The half dozen or so Miami-Dade County bike cops, wearing helmets, tight shorts, and pistols, are doing laps around Miami Norland Senior High School on February 26. But these armed officers are merely the outriders of the beefed-up security patrolling the boxy, gracelessly aging school in this middle- and working-class Northwest Miami-Dade neighborhood. At least two Miami-Dade County Police cruisers also are watching the area well. In addition to the school's regular security guards, several teachers, including substitutes, have been given walkie-talkies and are posted at strategic locations on school grounds. Assistant principals and security guards tool around in golf carts, eyes peeled for trouble.
Once the 11:50 lunch bell rings, students stream out of the school, congregating along the split-rail fence bordering the broad expanse of the Optimist Club football field on NW 195th Street.
School officials are worried about what might happen at noon. When that bell rings, will the kids march back to class? Or will many of the 2400 students at Norland, for the second time in less than a year, hold a walkout to protest the reign of principal Carroll E. Williams? And will this one, like the one this past May, turn violent?
Word has gotten around, through the grapevine and on printed flyers, that the protest is supposed to happen today. Many of the students spending their lunch period outdoors at first profess ignorance of the walkout -- perhaps nervous at the presence of print and broadcast journalists. "Watch it with that camera, dog," a girl in denim overalls cautions a TV cameraman. "I didn't do my best hairdo today."
But when the discussion turns to what's wrong at Norland, what needs to be changed, and who's to blame, the kids liven up. "Nasty-ass bathrooms," one shouts; "Eazy-E and her video camera," offers another, referring to assistant principal Gladys Hudson, who is on patrol in a golf cart (and whose small stature and prominent gold teeth prompt the reference to the deceased rapper); "Lockouts," another gripes, noting the policy of locking classroom doors, forcing tardy students to spend the class period in the cafeteria.
"They don't want to teach us," declares a tenth-grader with brassy orange pigtails who asks to be identified only by her nickname, Kilo. "It's not a good learning environment." A golf cart rolls by, carrying a security guard in a Norland-maroon windbreaker. "They make us feel like we're in a cage, and we're tired of it," she says.
This year's protest ... doesn't happen. When the 12:25 p.m. bell rings, the students outside straggle back behind the cyclone fences that form the school's perimeter. As the last of them returns, a battered, late-model American car flying a Carol City High flag cruises by.
"Y'all scared!" hollers the driver, a beefy young man who appears to be in his late teens. "Fuck that shit! Walk out!"
The near-miss of a second student demonstration underscores the problems that have plagued Williams's two-year tenure at Norland. Principals are not supposed to be best buddies with their students, and few have to deal with open rebellion. But it is not only students chafing under Williams's reign. An unofficial parent-teacher association is criticizing him, not because he is strict with their kids, but because of his flagrant disregard for policies and outright incompetence.
Several teachers, many of whom spoke with New Times only on the condition of anonymity, describe Williams as a bumbling autocrat whose arrogance has led him to bruise egos and break rules. As his critics tell it, Williams has hired a football coach with a criminal record; driven away well-liked and competent administrators; pulled the student yearbook staff from their regular classes during midterm review, summarily dismissing them after a week; and, most disturbingly, placed hundreds of students, without notification, in dropout-prevention classes with unqualified teachers.
A look into Williams's past reveals he has a bent toward unorthodox associations, an extracurricular title as "President of the Continental United States," and a tendency to fall way behind on his child-support payments.
Williams declined to speak directly with New Times for this story, referring all questions to Parent, Teacher & Student Association (PTSA)president Deborah Williams (no relation), and to Henry Fraind, deputy superintendent of schools. Deborah Williams traces all the complaints about the principal to "six or seven" teachers who she says had grown complacent under the previous administration and instigated the uprisings among both parents and students. Fraind also describes the problems at Norland as "a few disgruntled teachers over there."
Doreen Major, a slight, bespectacled woman in her early fifties, is standing at the front entrance to Norland holding a walkie-talkie, offering her assessment of the student walkout that wasn't. Around her stand a handful of parents and residents who spent the February 26 lunch period passing out orange flyers announcing a meeting that night. These parents, who earlier this year formed a rebel PTSA called the Independent Parents Council, want this evening's forum to open up discussion about what's wrong at Norland and how to fix it.
For her part Major doesn't think there's much that needs fixing. "We tried to talk to them as to what the issues were, and very frankly. And I can't come up with anything that's really an issue," she says slowly in a voice tinged with a Bahamian accent. "I don't like this around my neck either," she says, tugging at the photo ID on a beaded chain -- the target of many student complaints. "But you know what? It's school policy. It's for the students' protection to prevent intruders."
Major is asked what her position is at the school. "I'm just a lonely teacher, an old reporter, that's all," she says. "I'm trying to help everybody's kid, trying to make peace. You can just say ... somebody who is on assignment with the administration. A teacher who is on special assignment."
"Aren't you the administrative assistant?" queries area resident Sonia Hitchman, standing nearby.
"I don't know about that," Major muses. "I just assist where I can ... I work in administration, whether it's on special duty, or what you'd call administrative assistant. It doesn't bother me what I am."
But the question of what Doreen Major is -- and is not -- has proved extremely bothersome to Norland students and parents. And it is Carroll Williams's mishandling of Major's classroom assignments that stands as an example of his shortcomings as principal.
Major began working at Norland as a substitute teacher in 1996. For the 1997-98 school year, Carroll Williams's first as principal of Norland, she served as a "pool sub," a substitute who was in one classroom or another most days, filling in as needed.
Major has a temporary certificate, valid until June 2000, permitting her to teach middle school- and high school-level English. Yet Williams hired her full-time in June 1998, assigning her a class load packed with government and current-events classes.
How could Major teach social studies when she isn't licensed to do so? Simple: All of her classes were designated part of the Student At Risk Program (SARP). It is a dropout-prevention safety net for kids with poor attendance, discipline problems, bad grades, or who are from troubled homes. Because schools have a tough time finding teachers to take on such difficult assignments, at-risk classes can be taught by teachers "out-of-field"; as long as a teacher holds any valid teaching certificate, he or she can teach any subject to at-risk students. Usually guidance counselors and administrators designate students as at-risk while they are in middle school; but high school administrators have that option as well.
There is a catch. Placement in at-risk classes is strictly voluntary: A child's parents must agree to have their children placed in such a class. Schools often mail parents consent forms over the summer, or at the very least send slips home with the children early in the school year. A parent must be notified one way or another, and can always decline.
Doreen Major and at least one other teacher at Norland seem to have missed that point. When the school year began in August 1998, none of her students knew they were in at-risk social studies classes. Nor did their parents.
"We were in a crowded regular economics class," recalls Tamilla Mullings, a 17-year-old junior who wound up in Major's class. "They said they were taking us out because the class was too full. I was like, 'Okay, no problem.' Then maybe in November, I heard rumors that it's an at-risk class. I came to find out, yes, it is an at-risk class, and I was in there for half a year!"
Mullings thinks she didn't belong there. "I know I'm not the brightest student in the world, but my GPA is like 2.5, 2.6." When interviewed for this story in early March, Mullings notes that she "just got out" of the class.
Major's was not the only questionable class. Peter Meyers, who came to work at Norland this year as the head wrestling coach and assistant football coach, found himself teaching ninth-grade general science classes. Meyers is only certified to teach physical education. He says he knew these classes had to be at-risk.
"It turned out that the paperwork was not squared away," Meyers says. "Sometime around January, an administrator came up to my class with all this paperwork, urging me to send these forms home with the kids and get their parents to sign them." The children had been incorrectly placed in his class for five months.
When they finally received the forms, many of those parents refused to sign, he says. He adds that some parents asked to have their children removed from his classes, but many were still there as late as March.
Indeed, since word got out that roughly 300 kids had been designated at-risk without their parents' permission, many parents have been in an uproar. "I was unaware that [my daughter] was even in an at-risk class," says Cheryl Hunter, whose daughter, senior Tamika Williams, was in one of Major's social studies classes. "Tamika didn't even know she was in an at-risk class until [early February]. I made an appointment to speak to her counselor, but it was difficult to get a straight answer."
Sharon Mathis, whose son Norman Williams was one of Major's students, also was flabbergasted. "I said, 'Norman, how you can be in at-risk?' He said, 'Mama, I don't know.' The school told me that if I wanted to come out there and change his class, I could. [The guidance counselor] didn't comment on why they put him in that class."
Hunter says she still hasn't been able to clear up who put her daughter in an at-risk class. "Using 'clarify' and 'Norland' in the same sentence is an oxymoron," Hunter snipes. "Tamika's counselor couldn't tell me who designated those kids at-risk. Everybody blames somebody else."
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.
"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.
In 1974 he earned a master's degree from a now-defunct program at the University of Northern Colorado without ever setting foot in that state. The nonaccredited program, widely characterized as a diploma mill, folded in 1982.
He's currently married to his third wife, Rebecca Williams, with whom he has five children. He has at least three children by his second wife, Patricia. During divorce proceedings he disputed that he was the father of the fourth and youngest of Patricia's children. Patricia Williams filed for divorce in 1981, and it was granted in 1982. The case file, though, is stuffed with additional paperwork, most concerning Williams's failure to keep up with his child-support payments. He eventually fell more than $7000 in arrears. More than once the court held him in contempt for his monetary delinquency.
The fact that a Miami-Dade County Court punished a school administrator for being a deadbeat dad is significant enough. But Williams's battles in family court provide another window on his character. Documents he drafted for these proceedings reveal some bizarre beliefs, and even stranger strategies for skirting the law.
