After a rough start, Annapolis High puts focus on the positive

New principal's clashes with staff, parents decline

February 12, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

It is a new semester and, it appears, a new day, at Annapolis High School.

That's the impression officials at the embattled Anne Arundel County school hoped to leave with parents at a "Back to School" event last night marking the start of the second half of the academic year.

The event was a turning point of sorts for the school administration, which was on the defensive during much of the fall after Deborah H. Williams took over as principal.

School officials say they have seen fewer problems lately over Williams' management style - which polarized the community from the first days of her tenure and distracted students and teachers.

No mention was made of any past unpleasantness at last night's event, which was billed as an "academic showcase."

Instead, officials highlighted the positive, including the school's fledging International Baccalaureate program, internship opportunities, mock-trial team and championship-winning boys' and girls' lacrosse teams.

Williams, who was hired to improve academic achievement and discipline at Annapolis High, said she has put the school year's rough start behind her and is focusing on the needs of her staff and students.

Changes that Williams instituted last fall infuriated some students and parents. A group of students led a protest against the principal's security ban on backpacks that were not see-through, and ban on students loitering on school grounds. Some parents and teachers said Williams was confrontational and inconsistent in dealing with students and staff and demanded her removal.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he has no plans to replace the former Prince George's County administrator.

"It is a strong faculty and administration," Smith said. "I do have expectations that they can pull together."

Complaints have been scarce since school resumed last month after a two-week winter holiday, Williams said.

"I got an opportunity to reflect and an opportunity to focus and really narrow down what was important," the principal said.

Williams is working on fine-tuning the school's operations to better tackle challenges ahead, she said.

"We're addressing concerns and moving on," she said.

Some faculty members at the meeting last night said the principal has become more conciliatory.

"She came in with a head full of steam, but I think she's chilled a bit," said Adam Campbell, a business teacher chosen by Williams to work with male students in need of positive role models.

Other teachers say they still disagree with Williams' methods, but are resigned to her remaining at Annapolis High.

Government teacher Leslie Stefany says she does not intend to leave the school, although she has voiced strong disagreement with Williams' leadership style.

"I thought long and hard about it, and this is my school," Stefany said. "I love the kids."

Several parents last night said they had favorable impressions of the school and of Williams.

Sheila Caldwell, whose daughter is a senior, said staff members have been especially communicative and helpful this year. She was so pleased that she handed Williams a letter of support last night.

Brenda Jones, a parent who said she had not made up her mind about Williams, said she was glad to see the principal at every one of her son's football games.

"I think she's trying," Jones said.

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