Demotions for 17 city principals

Twelve school heads and five assistants also getting pay cut

Union, parents decry action

System chief Booker says moves linked to `quality of instruction'

June 17, 1999|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

In what is becoming a yearly summertime event in Baltimore, city schools chief Robert Booker told 12 principals and five assistant principals this week that they are being demoted and receiving pay cuts.

The removals indicate that Booker will hold principals -- more than other system employees -- accountable for their schools' success or failure. Booker also might be proving that the principal's post allows little room for error: One of the demoted leaders had been on the job for only eight months.

"It's about quality of instruction," Booker said yesterday. "In order to move our schools forward, we have to have effective leadership in place."

Booker refused Tuesday to say which principals were being demoted or why, saying the matter was related to personnel and was confidential. He said he used "a number of factors" to determine which principals would be removed, and that the demotions will affect schools throughout the city.

This is the second consecutive year that a group of principals has been demoted. Last year, about a dozen principals were removed from their jobs after receiving negative evaluations.

The school system has 183 principals, not including assistants.

Officials at the city's principals union are decrying this year's decisions as "distressing" and "personally motivated," and they say they will review each decision to determine if it should be challenged.

"All of this is being done without the benefit of data," said union President Sheila Kolman. "Test scores aren't out yet from this year, attendance data isn't back yet. So how are they making these decisions? I think it's personal."

Kolman said she believes that Booker shouldn't have made his decisions until principals are evaluated in December. The school board agreed this spring to delay the evaluations -- usually in June -- to allow for the consideration of test scores and other data.

Booker said that he did not need to wait until the evaluations were done, adding that he had enough data to make decisions now.

"These are people who in some cases have been thrown into very difficult situations with no support, and they've done the best they can," Kolman said. "Now they're just being put aside. It's just not right."

At Claremont, a high school for disabled children in Southeast Baltimore, parents and staff plan to fight to get their principal, John Butt, reinstated.

Butt became Claremont's principal last fall and received notice of his demotion Monday.

Parents and staff will hold a rally at 5 p.m. Tuesday outside the school board meeting at the system's North Avenue headquarters, and they plan to flood Booker's office and those of school board members with phone calls and letters.

"This is someone who has been in the system for 26 years and has worked his way up to become principal," said Nancy Malone, a teacher at Claremont. "We fought for him to get that job, and we want him in it. He has worked with our kids for a long time. They should have given him more of a chance."

Butt declined to comment.

Malone said Butt was more than a principal to the school's 80 students. He was someone who would do "anything" for them, she said.

He has opened the school to community partnerships, she said, and began a Boy Scout troop for students -- the first for disabled students in the area.

The school has a summer academy that places its students in jobs around the city.

"This is someone who has really created a vision for the school that says these children can do things just like other children," Malone said. "The system says they want team players, and here we had one who really cared about us and the children.

"And then they fire him. That's wrong."

Marlene Epps, president of Claremont's parent-teacher organization, said that if Butt displeased school officials, she can't imagine how. "When my grandson Nathaniel would miss the bus, sometimes Dr. Butt would come to our house to pick him up," she said. "He was the all-around type of good guy who would do anything for the children. He even pulled money out of his pocket to pay to paint the school."

Epps said she will be among those who gather at next week's school board meeting.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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