- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

Teachers and staff at Options Public Charter School in Northeast expressed shock yesterday upon learning about their principal’s extensive arrest record.

During an impromptu staff meeting yesterday, Options staffers were told that Clarence Edward Dixon, who had been principal since June, had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into his background.

“I was stoned shocked,” said Charles Vincent, president of the Options board of directors. “And, you should have heard the shock of other board members when I made the calls to them — there was silence on the end of the phones.”

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Mr. Dixon is a felon who was on probation for a credit card fraud conviction when he took charge of the District’s oldest charter school last year.

Mr. Vincent said Options teachers remain focused on the school and the children, despite the furor over Mr. Dixon. He said he has not been inundated with calls from parents and has tried to maintain a sense of normalcy among students and staff. Counselors were on site yesterday to help students with their concerns, he said.

Sixth-grade teacher Geetha Pai, 25, said she was stunned by the news.

“I was shocked by the amount of information that the paper gathered. But I don’t know if it’s true. My job is to educate children, and for my sanity and theirs, I would rather concentrate on teaching the subject matter that must be covered before the school year ends. That’s my primary concern,” Ms. Pai said.

Her colleague, Nathan Lemmon, the school’s special education coordinator since June, said he “was surprised and confused.”

“Mr. Dixon is a good administrator,” Mr. Lemmon said. “In defining a good administrator — he had a mission and he was hired to do a particular job. He was strong and focused. As far as my day-to-day professional relationship at school [with him], none of the things that were published in the paper ever came up. That’s why it was a surprise, and I think it’s very unfortunate.”

Parents’ reactions ran the gamut from anger to compassion. Some said they would wait until the investigation ends before making any judgment about Mr. Dixon.

“How could they let him get hired? Chancellor [Beacon, the school’s management company] needs to be fired. How could they let this happen?” asked Anne Jones, whose eighth-grade daughter attends Options.

Ms. Jones said she had complained repeatedly about Mr. Dixon’s stewardship of the publicly funded, privately operated school.

Marlene Champ, 41, a single parent of an Options eighth-grader, said the report about Mr. Dixon’s background had caught her off guard.

“I’m surprised by what I’ve read. It sort of tripped me out — I didn’t believe it. Whoever hired him should have conducted a thorough background check,” said Ms. Champ.

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