Welcome Back, You’re Fired!

I returned to Harper after 2 months of Family Medical Leave of Absence to the announcement from CEO Arne Duncan that the school is being reconstituted again (this happened before, 12 years ago). Only this time they will be calling Harper a “turnaround school”. Every staff member will be fired as of the last school day in June, and it is Duncan’s recommendation that the new principal, Kenyatta Butler, not retain anyone. She and her administrative team will be retained.

Rather than address the problems and issues that are germane to Harper and its community, CEO Duncan and his Central Office staff have decided to take the moral low road and scapegoat the teachers. It is so much easier than looking at the academically impoverished community that has spawned this dysfunctional neighborhood school. Surely, the proliferation of magnet school and academies, and charter schools, which recruit the most academically sound and motivated students from the feeder elementary schools, leaving the most academically challenged, at-risk and special needs students behind to attend the neighborhood school, Harper, might be the primary factor that has caused this .

While the other schools can set admission standards and keep lower achieving students from attending, Harper cannot. While the academies and magnet schools may enroll less than the average number of special needs students with their special problems, Harper generally has more than twice the systemwide average. Our special needs enrollment is usually 1/3 of our total enrollment. While the magnet schools and academies can close down enrollment when they are at their facility’s capacity, Harper must continue to enroll student all year long, maintaining one of the highest mobility rates in the public school system. We must use rooms that were built as storage rooms with poor ventilation as classroom, because we usually are 400 students over capacity. Then upon this uneven playing field, Harper teachers must teach the mandated college prep. curriculum, because Central Office closed down all but one shop class, and virtually gutted our vocational programs, so we can be assessed by the standardized tests.

To address these problems and inequities would require taking an honest and hard look at Harper’s ongoing “failures”, but it is much easier to scapegoat the staff. Mind you, many Harper teachers have had opportunities to teach at better high schools, but have chosen to stay at Harper, where good educators are needed. Within the context of this dysfunctional high school, we have built a successful community that has graduated successful students. Our CEO should have looked at the many successes that we have had over the years, including several very successful “small schools” that have placed graduates in jobs, winning Decathlon Teams, a computer network that last school year was at 94% network compliance, an award winning choir, an ROTC program that has won drill competitions, very successful sports teams, and numerous other notable successes, and congratulated us on our successes. Instead, he has chosen to look at our academic weakness, which for the most part is the result of Central Office policies, and blame the failure on the staff.

Shame on you, Mr. Duncan. Shame on you!