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This is a chaotic time for D.C. Public Schools. This year, Chancellor Michelle Rhee ordered the closing of 23 public schools. Then, she fired 24 principals, and later 22 assistant principals. Others, from shuttering schools, were reassigned throughout the system. And one can only imagine how many teachers, aids, and staff-members were floating around in the wake of the closure announcements looking for new jobs.
In that jumble of emotion, and financial and professional anxiety, new school leaders had to begin preparing for the upcoming school year (mind you, while the current one was still happening).
Recently, I spoke to one principal—-Brearn Wright, formerly of Clark Elementary School and currently of Truesdell Elementary School, which are both in Petworth—-about how he did it. The process was far more involved than I’d ever expected, especially in this particular moment in time. And that’s definitely a good thing. Here’s Wright’s explanation:
Truesdell is a restructuring school. So all of the staff at Truesdell have to reapply for their jobs. My biggest focus was to staff a good school, and find good teachers. We had an interview process where staff were interviewed by students, teachers, and they engaged in role-playing scenarios. So, in one room, students came up with questions for the candidates. In one room, they had a team of teachers asking them questions. And in another room, they engaged in a role-playing exercises…
[In the room with the teachers], we started out with Clark teachers who were going with me to Truesdell. Once we decided what Truesdell staff were going to stay, they became involved in the process. Then, we used our connection with New Leaders for New Schools and Center for Inspired Teaching, and I asked them point-blank: Who are some of the best teachers in the city? And from there, we made phone calls. Also, we contacted Teach for America, ‘Give me the best teachers in your program.’
The key part was a collaboration piece. I wanted to ask the teachers, ‘Do you envision yourself working with this person?’ And the students, they were very tough. They pointed out things that I did not see. They said ‘This candidate did not look me in the eye. How can this person be a teacher when they don’t look me in the eye? Or, why is this person using these big, big words as if she’s talking to the adult. I’m here. I’m the kid. I’m the student.’
How did you come up with this whole application process?
That’s something I experienced with New Leaders for New Schools, being a new leader, that’s what we had to go through. And it was a grueling process. I wanted the teachers who were interviewed to know this was serious business. And this is just not a twenty minute conversation, and then we’re going to make a decision. I’m going to hear from everyone.”
This interview was edited for concision and clarity.