The Great Divide

Principal Lawrence Allen is a role model to some, an inept bumbler to others. Jones High School is split: Magnet-program parents versus the local community. It's up to Superintendent Kaye Stripling to make it right. Lucky her.

As a junior, Chad was to take the PSAT, whose scores are used to determine National Merit Scholarships. Chad has trouble taking tests within strict time limits, his parents said. Given a special designation provided for by law, Chad is supposed to be allowed extra time on standardized tests. Akpabio said she was assured by counselor Woods that she had taken care of the paperwork with the College Board to ensure that Chad got the extra time he is entitled to during the testing.

On test day Chad was not allowed any extra time whatsoever, Akpabio said. "It's not even acknowledged that this is something he's entitled to…They basically just blew him off." Then she found out that Woods had never presented the application to the College Board.

"Enough was enough…He's a junior. It's a critical time. I just could not afford any more costly mistakes."

David Terrill

Lawrence Allen is back as Jones principal after being ousted "for the betterment of the whole school."
Deron Neblett
Lawrence Allen is back as Jones principal after being ousted "for the betterment of the whole school."

Akpabio and Wilson believe the Vanguard program can work, and it can work at Jones with a good administrator. "Administratively, Allen is just lousy. He doesn't take care of anything," Akpabio said.

Wilson, now a history teaching fellow at the University of Houston, was the head soccer coach at Jones last year, even though he wasn't on the school's staff. Allen said in his Houston Press interview that any stipend "for the soccer coach, this went through the athletic department, not Mr. Allen." Told this, Wilson said he was surprised because he had several conversations with Allen, who assured him repeatedly that he would be paid, although this never happened until after the task force arrived this year.

Actually, Wilson said Allen has good points. When Chad cut off his dreadlocks after wearing them for 14 years and was embarrassed about how he looked in school, Allen encouraged him, Wilson said.

"The kids like Mr. Allen. When the news came down about him leaving, the kids said, 'Well, who's going to sit in the dunking booth?' 'Who's going to come to the football games and the basketball games?' That's their world. They don't see the other glitches."

Other Vanguard students echoed Wilson's comments. Seniors Katherine Gray, Kristen Sparks, Ari Gonzalez, Jarrett Mostiller and Asenat Trevino all said they like Allen, although they said he keeps to his side of the school and doesn't have much to do with them, in class or at special Vanguard functions. Opinion was divided as to whether he's a good principal. Sparks said one teacher had told her that Allen "had the skills to be a wonderful principal, but they didn't give him long enough to get ready for it." All agreed with Sparks's suggestion that maybe Allen might improve if he went to summer school to learn to be a better administrator.

In fact, several of the kids said the problem isn't so much with Allen, but with the administrators under him, administrators who just need to be fired. For instance, Gray said, she tried to get a theater group going this year. There was no theater teacher at the start of the year, so she enlisted an English as a Second Language teacher from the comprehensive side. They went to the administration -- not Allen, she said -- and were told the school would have to charge them rent because they didn't have a theater teacher as a sponsor, Gray said.

They also said that some teachers have hostile preconceptions about Vanguard students, who stick out, they said, because they "talk white" no matter what their ethnicity.

All have been impressed with Allen's sense of style. Gray said Allen, for his appearance at the first swim meet, swept into the room wearing a three-piece suit and a fedora. Sometimes he stands on the roof of the school, surveying everything going on, they said.

"All my conversations with him, he's been understanding," Gray said. "I don't know what to think about Mr. Allen."

With his ready smile, Allen might do better in marketing, said Wilson, the parent. "We are not all cut out to be managers."

At a recent PTSA meeting, Allen stood up and said something to the effect that "God had sent him to Jones to go through what he's going through for the good of the school," Wilson said, adding that he resented those comments. "I don't think the messianic complex is appropriate at a PTSA meeting."

In some instances, he said, the issue has become "protecting Mr. Allen" rather than airing problems that need discussion.


HISD has prided itself on its decentralization efforts, which are ongoing. In theory, it is more than justified: Micromanaging from a central office in a district this large doesn't work.

Unfortunately, as has been demonstrated in HISD more than once, when you decentralize until an individual principal becomes king of his realm -- with little interference from central office -- sometimes you get some bad outcomes.

As complaints came in over the past couple of years about Allen's performance, Superintendent Kaye Stripling said she was kept informed, but was not directly involved. That changed as the issues heated up, she said.

She sent in the task force "to separate out hearsay and fact." She has to know what's really true before she can determine what to do next.

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2 comments
EkkoJarrat
EkkoJarrat

Sorry, I meant to say CARNEGIE got pushed out, so JONES is dying.

This should make parents at Booker T really butter up to the Engineering program there.

EkkoJarrat
EkkoJarrat

And since the school got pushed out, the school is now twitching in its dying throes

 
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