Since Dr. M. Louise Jones announced her resignation from McKinley Technology High School (MTHS) in the beginning of the calendar year, MTHS parents and community members have requested transparency and inclusion in the selection process for a new principal.
Months after writing a letter to D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee and other officials, however, some community members said they haven’t received much information about the status of the selection process or whether DCPS central office has taken their requests into consideration.
Community members’ qualms center not only on inclusion and transparency but the STEM background of candidates and whether DCPS central office will ensure that Jones’ replacement would only be responsible for the affairs of MTHS and not the accompanying middle school, as had been the case during her tenure.
“We want to be at the table and see the criteria that we have requested to ensure certain cultural competencies are possessed by the candidates. It’s befitting that we get someone skilled and credentialed in STEM,” said Sherice Muhammad, a former MTHS Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) chair who’s been heavily involved in the efforts to gain clarity about the principal selection process.
“We also talked about someone who would understand the specific needs of students to nurture and engage the various demographics,” said Muhammad, who’s also a parent of a MTHS alumna.
“DCPS responded to thank us for the letter and said they wanted to make sure we’re part of the principal selection process but we’re still in the dark right now about the status,” she said.
Opportunities Arise to Ask Questions
As recently as the 2019-2020 academic year, DCPS’ principal selection process included a performance task, in-person interview and chancellor interview. Applicants who make it beyond the chancellor interview become eligible for interviews with a community panel. That panel, composed of students, teachers, parents and community members, provides feedback about candidates’ strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the culture and needs of the school.
According to a document outlining the principal selection process, the community panel’s feedback plays a significant role in the chancellor’s final choice. However, community members said Jones, who started at MTHS in 2013, and her predecessor David Pinder had both been appointed by DCPS central office without community input.
On the evening of April 19, DCPS’ Office of School Improvement and Office of Engagement and Partnerships hosted a virtual meeting where MTHS community members learned more about the principal selection process and weighed in on the qualities they’re seeking in a principal.
The event also presented some guests an opportunity to, once again, highlight the need for a principal exclusively responsible for MTHS.
Despite demands for two principals at the McKinley campus, DCPS central office has been steadfast in maintaining the status quo. Weeks ago, during a D.C. Council Committee of the Whole education budget hearing, Ferebee defended the current setup, telling D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) that having one principal over two schools facilitates unity between the two campuses.
“We believe the model we have similar to Columbia Heights Education Campus where there’s an administrator who shares a middle and high school population can serve McKinley well,” Ferebee said. “There has been some disconnect between the middle school and high school but a leader would reconnect those schools. Respectfully, we see opportunities to better connect the schools.”
A Parent Tells a Different Story
Though MTHS and McKinley Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization president John Hassell took no issue with Jones’ leadership, he contested DCPS central office’s unwillingness to fund a full-time principal for MTHS and the accompanying middle school.
Toward the end of March, Hassell raised this issue during a D.C. Council education budget hearing. Weeks later, he has remained steadfast in his desire for an MTHS principal who can have their attention exclusively set on one school. That way, Hassell said, they would have enough bandwidth to fulfill their responsibilities while actively engaging students, faculty, staff and community members.
In making his case, Hassell cited a decrease in 30 percentage points in the number of McKinley Middle School students who matriculated to MTHS during the last couple of academic years. He said that has been one of the many signs that MTHS, one of the District’s six application-based public high schools, needs the District’s support in fulfilling its mission.
“We need strong leadership in our schools [like] principals who are walking the halls, intervening in fights and greeting students,” Hassell said. “We had more than three lockdowns out of concern about bomb threats and shootings in the neighborhood. We need all hands on deck and this is what we have to work with. I’m just concerned that DCPS is not taking this problem seriously.”