Oh, my. Big changes are afoot at the Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC) in Washington, DC. I taught social studies in this hell hole for three years. The head of my department was an assistant principal because teachers were not trusted to hold this position.
This man was the worst of the worst of the bullying, sloganeering, hard-headed, head-in-the-sand principal class to emerge in the last 10 years. Never in my entire working life have I known somebody so universally despised and distrusted by those he was supposed to inspire, instruct and lead. An insecure, disorganized, dishonest bully who single-handedly ruined teaching for dozens if not hundreds of teachers. Our department of 9 ran through 25 teachers in the three years I was there. He was also in charge of the ninth grade, which experienced similar carnage. The overall yearly teacher turnover for the whole school is 40-50%. He never failed to repel the most people.
(This just in: What do we have to show for this? 40% proficiency in Reading and 48% in Math, 2012. Seriously?)
He was notorious for berating teachers behind closed doors until they cried, faking dates on evaluations, scheduling meetings and not showing up, demanding data he would never look at and wouldn’t understand, promising feedback he would never give, changing his mind, forgetting he had changed his mind, using his power to bully and intimidate teachers and students, and generally being wildly ill-suited for any type of leadership position whatsoever.
One of his favorite things to say was some version of this: I’m an equity educator. I’m here to educate black and brown kids. Are YOU down with educating black and brown kids? ‘Cause that’s what I’m about. So…
At this point he would throw up his hands a bit and scan the room as if expecting a challenge. With his purpose and purity of motives established and unchallenged, anybody who disagreed with him or questioned anything he did or said could safely be assumed to NOT be down with educating black and brown kids. Easy.
At least twice, groups of teachers collected large dossiers documenting his inappropriate and unprofessional behavior and presented them to the principal and the folks downtown. But nothing ever happened. He was clearly being protected by the principal of the school, Maria Tukeva. She is a legend in DC, an untouchable icon, and has been the principal of some version of this school since the Carter Administration. She keeps things quiet and raises a lot of money. What happens within her walls is of little interest to the authorities as long as the noise level is low and the money do flow. She is the consummate authoritarian bureaucrat in the finest traditions of Cold War Eastern Europe and Dick Cheney.
We can only imagine the arrangement the two of them had. Were they lovers? Did he have some dirt on her? Or did they merely share the simple joys of bullying and demoralizing teachers? Perhaps we’ll never know, but they were both allowed to treat teachers as poorly as they pleased without sanction. She continues.
I could go on and on with ridiculous stories, ignorant quotes, juicy rumors and delicious hear-say. And it’s tempting. But I’ll close with these two things:
1) Here is an email exchange between him, me, and the principal from 2010. (I’m positive that pronoun sequence is grammatically incorrect and I think I know who will point it out.) It documents a rare and foolish attempt on my part to engage him in an honest conversation about my teaching, explain what I’m trying to do, and ask for his help. It’s priceless. I can’t stop reading it;
2) He may be headed to Georgia. If you walk into your school on the first day and your new boss is a bald black guy named Darry, turn around and walk out. Briskly. Take a shower and don’t come back.
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