"The best way to move forward is to correct the problem that has been made," said Absalom Jordan, chairman of the PRC Steering Committee.
"Until you tell us how you want us to relate to you, it will be difficult for us to do so. The people at PRC live in (Wards 7 and 8) and grew up in (Wards 7 and 8) – that was unique. We want the center opened, staff rehired, and the Parent Resource Center (to operate) the way outlined in the agreement."
Parents had demanded the meeting in an effort to force Henderson to re-open the centers and rehire the dozen PRC employees she'd fired.
"I didn't gain anything from the meeting," said Lockridge. "It doesn't begin to resolve anything. We have been denied everything for our kids in Ward 8. It's very disturbing to hear about numbers. If you reached five people, it's more than you reached before."
Lockridge, 81, began the Parent Partnership, a Saturday learning program about three years ago. For three hours each weekend, dozens of children in the neighborhood would meet at Terrell.
"It was open to anyone, including children from other schools," she said. "We taught children phonics and whatever they needed. We gave them a pre-test and then they told us what they needed help with."
The Parent Resource Center inside Terrell was where the children met each weekend, said Lockridge. And since the centers were shuttered, the Saturday program has ceased.
"When I get to school at 9 a.m., kids run up to me asking when the program is going to start again. They made a mistake. These parents have so much to offer and they were opening up, asking for help."
A meeting between Kelly Young, interim director of the Office of Family and Public Engagement, and about 70 parents last month was billed as a community conversation about family and community engagement.
Instead, the forum became increasingly acrimonious as parents unloaded on Young for the school system's decision to close the centers and place almost a dozen family engagement coordinators on administrative leave. On August 15, District school administrators informed PRC employees that they were being place on administrative leave. While Henderson apologized several times to the affected employees and parents, she reiterated her intention to farm out operation of the centers to community groups.
"... Shutting down the Parent Resource Centers is the furthest thing from the truth," Henderson told the group. "I know for sure that D.C. Public Schools can't be successful without the PRC and the support of families, the community, parents and businesses."
"... What happened over time is I don't think that promise of the centers has been realized ... (the question was) with the fiscal crisis, are we getting the bang for the buck."
On closer inspection, Henderson said, four reasons emerged that led to the decision to close the centers: the expense, the small number of parents served, the results of a survey and research that suggested 1,200 parents opted for tools other than PRCs.
"We've invested a lot of money into the centers. I'm not interested in throwing this away. We have a dedicated staff. These people could be super-spectacular but we were not able to reach parents the way we needed to. Part of the challenge is that we're not good at building parent capacity. Our core competency is educating children, not food service, people or the physical plant. We are sharpening our focus."
"There are a lot of people who are good at building parent capacity."
Henderson, 40, said the situation should never have come to this.
"We completely jacked-up communication of this issue. I offer my apology," she said. "The way we finalized this, explained it, transitioned people out ... we would have done it differently. It will not happen again. We sat down with you to open these (PRCs). We should have sat down with you to decide what to do."
District of Columbia Public Schools provided handouts that indicate from 2006-2011, the total cost to operate the centers was $4,421,973.60 for personnel costs, supplies, building out space, furniture and other expenses. The 2008-2009 year marked the high point of expenses at $1,991,912.83. But these and other numbers, the results of the survey and the motivation of school officials were disputed by parent leaders like Jordan, 70.
"Some of the financial and budgetary information we have not gotten from Kelly Young. Why?" he asked. "Who commissioned the survey? Who paid for it? It's skewed because it does not represent the sample universe. You had a body count but didn't measure effectiveness ... It's easy to pick and choose results that rationalize your arguments."
The big elephant in the room as has been the case in all of these interactions is race. A number of parents castigated Henderson and the school system for putting the needs and desires of white parents ahead of those of black parents.
"We know what this is all about: race. I don't know why we put shutters on and refuse to see what's going on. We have so many bright kids in Ward 8," Lockridge said.
"For example, my grandson went to Yale University when he was 16 because of the Humanities and Math/Science program at Ballou High School. Then they abruptly took it away. They gave that program to two charter schools. Why not use resources we already have here. Why pay consultants exorbitant fees. They should bring old principals back to train these new principals. Youngsters they are bringing in don't know the background of the community."
As Henderson and parents sparred about monetary issues, Crystal Powell and Eboni-Rose Thompson reminded listeners of the human toll.
"I don't want to be here a minute longer than necessary," Powell, 32, said. "I'm very upset about this. Think of all the things we've done. What do I tell my son? I'm sitting home all day. What do I tell my parents?"
"It's embarrassing," interjected colleague Neal Ables, who was also terminated.
During an interview on Labor Day, Thompson said she is still struck by how abruptly she and the others were terminated.
"I didn't know how to feel that day. It was kind of a numbing experience for me. I didn't really know how to feel," said Thompson, who is an ANC commissioner. "I went home and looked online and one of the position (vacancies) had been posted online (the day before)."
"We were working on the 'Hopes and Dreams' campaign and collecting responses, we also had programs scheduled such as yoga and back-to-school sessions. We didn't know it was coming and had no opportunity to send out e-mails about what was going on."
"Everything was just dropped. They took our keys and cell phones, we lost access to Outlook and we weren't allowed to prepare."
What is particularly galling, said Thompson, 24, is that school officials act as if she and her colleagues were never attached to the school system.
"They have not told us what positions are available; there is no internal hiring process. It is just like, 'good luck,' " said Thompson who is a native Washingtonian and who lives in Ward 7.
"I have applied for some jobs but it's no different from say, someone from Oklahoma applying."
Lockridge said what bothers her is that Powell hasn't been recognized for the work she did.
"Crystal did everything to make parents feel and know they were wanted," she said. "She had a tea party and my teacups from my house went there. We also took parents to lunch. Crystal and I paid for that. She's never been given credit for that. The way they got rid of them was inhumane."
Thompson said she doubts that the company which replaces the fired PRC employees will be able to offer parents the range of services that was once available to them.
"We had two wards with 20,000 parents. They (DCPS) didn't do branding. Parents knew Eboni-Rose or Crystal," said Thompson. "We did a lot of programming. We had a parent who suffered a break-in and she came to us to try to get uniforms. A parent came for help when a child was suspended or when a child was missing."
"We connected parents with jobs. Whoever they choose may have the right intentions but they won't be community- or parent-driven. The most unfortunate thing about it is no one will fill that space."
"We have tried to (give) parents a voice," she said. "I'm going to still fight even though I'm moving kind of slow at 81. We will try to get it together. I'm serious. If they don't re-establish this program, we will have it at my house. I don't think they can stop me from doing that."