ryan grim’s hatchet job on dan putterman and Gloria Borland (“A Line in the Sandbox,” 6/16) is a perfect example of why the credibility of journalism enjoys an all-time low with the reading public. As a former newspaper reporter/editor, candidate for school board, and parent of children in D.C. public schools, it really pains me to see such a lack of respect for truth. Many factual errors and quotes taken out of context purposely misled readers with a very biased account.
Grim synthesized many things I said in various contexts into phony quotations to support his anti-parent theme. I want a retraction of the quotation marks around words attributed to me.
His article was not a piece of journalistic investigation but a public defense of Ross Elementary and its principal, Gloria Smith, by an outsider with an agenda who knows little if anything of the neighborhood issues.
Borland had very little to do with Dan Putterman’s efforts in 2003 to make Ross a more parent-friendly school. Participating in an email Listserv in 2004 hardly makes her the same kind of activist as Putterman, but Grim fails to clarify that, casting her instead as a villainous ringleader in a local insurrection against the good, kind folks at Ross.
Putterman worked solo with Smith for almost a year. Parents in the neighborhood admired his dedication in trying to make improvements at Ross, but Borland wasn’t involved in his efforts. I learned in late spring 2004 that Putterman and Smith’s working relationship had soured, ending in a dispute. It is a sad day in journalism when the City Paper has to rehash a two-year-old dispute, printing only one side of this soap opera and taking sides at the expense of the facts, allowing Smith to unilaterally publicly smear her opponents like a messy celebrity divorce.
Grim was cruel in his character assassination of Putterman and Borland. A large quote next to Smith’s photo says, “He had this personality that really turned people off…People couldn’t stand him…they hated his guts.” Where is a comparable quote from Putterman? Why did City Paper fail to give a more complete picture of Putterman than Smith’s mere vitriol? Parents in the neighborhood have a different view of Putterman. His wife holds a master’s in music, and every Saturday morning from 2001–2004 they cheerfully and graciously opened their home to hundreds of young children from different nationalities for free music lessons. Putterman worked in international development helping impoverished nations…hardly the elitist meanie described by Smith.
Grim also introduces your readers to Dupont Circle resident Gloria Borland, describing her only as a top adviser to Ross Perot during his 1992 presidential campaign. Why does working for Perot for a short four months trump her 25 years as a media entrepreneur, including creating, producing, and hosting a popular national television series that aired for five years on PBS? One can only surmise that four months with the billionaire Perot fit the stereotype Grim needed to emphasize his moneyed villains in this story.
Grim is wrong to blindly trumpet Smith’s accusation that the Dupont Circle Parents Listserv was an effort to take over Ross elementary. Dupont Circle Parents was first organized in March 2004 to help neighborhood parents react to the lead found in our D.C. drinking water, and this listserv has grown to nearly 130 subscribers, adding three or four new families every month. It has little or nothing to do with Ross or Smith.
Grim attempts to refute rather than investigate two core problems many Dupont Circle parents experienced: 1) Ross was hostile towards in-boundary parents; and 2) Ross’ test scores are in the dumper. His attempts to surmount these realities leave knowledgeable readers scratching their heads.
D.C. Public Schools has an entrenched agenda and culture that does not welcome or tolerate parental involvement, something I discovered both as a parent of several children in the D.C. school system and as a candidate for school board in 2004. If DCPS earned the reputation of Montgomery or Fairfax County public schools, D.C. parents would have little to complain about. But DCPS is one of the worst-performing school systems in the nation, resulting in one-third of the District’s adult population now classified as functionally illiterate. I think parents have a justifiable reason to get involved with their neighborhood public schools and insist their principals make constructive changes to this mess.
Note: This is Part 1 of Christopher McKeon’s letter; the second part will run next week.