Principal angers parents with letter that asks them to invest in college fund


The principal of a West Baltimore school has angered parents with the harsh tone of a letter asking them to invest in a fund for their children's college education.

"I have been sick on my stomach because I have not heard from you," said the Oct. 14 letter from Addie E. Johnson, principal of Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in the 2400 block of Windsor Ave.

At the bottom of the letter are two options, one of which parents must sign.

Under one option, parents commit themselves to the fund. The other states, "I can do this by myself because I am rich."

"It's insulting to say the least," said Yvonne Miller, whose son is a fifth-grader at the school. "It's like if I don't go along with this idea then I'm considered a bad parent. I don't feel I should have to prove myself."

"I think it's real stupid that they would send that letter to me sounding like that," said Darlene Lawhorn, who has two children at Coleman. "Why should I have to be made to join this? I already have savings and savings bonds for my children."

Ms. Johnson defended the letter, saying it was written in a harsh tone to grab parents' attention.

"I'm taking some of the tactics that businesses take to draw or attract your attention," she said. "If they need to use the money for something else, then I have no problem."

In a series of letters since the school year began, Ms. Johnson has been seeking parents of at least 400 of the school's 470 students to invest in the Robert W. Coleman Parent Action Award Fund.

The principal hopes the fund will encourage students to finish high school and later help pay for their college education.

The money will be invested in a mutual fund, and when the students finish high school, they will receive a portion of the money in the fund for their college expenses.

Ms. Johnson said that if a student does not finish high school, then the money that the student's family invested can be designated for someone else. The family will not get any of their investment back.

Ms. Johnson said the parents of more than 100 students have joined the fund. The deadline to join is Nov. 9.

"We're trying to increase the number of students who graduate," Ms. Johnson said. "It's a small investment when you look at what they blow at Christmas or Halloween."

But some parents, such as Norman Snype, said asking them to invest $50 a year would be a further strain on them.

"This puts a lot of burden on the parents," said Mr. Snype, who has two children at Coleman. "A lot of burden because some of them just don't have it. They [school officials] can tell by how some of these people dress that they don't have a lot of money."

"How am I going to give them $50 when I've got problems already," said Marian Goodman, another parent. "It could be $5, but it's the principle of it. Why keep on investing in that school when the child is out and gone to middle or high school."

Nat Harrington, a spokesman for the city school system, said he was unaware of any other school trying to start a fund like the one Ms. Johnson has in mind.

He said principals have full authority to make decisions and create programs without the approval of school system administrators.

"There are all kinds of unique ideas being implemented at schools directed at many aspects of the curriculum," Mr. Harrington said. "The school is asking for an investment in a savings plan that will directly help that child."

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