George Washington – Rounds 2 and 3

A few short weeks ago I wrote a post about Denver’s George Washington High School, (GW) detailing the travails of a stellar magnet school program currently under attack. Little did I know that post would be just the beginning round of what is shaping up to be a 12 round heavyweight contest.

Wednesday, July 30, after a summer of turmoil, a summer of teachers not knowing what classes they will be teaching in the fall, a summer where teacher vacancies abounded through July, the principal of the school was removed, an interim appointed, and a process to find a permanent leader begun. As of August 1, there is no master schedule, teachers are still unclear as to what classes they will be teaching, and parents and students have been unable to see their class schedules.  Some people have actually suggested George Washington not start school until after Labor Day so the chaos can abate and the new school year can get off to a relatively calm beginning.

Following a DPS pattern of administrators relieved of their school duties, this departing principal has not been fired but rather has been reassigned, according to his letter to GW Parents and Community, to a central administration position. Former Principal Micheal Johnson will now be in a “leadership position with the Post-Secondary Readiness team of the Denver Public Schools.” He will keep his six figure salary. The District has undertaken a campaign of sorts to reassure parents that their concerns about Mr. Johnson’s leadership were heard.  The District is also leading these same parents to believe that  with his exit the future of the International Baccalaureate Programme (IB) will remain as it has been.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is, Mr. Johnson was just a pawn in the game to de-magnetize and change the character of the GW IB program.

Mr. Johnson’s removal from the school, while an important step in rebuilding a positive school culture, does not really affect the trajectory the District has in mind for the school. The Denver Public Schools central administration, headed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg, wants to see the undoing of this historically demanding academic program. The story being proffered by the District is the school is too segregated, the IB program is not diverse enough, the achievement gap is too wide, and the education outside of the IB program is not academically challenging (thank you in large part to”reform”). While these allegations may be accurate, Mr. Boasberg has been either unwilling or unable to address repeated pleas by the GW community to leave the successful IB program be while the District works to strengthen the academics of the Advanced Placement (AP) and traditional programs. Failing to accomplish this, Mr. Boasberg has decided that the IB program will have to shoulder responsibility for the inequities  occurring not just at GW but across the District. And the Denver Public School District has chosen to blame this program for the District’s inability to properly prepare elementary and middle school students for such a demanding high school education and for the Districit’s inability to strengthen the other high school academic offerings across the district.  And it appears Mr. Boasberg will not stop attacking this school until the parents and community cry “uncle.”

George Washington Community – do not think you are out of the woods. Do not think your IB program will remain in tact. The “One George” process that has started will continue. Principal Johnson has just been a distraction. The steering committee that has been put in place is meeting this Saturday for the first time. The meeting time and place have been difficult to uncover but it appears it will take place from 8 a.m. to noon in the GW Community Room.  The carefully selected participants are to date publicly unknown. The District has said “the steering committee meetings are not open to the public to make sure folks have a safe space where they can get a lot of work done without any distractions…”  If it is the District’s intent to establish a new school culture and promote transparency, holding secret meetings is probably not the best route to take.  The process to change the IB program from a magnet program to an all school program is continuing full steam ahead.

The existence of magnet programs and the tenet of school choice have a difficult time co-existing under “reform” (unless you are a magnet school like Denver School of the Arts which is seemingly immune from “reform”).  Magnet schools compete with charter schools for many of the same students.  Magnet schools offer niche programs like many charters. Magnet schools must be too threatening to school choice and charter schools. Therefore, in the “reform” district that is DPS, reform always wins, in this case at the expense of this historically successful IB magnet program. Could this competition be a reason for the push to end the GW IB program as currently constructed?

Mr. Johnson’s exit and reassignment raises a second very important and recurring theme within DPS:  promoting failed leadership.  Mr. Johnson was a school leader who was hired with much community angst.  During his two year tenure he faced many leadership struggles.  He was then removed from his duties in the middle of the summer but was given a promotion to a central administration position. Mr. Johnson followed another GW principal who was also removed from her role as principal due to similar challenges and she, too, ended up with a central administration position.

