Anatomy of an Intervention
For years, Mamie Sue Bastian Elementary was perceived in Houston education circles as a hellhole -- a grim, neglected school in a low-income neighborhood, populated with teachers who didn't teach and children who couldn't learn. But the low-slung building at 7350 Calhoun, in the shadow of the Loop in southeast Houston, started losing that reputation in 1990, when a special-education teacher named Joyce Andrews became its principal.
Reviving an inner-city school locked in perpetual futility was a tall order. But after nearly four years, Andrews' knack for public relations and her vision for educating children of dire circumstance had begun to transform Bastian from an institution with a long history of failure into a much-needed resource for the entire community.
About the only thing Andrews hadn't done was prove that her students were learning. Their performance on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills remained among the lowest in HISD. During the 1992-93 school year, only 3 percent of Bastian's third-graders and 16 percent of its fourth-graders passed all three sections of the test.
That, Andrews' supporters insisted, was going to change this year. Everything Joyce Andrews had brought to Bastian -- new teaching methods, increased parental involvement, corporate partnerships, a community-school concept -- would pay off in a glorious display of academic achievement on this year's TAAS.
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But Andrews never got a chance to bask in Bastian's TAAS score glory. It's not just that the results of the tests were mixed -- some grades did better, others about the same -- it's that by the time the tests arrived, Andrews was gone. On May 5, much to the shock of many in the community surrounding Bastian, Andrews was removed as the school's principal and reassigned to a central-office post at HISD.
The sudden shift was a result of an administrative overhaul known as "intervention," the hammer that has been held over HISD schools in recent years to help make the district's move toward local accountability work. The Bastian intervention was the third ordered by HISD Superintendent Rod Paige since he took over management of the district in late February. His first two interventions, at Dowling Middle School and Wheatley High School, were initiated because of what Paige called "desperate" conditions. In those cases, Paige said, a change in leadership was the only solution to the discipline problems and poor academic performance that plagued the schools.
Indeed, at Dowling and Wheatley, it appears that most people agreed with Paige. And intervention has shown it can work; in spring 1993, then-Superintendent Frank Petruzielo stripped Rusk Elementary of its principal and faculty, and despite fears that forcing a school to start over with a new staff was, as someone described it, "the death penalty," the Rusk intervention was a success. A year later, morale is high, parents are more involved and discipline problems have decreased.
But the Bastian intervention hasn't been so widely applauded. While accepting HISD's notion that local accountability is crucial if schools are to be reformed, and even agreeing that such accountability means that unsuccessful principals and teachers need to be removed, many in the Bastian community wonder what all that has to do with them. They say that tremendous things were already happening inside Bastian Elementary. Attendance was up; so was parental involvement. Health and social services were available on-campus to students and their families. Private money poured in for programs, computers and a neighborhood park on school grounds.
Considering all that, it was only a matter of time, some insisted, before Joyce Andrews turned test scores around as well. And if she was being removed purely because of poor test results, then, her supporters suggested, HISD wasn't looking closely enough at its schools before moving in. Tests didn't say all that needed to be said. And intervention might not always be the best solution.
Now, many in the Bastian community don't know what will become of their school. They say Edward Thompson, the principal who came in to replace Andrews, seems committed to keeping Bastian on the right track. But they miss Andrews, her tough love for students, her soft touch with parents, her optimism and her vision. Instead of focusing on the results of the latest TAAS, they are preoccupied with the question of why she is no longer Bastian's principal. And they are frustrated by the lack of answers.
"No one will give you an answer, because I don't think they know," says Ivory Green, president of Bastian's Parent-Teacher Association. "All I know is, if they had been thinking about the children, they wouldn't have done it that way."
To the naked eye, there is little to distinguish Bastian Elementary from any other K-5 school built in the late 1950s. The hallways are wide and long, the drop ceilings low. Square, milky panels cast institutional light across tile floors burnished by small feet that squeak and slap, up and down, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., in Air Jordans and hand-me-down shoes.
Along the brick walls painted tan and blue and orange are rectangular bulletin boards, decorated with construction-paper cutouts and cartoon characters celebrating new programs and student achievement. Others offer encouraging words to strengthen the students' resistance to the temptations that wait just beyond the school's walls.
Those warnings suggest just how hard it is to be a child at a place like Bastian. You can't quite see it in their faces, as they march down the hall in swerving lines, but it is there -- the drugs, the violence, the neglect. The children here have special needs, teachers say. Tired, hungry and poorly clothed, many of Bastian's families seem to come and go like the wind, to wherever the rents are cheaper or the relatives more reliable. For too many of the parents, living is enough to worry about; their children's education is an afterthought.
It wasn't always that way. Bastian once served a stable, middle-class neighborhood. The change began in 1969, with the opening of the Wesley Square public-housing development. The Square, as it's known in the community, was built hard against the south boundary of Bastian, pinning the school against a recently completed section of Loop 610. The Square triggered a shift in the neighborhood's socioeconomics, and a huge increase in the number of kids. Veteran teachers remember years when Bastian had 1,000 students -- about double the present number -- many of them in shacks thrown together to serve as temporary classrooms.
New schools offered some relief, but Bastian was defenseless against the poverty and indifference festering around it. Unlike up the road at East Sunnyside Court, a predominantly middle-class black subdivision that feeds Sunnyside Elementary School, the Square had no civic club to put new nets on the basketball hoops and to give homeowners Yard of the Month awards. The streets around Bastian got tougher while discipline, and the school's physical condition, worsened. For years now, Bastian has been among the worst-performing schools in HISD. Test scores there are abysmal. Its retention and turnover rates exceed district averages. Stories abound of Bastian children who leave school Friday and come back Monday not having bathed, changed clothes or eaten all weekend.
"You can talk about test scores," says PTA president Green. "But in an area like this, come Monday morning, you've got to feed that child, clothe that child, clean that child, listen to that child and love that child. Then you got to try and teach that child."
No one had reason to expect that Joyce Andrews would end the cycle of despair when she took over as Bastian's principal in September 1990. Andrews' predecessor lasted just two years before joining the long list of principals and teachers who have either burned out and quit or fled to the relative safety of a suburban school. In her nearly 20 years as an HISD employee, Andrews had never been a principal. But her background as an educational diagnostician working with emotionally disturbed children seemed to make her uniquely qualified to make a difference at Bastian, which has a high percentage of children with learning disablities.
"When I went there, I was overwhelmed at the number of surrogate parents in the community," says Andrews. "Maybe there is a cousin raising a child, or an aunt -- even children raising their siblings. Because many parents are incarcerated or just not there. I immediately realized that we could not continue to educate children the way we had. Our schools really had not changed to meet the needs of the child in a changing society. We needed social services on campus, we needed the whole community to become involved and we really needed to educate the parents."
As a special-education teacher, Andrews had worked with children many thought were hopeless. She sensed the same lack of expectation at Bastian, where 95 percent of the students come from poor families. "I see very bright children [at Bastian], but children who could turn out to be a Charlie Manson or whatever if not redirected in some way," she says. "Just give them the emotional support. Break down the instruction, make learning fun. And you'll see children rise far above what people would ever have thought they could."
James Bonner became a believer after just one visit to Bastian. Bonner is a former NASA engineer who left his job at the Space Center to be a substitute teacher. "I was concerned about my lack of understanding of education and what my kids were receiving," he says. After a few months, Bonner had seen enough of Houston schools to know that something good was happening at Bastian. So he quit substituting and became a full-time volunteer at the school.
"What I found was an administrator who understood that you're teaching each child individually," says Bonner, a tall, graceful man with three school-age children. "To do that, you have to understand where that child is, what kind of carrot you can hold out for that child, and to know when they're not reaching out for the carrot."
To do that, Andrews implemented a teaching philosophy known as "Developmentally Appropriate Practices," or DAP, a cooperative learning strategy that recognizes that children learn in different ways and at different paces. At Bastian, children from kindergarten through second grade were placed in a Primary Learning Community, where they worked together in peer groups. They were still expected to meet state academic standards, but the way in which the necessary skills were taught varied from group to group.
But Andrews was determined to bring more to Bastian than jargon-laced learning strategies. Aware that schools rise and fall on the tides of the local community, Andrews pounded on corporate doors, requesting money for mentoring programs for students and for GED and English classes for parents. She offered parenting sessions and early-morning coffee klatches to encourage parents to bring their children to school themselves.
With the help of the school nurse, Andrews convinced a doctor and a dentist to treat her students. She contracted with mental-health agencies to provide after-school family counseling. And she set aside a "quiet room" to deal with problem children in the presence of their parents and a social worker. Out-of-school suspensions, which Andrews felt denied kids the only structure in their lives, were phased out. Andrews called her approach "educating the whole child." Others saw it as nothing less than a miracle.
"She understood the people," says Joyce Kuria, who has a five-year-old and a seven-year-old at Bastian. "She really worked with parents to get kids in class with the right teachers. I could talk to her about anything, and the kids just loved her. My daughter wants to be a principal because of her."
But while Andrews had little trouble selling parents and corporate donors on her methods, she had less success with teachers. It wasn't a wholly unexpected problem, she says, because DAP, the Primary Learning Community and the full-service school all demand something more of teachers than in the past. "The school was going through a paradigm switch," she says. "But it was a different type of teacher who had to be ready to receive that kind of retraining."
A number of teachers and staff members at Bastian were reluctant to join Andrews' revolution. She didn't do anything to help win them over when she brought in -- as favorites, some felt -- a half-dozen young people from Teach For America, a national teacher corps that trains recent college graduates for rural and urban teaching assignments. Discipline was also an issue. Corporal punishment was officially phased out of HISD several years ago. But spankings and verbal assaults were still considered appropriate, even necessary, at Bastian when Andrews arrived. She banished them, then told teachers to discipline troublesome students "with dignity" inside the classroom instead of sending them to her office.
The more Andrews tried to do at Bastian, the more resistance she faced. By her second year, the school was mired in a power struggle between a determined principal and a core of seasoned veterans of the inner-city classroom wars. These teachers had heard all the noise about how "every child can learn," but, after years on the front lines, had neither the patience nor the passion for what they felt to be untrue.
"Joyce could not face reality," says one teacher. "Joyce wants to keep everybody there. At some point you have to say, 'You can't save them all.' Why risk losing them all? If you have a child who's taking medication four times a day and has been to the mental clinic three times this year, he shouldn't be in a classroom. He should be institutionalized."
our months into his new job, Rod Paige is still visibly awed by the responsibility of running one of the largest urban school districts in the nation. A large, graying man, Paige favors Western boots with his pin-stripe suits and floral-print ties. He's authoritative and intense, but there's still something of the layman in him, something that suggests he might have more than a passing appreciation for the frustrations of the average parent of a schoolchild.
"As a country and as a city, we've got to cut the nonsense out and get about the business of helping children," he says, his voice shifting timbre with the passion of a preacher. "We're trying to move as much of the bureaucracy out of the way of the mission, so the mission stands clear. All of our interest is tied up in that, and to the extent that we fail our children, we're going to have a very tough time."
Paige has assumed leadership of HISD at a particularly challenging moment. TAAS scores have improved, but the number of 11th graders who passed in 1993 was still less than half the goal set by the state.
The district's highly touted alternative teacher-certification program is under investigation for shoddy hiring practices. And there's a backlog of needed physical improvements.
A central tenet of Paige's response to the problems at HISD has been to emphasize the need for local accountability. In 1990, as an HISD trustee, Paige was instrumental in drawing up A Declaration of Beliefs and Visions, a benchmark document that outlined a strategy for sweeping reform of HISD. A key element of that reform is decentralization, which places control of each school in the hands of the principal, teachers, parents and area community leaders.
Though the district has been committed to decentralization since 1990, the transfer of power from HISD's gigantic bureaucracy to its 250 schools has been slow. Political battles between administrators and HISD trustees have been intense, as evidenced by the fact that Paige is the district's third superintendent in four years.