At least two teachers contacted for this story assert that Williams had once been a follower of Yahweh ben Yahweh, the Miami cult leader now serving time for conspiracy to commit murder. In fact an angry parent identified as E. Stewart wrote a letter dated October 1, 1997, upbraiding then-school board member Frederica Wilson for allowing Williams to become principal of Norland. The letter-writer's beef? "[Williams] tried and almost succeeded in recruiting my brother in joining Yahweh [when Williams was] assistant principal at North Miami Senior High School in the 70's," Stewart typed.
In a handwritten letter Williams wrote to family court Judge Joseph Nadler (the letter is undated, though it's likely from the early Eighties), he describes himself as "a Hebrew Israelite, trying hard to follow the Laws, Statues [sic], Judgements [sic] and Commandments of Yahweh written in the King James version of the Bible." Although Williams was not available for comment to clear this up, such language is more consistent with a movement known as the Hebrew Israelites, and less so with Yahweh ben Yahweh. Hebrew Israelites believe that African Americans are the true Jews, and that any white person who claims to be a Jew is a "blasphemer," among other things.
By 1994 it seemed that Williams had gone through a major spiritual, political, and ethnic transformation. On December 2, 1994, in response to complaints from his ex-wife that he was again falling behind in his child-support payments, he filed what he called an "Affidavit of Nationality and Congressional-Constitutional Immunity."
The document is written on a letterhead topped with two flags (one the Moroccan flag, the other apparently representing a Lebanese cedar) and the seal of the United States. This aggregation of symbols is labeled "The Great Seal National Association of Moorish Affairs." In this document Williams refers to himself as "Noble Carroll E. Williams-El." He describes himself not as a Hebrew Israelite, but as a Moorish-American Aborigine of Cherokee Indian Descent. He goes on to make the following declaration:
As a Delegate of The Great Seal National Continental Congress Assembled, I have CONGRESSIONAL-CONSTITUTIONAL IMMUNITY, in accordance with relative statues [sic] and/or treaties at large and biographic information to wit:
The present Union State Municipal and Civil Law Codes of the land, established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the year of Eighteen Fifty-Four (1854), governs "ONLY" the rights and conduct of "WHITE PEOPLE". Thus is it known and understood that the Free Moorish Nationals, the Beys and Els, are not the subjects of the present Union States Municipal and Civil Law Codes, state statutes, ordinances, rules or regulations; nor are they (the Moors) subject to the payment of taxes for the purposes of maintaining a Republic.
Therefore, for the record, the State of Florida does not have jurisdiction over my persona, or the persona of any other Moorish-American Aborigine of Cherokee Indian Descent, and a Free Regnatrix National Continental United States Citizen, Legitime Immunis Person. In addition, I agreed to make child support payments because it was the honorable thing to do. However, the State of Florida cannot lawfully direct my actions. I am a FREE and DIVINE BEING, who will continue to "DO THE RIGHT THING."
He signs the document as "Minister of the Interior, the Continental United States." In subsequent documents he has moved up in the hierarchy of this nation. On October 15, 1996, in another court motion, he signs off as "Noble Carroll E. Williams-El, President, The Continental United States." His correspondence with the court over these years includes copies of letters to President Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, and Boutros-Boutros Ghali, then-Secretary General of the United Nations. Each of these letters gives notice to the world leader in question that Noble Carroll E. Williams-El is now the President of the Continental United States.
In case anyone doubted the legitimacy of his claim of sovereignty, he mailed the court a photocopy of his I.D. card, which bears the Great Seal of the United States and a picture of himself wearing a fez.
Williams didn't just make all this stuff up. The terminology he uses gives some clues to his fringe religion of choice at that time. From 1994 until at least the beginning of 1997, Williams followed the ethos of the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA). Founded in 1913 in Newark, New Jersey, the MSTA fused black nationalist ideals with a "Moorish" identity for African Americans and smatterings of Islamic thought. The group's distinctive dress includes red fezzes.
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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Again, questions to Carroll Williams about the yearbook's problems were referred to Deborah Williams and Henry Fraind. Fraind provided considerable documentation, including the memorandum from Tarpley's conference for the record. "Miss Tarpley was not doing her job," Deborah Williams says. "She was playing around. Students she had on yearbook committee, instead of preparing, they were up there eating pizza, running their mouths." She adds that Tarpley's students have complained about the teacher.
Deborah Williams faxed New Times a letter dated March 9, 1999, and signed, "Very Concerned Students, English III Honors/Regular Class, Period 1." It complains of Tarpley being "late to class every day," giving D's and F's to just about everyone in the class, and being "rude, sarcastic, and just downright nasty."
Tarpley notes that Deborah Williams's daughter was in that first-period class, and was failing. Yet despite its harsh criticism of Tarpley, the letter does note that the yearbook emergency disrupted the rest of her classes.
Through the entire experience, Tarpley says, one personality trait of Carroll Williams stood out: inflexibility. "He just doesn't listen to anybody," she sighs. Ofcr. Lionell Con-yers, now assigned to Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School, agrees. "The changes he made at Norland, some were good, some were bad," Conyers reflects. "It was just that he never took the time out to see how the school operated. He just came in and did a complete overhaul, no matter what.