Susan Enfield, Starting to Backtrack on Ingraham High Firing, Should Keep Going

Martin Floe.jpg
UPDATE: Enfiled is backtracking completely. According to a just-released statement, she will renew Floe's contract. Details after the jump.

Interim Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield seems to be opening the door to reversing her firing of popular Ingraham High Principal Martin Floe. "At this point, I'm listening," she told The Seattle Times after a storm of protest from parents and staff. Considering the weak justification she's given for the decision and the spectacularly bad timing, she should walk right through that door.

"Given the recent decision at Ingraham High School, Seattle Public Schools would like to share academic data about the school," read a statement sent out last week. The release called Ingraham the "second-lowest performing" high school in the district "in terms of academic growth" and noted that its results on test scores were below state and district averages. The most striking number in the statement, underlined for effect, was that only 5 percent of Ingraham's African-American students met the standard on the state's math test.

Yet as former school board member Dick Lilly pointed out in Crosscut yesterday, the numbers don't add up. Lilly points out that other schools have similarly bad test results, so it's unclear how Ingraham is the second-worst. (SPS district spokesperson Teresa Wippel has not yet responded to a request for clarification.) Lilly mentions a few of those schools, but it's worth taking a closer look, made possible by the reams of data available on the state Superintendent of Public Instruction website.

To be precise, 5.4 percent of Ingraham's African-American sophomores passed the state math test given during the past school year. No question, that's a disturbing figure--one matched by Cleveland High, where 5.7 percent of its African-American sophomores met the math standard, and one bested (or worsted) by Rainier Beach High, where only 3.9 percent of its black sophomores did.

If the district has got a principal who knows how to raise African-American test scores, it's not apparent. As a whole, SPS's black sophomores scored only marginally better than at Ingraham, with 12.5 percent passing the math test last year.

True, Ingraham's test scores for students of all races are worse than the state and district averages (although they're far higher than at Rainier Beach and Cleveland in math). But here's one thing Enfield didn't say: The school has significantly more poor students, a circumstance closely tied to low test results just about everywhere. At Ingraham, 56.3 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, versus just over 42 percent of the students in the district and state as a whole.

Should the district therefore throw up its hands and accept that poor students won't achieve? Of course not. But it's questionable whether a principal change, which gives the appearance of shaking things up, will solve an endemic problem. And from a public-relations standpoint, it's a disastrous move for a superintendent who pledged community collaboration, and who badly needs to repair the district's image after its small-business contracting scandal.

Now, Enfield is saying that the school's test scores were not the main factor in her decision. She's got a meeting with Ingraham parents tonight. If the superintendent has another reason, she needs to speak up--or admit she made a mistake.

Update: Here's an excerpt from Enfield's statement: "I also know that a good leader listens. After extensive conversations with Ingraham High School staff and the community, I have decided to renew Mr. Floe's contact for the 2011-12 school year, under the condition that he continue on a plan of improvement, which I, along with his Executive Director, will monitor throughout the year."

Here's the entire statement.

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