- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The interim principal of Eastern High School acknowledged to parents last night the school is in bad shape, but vowed she would restore its reputation as the pride of Capitol Hill.

Wilma Bonner, appointed as interim principal after students failed to receive their schedules on the first day of school, said a top priority is getting more maintenance workers and teachers, particularly those who teach Spanish and French.

Mrs. Bonner also said she would begin the process of making schedules in January and February, so students could take home next year’s schedules before summer break. She also vowed the situation at Eastern would improve before winter break.

As an example of the school’s academic problems, she said 160 seniors last year failed English.

We’re working “feverishly” at improving, she told about 100 parents and others who attended the forum last night at the school.

Mrs. Bonner also said security guards are posted throughout the school, but invited parents to visit to see for themselves.

“We need to change the culture,” she said.

John Gibson, chairman of the community group Local School Restructuring Team, said the school must improve in four ways: stability, accountability, environment and involvement.

“More than 100 seniors failed English and parents are not up in arms … something is gravely wrong with this,” he said.

Mr. Gibson also agreed that the school needed maintenance improvement.

“Eastern is a filthy school,” he said. “And I dare say that it is the filthiest of the secondary schools.”

However, Mr. Gibson praised the staff at Eastern for working over the Labor Day weekend to correct the schedule problem, especially Mrs. Bonner, whom he said worked 18-hour days.

The school’s roughly 1,000 students now have schedules, in part, because the staffers worked during the weekend and kept the school open so students could pick up their schedules.

Students were sent home the first day of classes, Sept. 1, after learning they had no schedules. School officials reported no major problem in the District’s roughly 150 other schools.

Interim Superintendent Robert C. Rice, 65, said he was informed the night before opening day that schedules were printed. But 12 hours later, early the next morning, Mr. Rice said he learned the schedules were not printed after all because of computer problems.

The printing of the final master schedule should have been completed by mid-August.

Hours after learning that students had no schedules, Mr. Rice fired Principal Norman S. Smith Jr.; Juan Baughn, assistant superintendent of the school system’s senior high school division; and Henry Thompson, a staff member in the school system’s Office of Information and Technology.

“The school leaders who allowed this unacceptable situation to transpire failed not only my team, but [they also failed] the students and parents of D.C. public schools who rely on us,” Mr. Rice said after announcing his decision. “There is no remediation for this kind of failure. And after a thorough investigation, I have decided to terminate three individuals.”

He also appointed Mrs. Bonner as interim school principal. She is the school system’s executive director for academic programs.

About 665 students arrived for the second day to learn they still had no schedules. They spent the majority of the day in homerooms discussing the war in Iraq, the presidential election campaigns and current events.

Officials then said the schedules would not be ready until Tuesday. About 968 students attended school Tuesday, Mrs. Bonner said.

Mr. Rice said he first conferred with incoming Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, 58, who agreed with his decisions. Mr. Janey, a former superintendent of the Rochester, N.Y., public school system, officially takes charge Wednesday.

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