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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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