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Bedden throws MLK teachers under the bus

February 18, 2015 5:20 pm by

It was announced today that, due to low academic performance, half of the teachers at MLK Middle School will be replaced for the next school year and any choosing to remain will have to reapply for their jobs.

The RTD’s Zachary Reid says that this includes all teachers in core subjects plus special education, with administration and teachers in electives apparently safe for the moment.

I am calling this bullshit.

Conditions at MLK have been bad for years, but the teachers are not the problem.

Longterm staff at MLK have seen the school decline since former principal Aaron Dixon left. If you recall, the school was fully accredited as recently as 2010.

Dixon’s replacement, Dr.Valerie Harris, was immediately recognized as ineffectual and replaced mid-year after 2 1/2 years of plummeting student performance. I worked at MLK during this time, and can attest firsthand to the chaos that was allowed to permeate the school. Food fights became common, the halls became wild, students were rarely given consequences for their behavior, and teachers were essentially abandoned in the name of chasing bi-weekly test scores.

I confiscated bullets, weed, knives, and handcuffs, all from students who had allegedly been searched on the way into school. I was threatened and physically assaulted by students, cursed at on a daily basis, and called upon to break up fights on a weekly basis. All the while given more paperwork and reports to fill out explaining how I was teaching my students.

By all accounts, the lack of order and discipline inside the school have been allowed to continue under new principal Ricky Hopkins.

Last May, teachers at MLK released a letter to the media decrying conditions at the school, detailing threatening, disruptive, and disorderly students, and the administration’s lack of response. This followed complaints by teachers at the end of the previous year after a student with a knife threatened a teacher.

Want some some numbers to back this up? According to the school and system report cards on the Virginia Department of Education site, Richmond Public Schools reported 11,997 school safety violations system-wide during the 2013-2014 school year (PDF), 7,776 of which were for Disorderly or Disruptive Behavior Offenses.

MLK Middle alone was responsible for 3,082 of these school safety violations (PDF), or 25.6% of all in RPS that year. In addition, MLK was responsible for 2,539 of the Disorderly or Disruptive Behavior Offenses reports, or 32.6% of the system total. For some context: there are approximately 40 schools in the system. For some further context, there were 198 total offenses at Richmond’s Albert Hill MS (93 for Disorderly or Disruptive), 113 at Chesterfield’s Robious Middle School (35 for Disorderly or Disruptive), and 443 at Henrico’s John Rolfe (144 for Disorderly or Disruptive).

The numbers would be worse, except that behavior considered reportable at other schools is so common that teachers don’t bother to put the paperwork in. What would have happened at your middle school if you called your teacher a motherfucker?

For more context:MLK and four of it’s feeder elementary schools are among the 15 poorest in Central Virginia. In addition to the greater Church Hill area, MLK pulls students from Mosby Court, Creighton Court, Fairfield Court, Whitcomb Court, Blackwell, Fulton, and Highland Park.

MLK was and is a difficult place to work, perhaps the most challenging educational environment in the region. For the most part, teachers are at MLK because they want to be there, to be where they are needed the most.

To blame the teachers for MLK’s failings is misguided and mean. It has been shown that the school can succeed under a strong principal and when there is order at the school.

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Martin Luther King Jr Middle School

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Richmond Public Schools


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