Education, Interview — March 3, 2014 at 6:57 am

INTERVIEW: A former EAA administrator who was fired without being told why speaks out (UPDATED)


Today’s interview is with a former EAA administrator who was fired by Chancellor Covington (though she was allowed to “resign”) but never given a reason why. In fact, after she collected unemployment for over a month, the EAA challenged her unemployment on the basis of “misconduct”. However, their accusation was found to be unsubstantiated and their claim was denied.

But this is more than just a story about an unwarranted firing. It shows how pressure is put on school administrators to perform without the needed resources, how some schools are shown distinct favoritism, and how the “dog and pony show” that is put on for visitors like Governor Rick Snyder and wealthy benefactors/investors is well-known and repudiated by the administrators at some schools. Finally, this administrator confirms that the EAA was not meeting the needs of special educations students including those required by federal law.

UPDATE: To all of you who dismiss my reporting on this issues as just “anonymous disgruntled employees” complaining in public, I suggest you ask yourself why so many people are speaking out (there are now well over a dozen.) You can’t name one other school district in the state where so many teachers (and now an administrator) have stepped forward to shine a light on inappropriate things happening in their schools.

The idea that this isn’t relevant because some of those I’ve interviewed requested anonymity to protect them from retribution is absurd. Journalists use anonymous sources regularly. Why are bloggers held to a different standard? I think I’ve gained enough credibility in the ten years I’ve been blogging to be free from that sort of double standard.

Finally, this is NOT a partisan issue so complaints that I’m just being political about this are ridiculous. I’d be just as determined to report on this issue if a Democrat was our governor as I am right now. This is about the education of our kids and the corporate takeover of our public schools. They start with our most challenged districts because communities in poverty have the least amount of political clout & power. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers and so-called leaders who are connected to education in Michigan are happy to give over these districts to an unproven experiment under the guise of “doing something”. Sometimes “something” is worse than the status quo. Those of us who oppose the EAA are looking for real reform, real change in the status quo that benefits our state’s students, not what we have now for which there is scant evidence that it is working.

Tell me your story and what happened to you as an administrator in the EAA.

Well, first of all, I’m actually not entirely sure what happened. It was late March of 2013 during a “professional development” (PD) session for all of the schools, held at Central High School. This particular PD was pretty much useless. It was irrelevant to what we were doing and most of the information wasn’t able to be presented because the presenters were not able to get online to show the teachers how to use the programs that they were trying to train us on.

So, it was really a challenge to be in those rotations. They would have us in one session for a little over an hour and then we’d rotate to another one. But most of the presenters couldn’t show us their material because passwords were not working so we were not able to manipulate the PD so that we could take the information back to our buildings and be trainers for teachers who may have missed it.

They served lunch that day but, by the time I and another teacher got down to eat, all of the food was gone. So we decided to leave the campus and go pay for some food. We went to McDonalds and when we came back to the campus, a person from central office was in the parking lot. He saw me and said, “Dr. Prince is looking for you.”

I looked at my phone and realized that there were about five people who had tried to contact me from central office. I called Dr. Prince who was over in Human Resources and he said, “Where are you?”

I said, “Well they ran out of food so I went and got something to eat. But I’m back in the parking lot and coming back into the school for the afternoon professional development.”

He said, “Well Doc (that’s Dr. Covington) wants to talk to you.”

After I hung up, my colleague said, “That doesn’t sound good.”

I said, “You’re right. They’re probably going to fire me today.”

For going to lunch?

Like I said before, I had no idea why. So, I finished eating then I went downtown. When I signed in I saw the name of another one of my colleagues on the list. Then I saw him walk out but he had his head down so I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to him. I got into the elevator and went up. Dr. Covington saw me and said, “Come on down here.” I knew then that they were going to fire me because they took me into a small room, not his office.

I went in and sat there alone for about five minutes until Dr. Covington and Dr. Prince came into the room. I remember thinking at the time that it was the worst way this could possibly have been handled. Neither one of these men could look at me. Dr. Prince constantly had his eyes on the ground or out the window. Dr. Covington had his hand under his chin with his eyes looking at the table.

They closed the door but nobody said anything. So I just started laughing. I asked them, “Are you getting ready to fire me?” Dr. Covington looked up at me and he said, “Yeah.”

