In a meeting designed to improve relations, besieged Odenton Elementary school principal Barbara San Gabino Thursday night faced parents who only weeks ago signed a petition for her removal.
But ill feelings that threatened to erupt before the meeting were suppressed in favor of constructive ways to address parents' concerns about San Gabino. Parents say the principal's leadership is questionable and her communication lacking.
Since the end of school, parents have repeatedly asked school board members, Superintendent Larry L. Lorton and school system leaders to remove the principal.
Tensions came to a head June 6. Parents criticized the way she handled a playground incident involving three boys and girl that school officials said was a "game of tag" that got out of hand. Parents described it as mock rape. None of the students involved were disciplined.
Thursday's meeting, although called by San Gabino, was run by a team of instructional leaders from the school system's office of staff development. The principal stood near the door.
About 45 parents, crowded into a classroom in the newly renovated school, complained about not receiving a newsletter or information about the new school.
Assistant Superintendent for InstructionCheryl Wilhoyte and her staff helped parents vent their anger. Nothing was said to or about San Gabino.
Parents were asked to write what they saw as problems in the school on strips of paper, which were posted on three walls in the room. Each group was to come up with solutions. They were not allowed to discuss issues that brought about heated discussions.
The information will be used to draft a school strategic improvement plan, which must outline ways to address parents' concerns. Wilhoyte said parents will receive progress reports. Thistechnique has been used in five schools this year where problems were beyond control of the school administrator.
"My philosophy is that either you are part of the problem or part of the solution," Wilhoyte said. "We can always find parents willing to set aside differences for the happiness of young people. They have wonderful ideas and itadds some richness."
Parents asked for improved communication, bulk-mail newsletters, increased use of parents as school volunteers and extracurricular activities designed to educate instead of entertain. Parents were concerned about school test scores and ensuring that students are prepared to make the transition to middle school.
Someparents continued to blame the principal, while hoping that things will improve. Most said they intend to monitor the school.
Jackie Watson, outgoing Parent-Teacher Association president and an outspokenopponent of San Gabino, was among the 350 people who signed a petition requesting the principal's removal
Responding to the petition, Lorton wrote, "it is clear that the principal has not performed as well in some areas of her responsibilities as she is capable of or whatparents have a right to expect."
Watson, holding her daughter in her lap, said Thursday she at least is pleased that parents are meeting and talking.
"I don't think the parents have ever expressed themselves, other than with each other," Watson said. "They were waitingfor a chance to say something to her. But I hope parents will be at more school meetings and they will feel easier about talking to her."
As the meeting ended, parents were asked to give themselves a round of applause. But the goodwill began to break down.
Dick Paronto, parent of two children at the school, asked for the telephone number of a school system mediator. After a five-minute exchange about thechain of command, telephone numbers were written on a chalk board.
"It shouldn't take five minutes to get an answer," Paronto said. "Ithink the meeting is a step in the right direction, but I hope it's not just an exercise. I am dissatisfied with the principal and have been for several years. Communication between the school and parents has been abysmal for at least three years."
Paronto also asked thatSan Gabino say something to them.
Parents stirred, but quieted asSan Gabino asked for their help.
"It's important that we do this," San Gabino said. "I hope it will (provide) a whole new way of doing. We can work together. I know we can. We do good things for children, and I love you all."