Longform

School for Scandal

Page 5 of 10

Parker, a 44-year-old Anglo, taught for two years at Sunset. With nearly 21 years experience in DISD, she has taught elementary-school and high-school history, social studies, and journalism. Proud of her academic pedigree, she notes that she has 12 hours of training in gifted and talented education. "I have a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degree. Except I didn't finish my dissertation," Parker offers, early in our meeting at a Greenville Avenue restaurant. We are sitting at a massive oak table with claw feet that could easily accommodate six people. Parker's documents are spread over half of it.

When we agreed over the phone to meet, she described herself this way: "I have short dark hair, and I'm fatter than I want to be." Parker is indeed ample--though fat overstates it--and dressed in a gauzy, gray-blue tunic and pants. Her hair is spikey, and shagged on the back of her neck. Each ear is studded with four diamond posts, with brass and silver drop earrings dangling from the lobes. It is a measure of her relationship with her peers that, at Sunset, according to English honors teacher Clarence Johnson, "We often referred to her as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark."

Parker shuffles through the papers before us and produces DISD's official school performance ranking for 1993-94. It shows Sunset's rise, among 27 DISD high schools, from 25th place to eighth. Stiles is especially proud of the ranking.

But now Parker is madly jotting her own numbers, arrows, and big question marks all over the document, hoping to show that the district's assessment is all wrong. She digs out another paper that shows Sunset's graduation rate in 1993 and 1994 to be the lowest since 1970. Asked its source, she smiles obliquely and says: "I just got it. It's confidential."

Parker, it turns out, has a knack for compiling documents and keeping records on those with whom she disagrees. DISD files contain copies of a half-dozen of her letters to Stiles, Ortiz, and district officials concerning PAL and assorted other grievances. And she provided me with her own handful of memos as well, documenting several run-ins she had with Stiles.

Ironically, Parker--like Stiles--came to Sunset with a nudge from Richard Marquez, who hand-picked her in the summer of 1993 for a program known as "Project Excel." The program was meant to identify Sunset students--preferably as freshmen--who had been enrolled in English as a Second Language courses and who were improving academically. Parker and three other teachers would supervise the students and teach them for most of the day. The goal was to put them on a college track.

Without consulting Stiles, Marquez decided to house Project Excel in a separate building across the street from the school. Stiles says Marquez also ordered him to give Parker unbridled access to every student's records--access other faculty members were denied. By its second year, Excel had 125 students.

"It was something they had never done before," Parker says. "At Sunset, the teachers always patted the Hispanic and African-American students on the head and said, 'You poor little things. You're behind. We need to do you a favor.' But the favor is always to stick them in remedial classes. The favor is never to challenge them.

"So they gave these kids remedial reading. They denied them textbooks and gave them something called 'hands-on' geography where they studied maps and globes. All dummy courses."

Parker, several Sunset teachers say, helped herself to the best students from their classes, in many cases kids who were already taking established honors classes. She did so without the customary authorization from Stiles. With high-achieving students a rare commodity at Sunset, their teachers did not cotton to giving them up.

"Just pure pettiness," Parker says of her co-workers' reactions. "Some of those teachers got real ticky. But I got maybe 15 out of the 125 from their classes. These children were at risk for dropping out. Many of their parents didn't speak English. Many of their families had never had a high-school graduate. We saved a lot of kids."

Though Stiles and Sunset teachers dispute her characterizations, Parker's personnel reviews on file at DISD show outstanding performance, especially in her teaching methods. Even Stiles acknowledges her ability in the classroom. "If Rose Parker kept to educating students, she could be a very good teacher. But she was so distracted with trying to achieve things for herself that it undermined her relationship with the entire school."

At Sunset, Parker rarely attended faculty meetings, a move other teachers perceived as arrogant. Her memos to Stiles and Ortiz were often shrill, whining about the "unforgivable" physical settings and the "framework of total harassment by the faculty and dean at Sunset" in which she had to work. In one memo to Ortiz following a clash over student transfers into Project Excel, Parker wrote, "Hopefully, even if you continue to attempt to derail the only hope these children have of receiving a college prep program, they will be cognizant enough to find the appropriate forum for their problems. After all, they have just studied 14th Amendment guarantees of equal access."

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Holly Mullen