Thursday, January 08, 2009

On Blast: Ludlow-Taylor ES

I'm experimenting with a new, regular column called "On Blast." This will be a weekly rant column published on Thursdays where I go off about some person, place, or thing that has angered me over the last week and put them on blast. Be warned, there will lots of profanity and wishes for the painful and complete annihilation of the object of my ire. The hope is that this will keep the invective out my regular blog posts.

As regular readers of this blog know, since about this time last year WifeRat and I have been trying to figure out where to send BabyRat to school. During this time I have attended various open houses, community meetings, and PTA Meetings in an attempt to find a scholastic home for our daughter.

Rather than apply to a school and potentially take a spot from a student who would be in school for the entire 2008-2009 school year, our search for a school was temporarily placed on hold while we were on our six month trip to the Fargo-Moorhead area. We were lucky enough to find a wonderful Montessori school in Moorhead that BabyRat attended for the six months we were out of town.

Ever mindful of the clusterfuck that is DCPS, rather than calling some sort of central administration office, we started calling Ludlow-Taylor ES (LTES) early in the month of December to get some more information about the 3 year-old program available at the school and to find out exactly what needed to be done to enroll BabyRat. A conservative estimate is that we called the principal of LTES a dozen times over the course of a few weeks and were unable to ever get her on the phone. We tried calling first thing in the morning, at lunch time, and after the school day was over to no avail. We left messages over and over again, we asked the people who did answer the phone when was the best time to call and followed their suggestions but couldn't ever get the elusive Principal Cobbs on the phone.

I have numerous friends who are or were public school teachers in a variety of locales around the country, so I understand that the very nature of an elementary school is that it is a hectic place with a never ending stream of small fires that have to be put out. Every teacher and administrator's focus should be on the students within the school walls, perhaps to the exclusion of all other concerns. But am I expecting too much to think that some time over the course of the month that a principal can find ten minutes to return one of a dozen messages left for them?

I honestly wasn't expecting much and would have been satisfied if Principal Cobbs (or one of her staff members) had simply called back to say that they would prefer that we came in and talked face to face. I could have lived with it if someone from the school directed us to a website or other resource where we could find all the necessary forms and information we needed to enroll BabyRat in DCPS. Instead we got a whole bunch of nothing except for one conversation I had with the Kindergarten Special Ed teacher who gave me a brief outline of what the 3-4 year old class does over the course of the day.

This past Friday we stopped by LTES to see if anyone was around and did find the school's business manager hard at work. When I introduced myself, the business manager immediately recognized my name and informed me that my messages had been getting passed on to Principal Cobbs. The business manager was very helpful and was able to track down and give us copies of all the forms we needed to enroll BabyRat in DCPS.

My first question is, given the enormous administrative overhead of DCPS as a system and the individual school at LTES, why isn't there a standardized enrollment packet for students entering DCPS? All of the forms are actually available online, but the enrollment checklist on the DCPS website makes no mention whatsoever of the School Health Requirement Packet!! The mind boggles at such a ludicrous and obvious oversight.

Now we have all the forms we need to get BabyRat into the potential destroying maw of DCPS. WifeRat diligently spends a couple of hours filling out the forms and pawing through boxes trying to find the necessary records over the weekend. We head to LTES on Monday morning before the school actually opens to students to see if we can finally get an audience with the oft spoken of, never heard from, Principal Cobbs.

Finally, at long last, we are granted an appearance with the Wizard of LTES. Even though I'm a large and loud guy, my basic nature is to avoid confrontation but I'm so incensed about the lack of communication that I immediately ask Principal Cobbs why she never called back. Rather than bothering to introduce herself or apologizing or accepting any kind of responsibility for a missed connection, Principal Cobbs gave me a pallid look and says that she's never heard my name. I know that I can't afford to piss off the Principal (in the first five minutes we meet) at a school my kid is attending, so I have to let the shit go. I move to the business at hand and quickly lay out our situation and ask if we can observe the 3-4 year old classroom.

Observing the 3-4 year old class was the highlight of our visit to LTES. The teacher, Ms. Johnson, was energetic, enthusiastic, and engaged with her students. The kids started off the day with "circle time" (something they also do at Montessori schools) and BabyRat was allowed to participate. Ms. Johnson displayed the kind of poise and kindness that you want to see in an early childhood educator; she was firm and warm, inviting but in control, all at the same time. While we were in the classroom, we had occasion to speak to the Mother of a new student who had pulled her kid out of a charter school in favor of LTES.

