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January 24, 2013
In the five years since Dr. Andrés Alonso became CEO of Baltimore city schools, nearly 90 percent of the district’s principals have been fired or reassigned. Leaders of the union that represents city principals say the principals lost their jobs because of low test scores on state exams. They and some principals charge that the firings and demotions have left principals working under intense pressure. WYPR Education Reporter Gwendolyn Glenn has the story.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Three years ago, Yetty Goodin, retired as principal of Garrett Heights Elementary-Middle School. She was principal there for 17 years. She says the demands to produce good test scores is one reason she retired.
Yetty Goodin: The pressure cooker is on to get the job done as fast as possible. No one’s waiting for you to turn out good data in 10 years, it’s now. You get your school, you get in there, you roll up your sleeves and in one or two years, you need to produce.
Glenn: Goodin says the district’s policy of often firing principals whose test scores did not improve within two years is flawed. She says it sets unrealistic expectations for principals, especially inexperienced ones.
Goodin: I’ve always said and I’ve said to Dr. Alonso on a personal level, it’s not enough time. You need a good five years or more to figure it out. …Um, the system has disagreed with principals on that. They feel it can be done in a two-year turnaround. I disagree.
Sonja Santelises: It can be a lot of pressure and I don’t think any of us would deny that. I don’t think it is solely about test scores.
Glenn: Dr. Sonja Santelises is the school district’s chief academic officer.
Santelises: Student test scores on standardized tests are clearly a reality but they are not the only indicator that we use in evaluating a school leader’s performance. … For example, improved climate, improved relationships with community, that we are also factoring in.
Glenn: But several principals, most of whom didn’t want to be recorded for fear of losing their jobs, said they were told low test scores were the reasons for their demotions. James Gittings, president of the city’s principals’ union sharply criticized the demotion of a total of 16 principals this year, even though the majority received satisfactory evaluations.
James Gittings: That’s a slap in the face. It’s just the arrogance of the CEO, who feels as though he can just control the system with no regards for the rights of individuals who have dedicated their lives to this system.
Glenn: Gittings says the reasons behind the low test scores should have been looked into before the principals were demoted. One principal who was demoted says her school’s test scores may have declined because of an influx of new students and a significant increase in special education students. Another principal had a similar story. A district office document showed both had satisfactory evaluations. Goodin says veteran principals should have been used to help novice principals, who make up the bulk of the system now, succeed. Instead, she says experienced principals like herself were pushed out.
Goodin: It was a feeling that you’ve been there too long, you’ve probably done enough, you can’t do it anymore, you need to go. You need to be removed or reassigned or maybe perhaps retire, by your own choosing.
Glenn: Sonja Santelises says that’s just not so.
Santelises: No administrator, central administrator worth their salt would want to be pushing out experienced leaders. Sure, we may need to do a better job of communicating that to folks. We don’t care whether they are 40-year veterans or three-year novices, we need folks who can do the work.
Glenn: In the meantime, some demoted principals say they are considering legal action against the district, while union president Gittings says he will continue to push to have them reinstated. I’m Gwendolyn Glen reporting in Baltimore for 88.1, WYPR.
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