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"Witherspoon leaving killed part of the Norland spirit," Conyers says. "Then [head football coach] John Osborne leaving killed the athletics part of it."
Osborne had coached football at Norland for eleven years. In April he left for an assistant coaching job at Miami Jackson Senior High; David Fess Walker, a physical education teacher Williams had known from Charles R. Drew Middle School, replaced him. Osborne said at the time he would have preferred to continue coaching the Norland Vikings. Osborne's popularity made his departure a severe blow. The subsequent behavior of his replacement added insult to injury.
Then-athletic director Richard Robbins says today that he wanted to keep Osborne, and that he did not recommend Walker; in fact, he says, in calling around to those who had worked with Walker, he "did not receive one positive recommendation." Reached by e-mail in Hawaii, where he moved after his retirement this past year, Robbins writes that Williams hired Walker anyway.
Walker proceeded to alienate his new colleagues. Conyers remembers a chilly first meeting with Walker; later that day the new coach found his tires had been slashed. "I wrote the report for him," Conyers recalls. "He accused me of doing it, for one thing. Part two, he's sitting there in the parking lot screaming and yelling." Conyers unequivocally denies slashing Walker's tires.
Teachers accused Walker of trying to get them to raise his athletes' grades. On May 1, 1998, Robbins wrote a memo to his "Fellow Teachers," in which he acknowledged that several teachers had complained about "harassment" over athletic eligibility. Robbins confirms the harassers were members of Walker's staff, who asked teachers to "maybe re-average, take another look, give a break to a would-be senior." Robbins writes that he had a meeting with Carroll Williams and Walker, at which Walker was admonished for suggesting that teachers change his students' grades.
Walker's personality conflict with Conyers, meanwhile, had deteriorated so far that school police chief Vivian Monroe transferred Conyers to North Miami Beach Senior High School. On May 15, 1998, his last day at Norland, Conyers wrote a farewell letter to faculty and staff and slipped the letter in their mailboxes. In this letter he made it clear that he was being shipped out against his will.
The next day students walked out, and things got ugly: Police arrested six students after they ran through the school smashing vending machines and trophy cases. Today some students and teachers put the blame for the violence on Miami Northwestern Senior High students, who came to campus and got into a fight with Norland students. No one is certain whether their presence on the day of the walkout was a coincidence.
Deborah Williams, from the principal's camp, theorizes that both the walkout and the riot that ensued had been planned, but not by the students. "The walkout happened [because] staff members [were] coaching the children all to walk out. A letter was sent down to that effect," she says, without producing a copy of such a letter.
She believes the teachers who instigated the walkout were the ones who disliked Carroll Williams "because he makes them work. They can't go shopping during class like they used to."
A Norland teacher who asked not to be named dismisses Deborah Williams's assertions, both that teachers shirked their duties under Damianos and that teachers encouraged the walkout. "We were investigated for the walkout and we were cleared," he snaps.
As dangerous and out-of-control as the 1998 walkout became, it did put increased pressure on Williams's administration, specifically on David Walker, whom students cited as one of the reasons for the walkout. Three Norland staffers say the possibility of media exposure of Walker's personnel file -- which shows a fifteen-year career in the school district marred by repeated arrests, disciplinary action for pushing and striking students, and a state investigation that might have led to the revoking of his teaching certificate (see sidebar) -- caused Williams to fire Walker as football coach in June 1998.
Today Williams claims (through Fraind) he was not aware of Walker's record when he hired the coach. This statement is difficult to believe, given that Williams became principal of Charles R. Drew Middle School in August 1995, the same month that school police determined Walker had pushed a Drew student to the ground the year before. Given the seriousness and frequency of Walker's infractions, Williams's ignorance of them would mean he hired a teacher without looking at his personnel file.
Walker moved on to Parkway Middle School. In January 1999, he was removed from his job as a gym teacher and assigned to the Region 2 office. "There is an open investigation against Mr. Walker concerning sexual harassment of a student," Henry Fraind wrote in response to a faxed question from New Times. Late this past month, school police closed their investigation, and on March 29, an exonerated Walker returned to Parkway Middle. Walker himself could not be reached for comment.
So who is Carroll E. Williams? The Miami native graduated from Archbishop Curley High School in 1963, and went on to receive a bachelor's degree in physical education from Xavier University in Cincinnati in 1967. A standout football player, he had a brief career with the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes before returning to Miami. He joined the Dade County Public Schools full-time in 1968.