Students, Friends Celebrate Former Phelps Principal

Elton Hayes | 7/3/2012, 1:23 p.m.

School will Suffer Financially with the Departure of Michael Johnson

Students, friends and family members showed up en masse to celebrate the accomplishments and stand in solidarity with former Phelps principal Michael Johnson, who was relieved of his duties as the school's top administrator on May 29.

More than 60 people attended the celebratory dinner, which was held at the Northeast home of Elizabeth Davis, who has worked closely with Johnson for the past three years and currently heads the high school's Cisco Networking Academy.

"This is not a departure party. I want you to be clear on that," said Davis, 50. "This is not a goodbye because we are still fighting to keep him [Johnson] there. We are calling this a congratulatory party by the staff, parents, students and the Phelps community and our partners."

Prior to the school's June 8 graduation, parents learned of Johnson's dismissal. He had led the dual-emphasis high school that offers programs in architecture and construction along with a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math, since it reopened in 2008.

As has become customary with dismissals of this nature, neither District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, nor other officials will explain the reason for Johnson's removal. Parents, students and other stakeholders are bewildered and angered by the turn of events and they are hoping that they can pressure Henderson into reversing what they collectively consider an ill-thought-out decision.

Johnson is one of 18 principals and more than 300 teachers removed from their positions by the District's public school system this year. The reasons vary including excessing, poor teacher performance and school closings. The school system has one of the highest turnover rates in the country.

And after Johnson helped guide this year's seniors to a 99 percent graduation rate, and stockpiled more than $3.7 million in scholarships and grants, parties other than parents are questioning Henderson's decision.

"If we were in a bind and we needed a part that might have cost $800 or $1,000 that had broken, he would just pull his credit card out and pay for it. I can't say enough about how unfortunate it is that he's not going to be with us," said Leo Yon, 49, an engineer with the United States Department of Transportation and a mentor to Phelps' robotics team.

Three of the school's commercial partners have decided to withhold donations and gifts since learning of Johnson's departure. As a result, Phelps located in Northeast, will lose the annual half-million dollar donation and salary of a full-time instructor that Truland Systems, a D.C.-based electrical contractor, provided.

"I got in touch with them and asked why they pulled out. I knew," said Ricardo Brooks, Phelps' LSAT chairman and the father of a 16-year-old son. "They were obviously in support of the then-current leadership at the school. The vice president of Truland wrote a letter to the chancellor. In the letter, he listed the consortium of construction companies and partners that work together, and stated that they all wanted answers as to what was going on at Phelps. When I called to see what happened, and to see about the response that the chancellor gave them, I was told that they never got a response," said Brooks, 52.