If we learned anything over the past week, it’s never to underestimate the passion and displeasure of a bevy of organized public school parents. J.F. Meils’ piece about the efforts of a parent contingent at Capitol Hill’s Peabody and Watkins Elementary Schools to oust their controversial principal Elena Bell might as well have been an editorial calling for public schools to abolish recess, serve double espressos at lunchtime, and require lace-up shoes for kindergartners.
In particular, the anti-Bell contingent that includes Samah and Grover Norquist was irate that City Paper quoted unnamed parents who said they believed the anti-Bell revolutionaries may be driven by Bell’s outspoken efforts to reduce the racial achievement gap. “Maybe they think if you’re focusing efforts on the achievement gap, you can’t achieve for all students,” said one, who did not want to be named, fearing alienation from other parents.
Samah Norquist, who was quoted in the story, was a voice among many who flatly rejected such a notion. “There are NO parents who object to reducing and eventually closing the achievement gap at Peabody and Watkins, as Mr. Meils’ unnamed sources falsely claim,” she wrote in a letter to CP. “In addition to centering his piece around a baseless thesis, he NEVER names ANY of his quoted sources.”
Instead, Norquist writes, parents are troubled about Bell’s leadership. “The concerns exploded when 15 teachers left Watkins last year: All 5th grade teachers, almost all 4th grade teachers, and every specials teacher left Watkins,” she wrote. “That is 15 out of the total number of the 25 teachers at Watkins. Most of the teachers who left were highly rated. They were not ‘dead weight,’ as another unnamed source claims.” (The entirety of Norquist’s letter can be found in the story comments on our website.)
But while Norquist & Co. were more prolific in their protestations, the other side chimed in too.
“This article is very disturbing,” parent TG commented on our website. “This problem is about race and diversity (people are afraid to say this). Race is an explosive topic, and Bell has been making strides to make the cluster shine. … Honestly, if the results came back and white students had low scores, there would be massive movements in place and calls for restructuring of the educational system. … My kids come home happy everyday (all of the kids love Ms. Bell). Let her do her job.”