Blackboard Bungle

Norland High students and staff say their principal has misplaced students, misused authority, and misunderstood his job

Marquita Smith, another Norland parent, clearly is looking for someone to blame. She has hired an attorney to zero in on the target. Smith will not comment, referring questions to her lawyer. That attorney, Marc Douthit, confirms that some Norland parents have contacted him, and that he is investigating the apparent problems with the at-risk classes. He has yet to take any legal action.

Why would Carroll Williams put hundreds of "regular" students into classes with unqualified teachers, without telling the kids or their parents? Although he declined to be interviewed, Williams, through Fraind, did answer several questions faxed from New Times. In a written response about the at-risk classes, Fraind writes, "When it came to the attention of staff that the appropriate documentation had not been sent home to parents, Mr. Williams immediately sent the standard letter to the parents of all affected students."

He did not address the question of who put the kids in those classes, or why. Meyers himself says he doesn't know. Two other teachers interviewed for this story, however, posit that Williams needed Meyers as a coach, but didn't have any physical education classes open for Meyers to teach. By "creating" a full classload of at-risk students, he was able to bring Meyers over from North Miami High School.

Major got her position, five Norland teachers agree, for one reason: Loyalty. "Major is a big supporter of Mr. Williams," one teacher says. "From the day he came in, he alienated a great deal of staff, but she's always supported him."

Rising parental ire brought increased scrutiny. In February Williams removed Major from the social studies classes, replacing her with James Wilson, a coach who had been supervising the Center for Special Instruction (CSI, meaning in-school suspension). Wilson is certified to teach elementary school.

Deborah Williams is a formidable-looking woman. The middle school teacher (now on leave) sits tall and straight, with a steady gaze and a determined set to her jaw. Seated in her cozy living room a few blocks from Norland High two and a half weeks after the threatened demonstration, she describes her efforts to oust Carroll Williams's predecessor, Fred Damianos.

She's the mother of two Norland High students and, as of this school year, president of the PTSA for Norland High. She describes her work on behalf of the school as "my battle." At first the enemy was Damianos, whom she saw as running a lax school rife with lazy teachers and out-of-control students. Now Deborah Williams is the leading proponent of Carroll Williams's administration. Her fight is with anyone who opposes the new principal or his policies.

Carroll E. Williams joined Miami-Dade County Public Schools full-time in 1968 as a teacher at Miami Edison Junior High. He rose to assistant principal at North Miami Senior High in 1975, then the arc of his career flattened. He spent the next twenty years as an assistant principal, thirteen of them at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School. In 1995 he finally got the big chair, becoming principal of Charles R. Drew Middle School. When Damianos retired as principal of Norland High in 1997, the district tapped Williams as his successor.

Though not everyone shares Deborah Williams's view that Norland was a school in trouble when Carroll Williams took over, there was a guarded optimism about the new guy. "He seemed to me, at the time of our first meeting, to be the kind of principal who went out and got the job done," says Ofcr. Lionell Conyers, who was the Miami-Dade County school district's police officer assigned to Norland.

Williams quickly instituted some stricter attendance policies for students. He cleaned up and repainted the school. He brought in newer computers. He also began assuming more direct decision-making duties about scheduling and curriculum, where previously such tasks had been delegated to assistant principals or counselors.

Several teachers, who ask not to be named, note that these moves created friction among his staff, not so much because of what he was doing but how he was doing it. Almost immediately after his arrival, the teachers say, Williams routinely became embroiled in confrontations with his faculty and staff. Conyers noticed the change almost immediately. "It was not a happy place for people to come to work. You'd hear, 'He did this to such-and-such today, he had a verbal altercation with so-and-so.'"

Then the turnover began. "The start of the fall was [assistant principal Gale] Witherspoon leaving," Conyers offers. "She was the backbone of the school. When she left, I think that upset the students more than anything."

A principal can't force an administrator to transfer. If, however, a principal and a subordinate show no signs of being able to work together, the district will step in and transfer one of the parties -- usually the lower-ranking person. Witherspoon was transferred to North Miami Middle School. Reached there by phone, she declined to comment for this story. With her departure and others that followed (including three more assistant principals during the next two years), Conyers saw a pattern. "This man was basically going after people who were key figures in the school. People who the students and the parents loved and looked up to. He felt that we were trying to overthrow him.

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