The Truth About Townview (Part II)

By the beginning of December, with pressure on Watson mounting, a new and much more formidable ally stepped onto center stage on her behalf: County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

It is no accident that Price's two biggest racial battles this past year have involved Ora Lee Watson--at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where she serves on the board, thanks to an appointment by Price, and at Townview Center.

The two have been the closest of friends since Price chaired her successful campaign for the Dallas school board in 1986. (She served only one year before resigning to return to the district as an employee.) Although a recent profile of Watson in the News hinted that the two may have been "romantically involved" at one time, that suggestion didn't come close to divulging the extent of their relationship.

Consider Price and Watson the Ma and Pa Kettle of Dallas racial politics: He yells and screams and hurls epithets, but most of the time she's the one writing his words. It's been that way for years.

Although Price refused to be interviewed for this story, Watson freely disclosed, during a four-hour conversation in her home one afternoon, that she writes the commissioner's speeches for him. In fact, she smiled proudly when asked about it. Watson also sometimes writes Price's correspondence. In fact, their working relationship is so close that it's hard to separate what would normally be strikingly disparate roles as Dallas educator and Dallas agitator.

Two months ago Watson's ghostwriting created a brouhaha at the Dallas County Commissioners Court offices downtown when one of her faxed drafts for Price was inadvertently placed in County Judge Lee Jackson's mailbox.

On January 2, Price had received a hand-delivered letter from Jackson criticizing his shabby treatment of Dallas lawyer Jaime Ramon, whom the entire Commissioners Court had appointed to the Parkland board the year before but whom Price was now blasting in his daily protests at the hospital. Price had been quoted in the press calling Ramon a "coconut" who should "go back to old Mexico" or, for that matter, "go to hell."

"You can, of course, treat your own board appointees in any way you see fit," Jackson wrote. "However, when you attack volunteers who are representing the entire Court, you are using them as a scapegoat for disagreements with policies supported by a majority of the Court."

Jackson noted Price's consistent failure to use his office to try to effect change through the system rather than to merely make noise.

"You have never shared your specific concerns about Parkland with the Court," Jackson wrote. "Perhaps this is the time to do so."

Price didn't like Jackson's letter. Two days later, at 1:26 p.m., Watson faxed a response from her Bryan Place home to the commissioner's court offices. Since all five commissioners share a fax machine and since the letter Watson sent was a draft of a letter to Jackson, a county staffer mistakenly put the letter in Jackson's mailbox.

"In response to your letter of January 2, 1996, I take exception to your suggestion that you are even in a position to discuss with me who [sic] I may criticize and [sic] as a County Board member and who I may not," declared Price's ghostwriting school administrator. "It comes as no surprise to me that you support Jaime Ramon and his inactivity as a member of the Parkland Board of Trustees."

Suddenly it was revealed: Esteemed educator Ora Watson was stuffing volatile verbiage in John Wiley Price's mouth so he could amp up the volume in the race war he's waging against a man with whom Watson serves on the Parkland board. (In a particularly amusing touch, Price sent copies of the Lee Jackson letter Watson drafted to all the Parkland trustees--including Watson.)

Comments Ramon: "It's appalling to me that we have someone working in the school system--who has been acting as a principal for a lot of children during all this incredible tension--who is personally involved in this campaign of derogatory racial and ethnic slurs."

It's no secret inside the school district that Watson and Price are a team. School employees have occasionally faxed her handiwork to him from school. He visits her at schools and sends her flowers. She bought a green Mercedes from him.

So when Price showed up at Townview on December 6--with not only the Warriors, but Watson's 29-year-old son Damon Rowe in tow--school insiders weren't surprised. They also weren't surprised when Watson, on that first day, came out onto the steps to watch the show staged on her behalf.

"Nobody--nobody--would listen to anything I had to say until he stepped out that door," she says, "so I cannot be sorry that he was there."

Watson's two bosses, Woolery and Hayes, were: They asked her to call Price off. She told them she could not.