"You can never move fast enough on this kind of thing," explains City Councilmember Felix Fraga, who served on the board of trustees from 1990 to 1993. "But it's hard to get the central office to give up some of the control and take on a more supportive role."
Paige seems to understand the necessity of that, while also acknowledging the importance of leading with a strong hand. He showed that hand this March when, less than a week into the job, he appointed two administrators to oversee Dowling Middle School and replaced Wheatley High's principal with a nine-person team. Bastian came next. All three schools knew that intervention was possible. They were among 15 low-performing schools targeted last November, when the district introduced a pilot accountability program. The program gave principals at schools where fewer than 25 percent of students passed the TAAS the authority to request whatever resources necessary to improve performance. But with the increased resources came increased responsibility: job security was tied directly to students' test performance.
Paige and other HISD officials admit that the process has proven much more complicated than was anticipated. "You can have a design, however wonderful," Paige says, "but changing the culture, the way it is viewed in the minds of human beings, is a much more complex issue. There is a large number of constituencies whose interests must be balanced and protected and honored."
Trustee Carol Galloway says that hasn't been done. Galloway, the only board member to vote against making the pilot accountability program a permanent part of HISD when the plan came up for approval in early May, says accountability assumes all schools have the same resources. It's not fair, she says, to apply the same formula to both poor, inner-city schools and schools in wealthier areas.
"We should have 250 different accountability plans," Galloway says. "Right now, it's not equitable. In order for everybody to start on an even playing field, let's give everybody the same resources and the same money. Then have them write up a plan and then hold them accountable."
Galloway also says there are no guarantees that what a principal asks for under accountability will be provided. Many principals, she says, will hesitate to ask for anything at a time when they are already being asked to do more with less. But Galloway also sides with teachers, many of whom fear that school staffs will fall prey to "dictatorial" principals who want to protect their jobs. Given the stakes, she says, principals will be reluctant to take the fall themselves. And that makes accountability a thinly veiled threat to "get with the program" or face being kicked off a campus.
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which has come out hard against accountability, agrees. "Teachers who have no choice over grouping of kids put in their classrooms, what the curriculum is, what materials are used, suddenly find themselves at fault for everything wrong with a campus," Fallon says.
Administrators and trustees say that, like any reform, decentralization will not be without its share of growing pains. But, they point out, placing control at the lowest level is a strategy that has worked in every other American industry and must work in education if today's children are to learn.
"It's a healthy thing, I think," says Fraga. "Because once principals and teachers know that it's up to them to work it out and that they cannot run to the central administration to take sides, it'll work.
"But of course, it's easier said than done."
There were good intentions aplenty when Joyce Andrews took over Bastian in September 1990. But as everyone at the school has since learned, even the most sincere efforts can be poisoned by a mixture of strong personalities, professional pride and politics.
At first, teachers at Bastian welcomed Andrews, though they were wary of her inexperience. "The first year, everybody pitched in and helped her," says one teacher -- who, like all the Bastian teachers who spoke to the Press, asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal from HISD. "We knew she didn't know what she was doing."
Despite the new terrain, Andrews appeared to have an immediate effect. In a 1991 Report of School Progress survey, more than 80 percent of the parents polled said they were thrilled with Andrews' performance. They noted increased expectations from school staff; more interaction between teachers, children and parents; greater student motivation and morale. More important, the students were responding. The same survey showed that students felt challenged. More than half even said they liked going to school. Some longtime residents sensed a stability and pride in the school for the first time in years. Ivory Green, PTA president since 1990, watched as her PTA membership leaped to more than 200 -- not bad, considering that in the past, maybe a dozen people would show up at a meeting.
But while parents were pleased with the new climate at Bastian, it was a different story for some teachers. In the fall of 1991, the start of Andrews' second year, complaints began to trickle into the Houston Federation of Teachers. Before long it was a flood, and the school was divided at its core. Open hostility and defiance marked the territory between those eager to adapt to the new vision and those intent on having Andrews removed from the school.
