Consultant reforming Algiers charter schools raised idea of displaying D grade on signs, memos and shirts
Why not a tattoo on every employee's forehead? Special tattoos could also carry the seal of approval of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
by Mark Waller
The controversial consultant pushing to overhaul the Algiers Charter Schools Association raised the idea of prominently displaying the state-assigned letter grade of D at Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies, printing it on shirts worn by employees, memos and signs. Critics of consultant Aamir Raza have cited such tactics as evidence that he is taking a demoralizing approach to revamping the schools.
Consultant Aamir Raza was the subject of many complaints about school staff changes at the packed Algiers Charter Schools Association board meeting on Thursday. He watched from the side of the room as the meeting unfolded.
A spokesman for the association and Eisenhower's principal, however, said the plans using the letter D were part of a rough draft of potential strategies urging improvement at the school. The central issue is the urgent need to raise the school's success, not whether officials discussed deploying the letter grade as part of the campaign, they said.
"It didn't make it into the final plan and was never implemented," said David Jackson, the ACSA spokesman.
A document obtained by The Times-Picayune, with a heading from Raza's firm, the Raza Consulting Group, includes a list of suggested motivational methods, including "Order Eisenhower Charter School shirts for all teachers and administrators with Eisenhower Charter School on the back and Grade D on the front."
"It is recommended that the principal wear the Grade D shirt every day as a reminder to the school staff after enrollment drive is over," the document continues. "Declare Friday as dress down day only for those teachers and administrators who will wear the D grade shirt."
Referring to the state-issued school performance scores based largely on standardized test results, the Raza report also calls to, "Display the school's current letter grade (as determined by SPS scores) in teacher lounge and all other areas of the school once the enrollment drive is over."
And it says, "Place the Grade D in large font on top of each internal communication and memos to the school staff."
Raza has drawn protests from parents and other community members for a plan to move principals from the charter network's most successful schools to its weakest performers and dismiss some principals and other administrators. The association's board of trustees hired Raza to conduct a 90-day overhaul of the charter cluster as its chief executive officer, Andrea Thomas-Reynolds, leaves her post this week.
After a rancorous meeting Thursday, the board announced it would hold off on the moves and convene again on Tuesday.
While critics of the ACSA, such as Pastor Raynard Casimier of Love Outreach Christian Center in Algiers, have argued the letter grade displays are examples of insensitivity by Raza and other association leadership, Eisenhower Principal Deanna Rogers said the practical application of the strategy is considerably less abrasive.
She said talk of parading the D grade around campus stemmed from discussions several months ago on recognizing the urgency of raising the school's academic performance.
Eisenhower Academy parent Ernest Pettigrew at an Algiers Charter Schools Association meeting in June 2012.jpgMark Waller/The Times-PicayuneErnest Pettigrew, member of the parent-teacher organization at Eisenhower Academy, questioned the Algiers Charter Schools Association's personnel moves during a crowded meeting on Thursday.
"There were several things discussed and put in draft plans," she said. "It was the urgency to have everybody realize that we've really got to do something. It was an acceptance that we've got to work hard to do this."
In practice, she said the school adopted a much softer, more encouraging approach than the drafts suggested. The school never made shirts blaring the letter D, she said. She said the school ended up posting signs with a cheer along the lines of "Eisenhower Eagles don't like the D. Let's skip the C and go for the B." And she said she put a line on her memos to teachers calling for getting rid of the D and going for better.
"Nobody likes to admit that you're low," Rogers said. "And sometimes you're low and you don't feel low. Then if the state says you're low, you have to go by that. It's not that things going on in schools are bad, it's just they need to be kicked up a notch."
Jackson, the spokesman for the ACSA, issued a statement saying the letter grade discussions stemmed from a need to change attitudes at the school. "The draft was simply a recommendation or brainstorming session involving the principal and the consulting group staff," Jackson wrote. "The brainstorming session for this issue was used to address a level of complacency within the staff who believed there were no instructional issues."
"We categorically deny that any teacher was mandated to wear a T-shirt featuring the school's letter grade," he wrote.
Jackson provided a copy of the finished plan for the school, which still includes references to displaying and discussing the letter grade, but omits the shirts.
The plan also includes a rationale for focusing on the D. "According to one administrative team member, 'instruction is not an issue here,'" the document says. "Simply put, that implies that teachers are doing great work here but kids are the problem. That kind of thinking is certainly not good for the school's growth. The reality remains that the quality of instruction varies widely throughout the teaching spectrum and most teachers fall below even the mediocre range. By the same token, there are some teachers that are thrilled to get some outside help to hone in on their skills and learn a few tricks of the trade."
At least one other school, McDonogh 32 Literacy Charter School, placed the line, "School Report Card (F)" at the top of its letterhead. Jackson said the practice was limited to internal correspondence and that it addresses, at least in part, federal requirements that people be notified when a school's rating drops to a level where parents might be eligible to move their children elsewhere.
Raza has previously presented his changes at the ACSA as difficult but necessary to improving the charter group's schools.
"I had to make some difficult decisions," Raza earlier told The Times-Picayune, discussing staff layoffs in the central office. "We made those decisions because you can't have positions that you can't pay for."
Responding to complaints about the way he has treated principals, Raza said, "When you've signed up to serve 5,300 children, the conversation cannot be about eight adults. We have a larger responsibility as a school board and a management team."