Another view that has been making the rounds:
"A History of Lack of Support at Westinghouse
As someone who has worked very closely with the Westinghouse community and staff, I thought it very appropriate at this time to voice my concern for the lack of support that the board administration has given the school leadership team at Westinghouse over the last several years. The central office administration continues to use the media to give the appearance to the community that the principals’ lack of leadership is the sole reason that the transformation of Westinghouse was not successful. Those of us who are a part of the school community know that is clearly not the case. In a survey given to the parents prior to Abbott and McNeil being placed on leave, only 6% of the parents surveyed felt that the school leadership was poor. The overwhelming majority of both parents and staff that were surveyed understood that the school leadership was working diligently to establish a culture of learning that was quite different than what the students had experienced previously. It is a shame that the board administration not only showed a lack of support for the change that was being instituted at Westinghouse, but placed additional barriers in the principals’ and teachers’ way. It makes us wonder why they would do this. If the administration did not support the change into a single gender school, why allow the principals to open the school as such.
And we all continue to read about the school being unorganized. How much did the district administration contribute to the lack of organization within the school, when construction that was critical to the effective opening of the school was delayed for more than two months? During a time that the use of the school is critical for the effective opening of the school year, the entire staff was unable to have access to classrooms. Four schools were being closed, classrooms moved, materials shipped to a new location. How many additional custodians were sent to support the major changes that were taking place? How is it that all of the necessary books and materials from Peabody High School were delivered to Westinghouse two school days prior to when students would arrive? This was an entire cafeteria full of items that would need to be sorted and distributed. Where was the board administrative team when the staff worked diligently to have these materials in their classrooms and establish a welcoming learning environment for the opening day of school? Who is being held accountable for opening the school earlier than all other high schools, when construction continued to delay the staff from being able to have access to the school?
In preparing for the students, the principals understood the importance of emphasizing academic and behavioral expectations from the start of school. As a community school, the school leadership team requested the opportunity to focus on expectations for the classroom, halls, assemblies, and overall school wide performance. This was to be the focus of the first four weeks of school. Students would receive the necessary guidance in transitioning into the new school. Unfortunately, the assistant superintendent for high schools, Christiana Otuwa, would not allow the principals to have a major focus on these areas. Although the students were coming from many different schools and neighborhoods, the school was supposed to begin like any other school. We see now that student behavior and expectations continues to be a major issue at Westinghouse. When given the opportunity to allow students to see that the entire community supports the change that they are a part of, once again the initiatives of the principals were not supported.
At Westinghouse, there is a level of disorganization that surpasses the authority and responsibility of the principal. On numerous occasions the principals of the Academy at Westinghouse were told that the new scheduling software could handle a trimester calendar. If the system was unable to handle the unique structure of scheduling that was being developed, why would the board administration continue to emphasize a trimester calendar? It was a technology issue that created the inability to have students scheduled properly. Up until the day before school, Principal Abbott was told that the scheduling in Pinnacle was correct. Christiana Otuwa arrived at Westinghouse the second day of school, knowing that the Pinnacle software was not correct and pressured Principal Abbott to print the schedules that were in Pinnacle. Why would Principal Abbott not be allowed to use a hand scheduling method that other schools were using? Schools that did not have a trimester schedule were experiencing the same problems and these schools opened for students more than a week after Westinghouse. Christiana Otuwa showed little regard for the students who would be more frustrated as a result of receiving schedules that were unreadable. The principals should have been allowed by their supervisor to schedule in the manner that would work for the school.
There has been a clear pattern of disregard on the board administration’s part as it relates to the support that has been requested by the principals at Westinghouse. How is it that every year Westinghouse continues to receive a large percent of the displaced teachers from throughout the district? Teachers are placed at Westinghouse that have no desire to work at the school, while those that want to make a difference within the community are assigned elsewhere. In July of 2010 Principal McNeil brought it to the attention of his supervisors that over 40% of the teachers at Westinghouse were coming from displacements. His continued communication regarding this situation that was not equitable was not given the attention that was necessary. Students at Westinghouse should have been afforded the opportunity to be taught by the district’s best teachers, not constantly receiving new teachers that lack the skill set and experience to teach the students in our community. Yet, the principal continued to follow protocol and support the reform agenda that was being proposed by the board administration, hoping that the board leadership would hold true to the promise of hiring staff for the school that would be required to go through an intense hiring process.
But what was the incentive for an effective teacher to come to The Academy at Westinghouse? While the district was promoting the Teacher Academies at Brashear and King as career ladder positions for teachers with monetary incentives, who was busy recruiting teachers for the most important task of creating change for the students of the East End? After all, it was only the closure and consolidation of four low performing schools. The principals were being asked to do this while remaining committed to all the responsibilities of other principals as well. So the principals not only had to advocate for the school and recruit teachers, but initially students had to sign up to attend the school as well. And who was out in the community meeting with parents and families and the community in order to recruit students? It was the principals again who were charged with ensuring that students signed up to attend the school. Yet, given the outright lack of district support, more than 500 parents chose to send their children to the Academy at Westinghouse. They desired to send their children to a Westinghouse that would be designed different, hoping that the district would hold true to their promises. So the principals communicated to parents and students that they would receive qualified teachers who would present an approach to learning that was different than what they were currently receiving. So did the district hold true to this promise? The answer is an unequivocal No.
