which is posted on the wall. 28.3.
"Ah, hell naw!" he bursts out. "He just don't like me, that's what it is,"
he offers as he heads back to his seat. "I was about to beat him one time,
that's why he don't like me."

Jonathan brags: "I don't need this class anyway. I got a class upstairs.
She's gonna give me a whole rack of work so I can get my math classes so I
could pass."

"I'mmo fail this [expletive] for real," 28.9 says.

"If I fail," Jonathan says, "I'm coming back and I'mmo smash this

A couple of desks away, the music blares. A girl chants a go-go rap loudly
enough for everyone in back to hear. Jonathan joins in.

Lee walks over and stops at Jonathan's desk. "Did you take down notes?" he
asks quietly.

"I ain't got no paper," says Jonathan, staring at him, his eyes flat,
leaning forward with his arms crossed.

"Turn off your phone and put it away," Lee tells him.

"Man, go 'head," says Jonathan, waving him away. "You ain't giving me no
type of whatever."

Jonathan has always been weak in math. In middle school, his mother hired a
tutor. At Coolidge, he got a D in Algebra I and flunked his first try at
Algebra II. Although he can't stand the notion of looking like he can't do
the work -- he won't raise his hand in any class unless he's "90 percent
sure" he has the right answer -- he says it's not because he's embarrassed.
"I stopped being embarrassed a long time ago."

"Aren't you supposed to come see me during lunch?" Lee continues quietly.
Lee had told Jonathan's mother that he would tutor him, but Jonathan never

"I ain't going to," Jonathan says defiantly. "I did all that makeup work and
still got an F. But it's all good. I'm not trippin'."

"Same thing happened to me," 28.9 chimes in.

"I'm saying, what's the point of doing makeup work and I still fail?"
Jonathan asks, getting agitated. The whole class is watching. It's a
question fundamental to how he sees his education. "I do homework to at
least get a D," he says. A D is passing.

"You do homework to prepare for the test," Lee counters.

They lock eyes. There are no points of entry between them.

Suddenly 28.9 jumps up. Jonathan jumps up, and they both stride angrily from
class. 28.9 shoves a desk as he goes.

"Come on, y'all, come back!" a girl yells from the back row. She chases
after them, but the two disappear in the half-light of the long hall.

"I don't think you're going to meet a student, or anyone, for that matter,
who doesn't want to graduate from high school. They all want to. Everyone
wants a diploma, but not everyone wants to do the work required for it."

-- L. Nelson Burton, principal

Jonathan came to Burton's attention at the end of the principal's first
year. Burton had banned 150 students -- more than 20 percent of the
670-member student body -- because they were discipline problems, had poor
attendance or had no better than a 1.5 GPA.

The parents of about 40 who hadn't been severe discipline problems, such as
Jonathan, met with Burton, and their children were allowed to return.
Jonathan had failed six of nine classes the year before and was regularly
truant. He had never been suspended for fights, but he had been on the
periphery of them.

"I wanted to go back for my mother, to make her happy," Jonathan says. "And
I wanted to go back to see if I could graduate. I didn't want to get a GED."

Burton understood. He himself had graduated in the bottom quartile of his
class at Coolidge in 1990. He cut classes and would have dropped out, he
says, if his mother had let him. But she made it clear that dropping out and
living with her were mutually exclusive.

He succeeded, but of the nine guys he was tight with at Coolidge, three have
since spent time in prison. "I remember telling a friend, 'Man, I'm going to
go back,' " Burton says. "I feel in some ways there are a million people
like we were, whose mothers are not going to make them go to school, and
they're going to end up breaking into my house."

At Coolidge, he devised a plan to bring vigor to a faculty that included
teachers he said lectured from yellowing notes, lessons taught "in 1977 and
1987 and 1997." Others were chronically absent. A student wish list posted
in the peer mediation room asked for "teachers who are consistently
present." Burton estimated that one teacher missed nearly 40 of 90 days last

Burton hired eight teachers, which isn't easy in a competitive market. Four
of them were D.C. Teaching Fellows, college graduates and professionals who
take a summer program on teaching strategies and classroom rules. He hired
four from Teach for America, which recruits new college graduates to teach
two years in urban and rural schools. Both programs require participants to
work on getting certified as they teach.

Most of the hires have worked well. Students write love notes about their
classes. Dara Zeehandelaar, who was working on a PhD in astrophysics before
she took a two-year hiatus to teach math, says her students' scores have
risen from an average of C-minus to B-plus.

