As the school year comes to a close, teachers and other staff members at John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Southeast remain resolute in securing the removal of the principal.
Dwan Anthony Jordon, they say, is the cause of low staff morale accompanied by verbal abuse, intimidation, unethical behavior, and unilateral decision-making.
Not long after Jordon assumed the helm at Johnson Middle School last August, the cadre of staff members-turned-activists took their qualms to the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) central office.
They believe their cries are falling on deaf ears. They’ve also taken their concerns to the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU), D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson (D), and D.C. Councilmembers Robert White (D-At large) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and the D.C. chapter of the NAACP.
A group of longtime Johnson Middle School staff members who spoke to The Informer on the condition of anonymity said, despite blemishes on his record, Jordon’s connections to DCPS officials granted him a spot at the school and reinforced his mistreatment of staff members with impunity.
“All Principal Jordon believes in is the data and what the numbers in the chart say,” said a Johnson Middle School staff member of more than a decade. The staffer recounted receiving a low IMPACT score for an incident earlier in the year that involved the incorrect spelling of her name.
In his eagerness to improve the school’s academic standing, the staff member said that Jordon has repeatedly shut down teachers’ suggestions, discouraged the use of vacation days, lied to community members, and pressured employees to alter student attendance records.
“Jordon’s motivation is being hired to move Johnson from a two-star to a five-star school when people know that’s not going to happen in a virtual environment and in one year when you don’t have staff involved in the process,” the staff member said.
An employment history mired in controversy
In the latest juncture of their campaign, some Johnson Middle School staff members have contacted D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson for documentation about his assignment to Johnson.
The Office of the D.C. Auditor didn’t return The Informer’s inquiry confirming receipt of the Johnson staff members’ request.
A D.C. native, Jordon was head of schools and school support leader and project advisor at KIPP DC. Before then, he served on the D.C. State Board of Education High School Graduation Requirements Task Force.
He also ran Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School and the Parkside campus of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy. During his time at Chavez, the school received a Tier 1 designation.
Under D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, Jordon served as principal at John Philip Sousa Middle School. While standardized test scores increased by more than 20 percentage points, dozens of teachers and staff members either left on their own accord or were fired.
Later, Sousa failed to adequately meet the metrics of yearly progress, which critics said spoke to the shortcomings of assessing teacher effectiveness solely on student progress.
Parents complain about policies
Following the death of an eighth-grade student in January, Jordan did not offer condolences to the family or actively promote the prayer vigil taking place on the steps of Johnson Middle School, a critic alleged.
Before the COVID pandemic, Johnson Middle School, a Title 1 institution receiving federal funds to assist low-income families, received a STAR rating of two, with five points being the maximum. Nearly one out of four children at the majority-Black school, located on Burke Street in Southeast, also identify as special needs, while 1 out of 10 young people who attend the school are either in foster care or homeless.
Given the circumstances, some parents like Shacora Simmons said they welcome Jordon’s tactics, even going as far as to question teachers who’ve opposed him throughout the year.
“Some of the teachers are OK with Johnson Middle School lacking and students lacking,” said Simmons, who described a significant absence of communication between her and her son’s teachers throughout the pandemic.
“I’m big on community, so my son will continue going to Johnson. If we pull our kids out, Johnson won’t get funding. It’s about the children, teachers, and parents. It’s about how dedicated the teachers are,” Simmons said.
Ameykay Stocks, a parent of two Johnson Middle School alumni, had a different sentiment.
“Principal Jordon’s nature is nowhere near what Ward 8 needs. We need people more hands-on with students where you can’t sense the tension with teachers,” said Stocks, a Ward eight resident of 14 years.
Claims of cronyism continue
Currently, Johnson Middle School staff members who oppose Jordon are pressing for the release of survey data they said would reveal deep dissatisfaction with Jordon’s leadership.
The battle has attracted the attention of D.C. Councilmembers Robert White and Trayon White, who reportedly wrote to DCPS Chancellor Ferebee inquiring about the situation. Council Chairperson Mendelson has also reportedly looked into the longstanding battle.
Staff members at Johnson Middle School contend that Jordon ignores their complaints and that both he and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee share ties to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Jordon’s rapport with Deputy Chancellor Melissa Kim, with whom he worked at KIPP DC, also raises concerns.
DCPS officials did not respond to The Informer’s inquiry about the circumstances of Jordon’s appointment to Johnson Middle School, the steps taken to address staff members’ concerns, or whether Jordon will return for the 2021-2022 academic year. In a statement, the central office said that it thoroughly investigates all claims made by staff members.
Even so, another staffer who spoke anonymously said they sense more nefarious motives behind Jordon’s installment, especially with the wave of gentrification slowly engulfing communities east of the Anacostia River.
“I believe D.C. Public Schools put Principal Jordon there to take over the school and do what they want with it,” said the Johnson employee of nearly two years with nearly two decades of experience in the Prince George’s County public school system. This staffer also recounted receiving a low IMPACT evaluation from Jordon.
“The demographics [in the area] could be changing. Since I’ve been here, there’ve been five or more people who’ve quit because they couldn’t deal with Jordon. This person couldn’t make people quit if he wasn’t trying that hard, especially if they’ve had long careers.”