Anatomy of an Intervention

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

Some teachers, frustrated by the lack of a discipline plan, started calling in sick regularly. Staff members stopped talking to each other. The street-smart Bastian kids began to play teachers against one another. Some say Andrews played along, siding with students when they were disciplined by certain teachers.

"You ended up getting a good cussing-out every day," says one teacher. "Some teachers were so afraid to send kids to the office that they took that abuse day after day after day. That kind of abuse takes a toll on you mentally. And nothing was being done about it."

Ivory Green and others say they heard teachers cursing at each other and openly defying Andrews in front of students. "It's the only thing I've ever watched happen in a school where there was absolutely no middle ground," says one veteran Bastian teacher. "I never saw anything like it in my life. It was like if Ms. Andrews had said put blue paper on your bulletin boards, these teachers would have put up white."

Discipline problems escalated to the point that, one teacher says, "the students were running the school." One staff member recalls a student who became upset one day and threatened to burn the school down. The threat was reported, but nothing was done. The next day, he torched a classroom. Another teacher had to take disability leave with respiratory trouble after a student sprayed her in the face with an aerosol spray. She says Andrews did not punish the student involved.

Other teachers argue that Bastian has its share of problems, but not nearly as many as it once did. One staff member says that, during Andrews' first year, kids were so out of control that it was a struggle to come to school. But, by Andrews' second year, "I was seeing a big change in the school. I was seeing children that were finally settling down and beginning to learn. You can't take a school that has had the problems that Bastian has had and turn it around in a year. But it was making steady progress."

But one teacher who describes herself as "from the traditional setting" suggests that the "progress" was anything but. "Society expects a certain kind of behavior," she says. "[It doesn't matter] where you came from, if you slept on the floor last night, if you have no socks or underwear. Society still has the same expectations. We can't make it easier for [students] because society's not going to make it easier them. When we accept them using profanity and being disrespectful, we are contributing to the problem. And that's what has happened for three years at Bastian school. Joyce has allowed those kids to believe that society will accept their bad behavior. That's sad."

The situation at Bastian came to a head in April, when librarian William Price suffered a heart attack on the job. Price, union records show, had had his share of run-ins with Andrews. He was also having a hard time dealing with the Bastian environment, which, he said at a documented meeting, was his first exposure to African-American children.

In March, Price was diagnosed with extreme stress. His doctor, backed by union pleas, urged district administrators to transfer Price. They didn't do so, and a month later Price had his heart attack. While he was on sick leave he learned that he had been involuntarily transferred to a new school. Price says he was advised by HISD not to talk to the media.

Even before Price became ill, state and HISD reports were reflecting problems at Bastian. In 1993, the Texas Education Agency's accreditation report on Bastian said that while Andrews displayed "a commitment to change and improvement," in many cases, teachers were left out of the process. The report noted excessive transfers of teachers between grades, concern over discipline and low participation in staff development workshops.

More disturbing was a new Report on School Progress. The positive replies from the 1991 report were not repeated; though only a small number of people bothered to respond to the survey, those who did indicated that both student and parent satisfaction with Bastian had decreased significantly. Andrews' performance in particular was called into question by parents,

who said they felt she had become less accessible.
In February, an HISD intervention team was dispatched to Bastian as part of the accountability pilot. A summary of its findings said students were not being challenged, teachers were not responsive to the school's mission, and collaborative planning with the principal was nonexistent.

"It was just a very hostile environment," says Joseph Drayton, the area assistant superintendent, who led the intervention team. "The situation had deteriorated between some staff persons and the principal to the point that no matter what one or the other did, there was going to be a lot of infighting."

Arthur Gaines, trustee for the district that includes Bastian, says the school "was locked up. There was nothing taking place. There was deep friction between the teachers and the principal, and the children were suffering as a result of it."

On May 4, after lunch, Almena Wright had a hunch. Wright had been one of Bastian's first volunteers under Andrews, working with kids identified as potential dropouts. She also volunteered in the school office and was a community representative on Bastian's shared-decision-making committee.

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