A take on the ol' bait-n-switch routine gives displaced teacher a peek inside the front office of a high-performing school
By Mark J. Blocker
By Mark J. Blocker
The following is Part 7 in a series of fictional stories depicting the odyssey of displaced teacher Harry Mills of the Big City School District. It is written solely for the entertainment of readers. Any similarities to persons living or dead is coincidental. Click the archives on the right for previous chapters. Enjoy!
In Southern California, late August and early September will mix steamy air from Mexico with exhaust from a million indigenous engines. Harry Mills, wondering where he was going to be teaching English the following week, stood on his condominium balcony in the mid-day September 1st sun gazing across Long Beach at the opaque air that saturated the industrial harbor.
Interviews over the course of summer netted zero job offers for Mr. Mills, a 9-year veteran displaced from the only school he had ever taught, after the Big City School District decided to disown the place and give it to a charter operator which promised to cheat during the annual State academic tests by illegally showing to students answers beforehand so interested scholars could memorize them. The clandestine endeavor can sometimes pay dividends in poor neighborhoods where students are often motivated with coupons for 5% discounts at ubiquitous fast food outlets offering prefabricated junk food, high in saturated fat, slid under graffiti-marred yet bullet-proof, thick panels of polymer-resins.
On this late summer day, a solitary seagull reigned atop a telephone pole eyeing Harry who was momentarily fascinated by the flock of pigeons balancing themselves on a wire stretched above the summer traffic inching north and south along Pacific Coast Highway.
Harry thought he smelled a little marine salt air through the smog. A car alarm was blaring from somewhere off in the distance. He wondered who had the balls to break into cars in broad daylight. Then from inside his condo, the phone began ringing through the open window.
“This is Sapphire Townes with the BCSD personnel division. May I speak to Harold Mills please?”
“This is he.”
“Mr. Mills, I’m calling to inform you that the district has placed you at Gibson Middle School for the coming year.”
“That’s what I said, sir.”
What’s the catch? Of course Harry didn’t ask that out loud. He didn’t want to piss her off. She could retaliate by sending him to some sinking ship--like Drawn Middle School on the northern border of the slum, Volts. Before the previous academic year closed, Harry was warned by other teachers in the know to avoid any schools moving up on the District’s list of lost causes to be auctioned off to interested charter operators poised to convert them into cash cows for crony administrators ready to exploit the next generation of laid-off teachers willing to sign one-year contracts bereft of union protections and benefits. Harry merely thanked her and hung up.
Gibson is located in the posh Green Tree Farms Peninsula of Big City’s expansive school district. The area hadn’t cultivated a wholesale crop in decades. It is all ocean and harbor view estates inhabited by people who sent their kids to private schools while frowning every morning as big yellow busses arrived delivering children from working class neighborhoods and housing projects from the flat lands.
But those kids, 90% Hispanic and Black, went into that predominantly White and Asian neighborhood with business on their expanding minds. They maintained an API score of 850; meaning, they were excellent students operating at or above grade level. Harry’s last venue, Missouri Compromise Middle School, slouched every year to an API in the low 500s. A score of 1,000 is perfect; and any score higher than 900 is rarely seen in California outside of a few affluent enclaves.
Back now outside leaning on the railing, Harry calculated the numbers while gazing toward Green Tree Peninsula less than 10 miles west. He could barely make out its prominent peak through the midday haze. So close yet so far away, he thought while looking down toward the sea of cramped apartment buildings and their chalky, cracked stucco rising above the curled tar paper roofs and rotted wood siding of two-bedroom bungalows centered upon expansive, dead lawns.
An hour later Mills was eagerly driving over to Gibson to introduce himself and verify whether his good fortune was real or just a mirage.
“We don’t know anything about that,” answered a woman whose hair switched from black and gray after a quarter inch to a luxuriant brown that fell to her tanned shoulders. She turned to her partner, a bleach blonde busy frowning at the aged CRT that took up more than half of her desk. She distractedly shook her head, never removing her squinting eyes from the tube. Harry maintained his smile while drumming his fingertips on the front counter. During the ensuing awkward silence Harry’s tapping became the major sound so he abruptly stopped.
“Perhaps the principal knows something?” Harry suggested.
She shrugged and strode off to an adjacent office.
