The Rice School: Dialogue, Diagnosis and Diatribe
Tim Fleck's article on the Rice School ["What Went Wrong at the Rice School?", August 21] was an accurate depiction of HISD's inept handling of what should have been its crown jewel. However, the reasons that many parents and teachers remain committed to the school were not adequately explored. We do not believe we are sacrificing our children's futures to have them participate as guinea pigs in some experiment. Our outstanding faculty is working hard to uphold the school's principles, including the goal that each child should reach his or her full potential, rather than be bound by a prescribed grade-level curriculum.

Our middle school scores have steadily improved to the point that they are comparable to scores at Lanier and Pershing. Many students have graduated with four high school credits. They, along with some of those who have left the Rice School in "droves," have found places at the best schools in Houston, where admission standards would surely keep out students who had fallen behind.

Dissatisfied parents who believed that they wanted a break-the-mold education for their children balked when faced with a report card or a math curriculum that didn't include the products of a traditional education. The school may have been a mismatch for them, but hundreds of us have watched our children's academic and social growth with increasing confidence that we have made the right decision.

Joan Murrin, Alison Randall

As a parent of a child who has attended the Rice School since it opened, I very much enjoyed Tim Fleck's article. His conclusion that various racial/ethnic groups are wary of one another was dead on. As a white (mostly, except for 1/64 Cherokee blood) parent who does not reside in West U, I feel like a real minority. The white West U parents are typically obnoxious yuppies who are rude and overbearing toward everyone, and the black parents demand preferential treatment because of race and hate white people. The Hispanics and Asians don't make too many waves.

When Kaye Stripling opened the Rice School, however, she was able to bring these diverse groups together and had an almost magical ability to make parents, teachers and students of all races believe in themselves, in each other and in the potential of the school. The school initially had a remarkably harmonious atmosphere. While it drifted after Stripling left, some of this racial harmony was preserved. When a young black classmate of my daughter was killed in an auto accident last year, I took my daughter and one of her white classmates to the funeral at a black church, which was attended by students and teachers of all races, as well as the principal, Sharon Koonce.

Mr. Fleck's article left the impression that the two black assistant principals, Marcellars Mason and Karen Williamson, had been the victims of racism. In fact, both of them reportedly had demonstrated in an objective way that they had significant failings as administrators.

Mr. Fleck characterized the meeting of parents at St. Mark's Episcopal Church as a "protest" against HISD actions in terminating Koonce, Mason and Williamson. In fact, the organizers of the event secured the attendance of parents, including myself, by promoting the meeting as merely an informational event at which district superintendent Ronnie Veselka would explain what had happened at the school. At the meeting itself, the organizers (primarily "activist" West U white women) reported that Veselka had refused to attend. This small group of women then tried to turn the meeting into a demand for the return of Koonce and for the firing of Veselka. In what I believe to be a cynical ploy to get the support of black parents, these women then asserted that the firings of the black assistant principals had been racially motivated. It was at that point that I left.

Koonce appears to have been a classic victim of the "Peter Principle" (i.e., she was promoted to the level of her incompetence). While she had great press clippings for her tenure as principal of Oak Forest Elementary, the Rice School (a kindergarten through eighth-grade school) is the equivalent of an elementary and a middle school in the same building, and the job is much more demanding than being principal of an elementary school. Koonce proved to be inept at the Rice School, and had none of the unifying leadership abilities of Kaye Stripling.

Robert E. Walls

Thanks for your essentially accurate depiction of the problems faced at the Rice School, where great expectations were not supported by sufficient planning, leadership and continuity. Unfortunately, Mr. Fleck's article did not outline the strides that the Rice parents and excellent teaching staff have made in filling the void left by HISD, Rice University and the school's administration. Parent volunteers and teachers have developed a strategic plan for the school (one of the few HISD schools with such a plan), they have identified the greatest obstacles to our realizing our potential and have convinced Don McAdams and the HISD administration to provide us with the resources needed to reach our goals. As parents, we realize that any ambitious endeavor will result in problems and setbacks, but we strongly believe that with a stronger commitment by HISD, Rice University and a new school administration, we can develop a school that will surpass the original expectations.

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