The Pride of Napoleon Lewis

A veteran principal brought hope and self-respect to South Dallas' Lincoln High. But even some of his loyal followers say it's time for him to step down.

Occasionally, neighbors would call the school to say that Lincoln kids were hanging around selling drugs on their corner. Lewis often would jump in his car and accost the dealers--if they were indeed Lincoln kids.

"He was a very good disciplinarian," Wallace says. "And I knew he believed in African-Americans and the students being successful."

The school has also suffered a few embarrassments under Lewis' leadership. Two years ago, Lincoln endured a major testing scandal--as detailed in a March 24, 1994, Dallas Observer cover story, "Tough times at Lincoln High"--when someone gained access to SAT testing booklets five days before the test. When the results came back, 25 Lincoln students had gained high enough scores to be selected as semifinalists in the National Achievement Scholarship program--more than those selected from all of the schools in some states. But none of the semifinalists who took the test at Lincoln was able to duplicate his or her score.

Lewis and the district ferociously denied any cheating had taken place.
This past school year, Lincoln generated controversy when Redbook magazine named it one of the best in the country. The award was based almost entirely on an application filled out by Lincoln administrators. The Dallas Morning News later reported that the administrators had inflated the state assessment test scores submitted to the magazine.

When Redbook commended Lincoln, former teacher Susan Rudd says she shook her head in disbelief: "I thought, what a joke that was."

Such kudos could only have come from someone who'd never walked the halls of Lincoln High, says Rudd, who is white. "They were just milling kids through there. There are some extremely bright, hard-working students there, but the truth is that half the kids at Lincoln are not getting any education at all."

Rudd, 33, joined Lincoln in 1989, fresh out of graduate school. She dived into the school, taking a personal interest in her students' lives and participating in several extra-curricular activities. She drove her students to football playoffs; she spent her own money on outings and projects for the kids. She liked Dr. Lewis, and, she says, he liked her.

But, Rudd says, problems were readily apparent in the school. Fights were constantly breaking out; children were dying in gang warfare; school officials seemed disorganized and out of touch. Lewis placed so much emphasis on the responsibilities of the teachers that the students acted as though nothing were required of them, Rudd says.

The conditions became very stressful for Rudd in 1993, she says, because there were "too many discipline problems. They were running us into the ground. I started feeling like we were having so many problems because we were not demanding enough from the children."

Then, in an attempt to spur students to work harder, Rudd says, she began grading strictly according to performance and attendance, instead of forgiving transgressions whenever she felt like it. If students didn't make up missed projects or absences, she would give them a failing grade. If they missed too many days, she would fail them according to district policy, which requires students not to miss more than six days in a six-week period without an acceptable excuse. In winter 1993, Rudd failed 50 of her 133 students--33 of those for not attending enough classes to be considered enrolled by state law.

"I started flunking those who really should have been flunked, and I still didn't flunk all the ones that needed to be flunked," she says.

Principal Lewis took notice. "He said my failure rate was too high," Rudd recalls.

Rudd says Lewis and Wallace began to put pressure on her, checking to see if she had called the parents of absent teens. When she provided the necessary documentation, Lewis insisted she spend more time trying to contact parents. When she told him she didn't have time to do that and teach class as well, Lewis ordered her to attend training sessions for classroom effectiveness.

Rudd was insulted. "My failure rate [was low] for the students who were there," she says today. "Those kids that I failed just weren't coming to class. If they would come to class, I could teach them."

(Lewis, who granted a short interview to the Observer, would not comment on any specific complaints of administrators and teachers such as Rudd.)

White teachers are not the only ones who say they are pressured into giving good grades. Once, two students in journalism teacher Imani Pamoja's class were making A's and B's, but did not complete a project. The failing grade for that project brought their grade-point averages down. Says Pamoja: "I got a note [from Lewis] saying, 'Give them another project so they can make an A.' They are not going to be spoon-fed at the university level--but we are getting too many students like that."

Administrators, Rudd says, often improperly disregarded absences. In 1993, one senior ended up in Rudd's biology class after failing another teacher's biology class the year before. The student, Rudd recalls, needed the class to graduate. "She hardly ever came to class," Rudd says. "On the rare days she did come to class, she slept through it."

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