Kellyse Hood, ranked first in the senior class, took Zeehandelaar's Advanced
Topics in Mathematics class even though she didn't need the credit. She's
trying to get ready for college -- she got a full scholarship to
Northeastern University in Boston -- and called the class organized and
challenging, a rarity at Coolidge. If you're a striver, she says, "you feel
like you're isolated." But in Zeehandelaar's class, for which students
volunteered and had to be accepted, "you're not teased for wanting to learn
something higher."

Other Burton hires have struggled. Math teacher Zachariah Michielli was hit
twice. He says he reported the incidents but nothing happened. He quit

On Burton's first day, he asked a student who was cursing to leave. The
student hit him in the head with a bottle, then punched him in the eye.
Burton expelled him and wondered all week how he could possibly stay, how he
could do anything with all this. What's a sandbag to a waterfall? But he
stuck it out.

Now, several times a day, he walks corridors filled with ossified
grievances. "Excuse me! Are we having trouble going to class?" Burton barks
at a girl outside the Junior ROTC department. "Mr. Burton, catch me!" says
another tiny student, who unexpectedly launches herself into the principal's
arms. Burton gently sets her on her feet.

Other kids want to slap hands or shadowbox. Burton feints and jabs. In this
place, boundaries are fluid. For some, Burton says, he is the only man
consistently in their lives, and they are hungry for acknowledgment.

Students say Coolidge is "waaay better" than it was. "Coolidge used to be
off the chain before Mr. Burton," says Kobi Williams, a senior football
player and one of Jonathan's buddies. "He used to be a knucklehead, like
we're knuckleheads. So he understands."

Still, 20 minutes after a bell sounds, students hang in the halls along the
dented lockers or sit on radiators, their backs to open, screenless windows
over a two-story drop. There is no study hall. The library has been closed
since January, when the part-time librarian who replaced a full-time
librarian (an unpopular budgeting decision by Burton) had a heart attack. In
Stairway No. 4, the smell of burnt reefer is strong. Seven security guards
make periodic sweeps, but there are never enough guards or enough sweeps to
keep the halls clear.

"Teachers are just like tires. Some teachers, all the tread has worn off.
They're not getting any traction. They're just spinning and moving in place.
The classes are not going anywhere, and the students are not going anywhere.
It's sad, because they didn't come that way."

-- Harold Cox, social sciences teacher

"WHY ARE THERE STUDENTS IN MY HALLWAY?" Burton bellows, and students scatter
for 50 yards in front of him.

"You, join the train," he orders. A half-dozen students have fallen into
line behind him, protesting loudly or cursing under their breath. He is a
pied piper, trailed by kids and their baggage: boredom, truancy, disrespect.
Some boys wear ribbed tanks that show the tattoos crawling up their arms.
Oversize pants hang below their boxer shorts. Other pants are belted at
mid-thigh, restricting the wearers to small, slow steps.

Near the cafeteria, one girl is wearing pants that fall below her
bellybutton and a T-shirt that ends just under her bra. "Sweetheart, you're
showing a little too much," Burton tells her. "Go put some clothes on." She
giggles and walks toward the restroom, but later she is still wearing the

In the cafeteria, another girl wears a red hoodie with black letters: "It's
the [expletive] 12 Trinidad Unexpected Homies." The dress code prohibits
tank tops, half-T's and anything other than "positive" logos, but
enforcement is sporadic.

When Burton sees violations, he orders the students to change or go home. He
says he has mandated uniforms for next year to foster a better academic
climate: collared shirts in school colors -- gray, orange or white -- and
khaki or black pants.

Burton confiscates iPods if he spots students with headphones in their ears.
He seizes cellphones if students are talking on them.

"A lot of it is adults not doing their damn jobs," he grumbles. "I don't
want to take this damn phone. The teacher should have seen the student had
it and reprimanded him. Just imagine what would happen if every adult they
saw corrected them."

Coolidge Vice Principal Samuel Scudder says students should be suspended and
eventually expelled for cutting classes. The student handbook says that
after 20 days absent, students automatically fail a class.

"If I really wanted to be a jerk, I'd hold kids to that, with no grace,"
Scudder says. But kids have to be taken where they are, he says. And if it
seems like there are no boundaries, it's not something that began with

"We try to keep them in the system for as long as possible," Scudder
explains. Otherwise, they might hit the streets. That's when they're really

"It's not the same as it was when we were in school," he says. He remembers
when kids were on their best behavior around teachers, preachers and police.
But sometimes it's the teachers, preachers and police who "are among the
biggest violators of trust."

Veteran teachers say it was the early 1990s when kids started letting curse
words slip in front of adults. By the late '90s, the halls filled with
streams of anger and unrepressed profanity. Teachers closed their doors and
turned inward. The halls grew unrestrained. Then some of the classrooms.

"A lot of times, I just ignore the noise. Sometimes it's to the point where
it gets too loud, but it's not like I can do anything about it. My
third-period teacher sometimes does say 'shut up,' and then they get louder
and start cussing him out."

-- Gabe Gonzalez, 16, 10th grade

"Sometimes I wish it was more like my elementary school. When students would
start getting louder, my teacher would take them in the back and she would
start hitting them."

-- Dennis Gonzalez, 16, 10th grade

Aaron Lee had tried to take Jonathan's iPod in algebra class once. "He was
coming over, messing with me, so I said, 'Get away from me 'fore I smack
you,' " Jonathan says. But "I was still sitting down," he says dismissively.
"I wouldn't have hit that man."

"His mouth went off and it contained some physical threat, something
menacing, and I didn't want to put up with that," Lee says. Jonathan was
suspended for five days.

In two years, Jonathan has also had a half-dozen in-school suspensions for
hanging in the hallways and a one-day at-home suspension for letting friends
who didn't belong at Coolidge through a side door.

The students are more talk than action, Lee says, and he's more irritated
than afraid. He has been shoved by two students, he says. Once was during a
fight between two girls outside his class. He couldn't identify the girl, so
he didn't report it. The second time was inside his class: A guy was
distracting a girl who was taking a final and shoved Lee several times when
Lee asked him to leave. Lee tried to call security over the intercom, but
the boy drowned him out. The student never returned to his class. Lee didn't
follow up.

Sometimes students barge into Lee's room. "Where was y'all at?" they'll yell
to friends. Or they'll come to sharpen pencils and linger to socialize or
hurl insults. "Mr. Lee, you look just like that dude who shot up
everything," a student in a white tank tells him a week after the Virginia
Tech shootings.

Lee used to pull the sliding door lock, but a student rammed his shoulder
into it and broke it.

A football player once strode into the middle of a class and tried to press
his math paper into Lee's hand as he was writing on the board. "We'll talk
about this later," Lee told him.

"Naw, man, just give me my F now!" the student said. "You're going to fail
me anyway, just give me my [expletive] F. Give me my [expletive] F!" He
towered over Lee. The teacher paced back and forth, trying to avoid him. Lee
finally called out to a passing security guard, who escorted the student
from class. "I hate this [expletive] school!" the student yelled as he
walked out. "Leave, then," the guard said. The class looked on without

"The class is disruptive to begin with,"; says Derrick Walker, who sits in
the front row and tries to pay attention, but Mr. Lee, "he's not vocal
enough -- they don't have no respect for him." Walker is failing the class.
"I really try to focus, because I be worried about tests and quizzes," he
says, but "he talks low and probably goes too fast. I just try my hardest.
That's the only thing I can do."

Much of the time it can seem as if students aren't bothered by the chaos
around them. They join in the jokes or stare straight ahead, seemingly
oblivious. It's a posture some say they learned when they got to Coolidge.

"A rose that grows in concrete is stronger than a rose that grows in soil."

-- Ibijoke Akinbowale, 17, senior class president

D'Angelo Andrews is in the same second-period algebra class as Jonathan. His
brother, Everett "T.J." Bolden, is in Lee's third-period algebra class. They
disagree about whose fault it is that Lee's class is so chaotic.

"He needs to get more bass in his voice or something," says Andrews, who
might get an A.

"I told him he has to slow down so that it can sink in," says Bolden, who
might fail. Bolden runs interference when kids give Lee a hard time. "I got
to make kids sit down and do they work like I'm their father," he says.
"They shouldn't do him like that." Bolden's aunt is a teacher, he says, and
"I don't think that's right to treat teachers like that."

Andrews tells him that it's not his business. "He's a grown man, dog."
Andrews always sits in front, earphones in, working on equations, drowning
out everything.

Ibijoke Akinbowale is one of the most popular students at Coolidge, a good
writer, charismatic, with a news anchor's diction, but she hasn't done as
well academically as she would have liked. It's easy to get caught up and
just slide by, she says. There are "tons of bright, talented, intelligent
kids like myself graduating with a 2.0," she says. Kids want to hang. They
want to be cool. Some don't "have the motivation to be here, so they do
whatever," Akinbowale says.

She doesn't want to blame Coolidge for her GPA but says "kids go through a
lot of things." Maybe if there were a mentor or a buddy or someone who could
"help you from ninth through 12th and make sure you're staying on top of
your academics," things could be different.

Hood, the top-ranked senior, says she wants teachers who don't just give
busywork; she wants a science or business club and a senior trip; but more
than any of that, she craves order. "Coolidge will cripple you if you don't
know what to do," she says. If you're not hyper-focused, "Coolidge will
swallow you alive. I've seen it happen so many times."

