Blackboard Bungle

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

Although the MSTA never reached the level of popularity (or controversy) of the Nation of Islam, the group has persisted throughout the century. Among the highlights of the official MSTA Website: instructions for founding your own sovereign nation, which, judging by the terms and symbolism in his court documents, Carroll Williams followed to the letter.

The court was unmoved by the arguments of the self-appointed head of state. On January 10, 1997, the court ordered Carroll E. Williams-El to pay $7498.60 in back child support to Patricia Williams.

The lack of any subsequent documents in the file suggests that Williams has paid. But once again the principal refers even these questions about his divorce and his apparent membership in the Hebrew Israelite and Moorish Science Temple organizations to his PTSA president Deborah Williams.

Her first tack: "That is personal, and I would ask that you exclude that," she requests.

When not given a guarantee that the material in the public court file would be kept out of this story, Deborah Williams downplays his membership in the MSTA. "It's a club; it's like the Masons," she offers, admitting that she has not seen the documents in question.

Even Carroll Williams's harshest critics don't claim any sort of ulterior motive for his Procrustean actions. At worst they paint him as an autocrat, and not a very skilled one.

Tonya Tarpley, an English teacher at Norland Senior High, says Williams actually made a good first impression. She is taking a day off because her three-year-old daughter is sick. Tarpley sits cross-legged on the ottoman in her living room, remembering the time this past summer when coming to Norland had seemed like a good idea. Williams hired the 32-year-old Tarpley to teach English and to serve as coordinator for the Norland Valhalla, the student yearbook. With an extra-large, gray Valhalla T-shirt draped over her slender frame, Tarpley recalls Williams's effusive manner when he hired her.

"He was like, 'Tell me what you need, you'll get it,'" she recounts. "I was very excited to be coming to Norland and doing the yearbook." She had heard about the student demonstration, and some of her friends in the system had already warned her about Williams's dictatorial style.

Things began to sour when Williams refused to provide her class with the equipment they needed to put out the book. After they had missed three deadlines, Tarpley returned from Christmas break on January 4 to an unwelcome sight: The computers were gone, torn from the carts to which they had been bolted. Tarpley immediately informed administrators, though she and her students worked without computers until January 12, when Tarpley was called into a surprise meeting with Williams and Ruby Johnson, a director from the Region 2 office.

Tarpley continues: "That's when I was asked, 'What are you doing about finishing up this yearbook?' And I'm looking around like, 'Am I the only one who's noticed that everything's gone?'"

The solution: Tarpley and ten of her top yearbook students were relieved of their other duties, set to work on the yearbook for the entire school day, and given access to the five computers and printer normally allocated to the newspaper staff.

When Tarpley told her students about this round-the-clock yearbook blitz, the students balked. "They were concerned because this was right around the time of midterm exams," Tarpley explains. "A lot of them asked questions, 'What about our grades? What about our classes?'" Tarpley says Williams had told her "he'd take care of it." Tarpley's English classes met with substitute teachers in the cafeteria or the library while she was on deadline.

When asked why the yearbook students were pulled out of class, Fraind writes, "Mr. Williams states that this was not the case."

Tarpley and three former students insist that it was the case. Tavon Brown, Marissa Chung, and Dasha Saintremy all remember working on the yearbook throughout the school day, for the five days when they were supposed to be studying for midterms. "Mr. Williams gave us no notice, nor were letters sent to our homes," Saintremy says. "We came into school, and we were told we had to be in yearbook class all day during midterm review week."

Tarpley vividly remembers the experience as a frenetic one, with kids working 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., sometimes longer. The printer then told Tarpley that, if her kids could finish eight pages per day until March 2, they'd very likely be able to finish printing and binding the yearbooks on time.

Neither Tarpley nor her students got the chance. On February 1 Tarpley was replaced as yearbook advisor, and all her students were booted from the staff. The remainder of the work was completed by administrators and members of the student government. Freshman Tavon Brown remembers one of his fellow yearbook staffers breaking down in tears when she heard this news. "I don't think we were treated fairly," he adds.

Tarpley says many of Williams's actions during this fiasco violated her rights under the United Teachers of Dade union contract, and has filed a union grievance. She also says her students spent at least a week in limbo after being kicked off the yearbook. The whole mess earned Tarpley a "conference for the record," a disciplinary hearing before Carroll Williams, in which she was reprimanded for insubordination and failure to meet yearbook deadlines.

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