Cut Short

A model student-athlete unthinkingly brings a knife to school and ends up in jail, then expelled. Why one-size-fits-all discipline fails kids.

The vast majority of teachers assembled by Dunlap have left Hightower since Paquin took over the reins. It is estimated that between 35 and 55 teachers have fled during each year of Paquin's tenure. The entire science department has been wiped out twice since she became principal, according to several Hightower teachers.

Anyone in a power position overseeing a school that expanded so dramatically is expected to become a magnet for complaints. Many say Paquin was better suited to her former, less visible position of dean of instruction.

Every year, rumors circulate that Paquin won't be back.

Daniel Kramer
Kathy Karnezis spent four months battling the Fort Bend Independent School District after her son, Pavlos, was expelled and sentenced to spend the rest of his senior year in boot camp.
Daniel Kramer
Kathy Karnezis spent four months battling the Fort Bend Independent School District after her son, Pavlos, was expelled and sentenced to spend the rest of his senior year in boot camp.

"Many petitions have been formed as a catalyst for her removal," reads the Wikipedia entry about Hightower High School. The online encyclopedia, written and edited by unnamed volunteers -- some of whom may well be disgruntled former Hightower employees -- includes a section devoted to controversies surrounding Paquin.

Several teachers say getting away from Paquin was a primary reason they left the school. Many echo the same complaints, claiming Paquin lacks people skills and generally does not support teachers. Some are diplomatic, while others are disarmingly blunt.

Ermine Minard has taught for 28 years, 18 of which were spent in Fort Bend ISD. When Hightower first opened, Minard was recruited to teach algebra courses and to coordinate the school's University Interscholastic League activities. Minard transferred to Dulles High School at the end of Paquin's first year as principal; she calls herself "among the first wave of escapees."

"Patricia Paquin is an extremely rude, overbearing, micromanaging monster," Minard opines. "She ruined the school."

Paquin says she is not aware of any teachers who left because of her. "Teachers leave, teachers leave for various reasons," she says. "I hate to see them go."

English teacher Beatriz Addison left Hightower last year and now works at Morton Ranch High School in Katy ISD. She says Paquin was frequently abusive to teachers, sometimes even in front of students. There were many days when she would sit in her classroom and cry.

Paquin denies snapping at teachers in the company of students. "I am not verbally or emotionally abusive," she says, "and I am sorry that people feel that way."

Addison recalls a faculty meeting in which Paquin berated the entire staff: "She said to all of us, 'If you're not happy here, get out, the doors are open. You can all be replaced.' "

Paquin denies saying this, though it was confirmed by more than a half-dozen teachers who attended the meeting. "If people said that, then people said that," Paquin says. "That is not something I said in front of a group of people."

Calculus teacher Lauri Crestani left Hightower two years ago, after colleagues named her teacher of the year, and transferred to Morton Ranch. She says Paquin frequently turned down teacher requests for new advanced-placement courses and cut back on existing ones.

"The philosophy of any school should be to grow, to continually raise the bar," Crestani says. "That was not encouraged."

In April, Paquin led a meeting with more than 100 parents in the school auditorium. Parents say they requested the meeting, but it was hijacked by Paquin, who refused to let them speak. Paquin insisted that parents submit questions in writing and promised to answer them via e-mail. The school year ended in May, and Paquin admits she still has not replied to many of the parents' questions.

Much of Paquin's discussion centered on disciplinary issues. She spoke at length about the importance of enforcing dress-code policies and the hazards of wearing flip-flops.

Paquin reported that she handed down more than 1,800 suspensions this past school year. This would appear to indicate the work of a strict disciplinarian. But many teachers and parents say student behavior at Hightower is getting only worse, with fights breaking out on a regular basis.

"The morale of our school is bad," says 17-year-old Julia Alaniz, who graduated from Hightower this year.

There needs to be an overhaul of the administration, says Doris Hamilton, a veteran chemistry teacher who spent five years at Hightower before transferring in 2003 to Seven Lakes in Katy ISD.

"There was a job fair recently," Hamilton says. "Nobody wants to go to Hightower. The word is out about her."

Some suggest the way Paquin handled the knife incident involving Pavlos is indicative of her overall disciplinary approach.

"Patricia Paquin doesn't view students as individuals," says parent Vicki Burns, who pulled her twins from Hightower this year because of disputes with the principal. "She has an across-the-board mentality."

Paquin says district policy prohibits her from discussing the disciplinary action taken against Pavlos.

"We follow the district policy and the state penal code policy, and that's what we follow when we deal with every discipline issue on our campus," she says.

Did Paquin know that she was supposed to consider such factors as a student's disciplinary history and intent, according to the district's revised Student Code of Conduct?

"We follow district policy in everything that we do," she repeats.

Well, not quite. District policy dictates that after expelling a student, a principal must provide the student's parents with a letter notifying them of the expulsion and the option to appeal it.

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