A controversy has erupted at a leading vocational, technical and STEM training high school in the District. The brouhaha is centered around the dismissal of a popular principal as the school graduated its first four-year class.
Michael Johnson, the outgoing principal at Phelps High School in Northeast, presided over what may be his first and last graduation on Fri., June 8. Parents learned of this development from District of Columbia school officials on May 29, and some, like Alicia Rucker, are seething mad.
"Many parents don't want him to go because he has been excellent during the four years here," said Rucker who lives in Northeast. "This graduating class has $3.7 million in college scholarships offered and the school has a 95 percent attendance rate. Now the school administration wants to select a new one?"
Phelps re-opened in 2008 to specifically educate its students in vocational trades and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) proved to be one of the main supporters of the school's re-opening.
Eighty-four graduated on June 8, with college and university choices ranging from the University of the District of Columbia in Northwest to the dual degree program between Spelman College and Georgia Tech University in Atlanta. Some students graduated with intentions of furthering their careers in such trades as plumbing, welding and the electrical field through apprenticeships and full-time employment.
Danielle Bryan, the valedictorian of the class who will be a part of the Spelman-Georgia Tech dual degree program, addressed the audience during the commencement in the school's auditorium. She related pearls of wisdom that she said helped her get through Phelps.
"I had a goal of making all 'A's' when I came here four years ago," she said. "While I did not make all 'A's', I learned that the important thing is to set a goal and strive for it. Life is not about getting by."
She commended her fellow graduates, saying that "we are the future engineers, architects, plumbers and builders not only for D.C., but for the world."
Johnson, 61, in his "charge" to the graduates said that "you all have just graduated from one of the most dangerous school's in America." He noted that some graduates have OSHA 10 Certification training, which focuses on occupational health and safety and union cards in trades such as plumbing.
"These young people are not looking for jobs, they have jobs," said Johnson who lives in Northwest.
The type of success that Johnson has had with the students is not the reason to get rid of him, said Ricardo Brooks who lives in Southeast.
"There was a lack of transparency to the parents as to why Johnson has to go," said Brooks, 52. "I have a son here and he is doing well. If Johnson was not doing well, why let him stay here for four years?"
Brooks said that Johnson is "not a yes man [rather] a man [who] gets things done."
Loretta Caldwell, a parent of a 2012 graduate of the school, said that D.C. school officials have been haughty in the Johnson matter.
"They come to us and say they are anxious to meet with us about the candidates who could be the next principal," said Caldwell who lives in Northwest. "We are anxious to meet with nobody but Mr. Johnson."
Elizabeth Lewis, the Washington Teachers' Union representative for Phelps, in a written communication that was penned on Wed., June 6 and emailed to the Informer said that they would not participate in any interview process for a new principal and stand with the parents who back Johnson.
Johnson said that he did not want to leave Phelps but would not comment further.
Rucker, who shouted "four more years" while Johnson addressed the crowd during the commencement, said that Johnson cares about the children.
"He will go into his pocket for these children," she said. "I know that personally. The mayor and the chancellor should reverse the decision and let Mr. Johnson stay at Phelps."