Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust: Hillside Principal Dismissed


Sources have confirmed that Earl Pappy will not be retained as Principal at Hillside High School in Durham, NC. Is anyone surprised by that news? Pappy getting axed follows a long list of hit and miss assignments hoped to elevate the school beyond its horrific reputation. Pappy is most recent scapegoat to be canned because folks aren’t ready to face the harsh truth.


We’re told the decision is the result of poor test scores and disciplinary problems in the school. Officials confiscated three guns during a recent check. One was on campus and two were discovered in the parking lot of the Town ‘n Country store across the street. An official indicated students were taken by surprise because two checks took place within the same month. Hillside was behind its ordered gun checks, thus two happened back to back.


The student with the gun in the school claimed gang affiliation. I was told by youth in the school that gang fights have been planned for after school in the Town ‘n Country parking lot. The battles within the school have become so common that students take them as part of the Hillside High experience. The brawls in the school take place despite the presence of law enforcement. One student told me little is done to secure the safety of students in the school.


Hillside is no different than many schools across America. Poor academic performance and disciplinary problems are indicative of a shift in the mindset of students in certain schools. There is an advancing culture that needs to be addressed before it spreads out of control. The drive for education is circumvented with an obsession with keeping things real, ghetto or hood. These terms can be interchanged when assessing the attitudes and opinions of some of the students at schools like Hillside.


My interviews with students uncovered a number of startling assumptions. Students lack respect for those who lead them. They talk of teachers having sex with students, teachers getting high with students, teachers making advances on their parents. Listening to students talk left me frustrated and disgusted at how they feel about their school and those given the task of managing their education. The problem goes deeper than uncovering if these rumors are true. In the minds of many of the students it is true. When an impression becomes deeply engrained it becomes truth for those incapable of seeing things any other way.


On last week, there was a drug raid outside the school. Sources indicate police had a lead that one student was dealing drugs on campus. A dog from the K-9 unit was on site to locate drugs. They searched the student’s car. The incident disrupted class. Parents parked outside the school waiting to pick up their children had to contend with the image of police cars, the K-9 Unit and a student standing next to the car being checked for drugs. How is a parent to feel knowing drugs could have been inside the school?


Problems go beyond the impression of ghetto life. Recently, I helped a student at Hillside with a writing project. “It doesn’t matter what I write,” the student said. “All the teacher is gonna do is count the pages. They don’t even read what we write.” I was astonished by what the student said. If true, and I’m not saying that it is, students aren’t being prepared to succeed. Could it be that students are allowed to matriculate when they lack the basic skills needed to move to the next level?


Again, there is a developing culture within our schools that it making it increasingly more difficult to teach. If not careful, some of our schools will become dumping grounds where students go in wait of their release date. Sound familiar? That’s what incarceration looks like. Maybe in the minds of some of these students school is like prison.


In evaluating cultures it is critical to hear from those who are part of the community in question. This is complicated when the outsiders have clear expectations related to those within that culture. The outsiders, in this case, are administrators, teachers, parents and a concerned community. They come with their action plans, measures of success and models for change.
The numbers are examined and it is assumed it must be the fault of the person in charge when goals and objectives aren’t fulfilled. That’s when the game begins. The search unfolds for the next fool who will step into the jungle with a promise to change things. Sorry, it won’t work. It can’t work. Why? Because action plans and measures of success and all the others tools used to advance change have to take into account the culture of the crowd it hopes to impact.


The culture at Hillside has to change, and that, Ladies and Gentlemen, will take more than the next Super Negro to walk in the halls with a nice wardrobe, resume and inspirational message. It takes moving the school beyond being that dumping ground that feeds all that negative energy.
Most think it’s just a school. No, this is the ghetto baby, and this is the way we do it. This is what a school looks like with the culture of the hood takes control.

8 comments:

  1. Wow - as a fellow educator, Carl, I can visualize the school climate at Hillside that you depict, although I haven't walked its halls, because it sounds familiar to the educational battlegrounds I have seen in other city schools. Actually, even in rural and suburban schools, the teachers, administrators, staff, and board must all take heed towards the principles and culture that we strive to model and reinforce in our schools, lest the students we teach define the culture based upon their own sense of needs and urgency. But, let me first clarify that when I speak of school personnel modeling and reinforcing the school principles and culture, I advocate that these principles and the culture give credence to students' voices and experiences. I advocate that school policies address students' expressed concerns and goals into the overarching academic and development goals for all students.

    The role of public school educators is too often dismissed as trivial and amounting to nothing more than babysitting or guarding the door until that so aptly coined "release time." The truth is, when taken seriously and with professionalism, teaching in pubic schools is one of the greatest acts of public service and advancement. While it is tempting to shame those teachers who conduct themselves without moral rectitude or a sense of accountability, I would first call into question a system that fosters such abysmal behaviors and attitudes.

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  2. Hi there!

    I am utterly THRILLED to have found this blog!

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  3. And we wonder why some parents are afraid of busing!

    This view of Hillside is bleak and conforms to the community's worst fears. This is hell on earth.

    Where are the parents in all of this? What are the "community activists" that continually excoriate the school board doing to provide solutions?

    Are there so many hopeless kids that a conscientious student can't get out of this? Other than segregating the serious students in some charter school, has anyone found some real solutions to this atmosphere?

    You'll remember, Carl, that this atmosphere is what John McWhorter was concerned about.

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