City Desk

Students: Post-RIF McKinley High School “Dreary”

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McKinley Technology High School lost 15 staff members on Oct. 3 to controversial "reductions in force," an effort by Chancellor Michelle Rhee to fix what she says is a budget deficit in District schools. The teachers were escorted out of the school by police, as if they posed a danger to their pupils. Students were angered, and hundreds of them left school to denounce the moves, garnering the attention of the media, teachers advocates, and the D.C. Council.

Over a week later, the episode still casts its shadow at McKinley. “The whole atmosphere totally changed,” according to senior Jessy Beach, an organizer of the protests. “You can sense the dreariness,” says Kyler Jackson, a sophomore. "Overall, it's just very gloomy," says senior Ikechukwu Umez-Eronini.

McKinley is one of the District’s highest-performing schools. Its Web site boasts of high Advanced Placement and D.C. test scores—the school has made Adequate Yearly Progress, a key federal benchmark, five years in a row. Incoming students must turn in an application, essay, and four recommendations to be considered for admission. Erika Landberg, program director at education nonprofit DC VOICE, likens McKinley to other DCPS gems like Duke Ellington, Benjamin Banneker, and School Without Walls. "Kids all across the city really try and get in that school," she says.

So when students complain that Chancellor Rhee's RIF process has damaged the school's climate, it means something.

There's been "a lot of chaos in the school" since the layoffs, says Beach. Last week, fire alarms went off sporadically, some students protested by not wearing school uniforms, and some weren’t going to class. “Ever since the RIFs, kids have felt betrayed, so they rebel or they don't listen,” she says.

Classes have been affected, as well. "Right now, I have three classes that were switched around," says sophomore Kahn Branch. He was enrolled in an SAT class before the RIFs, and was planning to take another next semester. But "that class is not offered anymore, so I was gonna be moved to JROTC," he says. "But I decided not to take that so now I have to take African-American History."

Branch isn't the only one with a schedule in upheaval, but he's a minority, according to DCPS spokesperson Jennifer Calloway. She wrote in an email that of McKinley's 710 students, "fewer than 100 students saw any change in their course schedules." She says only two classes have been eliminated completely.

Interpretations of how the school has changed seem to vary by age. All of freshman Jamika Aceveda’s classes are the same. “I can't base the school on the protests,” she says. “The vibe is still fun.” But seniors lost two popular guidance counselors, who were relied upon for help with the college admissions process.

Umez-Eronini says that Principal David Pinder promised "that schedules wouldn't be really affected, that he wouldn't fire necessary teachers and necessary counselors." Now he feels that promise was broken. Pinder directed questions to DCPS's press operation.

One of those let go was Sheila Gill, a popular guidance counselor. Now seniors are concerned about their college admissions process. “We lost the person who dealt with our transcripts,” says Beach. Under the new reduced staff, seniors share a counselor with the freshmen. Beach says it’s harder to get appointments for help with college applications, since their counselor is also responsible for the ninth graders.

On the allegation of broken promises, Calloway says that "students were promised that the integrity of their schedules would remain." She says that McKinley's two counselors are buttressed by a full-time D.C. College Access Program representative, and two "college support teams" of three teachers each.

"We recognize that students are upset," Calloway says. "The school administration has held student assemblies to hear their concerns and to address many of their questions." She also says that "school officials are working closely with student government to build a positive climate going forward."

Others in the McKinley community are unsatisfied with school administration. "There is an absolute lack of trust that has developed between the students, the principal, and many of the parents," says Iris Toyer, McKinley parent and chairperson of advocacy group Parents United. "They will not look at the principal the same."

Some students are moving on. School is “flowing like it never really happened,” Jamika Aceveda says of the layoffs.

Others are fighting it out. Says Umez-Eronini: “It ought not be like that, because, you know, we're in high school," he says. "It's supposed to be one of the happier times of your life–you know, it's my senior year. I really shouldn't be waging some huge political injustice on my own behalf."

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  • Dave

    Didn't Cardozo lose like 20 teachers? Why is no one talking about them?

  • Sylvia

    I suspect noone's talking to/about Cardoza because it's not a high-performing school and any changes experienced there were necessary. I'm not saying that is the situation but that could be pervasive perception.

  • Parent

    A big question is why McKinley was so underenrolled and therefore vulnerable to budget cuts. The school had an enrollment target of 800, but only 700 admitted. The person who should be fired is the principal who didn't fill the seats that he needed to protect the program . . . . .