A lot of students care, she says, but they have to learn to "roll with the
punches" to deal with everything. Including an out-of-control classroom.

When Lee began struggling, Burton assigned veteran teachers to work with him
on teaching methods and classroom control. They told him to speak up and to
pace his lessons so students could engage with the material. Get involved in
an after-school activity, Vice Principal Scudder told him, so kids could
relate to him outside of classes.

"When they brought it to my attention, it was one of two things, raise my
voice, and two was to address other sources of noise that came from the
classroom," Lee says. Perhaps the students are just used to loud
environments, he suggests. "Louder speech might be the norm to them."

Tenth-grader Brandon Long sits toward the back in Lee's class. He joined it
three months late after sitting in a trigonometry class for half a semester,
thinking it was Algebra II.

On a day when Jonathan was absent and others who sit in the back had been
suspended for fighting, Long frets about his grade. Lee asks Long about a
coordinate plotted on a graph. Long doesn't know but takes a tentative
guess. Correct. He gets Lee's next question right as well.

If Long had been in class all semester, he thinks he might be doing better.
If he had sat somewhere less disruptive, or if kids didn't burst through the
door, or if he could hear the teacher when he talked, he might be doing

Coolidge is full of ifs.

"Instead of having someone call them stupid, they just don't try at all.
Maybe it's because they didn't learn it before, in middle school, but there
are definitely holes in their education. . . . It's just the education
system. It lets them down in a way."

-- Nicholas Peters, 19, senior transfer student from Landon School in

At 9:10, nearly 20 minutes after the morning bell, Jonathan knocks on the
door to Tiffany Cruz-Gonzalez's class, History of African American Music.

A student this late often has to spend first period, all 80 minutes, in
tardy hall, in the old gym just past the metal detectors. No desks, chairs
or teachers, just a big empty space where kids sit on the floor talking and
the clock is stuck at 10:30.

Cruz-Gonzalez, 22, who came to Coolidge through Teach for America, undoes
the lock to let him in. The warm-up -- explain the roles of funk and soul in
society -- is over, and Cruz-Gonzalez is asking about their jazz papers.

She had planned to go to law school. But she graduated from a large public
high school in San Francisco, and in college she had to play catch-up for
years to learn things she didn't even know she didn't know. She says she
didn't want to be one of those people who talks about how bad things are but
does nothing. For her, the most wrenching part of teaching has been "to
realize how much my students weren't getting, how far behind they were
academically in writing and reading and fundamental skills."

And not just in school.

Students are close-minded, Cruz-Gonzalez says. "There's no sense of reality
all the time." They're stuck in a bubble where all the world is D.C. It's an
insular place, where the notions they already have are constantly
reinforced. It's segregated, defensive and intolerant of disrespect, real or
perceived. It's a place with kids who can't fathom the relevance of any
world beyond, especially because that world rarely turns their way.

"They don't understand what they need to do on a larger scale,"
Cruz-Gonzalez says. "They just don't realize the connection between coming
to class, doing your work and graduating."

Jonathan settles into his chair, looks around for a few minutes, then
interrupts to ask Cruz-Gonzalez if he can borrow a pen. Cruz-Gonzalez slides
Sam Cooke into her CD player, and the room fills with "A Change is Gonna

"That's my jam," Jonathan says, nodding.

Cruz-Gonzalez asks Martique Vanderpool, a 6-foot-2 football player, how the
song makes him feel. Vanderpool's arms and torso have more than a dozen
tattoos: dollar signs, M.O.B. (Money Over Bitches) and teardrops for his
older sister, who died in her sleep when he was 5. His shoulder is scarred
from the time he says a group of boys knocked him off his bike and stabbed
him, then didn't even take his bike. He works full time in the produce
department at Safeway and, with the AP classes he has taken, has a 4.5 GPA.

"It touches you deeply or something," Vanderpool answers. "It's a feeling,
but I don't want to express it. It makes me sound like a punk."

Cruz-Gonzalez plays "Minority Report," a rap song about Hurricane Katrina.

"How has funk and soul been a foundation for hip-hop" asks Cruz-Gonzalez,
and Jonathan starts to write.

"It influences rappers to sample beats," he writes.

Cruz-Gonzalez, who always tells the kids how smart they are, how far they
can go, who says "I like your hair, baby," and cries when students write
notes about how she has touched their lives, is Jonathan's favorite teacher.

Even though he hasn't turned in a single paper for her class.

"I like her," he explains, "but for real, I don't need this class to

Tomorrow: The last push of the school year -- can Jonathan do it?

