With cheers and a standing ovation for longtime Principal Gertrude Williams, parents at Barclay School yesterday called on Baltimore school officials to reconsider her proposed transfer.
Yesterday's meeting of Barclay's Parent-Teacher Organization was initially called to plan a demonstration against transferring Ms. Williams, but became a polite protest.
About 80 parents and area residents lauded the outspoken leader who has been at Barclay for 26 years, 22 of them as principal. One woman waved overhead a hand-lettered sign: "Let us keep the little Big woman at Barclay School No. 54."
"I was struggling as a single parent, and she reached out and helped me do what was right for my kids," said area resident Chantress Williams, rising from her seat to explain why the principal should be allowed to stay. Her children -- now ages 23 and 18 -- long ago graduated from Barclay, which serves kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
Residents and parents of students cited other actions by Ms. Williams. They said she has walked children across busy streets, broken up fights and bought shoes for needy youngsters. More importantly, they said, she has showed students the way to academic success.
In conjunction with parents, Ms. Williams spearheaded the drive five years ago to make Barclay the first Baltimore public school to adopt the demanding, private Calvert School curriculum.
"My daughter is in kindergarten, and she's reading on a second-grade level," said Violet Lee. "We want to keep this principal."
This September, the Calvert curriculum will be expanded to sixth grade -- its first use in middle-school grades in Baltimore public schools.
Adding a grade a year of the Calvert curriculum requires steady leadership and close relationships with the children, the parents said.
"She knows our kids," said Ruby Jean McCain, whose announcement that her 13-year-old daughter will graduate from Barclay to attend a Catholic high school drew applause. "She knows their social needs and their emotional needs, and she knows how to talk to them."
While passing out petitions calling for school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to reconsider a transfer of Ms. Williams, Barclay PTO president Clifton N. Boone said, "What we want to know is 'Why?' Why transfer someone who has been diligent and so good for our children?"
Mr. Amprey announced last week that he will reassign principals as he targets resources to the lowest-performing schools in the system. His options include shifting principals from successful schools and promoting promising assistants, he said.
Twenty-two years is a long time to be in one school, Dr. Amprey said last week when asked why Ms. Williams might be moved. He suggested a fresh start might be good for the school and for the principal.
Some education department administrators have suggested that Ms. Williams might reinvigorate a troubled school, but have not proposed an assignment. The vagueness of information made available sparked speculation among parents that she was being elbowed aside because she has so often bucked the system on behalf of her kids. Ms. Williams and members of Barclay's school-management team and PTO say Mr. Amprey has failed to make clear the reasons for the transfer.
This week, Merrill Hall, headmaster of the Calvert School, praised Ms. Williams' work, and said relations between the schools have been positive as they struggle together with sometimes difficult growing pains.
Yesterday, Ms. Williams assured parents of their role in the school's success. Of their outpouring of affection Ms. Williams said, "I felt very teary. I imagine everyone can get along here, but I think we could do better together. I just wanted to finish my job here, that was my promise to them."