Parents build Web site to air complaints about principal

Many angered by recent changes at Annapolis High

Anne Arundel

October 19, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

A group of parents unhappy with the management style of Annapolis High School's new principal has launched an Internet forum for people to air their complaints - and has reaped a crop of sometimes nasty exchanges.

In mostly anonymous messages and letters to administrators and elected officials - all of which are posted on the site - some parents accuse Principal Deborah Williams of intimidating students and imposing an oppressive atmosphere at the school.

The site, www.saveannapolis, has been praised by parents and students angry that the former Prince George's County administrator and her superiors consider Annapolis High a troubled school. The previous principal was replaced this summer after the school was tagged by school officials as having discipline and safety problems.

But Williams, who in recent weeks has met with dozens of parents and students concerned about changes she has made, said she found the Web site upsetting. "I cried when I saw it," she said. "I was sick to my stomach."

The principal said she is trying to establish a safe atmosphere in which all students can learn. "We have a diverse community," Williams said. "I'm not catering to one community when it comes to safety."

The creation of the Web site is the latest controversy to roil Annapolis High.

Last year, the school ranked last in the county on statewide high school assessments, and some staff and students complained that rules were not enforced. Fights were common, fires were started in bathrooms, and students roamed the hallways during class time, according to interviews.

Discussions on the site's open forum revolve around Williams' treatment of students and changes she has made since her arrival, including Saturday detention and requiring that only see-through backpacks be carried in school.

But the online discussions also reveal two divergent views of Annapolis High: that it is a model school with a large number of high-achieving students and experienced teachers and that it is an unruly place in need of academic and behavioral reform.

Among the typical comments on the site:

"She's treating us like we're wild hooligans with guns."

"When Principal Williams decided to make `sweeping changes' why didn't a letter come home to inform parents of her intent and concerns? Instead we are left with rumors and stories ... "

"I just want everyone out there to know that not all the teachers here at AHS want her removed. Only the teachers who complain the most and loudly voice their opinions do."

"Stop pampering your children, and give the woman some support."

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he does not intend to look at the site.

"It's just not relevant to me," Smith said. "I think if people have issues with the school, they need to deal with it in a way that brings resolution and is more productive."

The superintendent said he backs Williams' efforts to improve what he considered last year to be a school "out of control."

"If [her actions] help change some of the conditions we saw last year, I think it's definitely the right step," Smith said.

Since the Web site was launched Oct. 8, about 70 users have posted more than 300 comments, said Curt Hess, a parent who operates the site. He and others say the Web site is a valuable collection of people's experiences with the new principal. He added that he did not intend for the site to hurt anyone's feelings.

"The last thing anybody wants is for anybody to go away feeling negative about themselves," he said. "We want [the principal] to succeed because if she succeeds, our children succeed."

Parent Paul Bohannan said he has not learned anything new from the site, although he thought the site did "a decent job of providing a discussion environment."

But some parents said they thought the Web site would do more harm than good.

"If the [school] system had an ombudsman, it would serve the county in a healthier and more professional way," said parent Steve Johnson. "It's important that teachers and parents ... be able to collect those concerns, but it's important to do it in a way that builds a more positive culture."

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