Out of the 50 teachers at Westinghouse, 21 were placed there without going through the rigorous observation and interview process conducted by the principals. How is it that the district can say that they were committed to making the new school work for the students at Westinghouse when the district continues to display a lack of effort in hiring and assigning teachers to the school? After Derrick Lopez left the district, who was the board administrator who was committed to the work of this transformation? Who would have brought this issue up in executive meetings with all of the attention that was being given to the Teacher Academies? Again, the school leadership and staff were left alone to deal with the results of these poor decisions. The school leadership would have to tell teachers, who were assigned to a school that they did not choose, that the school was designed in a manner that would require them to work additional hours each day. Also, these teachers were asked to report to the school three weeks prior to the opening of the school for training. But somehow, the teachers and school leadership came together for the benefit of the students and 50 – 60% of the staff regularly attended the summer training.
So when the school year began, many people were under the impression that the teachers who were at Westinghouse wanted to be there and were the top candidates. What has not been addressed by the district administration throughout all of the communication with the media is the fact that the principals were told by assistant superintendent, Christiana Otuwa, to place 17 teachers on Employee Improvement Plans. How could the principals, who had personal relationships with parents and students, and had promised the best teachers, now say that 35% of the staff is performing at an unsatisfactory level? Were these same teachers unsatisfactory at their previous schools? Why would these unsatisfactory teachers be placed at Westinghouse, the new school with the greatest need of support? Christiana Otuwa and the board administration did not care about the school climate that would be created by such a directive as this. Placing 17 teachers on an improvement plan in a newly designed and consolidated school would have negatively impacted the entire school community. Teachers were already being required to perform tasks that were new and take leadership roles within the school community. These teachers were putting forth effort to meet the goals being set by the board and school administration. There has not been any principal in the district that was required to address teacher evaluations in such a manner as the principals at Westinghouse. Otuwa’s directive to place these staff members on improvement plans was unacceptable. Were these teachers on plans at their previous school? I applaud McNeil for standing up to a supervisor that attempts to bully people into doing what she wants.
Curriculum implementation has also been a topic of concern, but as I recall the district was to hire a curriculum coordinator for the school. Of course this did not happen as it should have. The district administration chose to hire a project manager rather than someone that could help with the necessary curriculum support. The project manager, that the principals were not permitted to supervise, reported directly to Christiana Otuwa. Why is it that the leaders that are in the school each day, were not able to assign important tasks to the people that were hired by the board administration to perform those responsibilities?
But was there to be a different curriculum anyway? The students were given additional time in the classroom. The emphasis on a different curriculum was not a priority. A theme of leadership was being infused into the curriculum throughout the school. This is another plot to distract us from the true issue at hand, which is the lack of support and true effort that the school district made to ensure that Westinghouse was a success this school year. Many of us communicated that the school should grow by a grade each year like other schools that were new in the district. There is no other school that serves similar students that was approved to open in the manner as Westinghouse Academy.
We are constantly reading reports that the school is better now, but how can that be when the amount of citations issued to students has drastically increased. Teachers are afraid to voice their concerns for fear of losing their jobs or being an eventual target. The district implied that the principals were the issue, so it must be better now. The current school administration that was placed at Westinghouse has been given a new level of support. But what has happened is a decrease in the expectations for students. The school was designed in a manner that required young men and young women to understand the importance of dress. On the first days of school, community members called the school constantly to thank the leadership for the change that was visible in the community. Young men and women were dressed in a uniform that identified them as a student involved in a special movement within their community. Students are no longer required to wear the same uniform dress. Why did we lower the expectation? The students were previously required to submit all electronics/cell phones at the door, prior to entering the school. This is no longer taking place and students have reverted back to having phones and music out as before. Implementing change takes a commitment and focus. I only wish our students had been given a chance to adjust to the higher expectations that were being established.
It seems that everyone that was closely connected to the process of transforming Westinghouse has moved on to other positions outside of the district except Principal McNeil. Principal McNeil has received satisfactory performance evaluations and qualified for the principal incentive bonuses both years as Principal of Westinghouse High School, and as recent as October 2011. He received an evaluation from Otuwa in August that was satisfactory. He was then placed on an improvement plan in October 2011 and placed on leave less than four weeks later. Did he even get the opportunity to work towards improvement as suggested? Principal McNeil even questioned the sincerity of his supervisor to support his improvement after she stated in her first meeting to discuss the plan that she was looking to rate principals out. It appears that his job performance is now being questioned to the point that he may no longer hold any administrative position in the district. This is a shame and I am hoping that the school board will correct the negligent actions of the administration that supervises Principal McNeil."