Failed School

In Allapattah, kids threaten teachers, and bosses look the other way.

Anderson didn't make the getaway. Someone in the gray car pulled a gun and opened fire, killing him six houses down from where the car had conked out.

In 2005, the year after he was named superintendent, Crew put Allapattah, along with 38 other schools, in his School Improvement Zone. The goal of his initiative was to dramatically turn around chronically failing schools.

As a zone school, Allapattah operates on an extended school year, with 10 extra days and an extra hour added each day, except Wednesday. During the extra period, students practice for the FCAT, grappling with deficiencies in literacy, mathematics, and science. Teachers in the zone receive a 20 percent bump in annual salary. Selig, for example, saw her yearly base pay of $36,000 jump to $42,000 because she taught at Allapattah.

Kyle T. Webster

The school went from an F in 2004 to a D in 2005, followed by a C in 2006. Last year, however, the school flunked again, prompting Crew to replace Principal Brian Hamilton with Costa, a 15-year district veteran whose career includes nine years as an assistant principal at Miami Southridge Senior High.

Costa, a potbellied man with thick black hair and a bushy goatee, spent last year as the district supervisor overseeing Miami Edison Senior High School's corrective action plan, and he is credited with helping the school raise its grade from an F to a D. According to operations chief Zaher, Costa is a competent administrator. "He's pretty responsible," Zaher says. "He is on top of things."

Zaher insists he has never received a complaint from parents or teachers about an excessive lack of discipline at Allapattah. "I've never heard anything," he says. And what about Costa and his assistant principals routinely ignoring the code of conduct? "I've never had one allegation."

Yet Selig and several other Allapattah educators question Costa's fitness for the job. "He is ineffective and inconsistent," Selig says. "Anybody who knows anything about education knows that you can't expect students to learn if they do not have discipline."

Selig says Costa's decision to ignore student misconduct is even more alarming given that some kids attending Allapattah don't feel safe there. According to Allapattah's 2006-2007 school climate survey, 68 percent of 105 students polled believe violence is a problem. The same survey polled 30 of the 64 teachers and revealed that 53 percent "disagreed" or "strongly disagreed" that Allapattah used "adequate disciplinary measures" to "deal with disruptive behavior."

Even sadder is that most of the parents who send their children to Allapattah don't seem to care. In 2005, the school sent surveys to 473 parents. Only 60 people responded. For the 2006-2007 school year, Allapattah distributed forms to 765 households and heard back from 73 parents. Survey participation had declined from 12 to 9 percent in two years.

Six other Allapattah teachers, who did not want to disclose their identities for fear of retaliation, agree with Selig's assessment. One teacher describes being inadvertently tackled and punched by children horse-playing in the halls between periods. "They didn't get suspended at all," the instructor says. "I saw them the next day. The kids run the school."

Such encounters are relatively benign, compared to some of the more violent offenses that also go unpunished, including the time one boy beat another with a broom handle so hard that it broke into three pieces, says the teacher. "Then there was the kid whose head was thrown into the wall," she adds. "In both cases, the administration pleaded with the parents not to press charges."

On another occasion, the teacher continues, she caught four girls spray-painting a wall on school grounds. "It was like they were writing an essay," she says. "Costa did punish them — by making them buy the paint and cover up the graffiti."

There was just one problem with the punishment: Costa made the girls paint during school hours, rather than making them do it after school or on a weekend. "Keep in mind these are children who already enjoy skipping class," the teacher says. "So they were having a fantastic time being out of class, having fun painting the walls."

Two sources say Costa, following a districtwide order from Crew, ended all detentions and suspensions. "Before winter break, kids were getting detention for not wearing their school uniforms, talking back, and turning in incomplete assignments," one says. "That stopped when we came back. The result has been total chaos, with every teacher fending for themselves."

Now Allapattah's problem students routinely disobey the district's code of conduct. "The kids know that we aren't going to do anything to them," says another teacher. "It is absolutely disheartening and frustrating."

One source informs New Times that several instructors have left Allapattah because Costa and Lewis, the assistant principal in charge of conduct, refuse to punish students who disrespect and threaten their educators. "One teacher left three months into the school year," says the source. "Kids were calling her a 'bitch whore,' yet the administration did nothing."

In person, Selig doesn't look like the pugnacious type. She is petite and attractive, with fair skin and soft hazel eyes, and speaks in an animated, bubbly voice. An F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, Selig was born and raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Naperville, an affluent city in Illinois that was voted the second-best place to live in the United States by Money magazine in 2006.

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