Ryan MS Principal Says He Is Not Racist or Sexist or Anti-Gay No Matter What HISD Says

Ryan Middle School Principal Michael McKenzie, who was supposed to be among Houston ISD's best and brightest, told faculty and staff that he "preferred a black male" for the assistant principal's position, said that a male employee "should not be with children because he is openly gay" and "used profanity on two separate occasions -- 'bitch' and 'motherfucker' during a teacher in-service -- according to an internal HISD investigation.

The investigation by the district's Equal Employment Opportunity office determined that McKenzie, who is African American, was not only racist and sexist and ridiculed students at the Third Ward school, but was arrogant as well, and Chief Middle School Officer Dallas Dance has written him a letter of reprimand saying one more time and he's fired.

McKenzie insists the district got it wrong and has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He says the HISD case is built on hearsay and misinformation and stems from employees not willing to embrace the needed amount of change he brings to the troubled Ryan school. He denies that he is racist, telling Hair Balls: "My youngest son -- his mother is white."

The 34-year-old (his birthday is today) says he knew when he moved to Ryan from an assistant principalship at Waller-TSU Prep, an external charter, he needed to show "tough love" to turn the school around. He maintains he walked into a buzzsaw -- unlike other Apollo 20 principals brought in, he says he wasn't allowed to name his own counselors or assistant principal and the ones he inherited were tied to his predecessor, who'd been removed from the school the year before.

"This school was comfortable for adults, it wasn't for the kids. If you wanted to sit down and not teach, that's fine," McKenzie said.

In regards to the first complaint against him, filed on August 20, 2010, by a former Ryan employee who alleged race and disability discrimination and retaliation, HISD "confirmed" the allegations, even though McKenzie denied them. According to the investigation, McKenzie:

-- "Took the employee's furniture from her office to use in your office even though you were informed it was the employee's personal furniture. When told that it was her personal furniture, you responded, "'I don't care; it is mine now.'"

-- "Made it clear to all your staff members that you wanted black staff members in leadership positions because you felt the students responded better to black staff."

-- "Showed movie clips of Boyz n the Hood and Invictus to your staff which several members found offensive."

-- "Referenced the employee's absence from work due to a medical disability in a threatening manner."

McKenzie said he wasn't aware the furniture belonged to the employee and when he found out, the employee was able to retrieve it. He denied that he stated that blacks should be in the leadership positions because of student response.

He says he showed the movie clips to try to instill in his staff the kind of world the Ryan students live in. He says he also had them walk to the Cuny Homes housing development two miles away. "I want us to walk so we can see what our students walk through, to show them what these kids have to walk through every day on their way to school."

Investigators also confirmed the allegations in the second complaint, filed September 2, 2010 alleging race and gender discrimination, by a current Ryan employee. Besides the gay comment and the profanity at in-service, according to investigators, McKenzie:

-- "Told the employee not to do discipline because you 'preferred a black man to do the discipline regardless of the race of the student' "

-- "Told your faculty and staff on August 9, 2010 that you 'preferred a black male' for the assistant principal position but since you could not get the one you wanted, you 'settled for a black female.' This statement was confirmed by individuals you asked to be interviewed."

-- "Attempted to reassign the current assistant principal to another position; however, when the employee did not sign the 'Voluntary Acceptance' form, you changed all of the administrative job functions for the individual."

-- "Stated that if a specific teacher went on medical leave he 'will be falling on his own sword.' This was said knowing the teacher has a serious medical illness."

-- "Reprimanded the employee very openly in the front office in front of office workers."

-- "Ridiculed the students and made derogatory comments to them in front of others."

McKenzie denied saying he preferred a black man to handle discipline and said that when he expressed a preference for a person to be assistant principal, he was talking about a specific person who he was unable to hire for the position. He denied saying he "settled" for a black female.

According to McKenzie, his assistant principal did not want to do the discipline part of the job and agreed to a reassignment where that wouldn't be part of her duties. He denied the profanity, the public reprimand and making the sword statement.

McKenzie told Hair Balls that he has community backing because he's brought discipline to the school and demanded and received a higher level of teacher performance. "They see that our kids aren't hanging on a corner. They're not walking home trashing people's yards."

"Our reading scores increased the most out of all the Apollo schools. We have the most reduction in discipline cases. Our attendance has improved."

In his letter to McKenzie, Dance wrote, "As I shared with you, one theme was constant with your staff: They agree with and believe in your vision for the school. It is your 'approach' and 'abrasive demeanor' that is intimidating to your staff."

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing