Woodlawn High principal turnover continues

May 30, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY .. | LIZ F. KAY ..,SUN REPORTER

Two years ago, Daric V. Jackson was brought to Woodlawn High School to turn around a school with years of lagging test scores. He was the fourth principal in less than a decade to accept the mission.

Next fall, classes at Woodlawn will begin under new leadership once again. Jackson has been transferred to a middle school, three of Woodlawn's five assistant principals have been replaced, and some wonder when a leadership team will be around long enough to see the school show significant improvement.

"If every two years you're changing the principal, I think you're adding to the problem," said James Morant, first vice president of Woodlawn's PTSA. "I thought for Mr. Jackson, another year would have made a difference."

Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, agreed that continuity is valuable - when school leaders are successful.

"Longevity of an administrator is very important, as long as there's improvement and there's positive gains," she said.

Woodlawn, one of the county's largest high schools, presents a number of challenges to educators.

About a third of the more than 2,000 students in the 2004-2005 school year qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. That year, about 14 percent of students who took a state geometry test met performance standards; four of 54 sophomores in special education classes achieved those goals on the state's English exam.

Nearly a quarter of the school's 146 teachers requested transfers after Jackson's first year, according to school system data.

The figure does not include retirements and resignations.

Students staged a demonstration in February in response to talk that a physical education teacher had been stripped of his coaching duties. Two students were arrested this month after one of them was seen with a BB gun in school.

"I think, obviously, it's been a very tense year between the staff, the administration, even the students," Bost, the teachers union president, said.

She also said the job of managing the staff and students at Woodlawn might continue to get harder if turnover continues.

"How many people think you're going to stay around if everyone before you left before two years?" she said.

In a brief telephone interview, Jackson pointed to successes at the school.

The school's robotics team went to Atlanta for a national competition. The entire class of Woodlawn's Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which helps selected students prepare for college, is set to go on to four-year schools.

"I'm here to serve students," Jackson said. "Anywhere the superintendent desires for me to go, that's where I'll go."

Woodlawn has a long history of problems and a similarly long history of educators being brought in to try to solve them. A state- and county-commissioned audit released in 2000 indicated problems with academics, discipline and facilities.

In 2004, before Jackson's arrival, a melee erupted during a school assembly on anger management, leading to the arrest of a student and her mother and 11 suspensions.

New principals were appointed in 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2004.

In 2004, Jackson, then a high school assistant principal in San Jose, Calif., was recruited to come to Woodlawn as an assistant principal.

But he stepped into the head administrator role when the principal initially hired to begin that fall changed his mind.

As of July 1, Jackson will transfer to Southwest Academy middle school, taking over for retiring Principal B. Maria Hopewell.

Edward D. Weglein, principal at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, will take Jackson's place at Woodlawn.

Eighteen principals and 44 assistant principals are scheduled to move to different positions in the system next fall.

County school officials and school board members said they would not comment on the decisions to move Woodlawn's principal and to replace assistant principals at the school because they are personnel matters.

Last week, two parents from Southwest Academy told county school board members that they were upset that the community was not consulted about Jackson's appointment to their children's school.

Stephanie Wilson, whose daughter is a seventh-grader in Southwest Academy's science magnet program, and several other parents asked why other candidates weren't considered, particularly those working at the school.

Children at Southwest Academy "don't need the unstable environment that's coming with this new principal," she said. "Middle school is already difficult enough."

When she addressed the school board May 23, Kimberly Stanley, whose son is an eighth-grader at Southwest, quoted from Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's "Blueprint for Progress," which calls for involving "principals, teachers, staff, stakeholders and parents/guardians in the decision-making process."

Wilson and Stanley said they didn't know Jackson but had no information that shows why he is a good choice for Southwest.

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