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

For Jonathan Lewis, It's Fourth and Goal
In a System That Has Squandered So Many Chances, He Is on the Verge of
Wasting His

By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007; A01

Second of two parts

If Jonathan Lewis is going to make it out of Calvin Coolidge Senior High, he
has to pass Harold Cox's U.S. history class. And Mr. Cox has a reputation
for being one of the school's strictest teachers.

In Cox's class, students sign roll, take their assigned seats and write
their warm-up. No one is allowed without pen and paper. Cox confiscates
cellphones, iPods and hats. He takes pictures of students acting out in
class and e-mails them to parents. He doesn't let students laugh at others
who stumble when reading. Cursing is not allowed.

"Children want structure," he says. "You establish that early on."

It's an environment students either love or hate, Cox says. The ones who
hate it avoid his class for as long as possible. For Jonathan, who is trying
for the second time to graduate, it's spring, and time is up.

He had Cox for world history in fall 2006. He nearly failed, but Cox let him
make up a missing report, and he passed with a D. Cox told Jonathan to
expect no further favors.

Then Cox failed Jonathan for the first half of U.S. history this spring
because he didn't show up. Not once the entire nine weeks. Jonathan swore he
thought the schedule was wrong. When he saw Cox's name, he assumed it was
for the world history class he had already taken.

That wouldn't be far-fetched. Of all the challenges facing Coolidge -- and
the D.C. public schools system -- schedules and records have been among the
most entrenched. Students, parents and teachers say kids frequently have
been put in classes they have already taken, scheduled for two classes at
the same time and not scheduled for classes they need.

Derrick Walker had been in Advanced Placement English for nearly three
months when a counselor noticed that he needed English 4 and switched him.
Walker doesn't know if he'll still get credit for AP English.

Martique Vanderpool, a transfer from Prince George's County, says it took
more than a year to get his schedule and records straight. "They had the
wrong rank, the wrong cumulative, the wrong classes, the wrong attendance,"
he says.

Kellyse Hood, the top-ranked senior, says her fall schedule was wrong two
years in a row. She was put in algebra in 11th grade even though she had
taken honors algebra in 10th and needed pre-calculus instead. In 12th grade,
she said, she needed only two classes to graduate and wanted a half-day
schedule so she could work but was given a full schedule with electives she
didn't need.

Math teacher Dara Zeehandelaar says she had a student in a class he had
already passed. His schedule had been corrected, "but nobody told him."

Teachers and students say the counselors who make schedule changes, Phyllis
Kemp and Marcia Roper, are overextended. Roper declined requests for an
interview. Kemp says there are overlapping challenges: New schedules have to
be completed before spring grades are finalized, introducing guesswork. The
new citywide tracking system sometimes can't incorporate transfer students'
records accurately. Various faculty members are authorized to change
schedules, often without coordination. Transcripts from the registrar's
office can be so horribly wrong that there is no way to determine what
students need.

"A lot of times things are missing on transcripts, and I have to go hunt it
down," Kemp says. "We're the cleanup people."

Principal L. Nelson Burton found transcripts to be "an absolute mess" when
he arrived in 2005: data-entry problems, missing final grades, students who
transferred without the correct paperwork. Inaccuracies were rolled over
into the new system and had to be fixed one at a time. "It's not like we had
one problem that affected everyone. It's a million problems that affected
each child uniquely," Burton says.

But he says things are getting better. He has sent transcripts home and
asked parents and students to correct them. Some have.

Jonathan's mother, Kathryne Lewis, found out he was missing the U.S. history
class when she accompanied another parent who had to meet with Cox.

"I mentioned that Jonathan was on my roll but I hadn't seen him all
semester," Cox recalls. Lewis was furious that he hadn't e-mailed her. But
because he hadn't seen Jonathan once in the nine weeks, Cox assumed his
roster was wrong. Students drop and add classes all the time, he says, and
teachers don't get updated class lists.

Cox assumed his roster was wrong but does not accept that Jonathan thought
his schedule was. Coolidge is full of mistrust. A better student would have
checked with him anyway, Cox says.

Regardless of who is to blame, Jonathan failed the first nine weeks. He now
needs a C to offset that F. But by mid-May, he has missed 20 more days.

* * *

This video stuff, emphasizing being hard-core, it's really, really affected
their brains.

Allen Putman,

Jonathan's father

* * *

Books and pictures of Jonathan and his older sister line the Riggs Park
apartment he and his mother share in Northwest Washington. In a well-ordered
burgundy and beige front room, a framed 8x10 of a 5-year-old Jonathan grins
from an end table.