“Huh?” boomed a man’s voice from the room. After a pause, “From where?” More whispering. “Missouri Comp . . . aw, hell n…”
He was cut off by the woman’s urgent, breathy, “Shhh! He’s out front.”
She returned, smiling. “Mr. Dooley will be right with you.”
Dooley wasn’t smiling when he came out. He had beads of perspiration on his ebony forehead that was framed on three sides by a three-inch Afro. Harry hadn’t seen one of those in years. Meanwhile, Dooley could have been thinking the same thing about Harry’s archaic ponytail, wondering whether this fool was a burned-out hippie or bad-ass biker. Sweat off Harry’s own brow rolled down to flood his right cornea. Harry pulled his glasses away before wiping with the back of his hand his stinging eye. Harry blinked, worrying that Dooley might think he was winking at him.
Dooley stood in the breeze of the ladies’ oscillating fan and apologized. “Sorry, Mills, we don’t have air conditioning around here. We’re supposed to rely on the sea breeze, but it doesn’t come around much this time of year.”
Harry looked around and saw all the windows closed.
“Making matters worse, none of the windows open up,” Dooley noted. “The district sealed them up for security years ago when they installed all these expensive computers.”
“So Brenda and me pooled our money and bought this fan yesterday,” interjected the 50-something blonde.
Dooley invited Harry into his hill-top office where an open door provided some relief and a picturesque view of the harbor cranes and silo-sized storage tanks of highly flammable butane. It sure beats graffiti and cinderblock walls, Harry thought, as Dooley excused himself to dial district headquarters on his rotary phone to confirm Harry’s placement.
Through the receiver Mills could hear the woman on the other end. He recognized the voice as the same lady who called him two hours earlier. Mills overheard her informing Dooley, “It’s just until we can place him at another school where there’s always leftover unfilled positions.” Dooley nodded at this while watching Harry to see if he heard it too. Harry’s cheer rapidly dissipated. Dooley gently cradled the receiver.
After a pause, Dooley announced, “Welcome aboard, Mr. Mills!” It echoed off the bare walls of the sparsely furnished office. Dooley extended to Harry a hand as empty as his proclamation. Expressionless, Harry stared at the hand before lifting his gaze toward Dooley’s faltering grin. Dooley exhaled loudly and plopped back into his executive chair, which creaked while he slowly leaned back to prepare his confession.
“Look, Mills. This is Gibson—the jewel of the BCSD. No teacher gets in here unless they’re National Board Certified, have a master’s degree, 10 years unblemished service within the district. Hell, even then you need to go through a series of interviews downtown to be considered. We haven’t had an opening in years.”
Harry nodded sadly.
“Even I’m out of here,” Dooley offered while gesturing within the nearly vacant office. Harry had been wondering why the room was devoid of personal artifacts. “The incoming principal is the son of the school board member who represents this local district.”
“Where are you going?”
Dooley nodded gravely, “District H. North of the 105."
The 105 Freeway is the southern border of Big City’s urban core that 15 years ago was damn near burned to the ground during riots sparked by the acquittal of five White cops secretly videotaped clubbing the shit out of a lone Black drunk who tried to flee from them in a gutless, four-cylinder car on an empty stretch of suburban freeway in the middle of a weeknight. No one would have known about the beating had not the amateur videographer offered the tape to a local TV station.
Harry’s last school, Missouri Compromise was a stone’s throw south of Big City’s former economic demarcation line that was rapidly fading as more of the metropolis sank below the poverty line.
Which brings us back to Drawn Middle School. On the third day of school, Harry received another phone call. He was being transferred to the dilapidated campus located on the north end of the infamous slum, Volts. Drawn MS was a long way from the freshly painted and meticulously swept campus of Gibson MS.
Perhaps more importantly though, it was also far removed from the gleaming high-rise downtown office building that housed elite administrators running the nation’s largest school district.
Inside the elevator descending down through the bowels of BCSD headquarters stood Wanda Sharperson clutching her purse and grinding her teeth. Her days overseeing 25 principals dispersed far beyond her 25th floor window were over. Now she would be down and dirty as the principal overseeing the faculty, staff and students at low-performing Drawn MS. She was going to clean house. Within 10 working days she had some old ponytailed bastard named Harry Mills in her crosshairs.
Look for the conclusion in less than a week! (Hopefully) -- Blocker
Look for the conclusion in less than a week! (Hopefully) -- Blocker