"It was politics, pure and simple," says James Bonner. "You have someone who comes in and says, 'No, look, you can't teach in this antiquated way anymore.' And these teachers rebelled."
In December 1991, the HFT received a memo from Bastian teachers that began, "Bastian needs a strong, experienced male principal." It was a 12-point list of complaints about everything from the school's lack of discipline to overuse of the intercom to the students collecting money to buy the principal roses. The teachers also criticized Andrews' educational methods.
"In her second year, Joyce planned 14 programs during class time," says one teacher. "She believed in all this rapping and tapping, dancing and singing. I mean, that's great. But the state does not have a test for any of those things. When you're next to last in test scores, that's too much time away from class work."
The teachers also complained that Andrews reprimanded them in front of parents and other staff members and carried out "spot mental evaluations." When Andrews tapped Teach For America, some teachers began to accuse the principal of trying to force them out of the school. They say Andrews did not want older, more experienced staff, but preferred, as one disgruntled staffer put it, "alternative teachers who wanted to experiment."
One teacher says that in two years, Andrews moved her between grade levels six times. When the teacher had trouble adapting, Andrews suggested a transfer for additional training.
"She ruled by threat and intimidation, saying if you didn't perform, the same thing would happen to you that happened at Rusk," says another teacher, who says Andrews manipulated staff by threatening to prevent them from getting $25-per-hour posts in summer school. "There were poor and single-parent teachers who compromised their integrity to make sure their name was on that summer-school list. They did it because they knew Ms. Andrews would flex her muscle and show how powerful she was."
Other teachers say the complaints were, as one put it, "just a bunch of nonsense." They say all Andrews asked was that "teachers teach," and that some just didn't want to make the transition to the new methods.
"Everyone in the education profession knows that times have changed," says one teacher who has been at Bastian for nearly three decades. "Sometimes it's harder for teachers with more experience to change with the times. But we all have to face the fact that if children can't learn the way we teach them, we have to teach them the way they learn. Many people couldn't adapt to that."
Andrews insists that she tried to nurture her staff in the direction she wanted it to go. Instead, she says, a core of teachers regularly showed up at staff development sessions to challenge her methods. "They had organized and just created what I call orchestrated chaos," she says. "I would go into a meeting and just be attacked on the floor."
The situation worsened when HFT, which represents about 5,000 of the district's 11,000 teachers, took an active role in the dispute. The union presence put pressure on Andrews, but also deepened the rift in the staff.
"I refuse to give my money to a union that supports teachers that refuse to do what they're asked to do," says one teacher who says she rejected HFT in favor of another teachers union. "I personally feel that when I go into any job, if I do not believe in the vision of the school, I need to move."
Gayle Fallon, HFT's president, says she advises teachers who have problems at schools such as Bastian to transfer. But she admits that there was a group of teachers at the school "working together" to get rid of Andrews. On January 30, 1992, nine teachers filed union grievances against Andrews, citing, among other things, public "belittlement" and unannounced classroom visits. Teachers complained that they were afraid of Andrews, who they said would fly into a rage at the slightest provocation. Fallon advised them not to go into Andrews' office without a union representative. Some went further, and locked the doors to their classrooms.
"The principal was a horror," says Fallon, who has a file on Andrews several inches thick on her desk at union headquarters. "She went after what we like to call the walking victim -- the older black teachers who are able to be bullied, who won't fight with you for the sake of fighting."
Fallon calls Andrews' educational strategy "a gimmick... pretty much a holistic approach not found to be tremendously effective." Apparently, some parents agreed. One mother wrote then-Superintendent Frank Petruzielo, noting that Andrews had organized a Halloween Carnival and Peace Rally and adding that she should "stop trying to impress the community with these outside activities and do her job inside the school."
"I always thought I could work with her until I saw her in action," says Jackie Cross, whose autistic son is in Bastian's Early Childhood Behavioral Adjustment class. "This principal was a tyrant. If things didn't go the way Joyce Andrews wanted them to go, they didn't go. She was hard on anyone who didn't agree with her. If you ask questions she can't answer, she doesn't like it."
