By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Busted: At the risk of sounding like the crotchety old guy we're in danger of quickly becoming, Buzz must ask: What kind of bizarro world do we live in that arrests school administrators and puts them in detention because a kid can't read well?
Oh, that's right. This is Dallas. Silly Buzz, we've been on vacation lately.
Juvenile privacy laws being what they are, we couldn't find out the kid's name, but this much we know: Last November, a DISD middle school student was hauled before Judge Harold Gaither and accused of pot possession. The kid had a lawyer, John Lopez, who complained to the judge that his eighth-grader client was reading at only a first-grade level. Gaither called upon W.E. Greiner Middle School Academy's principal, Richard Atkinson, and the school's dean of instruction, Chris Mata-Neimann, and issued an informal order that they set up a curriculum to improve Lopez's client's reading scores by two grade levels.
Which seems like a novel, simple and straightforward approach to the thorny problems of poor student performance and school accountability. Why can't Johnny read? Who cares? Just get a judge to say, "Fix it." Have judges say that a zillion more times or so and, presto! problem solved.
Of course, reality being what it is, simple, straightforward solutions tend not to work on a large scale. This one didn't even work on a small one.
Lopez says that for months he had sent letters to the two DISD administrators asking them what they were doing to help his client read better. He received no answers. So in mid-April, Lopez subpoenaed the pair to testify in court about what improvements they had made.
They didn't show up, so they were arrested and sent to detention. Or, more formally, after a constable signed an affidavit stating that he had served the two with subpoenas, Gaither issued an order to have Mata-Neimann and Atkinson busted for failing to appear. They were taken into custody at school and booked into the county jail for about seven hours.
When they made it back into the courtroom, the DISD administrators explained that they had never been served with the subpoenas. Mata-Neimann told the judge that she had been absent from school and home that day, according to Lopez. Atkinson said he had also been out of the building.
Gaither released them, but he has scheduled for them to return to court this week and tell their story about the boy's reading skills.
Neither Mata-Neimann nor Atkinson responded to messages from Buzz.
"I just want to know how he got into the eighth grade reading like that," Lopez says.
We're Top 10!...er, Top 11! The Dallas Morning News left a tiny, interesting fact out of a story on its flat circulation numbers last week. According to figures compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the News stopped being one of the 10 biggest papers in the nation. The No. 10 slot now belongs to the San Francisco Chronicle, where circulation jumped with the semi-demise of the San Francisco Examiner. Interestingly, the News landed in the big time when the Dallas Times Herald folded in 1991. That's the problem in a one-daily town. The News still reported it's hanging on as No. 10. Buzz is the only one left to tell you it ain't so.
--Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams