Anatomy of an Intervention

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

She knew Joyce Andrews well, and on this day, she knew something was wrong. "I don't know what it was, but something told me I needed to hug her," Wright says. "I said, 'I need a hug.' She said, 'Yeah, I need one, too.' "

What Wright didn't know was that Andrews was the second of three appointments scheduled that afternoon at Joe Drayton's office. The others were Bastian plant manager Joe Patterson and office secretary Lisa Parker. By late afternoon, Drayton had told them that changes were being made at Bastian and that they were being reassigned. Andrews received the news and returned to work, not mentioning her dismissal to anyone. Ivory Green, who had volunteered 40 hours a week for four years under Andrews, was one of the people she called that night.

"I was crying," Green says. "She said, 'Don't cry. Maybe it's for the best.' "

When Edward Thompson turned up in the principal's office the next day, reactions followed strict party lines. Staff members who had shared Andrews' vision were shocked and depressed. Many cried or closed themselves off in their classrooms. Others openly discussed requesting transfers to another school. Then there were those who had fought Andrews so hard for so long.

"It was horrible," says one teacher. "They were running up and down the halls yelling, 'Victory.' They were saying, 'We've won, she's gone.' "

While the Bastian intervention was ordered to restore peace to a school torn apart by conflict, there is still a great deal of uncertainty and there are a lot of unanswered questions. Those who loved Joyce Andrews say they were never given an explanation for her removal.

Some parents are waiting to find out what plans Edward Thompson has for Bastian before they commit to sending their children back next year. A few have already indicated they will not. James Bonner had planned to pull his children out of Lockhart Elementary and put them in Bastian. But now, he says, "I'll probably have them at three different schools."

But most Bastian parents haven't much choice. They don't want to bus their kids elsewhere, and most don't have the time or means to transport kids themselves. So they're left to wonder what a new principal and a new staff and all the uncertainty inherent to change will mean for their children.

"Can't nobody convince me that what they did is best for these children," Green says. "If this man don't have the vision to take these children, they might as well close this building down. Because that's what this is all about, the children."

It's likely that, for Bastian's children, short memories and the long, hot summer will make the recent turmoil seem like ancient history. In September, the new community park, a project begun by Joyce Andrews, will be finished. On a big concrete slab will be the statue of a bear, a symbol of the former principal.

There will be other changes as well -- namely, at least a dozen new teachers and staff members to replace those who received administration-initiated involuntary transfers. Some of those transferred say Edward Thompson told them they did not fit into his plans; others say Thompson was just following orders from HISD to dump the teachers who offended Andrews.

For Rod Paige and HISD, the fallout from the Bastian intervention has just begun -- and could be very much about money before it's over. Four teachers have filed federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints as well as internal grievances with Paige's office. They are charging age discrimination, though Fallon says the district had other motivations as well.

"To us, it's a simplistic case of age discrimination," she says. "But what's happened also happened as a reprisal for these teachers' filing grievances against the principal." She says she fully expects the case to end up in federal court.

The HFT has made no secret of the fact that it plans to fight the district's accountability plan; union officials say its passage in May was "a declaration of war." Accountability, Fallon says, discourages principals from working with teachers and gives them too much power to simply restaff if things aren't going well. She suggests that HISD do what the union has done: triple its legal budget. "This is just the start of things to come," she says. "You're going to see this over and over again."

Rod Paige, however, doesn't think that HFT will hold up the district's effort to put an accountability plan into place. "We will respect the union," he says. "But our goal is different than theirs. The bottom line is to create the best environment for children to learn. We're going to try and do what needs to be done to help boys and girls read, write and think straight. Much of this has to do with personal relationships. I'm willing to take the point of view that these are good teachers and hope they will find a positive environment in which to do their jobs."

Others aren't so sure.
"Teachers and principals are the people who need to work closely together," says Trustee Carol Galloway. "But it's hard to do because they don't trust each other. So you have divisiveness because they feel like, 'Oh, if you're going to put the foot on my head, then I'm going to do you in.' Who can teach in that environment?"

And, one has a right to wonder, who can learn?

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