Good Teacher, Bad Principal

Patrick Williams is the kind of educator students love and administrators hate

But then, on March 19, Williams called the school's regional district office to report that six of his students had complained their cell phones had been stolen. The office sent a school police officer to take statements and file a report. A month later, Rhoden reprimanded Williams because he did not report the alleged crime to her or one of the assistant principals.

On May 9, Rhoden admonished Williams again. This time she alleged he had bought sodas for his students from a vending machine in the faculty lounge. The principal reminded him about a school board policy that bans the sale of carbonated soft drinks to children on school grounds.

The next day, Williams sent a handwritten note to his union stewards. He griped that Rhoden had allowed students to drink soda at a gathering inside the school gym and attached photos of two-liter bottles of cola on a table and a female student pouring herself Sprite. "This is the hypocrisy I have to deal with," Williams says. He also says he had never given students soda before. It was a one-time thing.

Patrick Williams led his students in the right direction, but his boss, Valmarie Rhoden, doesn't care
Jeffrey Delannoy
Patrick Williams led his students in the right direction, but his boss, Valmarie Rhoden, doesn't care

At the beginning of the new school year, things were going smoothly for Williams — until September 12, when he began asking questions about a five-million-dollar grant for five years that Turner shares with nine other high schools. The school received $86,110 last year to send administrators and faculty members to five education conferences, explains Miami-Dade Public Schools spokesman John Schuster. According to a spreadsheet breaking down Turner's 2005-2006 budget, the school's grant allotment was running a deficit.

He informed Rhoden that he wanted to discuss the money at an advisory committee meeting of administrators, teachers, and parents. At the time, Williams was on the committee. "I wanted to know how the grant was benefiting the staff and students," he explains.

Later that day, according to the meeting minutes, Williams tried to ask about the grant, but Rhoden cut him off. "Right now is not the time or place for those questions," she said. When Williams pressed for an answer, Rhoden told him to respect her position as principal.

Four weeks later, Williams sent Rhoden an e-mail, again asking about the grant money. He received a response on October 16 from Regional Superintendent George Núñez: "The grant continues to be in place."

Two days later, Williams replied to Nuñez: "Your comment about the grant is vague. I request that the faculty be told about the grant, how Turner Tech and the community have benefited from it, and why monies from the grant are in the red.... Again I ask, is there some sort of coverup going on?"

The following afternoon, Williams was called into the school's administrative office, where an assistant principal informed him that Rhoden had filed a harassment complaint against him. He was removed from campus and is not allowed to speak to Turner Tech students, parents, or employees about the investigation.

One of Williams's colleagues says the whole thing is unjust and that Rhoden doesn't like it when teachers probe the school's finances or have her authority questioned. "That's the problem with some of these principals," she says. "You give them a little power, and they lose their minds." She did not want her identity revealed because she is trying to prevent her vocational program from getting cut. "As long as I'm friends with Patrick, I'm trouble," the woman says. "We assume [Rhoden] wants him gone."

"This is all about retaliating against me," Williams says. "She didn't want me asking questions about that grant."

News of the Spanish teacher's removal from Turner has outraged parents like Tressie Williams (no relation to Patrick). The 46-year-old mom and her son David were among 12 parents and students who this summer went on a 14-day European trip that Patrick organized. "We went to Barcelona, Monaco, and Millan," she says. "Patrick was our personal tour guide. He went everywhere with us."

Tressie says the dreadlocked educator loves children. "You see it in the way he teaches," she explains. "He teaches from his soul. And that's what really matters."

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