Accountability for Principals?
While reflecting on the lessons of this past school year and interviewing other teachers these past few weeks, I’ve started thinking a lot about the roles of building administrators, and how they affect their school communities. In particular, I’m disturbed by the recurring theme of abusive principals whose bad behavior goes virtually unnoticed and unchecked, even when their schools are under increased scrutiny because of performance. This week, I’ll be featuring some teacher stories and interviews on the subject, and trying to find out what checks and balances exist to regulate school administrators.
The Washington Teacher recently responded to Washington Post coverage of principal Dwan Jordon, who runs Sousa Middle School. The school has been praised for posting big gains on recent standardized tests, with most of the praise falling on Jordon. Sousa teachers, however, have objected to the coverage. They don’t like how they’ve been overlooked as a factor in the students’ success* (despite the hefty blame they certainly shoulder when students ‘fail’), and they don’t like how they’ve been portrayed as “humiliated”, “incompetent”, and “resistant” to Jordon’s way of doing things (“tough but effective” vs. abusive, depending on who you ask).
A former Sousa teacher wrote about the working conditions under Jordon. Here’s an excerpt:
On Monday, July 12, 2010, Dwan Jordon, Principal of Sousa Middle School was the subject of an article by Jay Matthews in the Washington Post. The basis of the article was AFTER Sousa had the highest DC-CAS gains in any DCPS middle school in 2009, why in the world would most of his staff leave? Well, Candi, I was there in 2008-2009, and let me tell you–it was the worst work experience of my life. Many of my colleagues and I , would rather dig 12 foot ditches filled with foulness, then ever come upon the likes of Dwan Jordon again…
Jordon was very cruel. For instance, one teacher that Jordon did not like had an allergic reaction and needed medical attention. Not only did Mr. Jordon refuse to call the ambulance after the teacher begged him, but he walked down the hall and told the other staff members who witnessed it that they would be in trouble if they gave helped to stabilize the teacher.
Jordon would regularly demean teachers by screaming and yelling at them in the hallways right in front of students as he saw fit. Jordon intimidated many teachers by standing outside of their classroom doors during their lunch periods. Many teachers would go into the bathroom for privacy. It was not uncommon for teachers to be found crying in the halls.
This teacher notes that the staff at Sousa went to great lengths to both please him and help students, even coming in at 5 in the morning and leaving at 7 at night to get their work done. Echoing the comments left by other Sousa insiders on Jay Mathews’ blog, the teacher notes that despite their hard work, teachers were relentlessly abused and seldom rewarded. Observations were conducted illegally, and evaluations contained outright lies. According to them, performance ratings had more to do with Jordon’s personal preferences rather than demonstrated performance. In keeping with the “getting rid of bad teachers” meme, Jordon and his supporters in the media have painted him as someone who cracks down on incompetence. Yet, the teachers he dismissed were reportedly never poorly evaluated before working for him, and one was even rated as “highly effective” after moving to another DCPS school.
I’ve seen, heard of, and directly experienced what it’s like to work for bully principals. They wreak havoc in the personal and professional lives of those in their buildings (students and teachers alike). I’ve also seen and heard of fantastic principals, who truly support teachers and students to be their best. But what systems or structures, if any, are in place to ensure that schools are run by more of the great principals, and fewer of the dictators?
*ETA: It’s important to remember that judging students or teachers by test scores is not necessarily fair, given all of the things tests simply can’t tell us, and all of the non-school factors that affect performance.