Other similar instances abound:  An assistant principal of a middle school who after an 88% vote of no confidence by the school’s staff, found a central office funded position as an assistant principal at another middle school. A principal who was removed from one high school for budgetary irregularities, found a job as a principal in a turnaround high school. An elementary principal was placed on an improvement plan. When the school continued to decline, she was removed from the school and placed in the central administration. Another elementary school principal was unable to build a positive culture in her school, was removed, and then hired to run the Denver Teacher Resident program.

Many recently hired principals who have been ineffective leaders in their schools, are not fired but instead transferred to new, higher positions within the central administration. This despite the mantra that all principals are “at-will” employees who in theory can and sometimes should be fired at any moment. Yet for the most part, removals from school buildings result in promotions to the central administration.

Juxtapose these reassignments with employment situations DPS teachers have been facing. Some 3000 teachers have been removed from their positions since May 2010.  How many of them have been afforded other opportunities within DPS?  How many of them have received promotions?  Treatment of principals versus treatment of teachers.  Just another “reform” inequity.

Teacher removal graphic

The critical issue facing George Washington High School hasn’t really been resolved, and the ultimate result will have ramifications across Denver.  Several important public education tenets are at stake here: the integrity of the internationally renowned George Washington International Baccalaureate Programme, the viability of magnet programs and the accountability for failed leadership.  George Washington is in the middle of Round 3.  Who wins this round depends in large part on who stays in the ring.

7 thoughts on “George Washington – Rounds 2 and 3

  1. Jeannie, What a great, in depth depiction of the malaise that permeates DPS. The insult to put ineffective/abusive principals into the bulging ranks of the administration and afford them even greater ability to cause destruction, belies all the pompous protestations of dedication to excellence. Absurd and cynical at the least. It would appear that the gulf between Boasberg’s “celebrations of progress” and the inverse sad reality grows greater with every year. It causes the be leagued faculties to relinquish hope of administrative awareness of the untouched, degenerative agents that are eating away at education in this city. Healthy morale is a vanishing spirit within a the vast majority of buildings. This year may be the Waterloo culmination of the destructive, baseless reforms generated from billionaire donors like Bill Gates. He amuses himself by instituting his own fantasy theories about education as though it were his private playground. The abysmal truth is that these have only brought the demise of a once challenged, but valiant system in drastic decline. The new teacher evaluation (a “gift” of Billy’s brilliance) will invade every hallway with evaluators who carry not educational expertise, but rather a mindless check list with which they shallowly grade faculties. The final blow may well arrive with the spring breezes as the new testing takes its toll on students and faculties alike. Questions reside in these exams that adults are mystified to correctly answer. I fear the system is on the brink of mass migrations of faculty members whose love of teaching has and will be sacrificed on the altar of businessmen’s hubris and desire to reap financial gain from public coffers.

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  2. This is an issue with many large districts that largely goes unspoken. Principals, who don’t have “tenure”, are shuffled around rather than removing the bad ones from the system entirely. I know from my years of experience as a teacher (both DPS and now Jeffco) that a principal can make or break a school. Rarely can a school thrive under poor management — but these people are not removed from the system — and their ineffectiveness is blame on their teaching staff! Thank you for bringing to light such an important problem.

    And I’ve spent some time at George — it’s a wonderful school in so many areas.

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  3. Why is it the teachers who are being removed while poor administrators are keeping their highly-paid jobs? This makes no sense at all! The politics of schools and school administration today seems to totally ignore two things: local control and the needs of students. What a waste of taxpayer dollars!