I asked them why. He pushes this letter toward me. I open the letter up and the letter said, “For the better of the Board, we’re asking for a termination of your contract.”

I said, “I don’t know what this means, ‘for the better of the Board’. Could you clarify that for me?” That’s what the letter said.

“For the better of the Board”? Like the EAA Board?

The Board of Directors. So, I asked them to explain that to me, “For the better of the board”, that’s what the letter said.

He said, “We’re need your keys right now.”

I told him if I had known they were going to fire me I would have brought my keys with me. But since I was at Central I knew I wouldn’t need my keys. I told him I lived too far away to go get the keys and then come back for his convenience. I told him was going to the basketball game that Saturday and I would be more than happy to bring the keys to the school on Saturday. He could work on MY schedule.

He said, “Okay, fine.”

Then I asked him if I could give him a letter of resignation and he said, “Yeah, okay, we allowed the others to do that.” I went over to the Human Resources department and typed up a letter of resignation. I kept the letter that they gave me and they accepted my letter of resignation.

A week or so later, I applied for unemployment. I was on unemployment for about a month and a half when I got a call from the State of Michigan saying that the EAA was disputing my unemployment. I thought to myself, “They want to play dirty ball.”

I asked her why and she said it was because of “misconduct”. I laughed and she asked me why I was laughing. I asked her to read to me what they had written. She said, “It just says ‘misconduct’ here. We’ve asked for documentation and, to date, we have not received anything. Could you tell us what happened?”

I explained to her what I just explained to you. She asked me if I had a copy of both of the letters. I told her I absolutely did and faxed the letter to her. I called her back to make sure she got them and she said she had.

Three days later I got a letter in the mail from the unemployment office saying that the EAA’s allegations were totally unfounded and my unemployment would continue.

Good for you!

I realize that Michigan is an at-will state but they still need to tell you why you were fired. So, I requested my records so that I could have some easiness about what happened, in case there was something unethical that I had done. When I got the records, there was absolutely nothing in my records aside from my application, my interview, the letter saying that they accepted my resignation, my resignation letter, my TB test, my fingerprints, the release of records from DPS, and that was it. They didn’t even have the letter in there that said I was being fired “for the better of the Board”.

So you have no idea why they were going to fire you?

I have no idea.

Do you have any suspicions? Is there anything that you think might have led them that point?

There is absolutely nothing. I had never been reprimanded. I had never been written up. One thing that I know I did, but that wasn’t any different than what administrators at the other 14 schools in the district did — I had teachers that acted like they had total autonomy to do what they wanted to do and I told them, “That’s not how this ship rolls” — so I had a staff meeting and I had a few choice words for my staff. I started it off by saying, “This is not for everyone but everyone needs to hear what I have to say.”

Well, of course, human resources got a whiff of it and Dr. Prince came to the building. He asked what happened. I told him I did have some choice words, I did say it. I asked him, “Are you going to write me up?” He said he was going to walk around the building and talk to some of the teachers and see what they had to say. He asked for a list of the staff so I printed off the list for him. He was probably in the building for about 20 minutes including the time he spent with me then he was gone. And there was nothing else ever said about what happened.

How long before they were going to fire you did this happen?

That was probably five or six months.

So there’s no connection that you know of between that and your getting fired?

No, I can’t connect those things.

Some teachers I have talked to tell me that they get the sense that Dr. Covington treats his staff, principals and others, really crappy and then they turn around and treat their own staffs that way. Do you see it that way, as well, or would you see it differently?

I would see it the same. He treated us pretty bad. He was a demeaning type person. He would always tell us, “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll be happy to walk your ass out.” That was common language.

He said that directly to administrators?

Yeah, he said that to administrators. Yeah. Because there are two ways to handle the EAA: either you’re going to move up or you’re going to move out. That’s what he told us. He’s very demeaning and he also plays the favoritism game. There were some administrators who were… I’ll call them the “golden children”. They received all of the support. Where I was, I didn’t receive support. We were the outcasts.

I took this position because I believe in the children and I believed in the grant that we had gotten when the school I was in was part of the Detroit Public Schools. I had helped to write a $5.9 million school improvement grant for three years which I wanted to see to fruition. That’s why I wanted to stay with the EAA when they took over our school. Needless to say, I believe that I was a placeholder. I don’t think I was a person they really wanted in there but they thought if they kept me on, they’d get that money since I had worked on the grant.

