Feb 9, 2014

Orr Elementary School: DCPS Dirty Little Secret East of the River

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
Candi Peterson

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!


localactivist said...

Where is the OUTRAGE!!! How can the DC Public Schools administration concoct such erroneous statements? Who told lies to Ms Salmanowitzt? Was it Orr's principal Wilson? Was it the Superintendent? Was it both?

Telling flat-out lies are beyond unacceptable! How can they lie about our children? I will no longer trust Kaya Henderson until she cleans house. From this moment forward, mayor Gray must answer for this disastrous ordeal.

Anonymous said...

That student-teacher ratio is a joke. Is there a way to send you an anonymous message so that you can come visit my HIGH SCHOOL? which is also EAST of the river

Candi Peterson said...

Email me @ saveourcounselors@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Ms. Salmanowitz is wrong about the Special Education practices. None of my students receive push-in. They are all taken out into her office. We have more than one special education classroom and NUMEROUS students receive pull-out services. I wasn't even aware that were not supposed to have pull-out services.

Outraged!!!!!! said...

This is a cover-up by DCPS and Principal Niyeka Wilson. Those Special ED. Head Start-2nd grade students are taught in that horrific vault classroom at Orr ES daily. The room is located next to horrible smelly restrooms. This windowless room gets extremely cold and hot for these primary kids. Where is the news media, Mayor Grey, City Council, Ward 8 and Marion Barry? This is a crime against these kids right to have a safe and nurturing learning environment.

Anonymous said...

Why does a door for a storage space need to be replaced? Perhaps there will be children in this area in the future. How did a storage space become an office any way? Who is using the facilities on the fourth floor? A teacher is no less human than children and shouldn't be forced to use storage space for an office either. If this is just an office, it should have served the AP suitably.

Anonymous said...

Candi peterson is telling the truth. I work at Orr and I witness all that Ms. Peterson is saying. Ms Candi please dont give up the fight. WE need a new prinvipal at Orr.

Anonymous said...

Hold them all accountable!
Don't contact Gray, Chancellor or council members, but do contact the media, share with all your facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc...network. Tell the nation and world about the cover up and lies of inhumane conditions for special needs children within our nations capitol. Go tell the nation. Do it NOW!

Anonymous said...

A strong leader should have nothing to hide, Ms. Salmonowitz, so how did a pad lock with no key get on an office door? Doesn't the teacher have access to her Ofc? Also 42 students in a music class sounds like two classes at once. A lazy scheduling arrangement. Once again mounting stress for a teacher. These children aren't learning in a nurturing environment. I've seen that space. How inconsiderate!!

Anonymous said...

Same old abusive leadership tactics were used by the previous leadership; treat some staff well, while mistreating others. Divide, confuse and conquer. Absolutely poisonous environment.

Anonymous said...

Candi, I totally agree with Anonymous' comments dated Feb 10,
2014 at 2:21 AM.

DCPS Rheeformers are capable of covering up lies. Hold everyone
accountable and contact the media, too. Reform the Rheeformers in April 2014 (Mayor, Chancellor and Co.)

Great Reporting!!

Unknown said...

Former Orr Teacher...
I worked at Orr for seventeen years. I served on the building committee which was instrumental in the construction of the "New" building. In the plans the vaults are designated to be storage areas for supplies. They're built similar to bank vaults. Not conducive for habitation. Why is it set up like a classroom? The Music Teacher has a designated area on the stage for classes. This is drawn on the blueprints. This is not the Principal's personal home. She cannot change the plan of a public facility. The LAW allows so much square footage per person in a classroom area. Forty-two students in that tiny room (former library)is criminal. No ventilation in either of those areas is barbaric. That music room setup reminds me of a slave ship. The students are packed in like sardines. This is one for the Health Department. Orr was a top notch school before that last Principal was hired and this one seems even worse. Where are they getting these people from?

reform@Orr said...

Check out DCPS Chancellor's big fat embarrassment to WUSA9 news reporter Bruce Johnson:

"bruce johnson @brucejohnson9
New: article claiming bad conditions at Orr elem? DC School Chancellor Kaya Henderson tells me its flat out untrue @DMV_Nation @wusa9
10:32 PM - 7 Feb 2014"

Henderson and her press secretary should first fact check before going public. With pictures, parents, staff and community to validate students being educated in an unsafe vault, the evidence is plentiful.

Clearly, Kaya Henderson was deceived by Orr's principal. If not, clearly, there's a DCPS cover up in progress.

Anonymous said...

Thank you reform@orr your description of the blueprints was acknowledged as years with no problem. These last two administrations have made changes that have not been conducive to the most healthy environments for the Orr family. Clearly they demonstrate a lack of respect for what works best for everyone.

friendofOrr said...

How did Niyeka Wilson actually become principal at Orr?

1. Empirical evidence show Wilson was NOT selected by the interview committee comprised of parents, staff and community members. Wilson was NOT the committee’s first, second or third choice. The committee unanimously voted her as a do-NOT-hire candidate.

2. During Wilson’s principalship at Imagine Hope Community Public Charter School’s Lamond Campus, critical violations of test tampering or academic fraud were alleged. Headlines read: “Evidence of Widespread Cheating Lead to Probe at D.C. Charter School”

3. Wilson was solely selected and appointed to Orr by Chancellor Kaya Henderson. In a July 2013 letter to Orr parents Kaya Henderson wrote: “After reviewing your input again, with the needed experience and skills that research links to success, we determined that Niyeka Wilson is the strongest candidate to lead the Orr school community. I am happy to report that Ms. Wilson has accepted the offer to be the Orr Elementary School principal.”

Kaya said “after reviewing your INPUT again…” What input? If the interview committee said do not hire, why did Kaya hire Wilson? Is there a personal relationship?

So, with the above facts, is the Chancellor demonstrating unbiased leadership? Has Kaya cast an even greater cloud of suspicion upon DCPS vetting and hiring practices? Is Candi Peterson correct, is there a DCPS cover up in progress at Orr? Does Kaya have the best interest of children in mind?

In the words of former Chancellor Michelle Rhee: "Public education is about kids not adults issues. Go hard for kids or go home!"

Do you think it's time for somebody to go home?

Anonymous said...

No apology is need for lies Melissa Salmanowitz. Special Education has been a pull-out at Orr and continues to be. Students in the program can show where learning takes place and explain the classroom set-up. Response To Intervention (RTI) according to past schedules is a push-in program for all students in groups based on ability levels to receive additional tutoring in math and reading during school hours. RTI should not be confused with Special Education's pull-out program. Any teacher can assist time permitting with this push- in program. Vault classroom tables were moved before vistors arrived to walk the building and take pictures of classrooms. Sounds like a cover up. Pictures do not lie especially when they prove to be current. The yellowish material used to cover materials can be seen while students sit at tables. Orr's Music classroom is extremely small for combined classes. Visit Orr Elementary's Music classroom on the days and time when combined grade levels are scheduled. Ms. Salmanowitz mentioned the music classroom has a maximum of 30 students. Review the Homeroom attendance for combined grade levels. What do the results show? The statement regarding 30 students was incorrect. Classrooms by law are suppose to have a desk and chair rationfor each student. It's amazing that enough chairs were able to fit into the mclassroom. Are fire codes being violated?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great article