"I could not have said, 'Don't come,'" she says. "His mother couldn't have said, 'Don't come.' Nobody could have said, 'Don't come.'"

As we discuss this, sitting together on her L-shaped sofa in the downstairs den of her sleekly furnished townhouse, I spy a tiny pair of bright white sneakers laying on her glass coffee table.

"John bought them," she says, referring to Price. "In fact, he's got the baby right now--somewhere."

The baby is seven months old, she says. His name is Nicholas. Price and Watson take care of the baby, a foster child who is awaiting adoption. Nicholas is just one in a steady procession of foster babies whom the pair has taken in over the past six years. Though Watson is officially the foster parent, Price, who lives in Oak Cliff, submitted to a state Child Protective Services home study so he could share in the care of the children, which he does on a regular basis.

"John loves Nicholas," says Watson, fondly picking up a baby shoe.
And you? Do you love John?
"It was never a romantic love--it almost was," she says, "but it's a deep love and respect."

Susan Feibelman is a relaxed, thoughtful person who wears jeans and Birkenstocks on her days off and is rarely seen without her bag of knitting. In fact, at the request of some of her TAG students, she started a weekly after-school knitting club.

At 39, she is a committed educator and is married to an educator, with children and a house in East Dallas and a strong sense of right and wrong. A 17-year veteran of DISD, paid $57,021 a year, Feibelman focused on her school and family and rarely made the newspapers. She was proud of her students, proud that the TAG Magnet had been deemed exemplary by the state--a status no other DISD school can boast.

Then this exemplary principal took her exemplary kids to Townview.
She woke up in November to find herself suddenly portrayed in the media as a racist Jew, loathe to take orders from a black woman. The whole episode was absolutely gut-wrenching.

"Just in terms of coping, I stopped reading the newspaper and stopped listening to the news," says Feibelman, who has never before discussed what happened at Townview in the press. "Then--and this was the best reason to have to go through this--there was this whole moment in time when all of a sudden it was like a huge wave, a feeling of, 'Oh, I get it,' and I could separate, because you see that it's not about you; that it's so irrational. They stopped talking about kids a long time ago."

Ask most anyone who knows Feibelman and they will say she has never talked in terms of racial distinctions. She had been teaching minority kids for so long that the color of a kid's skin didn't even register when she walked into a class.

When the TAG episode began, David Marquis, an educator and author who lives in Oak Cliff, found himself in the unusual position of serving on the TAG advisory committee and being a friend of John Wiley Price. Still, it didn't take long for him to separate the wheat from the chaff regarding Feibelman's role in the fiasco.

"Susan Feibelman, who has been accused of all kinds of things, wanted to make this work," says Marquis. "She came to us on the advisory committee each month and she told us she was very loyal to Ora Lee Watson and said point-blank, 'There is nothing else we can do right now on this issue.'"

On the other hand, when the TAG parents decided that wasn't good enough, Feibelman did not turn her back. She met with them, providing information and answering questions. When they persisted--and the DISD administration stopped meeting with them and began focusing on half-baked solutions that did not satisfy them--Feibelman clearly presented their position to all.

"Attached you will find the proposal for restoration of the TAG Magnet High School that was developed by TAG Magnet parents and students, and which I endorse," Feibelman wrote to Watson and Hayes on November 28. "This plan emphasizes the necessity to clearly define the parameters of TAG Magnet High School immediately.

"I would be derelict in my duties as principal of TAG Magnet if I did not acknowledge that any attempts made by my office to revise the master schedule to more fully serve TAG Magnet students will be futile at best until we have common agreement among all stakeholders--administration, parents, students, board members, and community members--as to the restoration plan we are actually implementing," she wrote. "The semester's hourglass is quickly running out of sand and we are dragging our feet when it comes to answering these key questions."

Watson responded the next day--in a memo to which Feibelman was not privy--by suggesting the TAG principal might need to go.

"It is time Ms. Feibelman is made to fully understand that decisions have been made and are being implemented with regard to her program and that in her position as principal she has the responsibility to facilitate the implementation of those changes, not impede them," Watson wrote to Leon Hayes. "If she cannot or will not cooperate, she must be afforded alternatives."

A longtime DISD administrator said last week that, in his opinion, Feibelman's big mistake in the TAG fight was her failure to "manage" the school's parents.

"We pay damn good salaries in this district and I think the superintendent has the right to expect principals to manage teachers, parents, and students," the administrator said. "You don't go out there, get your ego in front of your brain, and fight teachers or the community. You manage them all. You manage a program.

"Everybody in this deal said, 'I'll calm this thing down--keep it out of the public arena, the papers and reporters,'" he added. "That's when Chad got so mad at both Ora and Susan because neither one of them did it."

Another magnet principal views Feibelman's actions more charitably: "This district has an old view that you lie if need be to your parents and your community and convince them that whatever is going on is absolutely wonderful. Susan wouldn't do that."

Both Watson and Feibelman had become advocates--albeit at varying levels of intensity--placing the district under increasing pressure. The TAG parents were not about to back off unless their demands to restore their high school were met. Watson, disdainful of their school and determined to rule the roost, was simply not going to change a hair on the head of the master schedule for the sake of 150 kids--not during this school year anyway.

"You can't tear down the system," she says. "It's like a house of cards. You can't take out a piece of it without it all falling down."

Watson insists Woolery fully supported her--right up until the day he removed her.

"There were certain things I couldn't do and every time I said that to Chad, Chad would say, 'I understand. This isn't right anyway. Don't worry about it.' He always seemed to be on my side--always. If he wasn't, he never told me."

The school board voted to move TAG to another location. Judge Sanders blocked that plan.

Finally Woolery--hoping to defuse the situation by removing the advocates on both sides--banished both women from Townview, reassigning them to other duties.

Watson's supervisor, Hayes, was dispatched to implement changes Watson says were unacceptable.

"Leon was sent in there to move everything away from TAG and to give TAG whatever they wanted," says Watson. "I had said to the superintendent that I couldn't do that."

She pauses. She wants to be very clear about one thing, she says.
"They have never said that I did anything wrong," she says. "not the superintendent and not Dr. Hayes. The first time I knew that they had any concerns about me was on Jan. 2, at 2:30 in the afternoon, when they called me in to tell me they were moving me from Townview."

On Tuesday, February 20, Lee Alcorn was sitting in his small office in the deteriorated Westcliff Mall in South Oak Cliff enjoying his 15 minutes of fame.

Alcorn, president of the local chapter of the NAACP for less than a year, had become the man of the moment on Townview. After this interview, he was scheduled to have his picture taken. After that, Channel 5's news program would be getting his opinions.

If Chad Woolery and the Dallas school trustees had hoped the removal of Watson and Feibelman from Townview would resolve matters, they were sorely mistaken. Woolery's January 2 moves merely set another, more volatile chapter of conflict into motion--with a new central figure.

Alcorn was in high demand on this day in February because he had led the shutdown of the January 25 Dallas school-board meeting--with backup from Price, the New Black Panthers, and Thomas Muhammad, who has ties to school trustee Kathlyn Gilliam. Now that he had the city's full attention, Alcorn was busy thinking up the terms under which nine elected school officials would be able to return to work without the threat of disruption.

It was a pretty heady situation to be in, and--make no mistake about it--Alcorn was enjoying it. "I think it would be a good thing for Sandy Kress to step aside," Alcorn says. "He has already said he's not going to run and I just don't see how his continued presence there will further the type of change that will occur."

It's just not what black and Hispanic children in the public schools need right now, he says.

"There are a couple of African-American school-board members who don't feel that Kress has the best interests of the minority students in the district," he says, "so I don't feel that can be improved between now and when his term expires."

Looking at Alcorn, it is impossible not to wonder how the man thinks he has standing to demand that a Dallas elected official tender his resignation. Alcorn doesn't live in Dallas. He doesn't have children in the DISD. In fact, he has lived in Grand Prairie for 25 years--a place that he would never even consider leaving for the likes of Dallas, in whose leadership he is terribly disappointed.

"I like the atmosphere I have over there," Alcorn says of his hometown. "I have a young daughter who is 10 years old. I like the fact that she can ride a bike in the alley. It's just a quieter community."

It's much quieter--especially since Alcorn began lobbing hand grenades all over Dallas.

Not only does Alcorn dislike Dallas, it turns out he doesn't like public education, period.

"My daughter goes to Evangelical Temple--a private, Christian school," he says. "She's gone there since prekindergarten."

Alcorn spent a number of years going after the Grand Prairie public schools anyway, he says, because he found the setup there very racist.

As president of that city's NAACP chapter for 10 years, he decided to run for election to the Dallas chapter for one simple reason: "I was concerned about the lack of visibility of the NAACP in the Dallas area."

Thanks to Townview, that's not a problem any more.
What's amazing, though, is how easy it was for Alcorn to run roughshod over a city where he has no attachments, no history, no stake. By January 25, it was really beginning to be his show.

By that time, Price was starting to fold the protest tent after beginning private negotiations to get his friend, Watson, into a nice new job of her choosing in the DISD administration. After Townview, she had been put in a high-ranking personnel job which she disliked. So Price had mounted the campaign to get her what she did want.

Woolery obliged. He created a brand-new position for Watson, maintained her $81,236 annual salary, and awarded her a staff of two (with more to come). Most devilish of all, he put her in charge of curriculum development for all the magnet schools.

Now, with Price's personal mission virtually complete, he kept showing up for meetings, but it became Alcorn's show. So on the day after Alcorn shut down the school-board meeting, Pettis Norman called him on the phone.

"He wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help resolve the issue in the community," Alcorn recalls.

Alcorn knew Norman from a campaign that Alcorn had waged the year before against several prominent Dallas corporations. Alcorn felt that certain companies were not making sufficient contributions to the African-American community.

"If we buy Dr Pepper products then Dr Pepper has an obligation of sorts to reciprocate," Alcorn explains. "It's the same reasoning with the U.S. and Japan with the trade deficit and we saw this with a number of companies."

Alcorn uses "we" a lot, but it is unclear how much support he has. Alcorn himself is unsalaried. His secretary is on loan from the Dallas Urban League. His annual NAACP budget is $15,000. Just who is "we"?

"My board members and officers and members," Alcorn responds. He says he has 20 board members and up to 5,000 area members, but refuses to provide any lists of names--even members of the board.

"I can't release that," he says.
Last year, when Alcorn showed up to talk to companies--including EDS, Texas Instruments, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines--about making contributions to the black community, Norman would often be there.

Indeed, sending in Pettis Norman--the African-American businessman and former Dallas Cowboys tight end--to negotiate with agitating blacks in town has become part of the Dallas way. Norman is a member of Dallas Together, the business organization that former mayor Annette Strauss helped form to deal with Dallas' considerable racial tensions in the wake of the 1988 shooting of a white police officer by a black homeless man.

Since then Dallas Together has issued occasional reports showing how its member businesses are hiring more minorities than ever before. The group also sends Norman in to quell racial unrest--a role that Norman feels is perfectly appropriate.

"It's the way the system has worked for years," he says. "My thinking is that we can't as citizens leave education to educators alone, nor can we leave governance to elected officials alone. It requires people from outside to come in and say, 'Let's look at what's in the best interest of everyone concerned.'"

Sandy Kress has been Norman-ed before. Last year, the three African-American school-board members called Norman to complain that Kress was racist--shutting black board members out of the process--because he was refusing to reinstate the board's committee structure. Kress' predecessor, Castilla, had done away with committees because they had been a forum for trustee meddling in day-to-day district affairs--a problem that had prompted a scolding by state regulators several years earlier.

Ewell and others loved the committee structure--small, private meetings to which members of the media rarely showed up and where DISD staff members had to grovel before the trustees for hours, answering the tiniest, most ridiculous questions about teaching styles and school schedules.

Last year, Dallas Together summoned Kress to answer for his sins.
"The business leadership wanted us to...reach peace," says Kress, "and about the only path out of the forest was setting up committees."

Why is that the only path out of the forest? Why must our elected officials negotiate public policy with retired football player Pettis Norman--behind closed doors, no less? When Norman (and the businessmen behind him) similarly decided that it was his job to bring Alcorn and Price and Muhammad and Kress together to negotiate the future of Townview--and the future of TAG--why didn't the school-board president just say no?

"I want to know who's going to support me bringing in the cops," Kress says, referring to Alcorn's stated intention, unless his demands were met, to keep shutting down school-board meetings. "I want to know who's going to say that this is not my problem when we're on CNN.

"The Morning News? The business leadership? Who's out there saying that? Do you think I've gotten a call from anybody except Pettis--the Dallas Together group--saying, 'Fix it. Do a deal?'"

One person who didn't call--and the first person who should have--is the Hon. Ron Kirk, mayor of Dallas. Kirk had been a law partner of Kress; he knew firsthand that the school-board president was no racist Jew out to hurt minority kids. He knew that TAG was a wonderful program needing restoration to its former status--knew firsthand because he had served on the TAG advisory committee for seven years, had been a mentor for TAG kids, and had even hosted pool parties for TAG students at his Oak Cliff home.

Kirk would not get involved. Not even for TAG. Not even for Kress. Not even for the good of Dallas. One day, at a city-hall press conference on another matter, Kirk did say, in response to a question about the controversy, that he found all the "noise" to be "disgusting."

Whose noise?
The mayor didn't say.
"I'm not talking about Townview," Kirk said two weeks ago. "As a matter of fact, I've decided not to talk to you or the Dallas Observer any more because all you write is negative stories about this city."

People close to Kirk say that he's not about to risk his image to tangle with the likes of John Wiley Price. So far Kirk has kept his campaign pledge to "stop the blame game" at City Hall by keeping far away from the blame games popping up all over the rest of town. If Kirk--a black man with enormous credibility throughout Dallas and two kids in the public schools--wouldn't take on this mess, no one else in town was going to either.

Kress, who has been fighting the school battle virtually alone for two years--trying his best to get rid of bad administrators and bad principals and bad teachers--knew that when he decided to negotiate, hat in hand, with Lee Alcorn.

"This isn't rocket science. It really isn't," Kress says one night after a two-hour bargaining session with Norman, Alcorn, Price, Muhammad, Ewell, Brashear, and the Rev. Zan Holmes. "It's just putting better people into positions of leadership, and this is always what doesn't happen in urban school districts. These are political hires--all buddies. That's what this whole war is about--people getting to stay in positions because they know people--and it's never said.

"The bottom line is that there is no one out there to wage a war for a quality school system, period," says Kress. "That's the bottom line. That's what this is all about. With only a handful of exceptions, the business and civic leadership of our town have neither the will nor the commitment that are required to make this school district an excellent one. They just don't care enough. They don't have their kids in the school district. They don't have their grandkids in the school district. They're dis-investing in the city, moving to the suburbs."

All of that is true, but that doesn't justify negotiating with the local equivalent of terrorists. Why couldn't Kress simply call the cops, throw the protesters out, and go back to work?

The simple answer: He was afraid that the agitators meant business--and unwilling to take the risk involved in doing what was right.

"Do you think this city would put up with having heads busted on CNN News" asks Kress, "and let those of us who made the decision go unscathed?"

The so-called business leadership? No.
How about the rest of the city--the taxpaying citizens tired of unreasonable race-baiters holding the school system hostage? Absolutely.

If Kress had a weakness when he rode up on his white horse to save Dallas' schools--if he has a weakness as he is riding off--it is worrying far too much about what the Morning News was going to say about him over breakfast. Doing the right thing is rarely easy--and sometimes not even popular.

In the weeks since the negotiations with the protesters began, the consequences of backing down have become painfully apparent.

On the evening of February 20, Pettis Norman had brokered the deal that stopped two months of protests over Townview and allowed the school board to resume meeting. The following day, the two sides held a press conference to announce the details.

Kress made a public promise--a condition on which Alcorn had insisted--to work more closely with the black school-board members. Leon Hayes--the "Negro" that Price just wouldn't put up with--was out as executive principal, effective immediately. Four more teachers would be hired at Townview to lower the school's student-teacher ratio to match that of the TAG magnet.

There was one final item: Woolery had agreed to pardon the roughly 150 Townview students who had walked out of class on January 12 to join John Wiley Price on the picket line. To remove the unexcused absences from their records, the students just had to write a 500-word essay describing "two successful methods used to induce social change during this century."

At the press conference, the two sides got a few minutes to speak. Yvonne Ewell talked about how the protests had been good for the city. Lee Alcorn talked about how disappointed he was that Kress had not apologized more profusely for being such an evil man. John Wiley Price talked about how he would never guarantee anybody that his Townview protests were over.

Though it was all pretty bizarre, nothing was stranger than that five Townview students--the leaders of the January 12 walkout--had come downtown, in the middle of a school day, to participate in the press conference.

"We, too, are kind of hesitant to put our trust as well as our education in our board," declared 17-year-old Moniece Shead, addressing the assembled press with great seriousness. "Actions speak louder than words."

As it turns out, Shead and her four friends--Charles King, Charles Hawkins, Ashley Reedy, and Marissa Pryor--had been taking lots of lessons from their mentors, negotiating behind the scenes for changes at Townview.

Ten days after the student walkout, the five had met with their new principal, Leon Hayes, "to discuss seven concerns that they have," according to a January 22 memo in Hayes' files. The meeting, during which Hayes' secretary took notes, lasted 90 minutes, from 8:30 a.m. until 10 a.m.

The students complained about the unexcused absences they'd received for the walkout. Then they began to complain about TAG.

"The [TAG] students don't have a right to be segregated from us," Hawkins said, according to the secretary's notes, which were later typed. "I am trying to figure out why they are not incorporated in classes with all students."

Moniece Shead: "We are not going to sit back and be deprived of the education that our forefathers, fathers, mothers, and uncles fought for us to have."

Charles King: "We want things taken care of. We are tired of it, and we are not going to take it. This is not a threat, but if things are not taken care of, action will be taken."

The Townview students were quick studies indeed.
According to the memo, "Dr. Hayes agreed to go and do what he needs to do to address the student's [sic] concerns. He stated that he needed assurances from them that they would work with him, giving him time to work through their concerns."

During the next few weeks the students attended a negotiation session between black leaders and Woolery; attended a South Dallas community meeting to spread the word about Townview's problems; circulated petitions demanding Watson's reinstatement; and began compiling a list of Townview teachers they felt needed to be watched closely and possibly removed.

On the morning of February 9, they actually did get someone removed. Richard White, the principal-dean of the Science and Engineering Magnet, was sent home from school--placed on suspended leave with pay--after one of the five students who had led the protest, Marissa Pryor, lodged a complaint against him.

White is a 53-year-old first-time administrator. He had been a science teacher for 11 years before being promoted last summer to the school's top job. Named the science magnet's Teacher of the Year four years running, White was a finalist for the district's Golden Apple Award in 1991 and 1995.

He had an unblemished record at the DISD--that is, until he met Marissa Pryor. Around 7:40 a.m., as students streamed through the front door of the building, Pryor attempted to enter the building without a name tag--a requirement for all students. As he had done with others who did not have their name tags on that morning, White asked Pryor to step aside so that other students could pass through the door and go to class.

Pryor refused. White asked the teen-ager several more times to move. Pryor refused. At that point, White put his open palm on her right shoulder, looked her in the eye, and told her to step aside.

She did.
Twenty minutes later Pryor's grandmother was in the building yelling at White and demanding to see Dr. Hayes. By midafternoon White was sent home so an investigation of his behavior could be conducted.