But, I didn’t get the support. Anything that we did at the school was, according to the central office, “against the grain”. I had to reach out to some of the people who provided professional development, like my school improvement network, and ask them if they would come into my building to give us professional development. I sent them emails to thank them for making that sacrifice so that my teachers would be on the same page as all of the other schools.

What I found out was that the 15 different EAA schools, all of us were on different pages which was the craziest thing in the world to me. All of the energy was being funneled to Nolan and Brenda Scott.

I have heard that, about Nolan especially, that they got a lot of advantages compared to the other schools.

They received much more benefit with regard to student centered learning. If you are not familiar with student centered learning, you want the resources and professional development to get the students to where the district says student centered learning should take them. But that never happened, not at the school I was at, and most likely didn’t happen throughout the district.

For example, at the school where I was, BUZZ just did not work. Come to find out, the reason that it didn’t work was because the computer network wasn’t set up correctly. So it was just a really big challenge at my schools. We were constantly sending emails to let them know what was going on. I think we were black-balled because we were pretty verbal about what was going on.

We just started using textbooks. What we decided to do was just use DPS’s curriculum because we didn’t have anything in BUZZ.

What percentage of what happened in the classroom relied on BUZZ? One of the things I’m hearing from Chancellor Covington is that BUZZ was just a small part of it and that there were all these other things going on. But teachers tell me something quite different. I’m curious what you would say about that.

Percentage of the day that was toward BUZZ? Well, first of all, remember that BUZZ was supposed to be the platform for the EAA. But, if you do not have computer for every child in the building, it could not be 100% of the time. It couldn’t even be 50% of the time because the laptops were used on a rotational basis. Then, when BUZZ didn’t work, it would be less than 10% of the time at my school.

But what was it supposed to be?

It was the curriculum. It was 100% of the time except for things like gym or music; of course they wouldn’t use the the BUZZ platform then. But, other than that, it was supposed to be all of the time. There was no whole group instruction. It was all individualized instruction — student centered — and the students decide what they’re going to learn and when they’re going to learn it. But it was all just a big farce. For example, we initially we had the Performance Series Test which was a joke within itself, because the EAA did not block the internet. Students are technologically very savvy today. What they would do, if they didn’t know the answer, they would minimize the screen, Google the answer, then return to the test. And that information was sent to the central office to let them know that.

That blows my mind.

That was sent to them so that they would know that.

We also had the computers that had the camera on it. You would have kids actually videotaping what was going on in the classroom which takes us to a different story: discipline was absolutely out of control. Kids were actually videotaping what was going on their classrooms and posting the video to Youtube. The central office was aware of it and I was told that, since I was the one to discipline the teachers, they couldn’t double discipline them.

Have you found another job?

I have decided to start my own business. One of the reasons that I don’t want my name being used is that I don’t want it associated with the EAA because there’s so much controversy surrounding it and people aren’t really interested people who were associated with it. But, I’m qualified. I’m a certified administrator. It’s interesting to note that the person who replaced me is not certified.

That’s pretty common in the EAA, right?

It’s quite common. There are several principals who aren’t certified, in fact. But, I was so horrible, I guess — not that they ever told me that — that they had to get rid of me. I guess, at the end of the day, when I look at it I think they wanted to fire me because I just wanted to do what was right and I was not unethical. Maybe that was the issue.

It sounds to me that you had outlived your usefulness to them. It sounds like they were using you to get the grant money and, once you were no longer useful to them, they wanted to move you out because you weren’t going to toe their line because you wanted to do the right thing.

That’s what I believe. I don’t know what you know about the interview process but it was quite tedious. You had to fill out an application then you had to go through a screening process that was done by Harvard, actually. If the EAA felt you were qualified for the position, they sent you an email telling you that you had moved on to the next stage based on your application. Then there were additional questions through the School Improvement Network. I never did those questions but then I was moved on to the interview phase.

At my interview, Dr. Covington actually walked out on my interview. Then the next day I was offered the job. He didn’t say anything to me, he just got up and walked out. Then another person got up and walked out. I was thinking, “Maybe I need to get up and walk out, too!”

