Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston has promised an extensive review of programs and staffing at Woodlawn High School following the release of a report that found leadership, discipline and teacher morale sorely lacking at the 1,700-student campus.
The report was commissioned by former Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione in response to complaints by parents. But release of the report, compiled by the county school system and the Maryland State Department of Education, caught Hairston and the school's principal - who had not received a copy as of yesterday afternoon - by surprise.
Hairston said he hadn't been told about the study and has barely begun to investigate problems at Woodlawn.
"That wasn't on my watch. Don't get me involved in it," he said yesterday.
Regardless of when Woodlawn's troubles began, it will be Hairston's job to resolve them. And he knows it.
Hairston has ordered an "instructional audit" to determine the scope of problems at the school. He also intends to call meetings with Woodlawn staff as well as parents and community groups. And, Hairston said yesterday, he will call in state officials to lend a hand, if necessary.
"We will make sure that we do an assessment of the needs there and find out who made commitments to whom," Hairston said. "We will make sure that the focus of the school is on the needs of the child and the needs of the classroom."
That's a step in the right direction, said parents, some of whom have been badgering the Board of Education for at least a year for more support.
"We are smart enough to understand that Dr. Hairston is inheriting this problem," said Clara Hayes, Woodlawn PTSA president, who gave Hairston a copy of a report parents put together in March outlining mismanagement at the school.
"We are hoping that he can bring solutions - that's why he was hired," she said.
Still, parent Van Ross, who is also a member of the Woodlawn PTSA, said yesterday she is tired of talk. She wants action.
"At this point, Dr. Hairston saying he will come and meet with us, that doesn't impress me," she said. "We get promises and talk, promises and talk, promises and talk. No, I am not impressed. Heck no, I don't have hope."
Woodlawn Principal Lynette Woodley, who took over after James Wilson was tapped to head the school system's Department of Minority Achievement and Multi-Cultural Education last year, said she couldn't comment on a report she had not seen.
"I'm not sure what it's about," she said. "I'll see the report first, and then I can talk with more knowledge."
Much of what the report says about the school - which has undergone some renovations recently and where construction of a 600-seat addition will begin early next year - is less-than-flattering.
It describes hallways filled with pupils who are "loud," "boisterous" and "rude," and who show a "disrespect for authority." Teachers who act as hall monitors appear to have only "minimal effectiveness."
The school's Pre-Engineering and Student-Conducted Research Magnet Program, which once boasted an enrollment of 151 pupils in all grade levels, bottomed out recently at 89. Only 22 ninth-graders entered the program last school year.
In the report, teachers at Woodlawn complain about a number of problems, including chronic pupil misbehavior as well as a pervasive lack of support.
"There are a variety of factors that are causing teachers to consider leaving," said a teacher who was not identified. "The issue of discipline and lack of conduct and orderliness is a widespread factor. Aside from discipline, morale is at an all time low."
Another teacher said: "We have quality teachers here at Woodlawn High School that are leaving because the present administration wants to make changes for change's sake."
Teacher turnover is constant at Woodlawn, where 40 out of 102 teachers are nontenured or have less than two years experience in the county school system. At the end of the school year, 19 teachers had not completed their teaching degrees. They were hired based on provisional teaching certificates. Twelve teachers had spent a year or less in the classroom.
During their one-day visit to the campus in May, education officials noticed that the building was in "need of cleaning and maintenance ... hallways and restrooms were dirty, and some [parents and students] said they needed to be sanitized."
Woodlawn PTSA members have noted many of the same problems during the past year. They say they are proud of Woodlawn's fine athletics and music programs, but are tired of having to harassing school system administrators for classroom basics.