Recently, Austin Weekly sat down with Dr. Reginald Moore, principal at Nash Elementary School, 4837 W. Erie to discuss concerns raised by Austin parents, such as teachers leaving because of the way they things have been run; suspensions of students; teachers resigning to avoid being sent to teach a higher grade, etc.
Dr. Moore, who has been principal of Nash Elementary for little over a year and has 30 years experience in education, along with Asst. Principal Ernestine Smith, was more than happy to address some of the issues raised.
Moore: "Approximately a year ago I was unanimously elected to be principal of Nash Elementary. I felt at the time that it was an extreme honor. I am a 30-year educator in the city of Chicago and most of those years have been committed and dedicated to urban inner-city youngsters. When Nash selected me to be their principal that to me was the cherry on top.
"As principal I am a educational leader. I take it very seriously. As an educational leader, I am concerned about children having a head, a heart, and a hands education. I wanted to be very real with them. It's a wholistic view of education; it's a humanistic view.
"As an educational leader, I'm also a change agent, and the problems I think that are happening here are growing pains. This school for a number of years had one principal, and they were dedicated and committed to his leadership. That principal retired and an acting principal took charge and then I was selected. The council repeatedly said to me, "We want a change. We want to see changes in our school." Every change I made here was out of my being an advocate for children. I felt, as probably the majority of taxpayers in our city, that there is a tremendous amount of waste in our schools, and a lot of this is reflected in salaries.
"For example, there were approximately four nationally certified teachers in Nash School [who weren't working with kids]. I put everyone on immediate notice. Everyone here has to function with children, that was my first big change. As a consequence, people found out recess was over, and it was time to work with children. We had four nationally certified teachers; surely they should be working with children. And they must become advocates for children, and when I saw that these people were not focused on children, I began to work with that very diligently.
"Sometimes people become relaxed and begin to sit on their laurels. We had a teacher who was tardy 108 times. That would not be tolerated at United Airlines, that would not be tolerated at IBM, that would not be tolerated on Wall Street or New Trier. When I questioned people, the answer was always, 'What's late?' Well the Board of Education is not only clear and precise, they are very adamant about you doing what society has contracted you to do?"teach children. Surely you can come to your job on time. I came into a school where people didn't know what time late was, so I started to document this and started telling people, 'This is your job. You have to be present and accounted for.'
"That is my job?"to tell people, 'This is what is expected of you.' We no longer live in the age of Leave It To Beaver. These are children who come to us from all walks of life, all types of diverse families. These are the children we have. I can't do anything about what we have, but I have to work with what I have. [But] I can do something about teachers being present and accounted for. So I did not win friends.
Another thing that was a concern for me was the type of learning that was taking place here. I could easily brag to you and say I'm a graduate of Wesleyan University, I'm a graduate of the University of Chicago, I'm a graduate of Loyola University. That isn't important. What is important, I was a exemplary teacher. I was present and accounted for in the classroom, and I was determined to build a foundation in that classroom so that every child that left me could have the satisfaction of saying they had been taught.
"When I walked into these classrooms, these children were not receiving what they're supposed to receive. Now a lot of people will say this is the type of community where that can't happen. Well, it may not be Chatham, it may not be Beverly, it may not be Oak Park, but if the children at Beethoven Elementary School, located in the heart of Robert Taylor Homes cannot be on probation, then certainly this school cannot be on probation. That is my belief. If children who have normal learning ability?"that means five working senses: they can see, smell, taste, touch and hear?"if they are given systematic instructions, I believe those children can learn. I've only been here a year and a few days. For the first time since I have been here, I am feeling within my heart that children are learning. As an educational leader I have done things here to set the pace for these children to learn. It is sometimes disheartening when the people I'm most interested in, the African-American family, is not open and receptive to what's happening to their children. That's discouraging. But I cannot be discouraged, I cannot hide in the distance, I have to keep on toiling, regardless to what my critics may think.
AWN: What about suspending some of the students?
Moore: "We have four rules for children to follow. They are: Come to school every day and arrive on time. Come to school prepared for a learning day?"have your books, your ink pens, your book bag. Come to school well behaved. That's the easiest rule in the world?"you don't have to be Einstein in the classroom, but you can be the best behaved child in the classroom. And last, do your best to achieve at your highest level. Those are our four rules. Now any child who is not in compliance with those rules?"we know that there are two sides to every story. We listen to the children, we try to rehabilitate our children, we try to really work with the family. But no child is labeled a troublemaker here."
AWN: What about teachers leaving because of the way you've been running things?
Moore: "Whenever there is a new person in charge, a new broom sweeps clean. I say this to teachers, I say this to everybody, I said this to my wife. Get mad, get insulted, quit, you come back if you want to. If you don't, God will send us five or six more, and we won't know you're gone. Everything I sign in this school says moving forward because I want the staff to think in a positive direction. I don't hold onto yesterday. I cannot make any man or woman contractually stay in this school who doesn't want to be here. I am very thankful for the many who have stayed."
AWN: What about number of substitute teachers?
Moore: "We had for the first time an influx of retirees. Surely I can't stop anybody from retiring. So when they retire, my job as the principal is to get a teacher to serve in that classroom. When I advertise for a teacher, I'm also advertising South Austin, I'm also advertising the West Side, I'm also advertising a Special Ed position, an upper-grade position. Those are hard to fill. Could you imagine calling someone up for an interview, and they tell you boldly on the telephone, 'Could you call me later, I'm sleeping'?" Those are the type of people you get this time of year. I can't have them teaching our children. I need a Special Ed teacher right now. But someone on a cane cannot handle boys as tall as corn stalks."
AWN: What about a teacher leaving because you sent her to teach a higher grade knowing she had taught lower grades. Is this why she left?
Moore: "Last spring, I am required by law to do observations of my teachers. I walked into a classroom last spring of a pre-K teacher, and we're talking the month of May, and I pointed to the letter 'A' and not a child in the room recognized an 'A.' Now that's not Johnny's fault. I questioned the teacher and said, I'm very disturbed that these black children do not recognize a letter 'A.' [She said,] 'Dr. Moore, I don't get any help from home. Their mothers don't help me. I'm out here by myself. This is hard to do.' I said, 'Let me tell you something. Society has contracted you to teach the children. Mother is not contracted to teach the children. You are. You have to make a difference.'
"There is nothing we can do about an 18-hour influence of which we have no control, but the six hours a day in here with us, we have control with this. And these babies can learn the letter 'A.' I got an issue with this. That same teacher is the teacher who came to work 108 times tardy. That same teacher had been stuck in that same position for so many years that it fit her like a glove, and she did absolutely nothing.
"I made a management decision to move her to a higher grade, first grade. First grade is where I put her, because the state limits me where I can put a person. Her response to me was, 'I can't teach first grade. I don't know how.' So she said, 'I'm going to leave here and I'm going to go to another school.' I said if that's your decision to leave, you're welcome to go.
Dr. Moore said he has an "open door" for any parents with concerns and welcomes their input.