  • The Idiots

    For Parents and students at McKinley (those who have been here for a while) we all understand that Pinder has been planning his move to finally rid himself of those teachers and parents who hold him accountable for some time. He was able to get rid of a few of them last year. He went on to plan this "reduction in enrollment" this year to be able to get rid of more of them. Then Rhee gave him a bonus by doing an overall reduction. If you sit down with him ONE time about an issue, problem, concern... he (the car salesman) talks such a good game that you actually believe he is as concerned as you are and will work hard to resolve the issue. Then, after a week goes by and there is no action, you begin to wonder. Then after two weeks when you finally are able to reach him again and he acts as if that is your first meeting, you give him the benifit of doubt... busy man... lots on his plate. BUT, as the situation ESCALATES after all this time and you remind him of the steps he said he would take to rectify the situation that have not been taken and he tells you that he never said that, you finally meet and get to know the real Pinder. A man of no action, lots of words and no idea of what it is he SHOULD be doing.

    Then we get these new staff/security members that he brings who may have taught at an underpreforming DCPS HS or some other crazy place who come in and say, it's not bad here. This is much better than where I was. What are you complaining about. These people have no idea what the school was like two or three years ago or how badly it has declined under Pinders leadership. THAT is exactly what he wants, people who have no idea. Who wont hold him accountable for another few years because they don't know of the decline. People who have been in horrible places who say, this isn't even half as bad as where I came from. PEOPLE WHO DONT KNOW WHAT MCKINLEY WAS PRE-PINDER!

    That is what all the fuss is about! If he is given another year or two, McKinley will be just where those other staff members came from, just another underpreforming DCPS High School. In order to protect the integrity of the program at McKinley, PINDER MUST GO!

    He can't even convince, bribe, beg his new teachers to show up at parent teacher conferences. The original staff (that he is trying to get rid of) stayed at that school well after school was out, working with students to help them become successful. Now, the school is like one big (needs to be closed) Rec center where everyone comes to play. THAT is not student achievement Pinder. Even you students kmow this.

  • Anon

    The Idiots - that makes a lot of sense... Thanks for the insight (as sad as it is).

  • Chris Lewis

    McKinley's enrollment was intentionally reduced by the administration. Candi Peterson's blog has a photocopy of Pinder's letter to parents explaining the decision:

  • Teacher at McKinley

    I am a teacher at McKinley and I have been there since it opened in 2004. It was a disaster under Principal Gohl. We were never observed, never evaluated and never received professional development. Students never had to have a pass to leave class...teachers came to school whenever they wanted and left during their planning period. It was a haven for all teachers in the district who didn't want to teach and hide in a pretty good school. Pinder isn't perfect--but he walked into a disaster. In his two years, teachers are now required to write lesson plans, come to school on time and assess student learning. He sends out a weekly pedagogy support,he has brought in instructional coaches to support teachers and they have been great for me and he is the most accessible principal I have ever seen. We can call him any hour of the night to discuss instruction, student achievement or just vent. There has been alot of lies in the last week being sent out about him because he is finally holding people accountable. And oh, by the way, the 2 counselors cut were terrible!!! They never communicate with teachers, they refused to assist with management of students, they screwed up student schedules every year. But, they were loved by the kids because every time a student wanted to cut class they would write them an illegal pass to class. The Washington City Paper should interview alot more students and teachers to get the real story. McKinley is finally on the right path and all of the people who were cut were terrible. Most parents and students love him.

  • MM

    ^^^yeah right, please take these lies somewhere else! Dan Gohl spent several years building the team at McKinley prior to its opening and you're calling him a disaster. So much so that he was brought to DCPS headquarters to assist the low-performing high schools. So, counselors who had received outstanding evaluations for years are now all of a sudden incompetent. Nice try, Pinder! How about you regain the trust of your most important customers, your students!

  • ‘Nother teacher

    MM, I think Teacher's point was there no evaluations were being performed under Gohl. It was well-known that he did not believe in and thus disregarded PPEP. Plus, those of us who work in schools are very familiar with the annual "Here, the principal needs you to sign this" evaluation process. (It usually happens during the last week of school.)

    So forgive me if I cast a very suspicious eye on an evaluation stating someone met or exceeded expectations when the principal never evaluated anyone.

  • Teacher at McKinley

    Sorry MM, but I don't get the bucks that Mr. Pinder does and frankly I wouldn't want his job for all the tea in China....but thanks for the compliment! The fact is that much of the reporting over the last week was much ado about nothing...I teach at Tech and the kids are totally fine...I don't agree with the Chancellor that this RIF should have happened on October 1 and I don't believe it should have been done during the school day...but the lies about Pinder need to stop...the school is finally beginning to function like a top school and we need the nonsense to end. I challenge Chris Lewis to interview many more students and teachers at Tech and get the real story...

  • mclean

    %9- Andre Hedrick (on linux-kernel) handing over IDE maintainership to