Some teachers, frustrated by the lack of a discipline plan, started calling in sick regularly. Staff members stopped talking to each other. The street-smart Bastian kids began to play teachers against one another. Some say Andrews played along, siding with students when they were disciplined by certain teachers.
"You ended up getting a good cussing-out every day," says one teacher. "Some teachers were so afraid to send kids to the office that they took that abuse day after day after day. That kind of abuse takes a toll on you mentally. And nothing was being done about it."
Ivory Green and others say they heard teachers cursing at each other and openly defying Andrews in front of students. "It's the only thing I've ever watched happen in a school where there was absolutely no middle ground," says one veteran Bastian teacher. "I never saw anything like it in my life. It was like if Ms. Andrews had said put blue paper on your bulletin boards, these teachers would have put up white."
Discipline problems escalated to the point that, one teacher says, "the students were running the school." One staff member recalls a student who became upset one day and threatened to burn the school down. The threat was reported, but nothing was done. The next day, he torched a classroom. Another teacher had to take disability leave with respiratory trouble after a student sprayed her in the face with an aerosol spray. She says Andrews did not punish the student involved.
Other teachers argue that Bastian has its share of problems, but not nearly as many as it once did. One staff member says that, during Andrews' first year, kids were so out of control that it was a struggle to come to school. But, by Andrews' second year, "I was seeing a big change in the school. I was seeing children that were finally settling down and beginning to learn. You can't take a school that has had the problems that Bastian has had and turn it around in a year. But it was making steady progress."
But one teacher who describes herself as "from the traditional setting" suggests that the "progress" was anything but. "Society expects a certain kind of behavior," she says. "[It doesn't matter] where you came from, if you slept on the floor last night, if you have no socks or underwear. Society still has the same expectations. We can't make it easier for [students] because society's not going to make it easier them. When we accept them using profanity and being disrespectful, we are contributing to the problem. And that's what has happened for three years at Bastian school. Joyce has allowed those kids to believe that society will accept their bad behavior. That's sad."
The situation at Bastian came to a head in April, when librarian William Price suffered a heart attack on the job. Price, union records show, had had his share of run-ins with Andrews. He was also having a hard time dealing with the Bastian environment, which, he said at a documented meeting, was his first exposure to African-American children.
In March, Price was diagnosed with extreme stress. His doctor, backed by union pleas, urged district administrators to transfer Price. They didn't do so, and a month later Price had his heart attack. While he was on sick leave he learned that he had been involuntarily transferred to a new school. Price says he was advised by HISD not to talk to the media.
Even before Price became ill, state and HISD reports were reflecting problems at Bastian. In 1993, the Texas Education Agency's accreditation report on Bastian said that while Andrews displayed "a commitment to change and improvement," in many cases, teachers were left out of the process. The report noted excessive transfers of teachers between grades, concern over discipline and low participation in staff development workshops.
More disturbing was a new Report on School Progress. The positive replies from the 1991 report were not repeated; though only a small number of people bothered to respond to the survey, those who did indicated that both student and parent satisfaction with Bastian had decreased significantly. Andrews' performance in particular was called into question by parents,
who said they felt she had become less accessible.
In February, an HISD intervention team was dispatched to Bastian as part of the accountability pilot. A summary of its findings said students were not being challenged, teachers were not responsive to the school's mission, and collaborative planning with the principal was nonexistent.
"It was just a very hostile environment," says Joseph Drayton, the area assistant superintendent, who led the intervention team. "The situation had deteriorated between some staff persons and the principal to the point that no matter what one or the other did, there was going to be a lot of infighting."
Arthur Gaines, trustee for the district that includes Bastian, says the school "was locked up. There was nothing taking place. There was deep friction between the teachers and the principal, and the children were suffering as a result of it."
On May 4, after lunch, Almena Wright had a hunch. Wright had been one of Bastian's first volunteers under Andrews, working with kids identified as potential dropouts. She also volunteered in the school office and was a community representative on Bastian's shared-decision-making committee.
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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