An announcement on Oct. 7 that Richard Trogisch would no longer serve as principal of School Without Walls (SWW) and School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens incited parent-led protests and the filing of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It also compelled some D.C. Council members to demand answers from D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) about the circumstances.

Given Trogisch’s recent criticism of DCPS’ phased reopening plan, and what some have long described as his penchant for speaking his mind, many of his supporters have framed his departure as retaliation for questioning DCPS leadership’s decision to reopen elementary schools next month.

Earlier this year, Ward 8 teachers, students and parents similarly coalesced around Dr. Carolyn Jackson-King and Johann Lee when DCPS didn’t renew the maverick principals’ contracts at Boone Elementary School and Kimball Elementary School, respectively.

In the months before DCPS severed its relationship with Jackson-King, she counted among those who rejected aspects of the Relay instructional model that had been criticized as detrimental to Black students. In speaking about Trogisch’s situation, Jackson-King told The Informer that DCPS leadership benefited from removing Trogisch amid tenuous conversations about the condition of school buildings and HVAC systems during the pandemic.

“If people said Principal Trogisch confronted [DCPS leadership] about the reopening, trust me he did,” she said. “He has never been one in any meeting to hold his tongue. That’s my personal experience with him on the chancellor’s cabinet,” said Jackson-King, who maintained the helm at Boone Elementary for five years.

In March, shortly after the District entered a public health state of emergency, Jackson-King received a letter saying DCPS would not renew her contract for the fall. Shortly after, she filed an appeal, the results of which she said she didn’t receive until May when DCPS leadership reiterated its decision. Since the launch of a campaign to get her rehired, a Boone Elementary employee has filed a whistleblower complaint alleging an unethical relationship between the Relay Graduate School of Education and the District’s education leadership.

Jackson-King said her apprehensions about Relay, much like Trogisch’s criticizing the condition of the SWW Francis-Stevens campus, centered on students’ wellbeing, both of which often caused clashes with the DCPS central office.

“The principals in DCPS rarely challenge any directive aloud,” Jackson-King continued. “I’ve had sidebar conversations [about Relay] with a lot of them and I know that Principal Lee at Kimball spoke out against Relay. That was both of our downfalls.”

SWW Community Organizes around Trogisch

On November 9, when 21,000 DCPS elementary school students return to in-person learning, Instructional Superintendent Shawn Stover will serve as interim principal of SWW Francis-Stevens – a school that District activists allege remains ill-equipped to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During a showcase of medical-grade HVAC units at Barnard Elementary School in Northwest, Ferebee said he and the Washington Teachers’ Union have been in discussions about the phased reopening plan, emphasizing the necessity of the safety of teachers and students. Though those talks, particularly around including the WTU’s safety checklist have been contentious, Ferebee asserted that both parties will soon reach a solution.

In regards to the personnel change at SWW and SWW Francis-Stevens, DCPS cited Trogisch’s involvement in a school lottery violation. Some of his supporters however maintain that it was Trogisch’s bold rebuff of DCPS’ efforts to reopen that didn’t sit well with the central office.

Others have cited what has been was described as a contentious walk-through at SWW Francis-Stevens on the day of October 8, not long before the end of Trogisch’s tenure. As reported in previous issues of The Informer, the abrupt change sparked conversation among Ward 2 parents and State Board of Education candidates about curbing mayoral control of District public schools.

Emily Nestler, a decade-long resident of Ward 2 and parent of two SWW Francis-Stevens students, counted among those who converged upon the elementary campus last weekend in demand for answers about the departure of their revered leader.

For her, larger concerns about the effects of a leadership vacuum loomed large, especially after Trogisch’s success as a principal who raised the school’s profile and advocated for a revamping of the building and HVAC system long before the pandemic.

“We have been pushing to get our school renovated for a long time. It’s overcrowded and we had constant meetings about renovations, funding and expansion [including] the pipes and HVAC system,” said Nestler, who recently filed a FOIA request for documents related to Trogisch’s employment and departure, a digital confirmation of which The Informer received.

“Principal Trogisch was very engaged with the city and I think he has been to our benefit. My sense is that he would push DCPS,” Nestler added. “It was his job to protect our kids and teachers. He was very successful at that end and it made him popular with us and frustrating with them.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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