Eventually we decided that we had seen enough and left the classroom to talk to the school nurse about what, if any problems, there were with BabyRat's health records. We get the runaround from the nurse about exactly what we have to do before BabyRat can start school (there's s dental requirements that the school principal has some discretion on) and go back to the office to wait for Principal Cobbs to show up again.

Before I continue, allow me to recount Principal Cobbs' shameful performance in the school cafeteria in leading the Pledge of Allegiance. It was clear to me that the kids (and the teachers) at the school have little respect or affection for Principal Cobbs. Back in the day (yes, I'm old timing now) when we had our weekly assembly or whatever and the principal stepped in front of the assembled masses, we shut the fuck up without being told. If there ever was a need for the principal to do something to get our attention, not much more than a simple clearing of the throat was needed to render the room silent. Principal Cobbs seemed unable to command even a modicum of order in the cafeteria and simply relied on the PA system to overwhelm the noise in the room while she cajoled a couple of older kids into leading a, not even, half-hearted recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

While I was waiting around for Principal Cobbs, BabyRat was in the gym with the class we had just been observing. During that time she had to go to the bathroom and WifeRat reported that they were UNSAT. You would think that after the school had been closed for the last two weeks that the bathrooms would be, if not clean, at least not gross. Realizing that Principal Cobbs wasn't showing up any time soon, we finally left the school. As soon as we were out the door WifeRat told me that she didn't want to send BabyRat to LTES and I agreed.

It wasn't any one thing that was wrong that was a deal breaker, but it was a death by a thousand cuts kind of thing. The accumulation of minor issues demonstrated a lack of attention to detail and a failure of leadership that I attribute to Principal Cobbs. I could go on, but anything I say now would just be gratuitous 'cause you get the point.


clara said...

I can't blame you after all that! I have friends on the Hill that ran into similar quagmires with school for really young kids. The suburbs aren't much better which is why I have an unschooler right now, not by choice.:)

Trulee said...

Friend: I hope you reconsider regarding Ludlow-Taylor. Bad schools get better fast when smart, engaged parents like you and the WifeRat get involved and keep tooting the horn until things that are UNSAT go SAT. However, if L-T won't work, I hope you will go visit Ms. Henderson, who runs a great Montessori program at Watking ES. My kids started going there 20 years ago, and it has been a consistently great program for all those 20 years.

Trulee said...

Sorry, fat fingers. It's Watkins ES, at 12th and D SE.

Anonymous said...

A DCPS parent here, on the Hill, and boy do I feel your pain.

The thing that's scary is that Cobbs is one of Rhee's "handpicks." I met another one of her newly appointed principal's recently and was underwhelmed by the stink eye she offered everyone. Really, does it hurt to shake someone's hand and smile?

I wouldn't send my child to LT. Maybe in a few years, but not now. And if the principal is weak, it doesn't bode well.

Hill Rat said...

@Trulee - I haven't totally written off Ludlow-Taylor. The plan is for BabyRat to go to her new school through the end of the Summer and we'll go into the lottery for a variety of other schools on the Hill and take another look at LTES as well.

@Anonymous - I'm surprised to hear that Cobbs was "handpicked." During a PTA meeting the process used to hire principals was described and it seemed very HR driven with little opportunity to circumvent the rules in place. However, LTES did have to go through the process twice and maybe that provided a chance for some finagling to place someone.

Dee Does The District said...

Hill Rat, I'm going to send you an e-mail as well, but you would think Ludlow-Taylor would be fawning over you as they are significantly under-enrolled. Please please please, send this to Chancellor Rhee.

happy said...

Friend: I have a child at LTES and have seen what you are talking about. Mrs. Cobbs is not a nice person, she finds it hard to say good morning to the parents as well as the teachers and students. We as a community need to do something to get her out and a new principal in asap!!!!

Hill Rat said...


Last night's scheduled PTA meeting was canceled but I intend to be there for the February meeting. There's also an open house next week at LTES.

I'm going to go by to see how LTES presents itself when it's putting its best foot forward.



Anonymous said...

Take a look at Maury, at 13th and Constitution.

Hill Rat said...

@Anon 11:36

Thanks for the suggestion! Maury has been on our radar screen for a while and we intend to enter the lottery there. -HR

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