Learning Curve

Ungraded exams. Suspect scores. Departing teachers and lawsuits. Is this alternative school really passing the test on its highly touted educational claims?

Richardson says Montross is a "nice lady" -- he chatted with her the week before school started. "She never raised an issue with me," he says. "I'm the person, if she thinks something is wrong or illegal, she should probably be complaining to. She never once said there was a problem or an issue."

Leftwich told him that Montross called him only after she was fired; she says she spoke to him before. "Either way, it's the same day," Richardson says. "She should have said something sooner."

Richardson says that the missing report cards should not have been any concern to either Montross or Cortez-Rucker, because they did not work at CEP last spring. He says that Edwards dealt entirely with Pasadena to the school district's satisfaction.

Disgruntled ex-employees filed the "frivolous" lawsuits, Richardson says. He feels certain that both cases will be dismissed.


Montross is the kind of principal who always has candy on her desk and remembers students' names. She's the type whose door is always open (at CEP it certainly was, since teachers traipsed in and out to refill their coffee cups) and is willing to listen to anyone's complaint. She exudes a calm, collected, everything-will-be-all-right aura. She's used to making things right. She's not used to facing unfixable problems.

She's never been fired, and she never thought she would be. Her kids are grown, and her husband makes a good living as a prison psychologist. She says she doesn't really need to work; she does it because she wants to. She wants to help at-risk teens learn.

At CEP, Montross was trying to do what she always does: fix problems. But when she tried that, she got fired. The stress has caused her severe stomach pain, including a stress-induced ulcer. She makes weekly trips to the doctor, who has put her on a special diet of bland, boring foods (the diet itself is stressful for her; she's a woman who loves to eat and loves to cook). Now she spends her time spoiling her husband, her five cats (Boris, Bubba, Badcat, Baywolf Bob and Desdimona) and her two dogs (Boudreaux and Thibadoux). "My husband and my dogs are getting round," she says. She started cooking for the dogs; they especially love her scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon. "I've had to loosen their collars," she says.

Montross has some job offers on the table, and she's been busy planning her son's December wedding. She's also collaborating with her husband on a pop psychology self-help book, tentatively titled Get Over It. It's about dealing with life's little problems. Not big ones like being fired. She's still learning how to cope with that.

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