Friday, July 18, 2008

Letter to Wilson Principal on rehiring Art Siebens

June 30, 2008

Mr. Peter Cahall
Wilson Senior High School
3950 Chesapeake Street, N.W.

Dear Mr. Cahall:

First, we would like to take the opportunity to welcome you to Woodrow Wilson High School and to say that all of the members of the Wilson Minority Parties Alliance look forward to working with you over the next school year.

As you may already know, we had an opportunity to meet one on one with Interim Principal Jacqueline Williams, Chancellor Renee and with Dr. Emyrtle Bennett to discuss our concerns about the state of minority affairs as it relates to students and parents of color at Wilson Senior High School. Our concerns center around the general welfare of minority students; the climate (whether it was conducive to the learning exposure for minority students); the attitude of both teenagers and faculty at Wilson toward minority students; the measurable achievement rates for minorities; the reason(s) so many students of color have such a high rate of failure; and the reason(s) there is such an imbalance of so few students of color enrolled in advanced placement and honor classes, the Honor Society and members of other high achieving programs. This is a concern based on the demographic population of Wilson being 75% students of color.

Certainly all of our issues have not been adequately addressed nor satisfactory resolutions reached to correct them. DCPS/Wilson however, has taken proactive steps over the last several years, including the most recent reconstitution process that is being currently implemented.

At our most recent meeting questions came up about what appeared to be aggressive politicking by some Wilson parents and possibly faculty as well, to keep particular teachers/staff who had been eliminated from their teaching/staff positions at Wilson due to the reconstitution. At least one of the teachers being discussed for rehire – Dr. Art Siebens – has raised a red flag amongst our members. Dr. Siebens has not had a good history as it relates to his treatment of minority students or his willingness to value students other than those who meet the standards of honors or advanced placement achievement.

On the other hand, Wilson staff like Kenneth Dickerson who had his finger on the pulse of young minority male students at Wilson, and Dr. Emyrtle Bennett, guidance counselor whose wealth of knowledge, contacts and untiring assistance to many minority students and their parents made the difference in their success or failure at Wilson and their quest for college admittance; or Shauna Leung, EXCELerator/College Board Coach who brought a wealth of knowledge, energy, and commitment to ensuring parity in educational opportunities for minority students at Wilson – represent significant and profound losses to our children and to us as parents.

Of concern, of course, is the fact that our group does not know all of the teachers/staff who have been adversely affected by the reconstitution, which puts us at a disadvantage if there are others who have worked on behalf of minority students and are being terminated. It does appear that others may be privy to this information, but it is certainly not universally transparent.

Our group agreed not to go so far as to ask you to rehire these three staff or even to ultimately decide to fire Dr. Siebens. We are asking you however to review each of these individuals records with care and deliberation and to talk to some of the minority students and parents about their experiences with these folks as you consider their fate and the impact it will have on minority students at Wilson. We, members of the Alliance, believe strongly that one teacher, one staffer, does, in fact, make a difference – one student at a time. In making decisions about teacher, staff and faculty hires please consider that there is a need to bring on board at least one Latino guidance counselor and one Latino assistant principal.

Finally our group would like you to work with the PTSA to ensure that, as part of the matriculation process for all Wilson families, that the Wilson List Serve be opened up to every parent who provides their email addresses when their child processes into the school. We believe that the ‘list serve’ should be an information tool made available to every parent, not withstanding whether they ask to join and they are directed to a rigorous sign up process. We unanimously agreed that many minority parents, especially single parents and working adult family members are kept out of the loop about opportunities to participate in special activities, travel, study groups, training, internships, advanced academic programs, curriculum changes, staff and teacher updates, PTSA and LSRT activities and many other happenings at the school because of the current way the ‘list serve’ is handled.

We are looking for fairness and equity for all students, teachers, staff, and faculty. We look forward to being able to meet with you soon and again, welcome aboard.

The Wilson Minority Parents Alliance