|Orr Vault classroom 2/7/14|
|Overcrowded music classroom at Orr 1/29/14|
|Orr Vault classroom 2/7/14|
|Orr vault class 2/7/14|
|Orr Elementary Vault classroom 2/7/14|
In a February 6 post on The Washington Teacher education blog, I wrote about the Inhumane Teaching and Learning Conditions at DC's Orr elementary school. Benjamin Orr elementary school is located at 2200 Minnesota Avenue SE Washington, DC 20020, 202/671-6240. Niyeka Wilson is the schools principal. Principal Wilson is no stranger to controversy as parents from the Parent Action Consort (known as PAC) recently wrote DC City Council members alleging that Wilson had written malicious comments on her Face book page disparaging an Orr parent and student with physical health challenges. Members of PAC called for the disciplinary action of Wilson. Reportedly, Wilson is now under investigation by DCPS. The results have yet to be reported.
My January 2014 visit to Orr revealed some horrific learning conditions for students at this once esteemed school. I witnessed conditions with my own eyes. While in the vault classroom, I observed evidence of a classroom with teacher's objectives, behavior chart, touch math chart, foundations sound chart and call and response posted in the room. It is reported by staff that special needs students receive pull out instruction in a vault, not intended for human habitation. In another space in the school, 42 students (which is well above the student-teacher ratio) cram into a fabricated music room like sardines with little room for both students and instrumental music equipment. One has to walk sideways around furniture in the music room just to move about. It has been reported that students complain of soaring heat which reaches temperatures as high as 93 degrees even on the coldest of days in this makeshift room without windows. Heat overcame me even for the short duration I stood inside.
News of my story found its way to DCPS Office of the Chancellor Press Secretary, Melissa Salmanowitz. On Feb 7, 2014, Ms Salmanowitz wrote : "Ms. Peterson – I read your recent blog post about Orr Elementary School. I found several inaccuracies and I hope you can take a few minutes to correct them. The space you mention is not a classroom and no students are in that space. There are some other inaccuracies we would like you to correct. Specifically, There are no special education classrooms at Orr and certainly no classrooms in the way you inaccurately described them. Orr uses a push-in model where the special education teacher works collaboratively with the general education teacher in the classrooms. The space referenced in the blog is used as an office space and at no time are any special education classes being held in the space. The music classroom has 30 students, never more. While we agree Orr is in need of a modernization, we work closely to address any needs that come up in advance of their modernization. There is no way to lock the door from the inside as it has to be locked from the outside. We do need to replace the doors and the order has been approved and the school is awaiting the delivery and installation of the doors, which we expect very soon. Students at Orr are safe. They are never in any harm, as your blog would suggest. What is actually happening at Orr is great teaching and strong leadership. Your post ignores all the wonderful things happening in the classrooms every day at Orr. Instead, this post is rife with falsehoods and we would appreciate corrections. Thank you, Melissa."
I'm not a bit surprised at the DCPS response, albeit dating back to the Rhee era; the DCPS strategy is to cover up the ugly truth and manipulate coverage of what's really happening in our schools. When backed into a corner- they (DCPS) hate to admit wrongdoing, falsify information to promote their own agenda and gloss over the problems and only cite the wonderful things they claim are happening.
An Orr insider emailed me to share that on Friday, February 7- central office staff visited Orr to take a look see at the vault. Seems some student tables were moved out of the classroom vault before their arrival. Sounds like a cover up to me. Allegedly Principal Wilson didn't open the door claiming she didn't have a key to the padlock. Hmmmmm.
A DCPS teacher at Orr who requested anonymity stated; " Not only is Principal Wilson failing to provide positive leadership but she is proving to be completely dishonest. How can we trust her to be the role model our school needs when she fails to admit wrong doing and tries to cover up her mistake? I truly hope DCPS is smart enough to realize what she's doing and doesn't become complicit in this cover up. This would be shameful."
Luckily for Orr, I've got pictures to prove what I reported. The picture of Orr's classroom vault shows students working on a laptop, posing in front of a number line and students enjoying a bite to eat. Featured in the picture is the vaults' rear back door as well as yellow covering of storage shelves and a yellow and green table (prior to removal ?)
My camera lens wasn't wide enough to capture all 42 music seats but you get the picture because you can count in excess of 30 student chairs inside the music room, not 30 as Salmanowitz reports. Liar Liar, pants on fire!