Cover Story

Driven to educate

"Driven to educate" Continued...

Issue: "Tough love," Aug. 18, 2007

But some people in Trotwood were surprised to see Calloway ascend to the top job in Detroit. That's because the Trotwood school board in 2003 placed her on administrative leave and then bought out her contract after teachers descended on the board en masse to complain about low morale and what some described as an atmosphere of "fear and intimidation."

"Morale is the lowest and the atmosphere the worst I have seen in my 27 years of employment," local teachers union president Pat Lekan told the school board on Jan. 22, 2003, according to a Dayton Daily News report. Lekan also said some teachers were prepared to transfer out of the district to escape Calloway's authority.

News coverage of the controversy seems to put district constituents and union-represented teachers in opposite camps. At the same school board meeting, Ernest Hill, a grandfather of nine kids in the district, said test scores under Calloway had climbed for the first time in years. Another parent said the discipline Calloway had restored to school hallways and classrooms was replaced by chaos after she left.

In a follow-up email interview, Calloway did not respond to WORLD's questions about the Trotwood controversy. But members of the Normandy School Board in St. Louis acknowledged that Calloway is "very strong willed."

Normandy board member Nancy Hartman said, "Some people would say she's difficult to work with. But her undying focus is on what is best for the children. Sometimes adults might have sensed her frustration, her getting impatient with the adults, but it was because she was so focused on improving things for the children."

Made up of 23 municipalities, the Normandy district is home to one high school, one middle school, and seven elementary facilities, one of which contains three separate schools. The majority of the approximately 5,600 students there are African-American. In the early 2000s, according to school board vice president Ed James, the district dropped from full accreditation to provisional accreditation due to a spiraling dropout rate, low standardized test scores, and shabbily maintained facilities.

In hiring Calloway, James said, the district hoped to get back on track for full accreditation when it is reevaluated in 2009. He remembers Calloway's first meeting with the Normandy school officials. She stood before a whiteboard and drew arrows representing curriculum, staffing, testing, facilities, and other areas. "Every arrow was facing in a different direction," James said. "We were functioning, but everyone was functioning in his or her own little niche. Dr. Calloway pulled together more of a team concept."

In his estimation, Normandy is now on track to accreditation. He credits what he sees as Calloway's ability to get to the root of a problem and put procedures in place that treat both cause and symptom. Asked how Calloway's faith manifested itself on the job, James said she "brought a sense of compassion" to the position of superintendent, and that her Christianity showed in her "work ethic and commitment."

In early 2007, Hartman, who attends St. Ann of Normandy Catholic Church, organized a faith-based community rally to convince Calloway to stay in St. Louis. Hartman also spoke with the superintendent privately. "Even though she had made a lot of progress in Normandy," Hartman said, "she told me she was going to have to leave here before she could see the fruits of her labors because she felt she was being called to serve the children of Detroit."

In that city, not only are the hurdles high, but some say change in the school district must be sweeping and immediate; incremental changes are not an option. "If they don't improve now, people are going to keep moving out of the city because children are not learning what they should be and curriculum is not what it should be," Ana Arias, a parent who is considering private school or a move to another district for her three children, told the Detroit News.

DPS, she said, is "running out of chances." How does Calloway plan to attack the district's problems?

"I'm not going to attack anything," Calloway objected during a telephone interview with WORLD. Then she said: "I'm going to work to create an environment where the language and the priorities all center around students and their achievement. The current environment seems to be one where it's more business as usual. We seem to be caught up with political issues, attachment to programs, to buildings, to the way we used to do business."

Does she have experience breaking down entrenched bureaucracies to promote change?

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