Anatomy of an Intervention

HISD has a plan for reforming problem schools. But when it reached Bastian Elementary, not everything went smoothly.

"It was politics, pure and simple," says James Bonner. "You have someone who comes in and says, 'No, look, you can't teach in this antiquated way anymore.' And these teachers rebelled."

In December 1991, the HFT received a memo from Bastian teachers that began, "Bastian needs a strong, experienced male principal." It was a 12-point list of complaints about everything from the school's lack of discipline to overuse of the intercom to the students collecting money to buy the principal roses. The teachers also criticized Andrews' educational methods.

"In her second year, Joyce planned 14 programs during class time," says one teacher. "She believed in all this rapping and tapping, dancing and singing. I mean, that's great. But the state does not have a test for any of those things. When you're next to last in test scores, that's too much time away from class work."

The teachers also complained that Andrews reprimanded them in front of parents and other staff members and carried out "spot mental evaluations." When Andrews tapped Teach For America, some teachers began to accuse the principal of trying to force them out of the school. They say Andrews did not want older, more experienced staff, but preferred, as one disgruntled staffer put it, "alternative teachers who wanted to experiment."

One teacher says that in two years, Andrews moved her between grade levels six times. When the teacher had trouble adapting, Andrews suggested a transfer for additional training.

"She ruled by threat and intimidation, saying if you didn't perform, the same thing would happen to you that happened at Rusk," says another teacher, who says Andrews manipulated staff by threatening to prevent them from getting $25-per-hour posts in summer school. "There were poor and single-parent teachers who compromised their integrity to make sure their name was on that summer-school list. They did it because they knew Ms. Andrews would flex her muscle and show how powerful she was."

Other teachers say the complaints were, as one put it, "just a bunch of nonsense." They say all Andrews asked was that "teachers teach," and that some just didn't want to make the transition to the new methods.

"Everyone in the education profession knows that times have changed," says one teacher who has been at Bastian for nearly three decades. "Sometimes it's harder for teachers with more experience to change with the times. But we all have to face the fact that if children can't learn the way we teach them, we have to teach them the way they learn. Many people couldn't adapt to that."

Andrews insists that she tried to nurture her staff in the direction she wanted it to go. Instead, she says, a core of teachers regularly showed up at staff development sessions to challenge her methods. "They had organized and just created what I call orchestrated chaos," she says. "I would go into a meeting and just be attacked on the floor."

The situation worsened when HFT, which represents about 5,000 of the district's 11,000 teachers, took an active role in the dispute. The union presence put pressure on Andrews, but also deepened the rift in the staff.

"I refuse to give my money to a union that supports teachers that refuse to do what they're asked to do," says one teacher who says she rejected HFT in favor of another teachers union. "I personally feel that when I go into any job, if I do not believe in the vision of the school, I need to move."

Gayle Fallon, HFT's president, says she advises teachers who have problems at schools such as Bastian to transfer. But she admits that there was a group of teachers at the school "working together" to get rid of Andrews. On January 30, 1992, nine teachers filed union grievances against Andrews, citing, among other things, public "belittlement" and unannounced classroom visits. Teachers complained that they were afraid of Andrews, who they said would fly into a rage at the slightest provocation. Fallon advised them not to go into Andrews' office without a union representative. Some went further, and locked the doors to their classrooms.

"The principal was a horror," says Fallon, who has a file on Andrews several inches thick on her desk at union headquarters. "She went after what we like to call the walking victim -- the older black teachers who are able to be bullied, who won't fight with you for the sake of fighting."

Fallon calls Andrews' educational strategy "a gimmick... pretty much a holistic approach not found to be tremendously effective." Apparently, some parents agreed. One mother wrote then-Superintendent Frank Petruzielo, noting that Andrews had organized a Halloween Carnival and Peace Rally and adding that she should "stop trying to impress the community with these outside activities and do her job inside the school."

"I always thought I could work with her until I saw her in action," says Jackie Cross, whose autistic son is in Bastian's Early Childhood Behavioral Adjustment class. "This principal was a tyrant. If things didn't go the way Joyce Andrews wanted them to go, they didn't go. She was hard on anyone who didn't agree with her. If you ask questions she can't answer, she doesn't like it."

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