Twenty-one days later, White was sent back to his job, cowed and disbelieving.

"It was a minor incident that became not so minor because of the political atmosphere out here," another magnet-school principal says sadly.

Says a DISD administrator who knows what happened: "It wasn't a hanging offense but it was not good judgment on his part. You just don't physically hold kids like that any more. You know they're egging you on so you have to try not to be set up."

Says White, who does not want to discuss the matter: "It was probably the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me in my life. I was really shaken up. I didn't sleep real well, to be honest with you. I called my lawyer. I thought I was gone."

Three days after White was put on leave, Moniece Shead walked into a third-period law magnet class and told the teacher, who was in the middle of giving a lesson, that she had a letter to deliver to her friend Marissa Pryor. The letter was one of five like it, all written by the same person, passed out to students that day. It read:

Dear Ms. Pryor:
My hat goes off to you, young woman. I have been so very proud of you and the leadership you have demonstrated at Townview Center within the last few weeks. Without having been there, I know there were times when you questioned the necessity of demonstration and protest. I am certain teachers, administrators, and other students took time to discourage your thinking. In spite of their rhetoric, you were steadfast in you [sic] commitment to your vision and your belief in equity in education at Townview.

I am one of the few persons who can say I lived to see the torch of leadership passed to the next generation. Marissa, I did not realize in my few months at Townview that I had made any impact on students there. I thank God; He chose to bless me in this special way.

You must know I love you and appreciate the support you gave me. The support of students validates my efforts to a greater extent than support given me by any adult.

Learn from this experience. Make it one of your great lessons in life. You came up a winner. I learned something also. I learned that I can believe in the future because you will be there. Call me if you ever need me.

Love and Hugs, Ora Lee Watson, Ph.D.

The calm that prevailed at DISD was relative--and short-lived. Townview's sidewalks remain free of demonstrators. A doubling of TAG-only classes and the restoration of a community lunch period seemed to calm the magnet school's angry parents.

But last week, the TAG group filed a formal petition to leave DISD and form a charter school.

Responding now to every howl, Woolery stumbled repeatedly in his attempt to find an acceptable choice to replace Watson as principal of the supermagnet. After removing unacceptable "Negro" Leon Hays, Woolery called a press conference and eagerly announced the permanent selection of highly regarded Carter High School Principal Joseph Brew, an African-American.

Parents and students at Carter went ballistic about the prospect of losing him. They held a huge meeting at the school the night of the announcement, then staged their own demonstration in front of Carter the next day. At that evening's school-board meeting, DISDofficials--just one day after appointing Brew--announced that the move was off. A veteran school administrator was named to fill the Townview post on an interim basis.

Meanwhile, Dallas' Hispanic community--noting that its student population in the district now outstrips the black student population--began making its own demands. Woolery quickly announced the selection of a Hispanic superintendent from Santa Fe as his deputy superintendent, creating an entirely new position. Black leaders are now grumbling for an African-American deputy superintendent, with equal pay and equal status.

In shamelessly scrambling to make everyone happy, Woolery--not surprisingly--had managed to satisfy no one. Several trustees now say they are assembling a board majority to oust him.

The trouble at Townview--an isolated conflict--has mushroomed into a full-fledged crisis for the entire Dallas public-school system.

Sandy Kress--a lonely, well-meaning emissary from the business community--has given up. The entire TAG magnet--a rare oasis of academic excellence--is threatening to secede. The district's leadership has abdicated its responsibility to make thoughtful decisions--and stick by them--in favor of craven politics and deference to whomever screams the loudest.

There remains hope. A new school-board president--most likely, Kathleen Leos--will take office in May. Chad Woolery may rediscover some sense of resolve--or be replaced by someone who never lost it. The business community--recognizing the danger of further chaos in the city's public schools--may recommit itself to the hard work of making things better for those who can't afford private school.

All of that may happen. If it doesn't, Dallas' children will pay the price.


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