In fifth and sixth grades, Jonathan mostly brought home B's and C's. If he
got a D, "I wanted to take away the video games until the next report card,"
says his father, Allen Putman, but Jonathan lives with his mother, and
"mothers are different."

He thinks Lewis is too lenient, that she believes her son too easily. The
truancy system calls when Jonathan is absent, and he'll tell his mother the
system had him caught in some loop.

He can stick with a story until the second he gets caught, Putman says. "Jon
can look you in the eye and say 'I'm graduating' and make you believe it."

After his son failed last year, Putman was angry but resigned. "Anyone can
make a mistake," he told Jonathan. "Let's see what you do now."

He's hopeful. He has put $20,000 in a college fund and bought his son a 1993
Buick Park Avenue with chrome wheels and leather interior. It's all
Jonathan's -- if he finishes.

Lewis took Jonathan's failure hard. She blamed herself. She has to work. She
can't monitor her son all the time. "He told me he was doing okay," she
says, "so I let everything go."

She had graduated from Coolidge 30 years before. Jonathan's sister had
graduated four years before. Jonathan should have been graduating from high
school just as she was graduating from college. Now Jessica is a preschool
teacher and production assistant for a cable TV station in Greensboro, N.C.,
and Jonathan is still trying to finish at Coolidge.

When Jonathan was in 11th grade, school officials told his mother that he
was skipping classes; he was absent more than 70 days that year. She was
stunned. "He just knew better, you know? And I just thought that I had such
a strict hand on him that he just wouldn't hook classes like that."

Jonathan is a good kid, she says. "I think so anyway. I just didn't think
that my child was going to go that way. I don't know why, but I didn't. He
liked school, or so I thought. But they change, that's all I can say."

Jonathan had gone to Hope Christian Academy in Beltsville for kindergarten
and first grade. Lewis pulled him and his sister out because she was working
in Virginia and the commute was difficult. She thought it would be okay. Now
she wonders if things could have been different.

She says she used to spoil Jonathan. She would give him $200 or $300 a pop,
buy him new sneakers, give him his own credit card. She has cut him back
this year.

Jonathan snickers at this. But standing in the kitchen of his mama's house,
he is a softer kid than in the halls at Coolidge. His disquiet is calmed,
and he tries to be expansive.

"I started having problems about 11th grade, started, like, skipping class
and stuff," Jonathan says. "I didn't want to go to class, didn't want to
write, didn't want to do work."

"He got in with the wrong crowd," his mother chimes in.

That's part of it, Jonathan says, "being influenced by them sometimes,
wanting to do what they did, walk the halls and stuff."

Maybe if more teachers had been like Ms. Cruz-Gonzalez, things could have
been different, he ventures. "She takes time to, like, help you understand.
Like if she went over something, she'd go over it again till you get it."
Not like some teachers, he says, who just pass out work sheets. "You ask a
question, they, like, brush you off. They just catch attitudes, like you
wasn't paying attention or something." It makes you say, "Forget it. I don't
even want to know."

It makes you "feel like nothing."

As to why he didn't graduate last year: "I just got lazy."

* * *

English 4 warm-up: What type of report would your teacher write to your

When I come to class I do my work, I do talk a lot and make jokes but I know
when it's time to do my work and stop talking.

I read very well. I have a lot of bass in my voice and can speak loud and

She would [say] 1 of my weaknesses is homework. I don't do it and that's a
major problem. I need to start doing, she will say, but I know when I get
home, I'm goin get influenced and start doing something else. But overall,
I'm an OK student. Just need a little work.

Jonathan Lewis, 18

* * *

It's early evening in mid-May, and Jonathan and his mother are sitting
across from Jonathan's teachers in the hot cafeteria at Coolidge. Kathryne
Lewis is having a hard time believing what she's hearing.

"He's never there," says Susan Gordon, Jonathan's English 4 teacher. "I tell
Jonathan, 'How are you supposed to learn if you never come to class?' "

Lewis says little.

They move to the center of the cafeteria, where Tiffany Cruz-Gonzalez, who
teaches History of African American Music, beckons them to sit.

"Hi, Jonathan, baby, how are you?" she asks. "Jonathan, tell your mother
about my class."

Jonathan is silent.

"We've had three papers, and Jonathan hasn't done any of them. He rarely
comes to class, and when he does, he's late."

"What?" Lewis asks. "He's still doing that mess? Jonathan, what did you say
about her class? He loves you. He said you're the best teacher he's had."

"They all love me," Cruz-Gonzalez says. "That doesn't mean they'll do the
work. He's capable. He's very smart. He just never shows me anything."

Lewis takes a deep breath, folds her arms and looks away.

Cruz-Gonzalez leans into the moment. "Jonathan, come on, you can still pull
this off," she says earnestly. She starts writing numbers on scratch paper.
"If he does the final paper -- it's on hip-hop; I know you have plenty to
say about hip-hop -- if he gives me a 300-point paper, then does one of his
two other papers, he can still pass the class."

She starts adding up points, then frowns. Okay, "the paper isn't due until
Tuesday," she says. "I'll give you 20 points extra credit if you give it to
me Monday. This is a deal, Jonathan. You know that."


"You going to do it?"


"I know you can do it. I have faith in you."

Jonathan refuses to accompany his mother to see Aaron Lee.

"Okay, give me the news," Lewis says, sitting across from the math teacher.
Her arms are folded, and she presses her lips into a tight line.

"Jonathan never comes to class. He doesn't do homework. He never came during
lunch hour or after school" for tutoring, Lee says.

Lewis says nothing.

"The other day, he was listening to an iPod in class," Lee says.

Lewis has heard enough. She thanks Lee and heads over to Harold Cox.

He reaches out and grabs her hand. "Lord, give us strength," he jokes.
Jonathan hasn't come to class. He has missed a paper, daily warm-ups,
quizzes. "I e-mailed you last week and told you he wasn't coming," Cox says.

"Jonathan said he was in peer mediation," Lewis says. The mediation, for a
feud between uptown kids and the kids from Southeast, took place every
afternoon for two weeks.

Cox says he asked Principal Burton, who said Jonathan wasn't in peer

Standing nearby, Jonathan scrambles to explain. Yes, he was, he insists. He
turns to a nearby security officer. "Hey, what was it, you know, that
mediation thing, what's it called?"

Suddenly Burton appears at the table and leans close to Lewis. "He's lying,"
Burton says emphatically. He laughs.

Lewis laughs uneasily.

"Are you calling my baby a liar?" she asks.

Burton shakes his head and walks away.

Lewis continues trying to construct a theory of how her son could plausibly
have been where he said he was when Cox says he wasn't.

She argues the small points -- which class, on which day, at what time --
because the larger points -- that Jonathan doesn't always tell the truth,
that he doesn't go to class, that by extension there's something profoundly
troubling going on with her son's education and quite possibly his future --
are too big and too scary to wrap her mind around.

And because her son needs all the small points he can get.

"Well, I know he's going to graduate. I just have to keep the faith," she
says. "And I'm going to walk right across that stage with him."

"They want a magic bullet, and there is none," Cox says out of Lewis's
earshot. "It's not about the Jonathan that I see in class. He's clever
enough to do the work, to pass. It's about the Jonathan I don't see. The one
in the halls.

"Jonathan says he wants to graduate, but you have to do more than say you
want it. You have to do the work."

Jonathan walks toward the cafeteria doors. A question follows him: If you
want to make your mother proud, if you know you can do the work, if you
swear to everybody you see that you want to graduate, why don't you go to

Jonathan stares silently for a few moments.

"I don't know," he says quietly. "I really don't know."

* * *

After he gets across this stage on June 12th, then Phase 2 of his life is
going to take over, and he's going to be a new man. He's really going to
show me what he wants to do.

Kathryne Lewis,

Jonathan's mother

* * *

On the day of Jonathan's U.S. history final, several guys from the
Rittenhouse neighborhood allegedly jump one of his boys, and the halls
become a kaleidoscope of anger and surge. Nearly a dozen D.C. police
officers join school security guards trying to keep the teens apart.

It's after lunch. Jonathan has just arrived. He skipped his morning classes
but is showing up for English and history, two of the three classes he needs
to graduate.

In the final few weeks of school, he has scrambled to turn everything in,
but he has left himself no margin for error. All year he has aimed for the
minimum needed to pass. Teachers "ain't going to fail me, 'cause they don't
want to see me back here," he would say. Or: "I'm not worried, because I
know I'm going to graduate."

Jonathan and his friend Deonte Keitt are supposed to be in English. But they
hear the clamor and run toward the fight. Sweat beads on Jonathan's neck and
forehead. Kids all around are roaring. "They jumped my man!" Jonathan yells.

Police push the fighters back. Jonathan stands just behind their line. He
raises his arms and slowly begins to applaud, taunting the other side. A kid
pulls out a cellphone. "We could get some guns up in here!" the kid hollers.
Jonathan, who believes in fists, not guns, walks slowly toward the fighters.
Deonte walks next to him, silent, sipping from a McDonald's cup.

Police hustle the fighters away. Burton stops Jonathan: "Boy, you better
find your class quick!" Deonte keeps going down the hall.

