We're In The Red Zone At T.H. Rogers; Meanwhile, HISD Supervisor Answers More Questions, Kinda

The results are in from the Houston ISD survey of teachers at T.H. Rogers, the school where teachers and the local union have circulated increasingly loud complaints that their principal, Dr. Cathryn White is an intimidating, arrogant taskmaster who needs to see the error of her ways, if not just leave the job.

The HISD survey backed up some of the basic findings of the March survey done by the Houston Federation of Teachers. Rogers teachers scored White and the school she runs low in the areas of focus, communication and problem-solving. (Actually White had predicted they would score morale even lower than they did.)

There were some strengths -- innovativeness (the degree to which the principal is and allows others to be inventive and creative), adaptation (ability to change to meet student needs) and cohesiveness (how much the teachers want to be part of the team).

But still, as the president of the independent company hired by HISD to do a followup survey to the one done by the Houston Federation of Teachers, put it: "There's a lot of hard work to be done." He said if the teachers and principal work together as they said they would during the two-day retreat this past Monday and Tuesday, then things can improve. If not, they won't.

"The faculty knows. I talked two days about them being in the red zone," Dr. Marvin Fairman said. "The composite picture of that faculty is in Stage 1."

That is not good.

Stage 1 it turns out is inhabited by people who are "polite, guarded, watchful, impersonal," who "avoid controversial issues" and engage in "safe & private conversations." To get to Stage 6 -- AKA the bright blue zone -- the principal at Rogers is going to have to learn how to work with her teachers to plan proactively, work collaboratively and hold themselves and others accountable, among other things.

Seventy-seven Rogers people took the survey, Fairman said. Responding to our report that the teachers felt intimidated because the principal was in the room with them while they filled out the survey, he said that's the way it's supposed to be. He did say, however, teachers had  "a realistic concern" about being asked to enter a code for their individual departments, given the small size of some of them. Eight teachers chose not to code their forms, he said.

Meanwhile, HISD Supervisor Barbara Thornhill got back to us today over apparent discrepancies between what she said was how the White matter was handled, what Spring Branch ISD says, and what some teachers and the HFT union says.

In our first question, we asked Thornhill to explain why Spring Branch ISD (White's employer prior to her signing on with HISD) was saying no one from HISD had contacted it about White versus Thornhill's statement to us that she had checked out White's references, that all were satisfactory and that White was in good standing when she left Spring Branch ISD.

Thornhill stood her ground with one of those answers that could be interpreted well, in many ways.

Thornhill: "HISD has a protocol for hiring that was followed. All references indicated that Dr White was in good standing at the time she left Spring Branch."

Our second question concerned Thornhill's statement to us that no one had brought any allegations to her about White at any time in or out of Houston Federation of Teachers meetings. But we have an e-mail dated February 26, in which HFT government liaison Zeph Capo writes Thornhill that there is a level of discontent at the Rogers campus among the teachers and that he is raising the subject even though he is concerned "that the principal will react in a manner that will escalate the morale problems in an attempt to scare them into silence."

The next day, Thornhill wrote an e-mail to another administrator asking her to contact Capo. So why did she say she didn't know anything about any problems at the school involving its principal and teachers?


"Allegations: Is the reporter considering employee "discontent" (words from the email) to be an allegation against the principal?

"If these are one in the same, then action was taken. The concerns about "teacher/principal problems" (words from the reporter) were communicated to the executive principal who contacted the HFT representative to get more information.

"In addition, I met with the executive principal and principal about the "teacher/principal problems", hired an outside consultant, and provided an additional survey [on May 19]. Finally the school had a retreat which was facilitated by the consultant [June 1 and 2]. The consultant has not yet shared all of the results of the retreat and proposed next steps with me. However, we have been communicating in order to set up a time to have these discussions.
Thornhill also pointed out that contrary to what we wrote, two GT teachers were not let go. She says the teachers weren't performing up to par and when the school administration proposed their positions be terminated, they were allowed to resign instead.

Thornhill went on to say that she did act and that, in fact, it was the HFT that showed an "apparent lack of concern" by not talking directly to her about the results of their own survey.

HFT just dropped a copy off at her office. No one asked to meet with her, she says. So she says she's the one who really cared and really pursued the issue.

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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