Mercedes Schneider: Former DC Principal, Director Sue DCPS for Firings Related to Relay GSE Concerns
Two former employees of the DC school system were fired for raising questions about a plan to impose Relay Graduate School [sic] programs on the school. Now they’re suing. Mercedes Schneider has the story. Reposted with permission.
Below are excerpts fron a lawsuit put forth by two former employees of DC’s Boone Elementary School, who took issue with DC Public Schools (DCPS) higher admin wishing to impose controversial scripted and harsh practices at the direction of the so-named Relay Graduate School of Education (“graduate school” as a brand name and worth as much as my legally changing my own name to “Mercedes Schneider, MD” to deceptively promote the idea that I practice medicine).
Former Boone principal, Carolyn Jackson-King, repeatedly voiced her concerns about DCPS pooling lower-income, predominately Black schools under the jurisdiction of Relay and the fact that the administrator overseeing this requirement was formerly with “no excuses” KIPP schools (as in highly-scripted conformity at the expense of developing critical thinking and self-value for low-income students). Jackson-King even collected data to support no need for this concocted “Relay remediation” plan for Boone students, to no avail. Within one year, she was brought from being a principal deemed worthy of mentoring others to one released from her duties as principal and given the lowest rating of her career.
Fellow Boone employee and director of strategy and logistics, Marlon Ray, was arguably singled out and punitively required to work in person throughout the pre-vaccination period of COVID and later terminated due to “reduction in force” after he filed a 2020 whistleblower suit with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) about Relay, including contracts and payments under two distinct codings and that did not line up.
Jackson-King and Ray are suing DCPS and requesting a jury trial “to remedy the effects of the illegal conduct described [in the suit]” and to “award damages for back pay and other monetary losses” incurred by DCPS “[having] violated the provisions of District of Columbia law recited [in the suit].”
The lawsuit itself is 35 pages long and is posted at the end of this piece. I wish I could post the entire document as I believe it is worth a full read for its value on many fronts, including how those in education reform are able to all-too-quickly position themselves in upper administration and through their connections promote other entites selling ill-informed ideas that are contrary to sound educational practice; how such education businesses are often particularly positioned to prey on lower income students and students of color; how genuinely concerned, career-invested stakeholders are often wrongfully punished for voicing their concerns and seeking remedy (including being told that the issue should be kept “in house,” a strategy also often employed by domestic abusers), and how the underdog often has to pay out of pocket to seek relief in the courts.
First from the suit: background on Relay:
The Relay Graduate School of Education (“RGSE” “Relay GSE” or “Relay”) was founded by Hunter College Dean David Steiner, and charter school founders Norman Atkins of Uncommon Schools, Dacia Toll of Achievement First, and David Levin of KIPP charter schools in 2007.
Initially named “Teacher U,” in 2012 Relay severed its relationship with Hunter College, rebranding itself as the Relay Graduate School of Education.
This rebranding followed Steiner’s departure from Hunter College to become Commissioner of Education for New York State in 2009. As Commissioner, he led the New York State Board of Regents to “authorize an independent teacher preparation graduate school of education” where entities that were not institutions of higher educations were permitted to grant master’s degrees in the State of New York. Two years later, Steiner returned to his position at Hunter College, and remains a member of its Board of Trustees.
During Steiner’s time as Commissioner, he supported the New York State Board of Regents granting a provisional charter to Relay on February 3, 2011, despite charges of conflicting interests.
In New Jersey, Relay faced community concerns regarding its oversight, due to its attempts to usurp state requirements for teachers with what it deemed its “equivalent qualifications.”
In Connecticut, Relay faced additional scrutiny, due to its connection to Toll. Toll’s Achievement First schools were the largest network of charter schools in Connecticut. With some schools featuring 96 – 99 percent Black and Hispanic students these schools were responsible for the state’s highest suspension and expulsion rates. Its curriculum has been criticized for “emphasizing methods that are reductive and control-oriented, rather than research-based and conducive to critical thinking.”
Relay’s reductive view of teaching “emphasizes the kind of techniques shown to narrow the curriculum and adversely affect students’ socio-emotional development.” Such techniques follow “no credible research base to support its claims to effectiveness.” Meanwhile, its list of private partners and agenda “has typically worked against community interests and exacerbated inequities— draining resources from struggling districts, [and] deepening segregation.”
Relay’s teachers are trained to “bark commands and questions” akin to a drill sergeant, and in one training video when a student “confuses the word ‘ambition’ with ‘anxious’ (an error that is repeated by a classmate), you know that is how he is feeling at the moment.” …
Relay was first introduced in Washington, D.C. in 2017, with DCPS teachers beginning to attend RGSE training sessions at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Some background on Jackson-King, including her established career as a DCPS administrator:
Plaintiff Dr. Jackson-King began working for District of Columbia Public Schools in 1999. After a break in service, Dr. Jackson-King re-entered DCPS in 2005.
Dr. Jackson-King was hired for her most recent role as School Principal at Lawrence E. Boone Elementary School in 2014. Prior to becoming principal, Dr. Jackson-King was the assistant principal and Dean of Students at Wheatley Education Campus for five years.
During the 2017-2018 school year, Plaintiff Dr. Jackson-King was selected to be on the Chancellor Cabinet. Then, during the 2019-2020 school year, she was selected by DCPS to be a Principal Coach for principals who were new to the district or principalship.
In her role as school principal, Plaintiff Dr. Jackson-King brought change in a myriad of ways. She worked closely with her school community to transition from the Orr building to the 51 million-dollar, newly constructed, and renamed, Lawrence E. Boone Elementary School, in Ward 8. Dr. Jackson-King
redesigned the school day schedule, extending the school day and providing teachers with additional planning time.
Lawrence E. Boone Elementary boasts some of the highest teacher retention rates in the district according to DCPS’ Spring INSIGHT survey (Spring 2019 Insight and Spring INSIGHT survey (Spring 2020 Insight). Talent development at the school not only developed teachers but also six paraprofessionals who were trained and promoted to the ranks of teacher. Lawrence E. Boone also had
three team members who joined the team from the parent ranks, as Boone pushed to promote from within and retain its staff.
Now, a bit about Marlon Ray– including that his OIG complaint resulted in over $128K returned to the district:
Plaintiff Ray was first employed by DCPS in October 2002, and was most recently hired by DCPS at Lawrence E. Boone as the Director, Strategy & Logistics. Throughout his tenure, Ray has shown himself to be a loyal and dedicated employee, always keeping the best interest of DCPS children at the forefront of his work.
Ray filed a whistleblower complaint with the D.C. Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) in August 2020 alleging that building contractors stole $128,219 in school supplies from Lawrence E. Boone Elementary School during the 2017-2018 school year. This in part, led to the retuning of this money in January 2020.
Here is where the problem enters in the form of a mandate delivered by DC deputy chancellor, Teach for America (TFA) alum and former KIPP chief academic officer, Melissa Kim. At the time, Kim had been deputy chancellor for 10 months:
On June 6, 2019, Plaintiffs met with Deputy Chancellor Melissa Kim, amongst the principals of twenty-one (21) other D.C. Public Schools. The principals featured schools that were predominately in Wards 7 and 8 (Black communities with high poverty rates in Washington, D.C. ).
Deputy Chancellor Melissa Kim had a significant relationship with KIPP prior to becoming Deputy Chancellor as she was the Chief Academic Officer of KIPP, and the director of the Instructional Improvement at New Schools Venture Fund. The latter is a venture philanthropy nonprofit that has raised money for DC Prep, KIPP DC, and a number of charter school networks operating in the District of Columbia.
At this June 6 meeting, Deputy Chancellor Kim explained that these principals would be trained by the educational organization Relay. Further, she explained that these schools were being reorganized under the grouping of clusters with the pretext of supporting enrollment at feeder schools.
The District of Columbia Public Schools contracted Relay GSE to coach school leaders and coaches in schools located specifically in Wards 7 and 8. …
At the June 6 meeting, Dr. Jackson-King and several other principals were informed that they would be placed in the “RELAY cluster.”
Concerned, Dr. Jackson-King continued to try and raise awareness regarding Relay’s practices and shortly thereafter contacted Instructional Superintendent (“IS”) Elizabeth Nambi. She had a call with Nambi on June 28, 2019.
On this call, Dr. Jackson- King discussed her issues with Relay, and the racist overtones of homogenously clustering schools as a form of tracking.
Likewise, she questioned Nambi on how elementary schools clustered together could help enrollment at the feeder middle and high school levels, especially since the elementary cluster schools do not engage with the feeder middle or high schools in a systematic way.
Specifically, she doubted the reasoning behind this justification and additionally articulated her opposition to the way Relay was structured due to the program’s problematic behavioral management techniques.
Moreover, Jackson-King expressed concerns that this program was being deliberately implemented to create a school to prison pipeline system for black and brown children. She felt that the lower income black students of D.C. were the experiments for a program that has not been proven to work anywhere.
Part of Jackson-Kings’s concern were due to Deputy Chancellor’s Kim significant relationship with the KIPP organization prior to joining DCPS. …
Still, her concerns went unheard.
Jackson-KIng’s second meeting with Nambi:
On August 21, 2019, Dr. Jackson-King met with IS Nambi about her reason for resistance to Relay. She described how Relay trains school leaders to implement techniques which they call Strong Start/Culture-behavior management techniques. Moreover, she articulated how Relay’s practices encouraged thecontrolling of Black children’s bodies with the “no excuses” mentality. Finally, she expressed that it was discriminatory for DCPS to have Relay only in schools that serve Black students in Black neighborhoods.
Jackson-King gathers data about the progress of slated “RELAY” schools:
On October 21, 2019, Dr. Jackson-King hosted the Cluster meeting for the principals in her group. The principals observed in classrooms and placed feedback on charts and sticky notes around their meeting room. All the feedback that was given by other DCPS principals was positive and constructive, therefore, Dr. Jackson-King understood that based on the knowledge of her colleagues at the time, their school was on track. As such, she had no indication that her school was in danger of falling behind other schools.
Jackson-King inquires about funds being used to pay for mandated Relay:
On October 24, 2019, Dr. Jackson-King spoke out on behalf of several principals at a meeting as a member of the Principal Retention Team. During the meeting she asked, “what happened to the money that some schools were given at the end of 2018?” Dr. Jackson-King was told by several principals that
this money was allocated to services related to Relay.
Again, on November 7, 2019, Dr. Jackson-King voiced concerns [presumably to Nambi] about Relay
and the amount of money Defendant DCPS paid for Relay training. Dr. Jackson-King maintained that there was an issue with DCPS investing so heavily in an organization with foundational practices that were not in the best interest of children, specifically Black children.
Still concerned and unheard, Jackson-King seeks assistance from another DC upper-level administrator, Corrine Colgan:
On November 19, 2019, during Leadership Academy, Dr. Jackson-King spoke with Corrine Colgan, DCPS Chief of Teaching and Learning about Relay’s discriminatory practices, Relay only being implemented in schools East of the Anacostia River and that Relay coaches were being utilized instead of the DCPS content specialists. Dr. Jackson-King’s apprehension was that teachers who worked in the Relay clusters were receiving scripted strict pedagogical techniques that are only used in D.C. schools that serve Black students and did not lead to quality training for teachers who teach students furthest from opportunity.
And here it comes:
On December 19, 2019 Dr. Jackson-King received a low evaluation, 2.75. She reached out via email requesting a meeting with IS (Instructional Superintendent) Mary Ann Stinson to discuss the inaccuracies of the evaluation.
On December 23, 2019, IS Stinson and Deputy Chief Holmes attended the ending of an Academic Leadership Team (ATL) meeting at Boone Elementary School focused on data analysis and Vocabulary.
Despite being aware of Jackson-King’s concerns related to her unfair evaluation, they arrived 5 minutes
before Dr. Jackson-King was to end the meeting. It was becoming apparent to Jackson-King that she would not have a fair chance to discuss her evaluation.
After several attempts she was granted a meeting on January 25, 2020 to discuss her evaluation. Dr. Jackson-King was marked down in her evaluation due to her engagement in the protected activity of “Opposition” to discrimination. During her meeting she complained to several high-level district
administrators that DCPS was engaging in prohibited discrimination by clustering schools that serve majority Black students from low-income households and forcing the schools to implement strategies from an organization that perpetuated the “school to prison” pipeline. …
With her career wrongfully jeopardized, Jackson-King continued to seek a listening ear for her concerns about Relay. Ray is also part of this effort:
On February 12, 2020, Mr. Ray and Dr. Jackson-King met with Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Trayon White and his team member Wendy Glenn, about the concerns about Relay expressed by the parents and community of Lawrence E. Boone. As a result of the meeting, Councilmember White was to contact the Chancellor to see how he could support the school.
DCPS’s response: King-Jackson is micromanaged and relieved of her principalship:
From February through March 2020, Dr. Jackson-King began to experience intense micromanaging from IS Stinson in several areas. When Dr. JacksonKing checked in with colleagues, it became apparent that this was not happening to anyone else.
On February 25, 2020, Dr. Jackson-King received an email invitation to a meeting with Deputy Chief of Elementary Schools Dr. Jeffrey Holmes and IS Mary Ann Stinson, that had no agenda. The meeting was held two days later on February 27, 2020. There, IS Stinson stated that an IMPACT score of 2.7 was reflective of non-reappointment, and Dr. Jackson-King would not be reappointed to principalship due to performance. …
The next day, at a meeting on February 28, 2020… Dr. Holmes reprimanded and repeatedly questioned Dr. Jackson-King for speaking to D.C. Councilmember Trayon White. Dr. Holmes then directly stated that Dr. Jackson-King should not be discussing anything with external operators, stating ‘what happens in the house stays in the house’ or words closely to that effect.
On or about 06 July 2020, Dr. Jackson-King was demoted to Dean of Students. She was replaced as Principal by Kimberly Douglas. (According to the suit, Jackson-King was later terminated.)
According to the lawsuit, Jackson-King’s efforts continue. (Please read full lawsuit for details.) These highlighted points are important to post:
At no point during this process did DCPS senior leadership question why a first year Instructional Superintendent was recommending a Principal Coach with an impeccable record for non-reappointment and dismissal.
On May 15, 2020, during a meeting with parents, teachers and community members who were upset by Dr. Jackson- King’s dismissal as Principal of Lawrence E. Boone, Dr. Jeffrey Holmes stated that DCPS does not subscribe to the culture and climate of practices for Relay. However, after pressure from the panel, Dr. Holmes admitted that a few select schools implemented the Strong Start component of Relay. Furthermore, Dr. Holmes acknowledged that “there’s no data” when asked by Boone teachers if DCPS had data to show if Relay had successful outcomes within DCPS.
Following the details surrounding Jackson-King’s loss of principalship, the suit delineates Ray’s being singled out, as well:
Dr. Jackson-King was not alone in suffering retaliation for her actions regarding Relay, as Mr. Ray suffered as well. Principal Douglas (Jackson-King’s successor), despite the safety concerns of COVID-19, required Ray, of a school staff of 60+ employees, to be the only staff member working in- person 5 days a week. This continued from July 2020 through November 2020.
Douglas herself worked from home all five days of the week, yet did not consider that due to Ray’s age (over 55) and underlying health conditions, he was at high risk for death if he contracted COVID-19.
In support of his school community, and well within his rights, Ray participated in a peaceful protest on October 28, 2020. He stood in support with parents, Lawrence E. Boone teachers and students.
The next day, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Ray was called to Douglas’s office. Upon entering, Ray was chastised and berated for his participation. Unable to manage her anger, Douglas began to yell irately at Ray, then swiftly departed from the school. Douglas did not use this aggressive tone or tactics with any of the other participants in this protest.
During a leadership meeting in November 2020, Douglas announced the change to teleworking days, where she and two assistant principals would work inperson a couple of days a week to “support” Mr. Ray. Mr. Ray was not offered the opportunity to work any of his schedule virtually. This arrangement
continued through February 5, 2021.
On February 8, 2021, Douglas and two assistant principals began to work every day in person, just as Ray had been doing since the beginning of the school year.
Just one week later, Douglas announced that she would be reinstituting telework days for herself and two assistant principals. She initially did not include Ray in such accommodations. Only after Ray objected did Douglas reluctantly agree to let him telework two days a week.
Starting February 23, 2021, Ray began to telework from home two days a week.
On March 12, 2021, while out sick awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, Douglas called Ray to inform him that his position would not be included in their budget for the upcoming SY 21/22.
During a virtual staff meeting on March 17, 2021, Ray informed the team that he would not be returning for SY 21/22.
The next day, March 18, 2021, Douglas approached Ray in his office. She once again berated and yelled at Ray over his decision to inform staff of Douglas’ budgetary decision to eliminate Ray’s position.
Three days later, on March 21, 2021, Ray was no longer allowed to work from home, after only 1 month of telework, and despite being in close contact with someone with COVID earlier that month.
Despite the alleged reduction in force of Ray’s position, Director, Strategy and Logistics, on May 18, 2021 a Manager, Strategy and Logistics position at Boone ES was posted on the DCPS vacancy listings.
On June 11, 2021, Plaintiff Marlon Ray was terminated via a letter notifying him that his position was eliminated as the result of a reduction in force.
Read the full suit, which includes more detail than I could post, including numerous footnotes.
How a jury would not find in favor of plaintiffs Jackson-King and Ray I am at a loss to imagine.