Jonathan wants to run past Burton but thinks better of it. He heads to
English class, where Susan Gordon is collecting papers. The class is quiet.
Jonathan paces nonstop.

"I gotta roll," he tells Gordon.

"There's nine policemen, and more cars just in case, down in the lobby.
You've got to stay put before you get in some kind of trouble," she tells
him, standing in the doorway.

"I can lock the door," she says, so no one barges in looking for a fight.

"I ain't no punk," he tells her.

Back and forth he walks, trying to decide whether he should leave school.
"If I stay, I'mmo fight, [expletive] up my chances to graduate," he says to
a student nearby.

"Leave, then," the student tells him.

"I would leave now, but I got me a final exam."

"Just dust it off, get in the car and leave," the student repeats.

"No, I'm smashin' somebody," Jonathan says. "I'll get put out of here anyway
before I let somebody [expletive] play me. . . . I need a phone. I gotta
call Boogieman."

"As soon as the bell rings, you can leave," Gordon tells him.

"Aw, [expletive]!" Jonathan says.

"Watch your language there, son," Gordon says.

"I'm sorry," Jonathan apologizes and paces and stays.

The bell rings. Jonathan gathers with nearly a dozen students to talk about
how it's all going down after school. Then he heads to Cox's U.S. history
class to take his final.

Afterward, Jonathan has to give a makeup presentation on Walter E. Fauntroy,
Washington's first elected congressional delegate. If he just reads his
notecards without looking up, the highest grade he can get is a C.

"I'm going to tell you right now, I didn't study it. I'm going to read it.
Can I just get the C?" Jonathan asks Cox.

"It doesn't work like that, Jonathan," Cox tells him.

Jonathan begins reading fluently, then looks up to make eye contact with
Cox. He continues to read and look up, trying for a higher grade. When Cox
walks away to put something on his desk, Jonathan keeps reading and looking
up at his back. He needs to finish strong.

After class, he walks out of school. Deonte is waiting. Police and security
officers blanket the parking lot. All is quiet. The two get in Deonte's car
and drive away.

* * *

You have to be on top of your own stuff. . . . You have to look out for
yourself, because there's really nothing you can do, for real. . . . It's
not like someone tells you that. You have to figure it out yourself.

Ibijoke Akinbowale, 17,

12th grade

* * *

At the end of the school year, a chronically absent teacher retired, at
Burton's urging, as did seven others. Lee resigned and took a teaching job
in California. In fall 2007, Coolidge had uniforms, six new AP classes
(bringing the total to nine), a parent-teacher resource center and a new
track. The library was reopened. The clocks still don't work.

Burton says he learned a lot. In English, Coolidge missed making mandated
Adequate Yearly Progress goals by less than two percentage points. The
school missed in math by .42 percentage points. "That's less than a
student," Burton says.

"Our gains were considerable," he says. "We reduced the number of students
that scored below basic in math by [nearly] 60 percent" -- from 50 percent
in 2006 to 27 percent in 2007. He thinks momentum is on their side.

There's a climate of reform in downtown Washington, but it's unclear how
deep it'll go.

Some schools can turn a student around. Teachers show up to work,
transcripts are correct and hallways are clear. Students' flaws -- not
wanting to work, lacking certain skills, being immature -- don't
automatically calcify. Some schools can carry students until, maybe, they
grow into something better. Some schools aren't there yet.

In a two-week scramble, Jonathan spent a few hours at his computer, skipped
a couple of nights out with his friends and cut back on the video games. He
turned in his final paper on hip-hop (three pages and late and just because
he likes Cruz-Gonzalez) and got a D in History of African American Music.

He took his final, turned in a term paper on Jonathan Swift -- undersourced
and short -- and got the D he was shooting for in Gordon's English class.

He failed Algebra II but fulfilled his math requirement by working with a
freshman teacher in an independent study a school counselor negotiated.

In his last class, Cox's U.S. history, Jonathan got a B on his Fauntroy
presentation and a D on the final. He scored a 71.5 for the second half of
the semester. A D. Three and a half points shy of the C he needed.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty stopped by Coolidge's graduation ceremony June 12, the
day he took control of D.C. public schools as part of an ambitious reform
effort. One hundred students sang and celebrated and walked across the

For the second year in a row, Jonathan Lewis was not one of them.

Postscript: Jonathan took U.S. history in summer school at Dunbar Senior
High. He got a B and graduated Aug. 3. He has accepted a job as a baggage
handler at Reagan National Airport and is considering applying to the
University of the District of Columbia. His father won't give him his car
unless he goes away to college for at least two years.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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