Getting Up to Fix D.C. Schools

Article excerpt

Joining the movement to improve public education in the country doesn't require having a child in any of the nation's schools; Lorraine Whitlock knows that. The Ward 7 resident isn't afraid to do her part in keeping the government efficient and elected officials honest, even if it means coming out of an unofficial, self-imposed retirement.

Ms. Whitlock had had enough of politics. After all, she was involved in several council and mayoral campaigns and countless civic meetings. It was time, she thought, to hand the reins over to someone else. But then she got a call. "I decided I had to get off my bed and get busy," she recalls. Well, actually, she was compelled to roll into action when she couldn't find enough people to lead the effort to return the principal of Woodson Senior High back to her job and boot out Ward 7 D.C. Board of Education member Terry Hairston.

"He has been very ineffective. He has no concept of what the office means; no respect for laws, regulations, or for the rules," says Ms. Whitlock. "He thinks he's beyond the law."

Ms. Whitlock's campaign to recall Mr. Hairston, who is still in his first term as a school board member, began even before news reports surfaced that he had aided a young supporter in receiving a multi-million dollar contract from the school system, although the supporter had no prior experience. Residents launched their effort when Mr. Hairston attempted to block the reappointment of Lucille Christian as principal of Woodson Senior High. Ms. Whitlock says she couldn't believe that a principal who had done a relatively good job was being decertified for the post. So she made a few calls and learned: The barricade was her own school board representative.

Mr. Hairston also was instrumental in having the principal of Kelly Miller, Ronald Hasty, removed. Residents decided to lobby for the two principals' reappointment. They wrote letters to all board members. They also demanded a meeting with the superintendent, which they received. In the end, both principals were retained, but only for that year; they have since been replaced. Neither Superintendent Franklin Smith nor board President Karen Shook has bothered to answer letters sent to their offices from Ms. Whitlock and other residents.

School system spokesperson Beverly Lofton says that at the end of each school year an assessment is done of each school's needs - before personnel are reassigned. That was the case with Woodson and Kelly Miller. The skills of those particular principals didn't match the needs of their schools.

But Ms. Whitlock doesn't understand the circulatory logic. "It disturbs me that the school board makes decisions without any kind of reasoning," says Ms. Whitlock.

While the board is comfortable interposing in the appointment of principals, it has great difficulty performing its more important duties: overseeing the management of the system and the efficient spending of its $500 million budget. …