You’re probably wishing now that you HAD walked out!

I do. I do. But, you know, I learned a lot from the EAA about what NOT to do. It was an experience.

What was your experience with regards to special education students?

All of the Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) were housed with the Wayne County RESA (regional educational service agency) and Detroit Public Schools so all of those IEPs had to be released. Once they were released, they had a contractor company, Futures, come in and reevaluate these IEPs. Mind you, these kids were what we called “categorically pure”. So, if we had a learning disabled child, he was in a room with all learning disabled children. If he was really high achieving in math, he’d be in math for one hour a day for that grade level. However, for about two or three weeks, our students were categorically pure.

Then, all of a sudden, Futures came in and said, “These kids need to be in their grade level. Now some of these children, you might have a fifth grader functioning at the preschool level. They’d put this child in a fifth grade classroom with 30 or 40 kids. There was no transition. They threw them into the classroom. The kids were running out of the classroom because they were overwhelmed. It was horrible. They were crying, they told their parents they didn’t want to come to school. They didn’t want to go into the classroom.

Its sounds traumatic.

It was very traumatic because there was no transition. They went from “categorically pure” with 5-10 kids in their classroom to 30 to 40 kids in your classroom. There was all kind of mayhem going on. This was how special ed kids were treated. We didn’t have enough special ed teachers which meant that the kids weren’t not being serviced as was required by law. Those special ed students have really been demoralized and truly not educated in the EAA system because they didn’t see the need.

Did they ever explain to you why they took the special ed kids from their smaller, specialized classrooms and put them in with the general population in these huge classrooms? What was the rationale behind doing that?

They never explained it to us.

Was it a way to save money? Did that save them money?

It’s definitely a way to save money.

Why is that? In what way does it save them money?

Because once they had the special ed kids in the regular ed classroom they didn’t have to have all of these special ed teachers. The special ed teachers are hard to come by. Also, legally they’re only supposed to have 22-25 kids on their list. There were 77 special ed kids in my school and we were only allotted two special ed teachers.

Wow. So that’s got to be a big part of them making that change; it got them out of hiring another special ed teacher.

Getting seasoned teachers in the EAA was a challenge, too. We had a lot of Teach for America teachers and teachers who had transitioned from the corporate world into the EAA. But they were not properly trained. They didn’t know how to do lesson plans, didn’t know how to deal with a classroom of 30, 40 kids, and then the EAA didn’t have a curriculum on top of that. They had teachers with less than a year of teaching experience writing curriculum.

You were in DPS as an administrator before the EAA took over your school. How would you contrast the different approaches? DPS certainly had it’s own issues, right?

Sure, DPS had its own issues. But, at least at the end of the day you knew that there were procedures and policies that you had to follow. There was a protocol. It wasn’t made up as things happened. Those things were in place so that, if you needed something, you knew how to go about getting it.

How would you compare the quality of the education kids received under DPS with what they are getting with the EAA during the time you were there?

There really isn’t a comparison. DPS was a school district that was well-established. They had seasoned teachers who actually knew the kids because many of the teachers who were in a specific building were in that building for two or more years. So they had established relationships with the children and with each other, with the community, with families. The relationships were already established. The policies were already in place. Those teachers had the experiences and resources.

With the EAA, everybody came running to the administrators or were calling downtown when something didn’t happen right. That was their only outlet because they didn’t know, they were totally inexperienced.

When DPS was rolling out a new curriculum, they did professional development well in advance, the previous year, all summer long, so when the new curriculum hit the schools in the fall, all of the teachers knew what to do. They did not do a month of PD and tell teachers, “Go for what you know.” That’s not how DPS operates. They are very organized and keep the teachers informed and knowledgable about the academic, social, and emotional needs of the children.

There’s one more thing: Governor Snyder never came to my school, probably because they thought there was too much mayhem. At Nolan, they put all the disruptive kids in one area and showed the governor rooms full of obedient kids. It was a true dog and pony show. They knew at our school we weren’t going to do that. When you came to our building, it is what is because, the way I looked at it, that was the first year of implementation and people needed to see what needed to be ironed our. That’s the only way they could help us. If we created a lie, they would be helping us based on a lie. And then you’ve got to tell another lie to cover up the first lie.