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  4. And don’t forget this other former disgraced DPS principal – Ed Salem – who allowed cheating at North High School (http://www.westword.com/2011-05-26/news/denver-north-high-school-credit-recovery/full/). He now has a six-figure job with DPS in the Pathways School network. Taxpayers will have a hard time seeing how this quiet re-employment move squares with the DPS value of Integrity.DPS admin likes to say “culture eats strategy” for breakfast all time. Well, the new Denver Plan just got devoured by these awful school-to-parachute moves.

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    • Sad to say, but this strategy of giving dubious principals a higher position is nothing new. One is left to wonder why? In this age of unemployed teachers, administrators with
      stellar records, why DPS would give an administrative power position to this individual can only be regarded as a stain on their assumed, quality standards. The administrative building (wherever it might be…) has long been known as a spiderweb system of mutual protection from exposure. Those who can’t countenance questionable actions, must ever look the other way or leave. Cases of this are known to have occurred in the finance department. The fact that the DPS budget, especially the payments being in arrears to the pension plan, give rise to many who feel the system is rife with veneers to cover the darkening realities. Realities that sooner rather than later will no longer be able to obfuscated with questionable math, therefore endangering the pension system’s viability and the retired teachers who are and will depend on its soundness in their later years..

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  5. Jeannie, I have just found your blog, thanks to a Park Hill resident, who spends a lot of time circulating information that we might not find or receive otherwise. Thank you for your continued focus on education and DPS issues.

    I am the parent of a GW IB grad, and am aghast to see the program – yet again – under attack. Over the years, DPS has been told repeatedly that the absence of a more diverse IB enrollment is due to its failure to prepare students at the elementary and middle school levels. And yet, whenever parents and others say this, DPS reps feign looks like this is news to them. Furthermore, whenever I attended meetings with students and parents to discuss changing (aka watering-down) the program, the students of color and their parents were usually, if not always, the most vocal opponents of such a step, which they viewed as an insult to their student’s hard work and abilities.

    DPS served us well, first at Crofton Elementary (with Dr. Diana Howard and, in its early years, one of the most diverse DPS student populations) and then at GW’s IB program. As envisioned and implemented by Dr. Howard, Crofton did the work needed to prepare its diverse population for later rigorous studies, such as found in the IB program. But the diversity of the Crofton-Ebert Polaris Program (still a great magnet school) no longer exists, due to DPS’s refusal to create a second such program at Stapleton and its inclusion of kindergarden for HGT and HA admission.

    Although my husband and I are firm believers in and supporters of public education, we bailed from DPS for middle school, thus avoiding one of the principals “bumped upstairs,” as noted in your post. I suspect that more and more parents, who can afford to do so, will bail, and DPS’s precious scores will fall. But I guess DPS can just change its “spin.”

    I continue to be shocked by DPS’s decisions to move incompetent principals into its management ranks. This makes absolutely no sense and the appearances of such moves are terrible. While the Denver Post seems to be part of the DPS Spin Department, is there any other media outlet that might research this issue? Westward?

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    • Thank you for your historical perspective and for your thoughtful comments. Media outlets willing to address the current education situation in Denver are few and far between. This gives DPS an untold advantage at pushing their spin. Westword has done a couple of in depth articles about some of the things occurring in Denver Public Schools. The Denver Business Journal has done an excellent job on various DPS bond offerings. Other than that, however, it is difficult to get any media attention.

      Part of my concern about the disturbing turn of events at GW is, as I stated, why is this district only able to dismantle a successful academic program when as you have stated the cry has been to improve the other GW programs? Why is this District only choosing to focus on one school to improve diversity when there are many more schools that have far more egregious segregation occurring, including the flagship magnet program at Denver School of the Arts. What is good for the goose, certainly ought to be good for the gander.

      And as for Diana Howard, What a courageous and dedicated school leader who has done more for DPS students than most people know. She was willing and able to start a new and successful arts program on the West side which included already attending Kunsmiller students in the new arts focused program. She believed ALL studuents should be exposed to and be able to participate in the same program. Now that was a great example of equity.

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