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Ex-principal blasts DCPS
Board interference, lack of support cited
(Published June 27, 2005)

Staff Writer

Daniel Hudson, fired after a stormy nine-month tenure as principal at Ballou Senior High School, said he received little support from his staff or school system administrators during the school year and felt he was set up to fail in his duty to fix problems at the troubled Southeast Washington school.

"I felt that I was in jeopardy of my position probably the first day of school," Hudson told The Common Denominator during a telephone interview. "I just knew long, long, long ago that this was going to be played out."

The 57-year-old educator said he was called to school headquarters on the morning of June 23 and informed of his dismissal by William Wilhoyte, an assistant superintendent whom he described as "not my boss," who handed him a letter stating he was not "renewable" as the principal of Ballou. The letter did not state a reason why he was being removed from his job, he said.

D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman Roxanne Evans said Superintendent Clifford Janey decided not to comment publicly on the decision to discontinue Hudson’s employment and said she could not discuss the reason because it is a personnel matter. She said that Hudson, like most new principals, was hired on a "probationary" basis, which permitted the superintendent to decide whether to "re-appoint" him.

Hudson, who was hired a short time before Janey began his tenure as superintendent last September, said he never met with Janey during the school year, despite repeated unsuccessful attempts to set up an appointment to discuss problems at Ballou with the superintendent.

Evans said Janey, in removing Hudson and several other principals from their posts, was carrying out his "mission to move DCPS forward" and "made the decision in the best interest of the school district." A complete list of principals dismissed or transferred was not immediately available from school officials.

Philip Pannell, president of Ballou’s Parent, Teacher and Student Association, said Hudson "did the very best that he could" considering the numerous challenges that plague the school and limit opportunities for progress.

"There’s a culture in that situation that is antithetical to academic excellence, and it’s so sad," Pannell said. "He came in and had to operate in an atmosphere of crisis. I know he wanted to institute many things but he didn’t seem able to do it."

Sandra Seegars, a Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner and community activist who said she supported the "by the book" changes that Hudson tried to make at the District’s second-largest high school, told The Common Denominator that Hudson privately considered resigning midway through the school year because of the lack of support he received from his staff and his superiors.

"I saw a student hit him … they both fell to the ground," she said , relating an experience during one of her visits to Ballou. "That’s horrible … I don’t know if security saw it, but they should have if they had been at their posts. They should have at least heard something."

Hudson’s popular predecessor, Art Bridges, was fired as Ballou’s principal midway through the previous school year amid allegations of financial irregularities at the school. Gang fights, a disruptive mercury spill and the fatal shooting of a student in a school hallway also marred the 2003-2004 school year at Ballou.

Hudson said he faced resistance from school personnel who wanted to continue performing practices that violated policy, such as lax accounting of sick days and leave time or using money generated by fund-raising events for personal expenses. Some teachers also made deals with student athletes that allowed them to continue playing interscholastic sports despite their failing grades, he said.

Hudson said he worked 12 to 15 hours a day trying to fix the school "with very little cooperation" from teachers, custodians "and everyone downtown."

"On the positive side, I really did try my best to be accessible to students...(and) to parents, and I tried to work in a situation where regardless of what I thought – what I felt throughout that year – that Ballou can be turned around," he said.

District IV Board of Education member William Lockridge, who represents Wards 7 and 8, said he visited the school "on a fairly regular basis" during the past school year and informed Hudson about calls he was getting from teachers, parents and students dissatisfied with the principal’s performance. He said individuals complained that they thought Hudson was "insensitive" to students and "didn’t have their best interests in heart."

The school board member attributed Hudson’s removal to a lack of experience and said he was "just not the right fit" for the 1,100-student "urban" school, in which most of the students receive free or reduced lunch, an indicator of low income.

"He had a tremendous task," Lockridge said. "Ballou needs an experienced principal...They need an extraordinary leader in terms of a principal...Mr. Hudson did not have all those qualities."

Hudson said the school board member was constantly questioning how he was running the school and had told Hudson that it was the principal’s job to call Lockridge and report to him on the status of the school.

"I don’t kiss up to him. He doesn’t like me," Hudson said of Lockridge. "He simply was a bugaboo in my head ever since I’ve been there."

According to school board policy, board members may be sanctioned by the board for interfering in the day-to-day operation of individual schools. Board members are expected to report community problems with teachers or principals to the superintendent, instead of trying to resolve the matter themselves.

Hudson, a resident of Fort Lincoln in Northeast Washington, served as principal for three years at a high school in Bradford, Pa., before arriving at Ballou last fall, where he was paid about $115,000.

He said he does not plan to challenge his removal and that, after 33 years as an educator, he is considering switching to another career field.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator