The Next Test

Manual High School earned extra credit for surviving the end of busing. But can it survive the CSAP?

"Manual always had a bad rep," says teacher Ana Martinez. "Even when there was busing, a lot of people were afraid of how the school was going. It's a great school. Kids try hard, and they know a lot is riding on their shoulders."

The changed makeup of the student population is not the problem, says Manual special-ed teacher Ahmed A. Hakeem. "The problem is we need money and resources. We have dedicated teachers in this building. You have to be dedicated to come to this job every day."

John Johnston
Margaret Horton (left) and Samierah Moran keep the junior class on track.
John Johnston
Margaret Horton (left) and Samierah Moran keep the junior class on track.

Tuesday: Samierah begins the day with a reprimand from a cranky hall monitor for wearing gloves inside the school, which is not allowed. (Hats aren't allowed, either.) Today is Mismatch Day, so she's also wearing red socks, black pants, a purple shirt and a plaid shirt on top of that. Margaret wears a red shirt, green jacket vest and a blue scarf with light-blue flowers.

Today in IMP 4, the kids are asked to define the period of a function and the amplitude of a function. The girls are more enthusiastic today.

"This is a good class," Margaret remarks.

"The class is small, I like it," Samierah adds.

Weren't these two trying to drop this class the day before?

"Yeah, but I have to stay in it, so I might as well make the best of it," Samierah responds.

They talk about last night's episode of Boston Public, in which a teacher was fired for having a relationship with an eighteen-year-old student. Samierah and Margaret think the punishment was a little tough. "What's the big deal, she was eighteen," says Margaret.

In Brit Lit they watch a scene from the recent Viking epic The Thirteenth Warrior, which dramatizes the evolution of English from old to middle to modern, absorbing influences ranging from the Normans to the Greeks. At the end of the period, everyone in class -- as well as everyone in the school -- is given Tuesday Folders, weekly progress reports that they must take home and have signed.

Samierah takes her folder and heads off to a study hall, populated by the junior and senior student councils, where she spends the period trying to plan a Valentine's Day dance. At Manual, the Valentine's Day dance is put on by the junior class, while the seniors are responsible for Homecoming. Money to stage these events is difficult to come by. So far, Samierah's class has raised only $387 -- over two and a half years.

At lunch, she and her friends try to sell tickets to the Valentine's Day dance. They're going for $5 for singles, $7 for couples. So far, they've only sold twelve tickets. "If there's only twelve people signed up, we're not gonna have a dance," says Lauren Black, another friend.

But Samierah is optimistic. "Everybody's gonna show up on Friday, because that's always what happens."

When Nancy Sutton held her first meeting with Manual's faculty, back in 1996, many teachers were unhappy about losing the more affluent student population of the busing years. Some faculty members were thinking about trying to convert Manual into a magnet school. Sutton would have none of it. Teachers remember her saying: "Anybody who doesn't want to work with poor black or Latino kids -- there's the door."

The following summer, many people used that door -- 25 of Manual's seventy teachers left. Twenty more left the year after, once they were convinced Sutton was serious. Santo Nicotera estimates that 75 percent of his fellow teachers have turned over in the past few years.

"I think there was a lot of fear," says Sutton. "They didn't know what the school was going to be."

But Sutton did. Before she took the Manual job, she'd been the principal of Northwest High School in Indianapolis -- an inner-city school that, in the early 1990s, was the worst-performing high school of that city's seven. Introducing such innovations as student portfolios and longer classes, Sutton helped turn the school into Indianapolis's best-performing public high school. "You bring a lot of those things," she says of coming to Manual. "The thing I brought most was sort of getting everybody on board."

Sutton says she fell into the principal posts after working as both a teacher and a school administrator. She knew her stint at Northwest was good practice for Manual, which was about to enter the post-busing world.

"In some ways, and on some days, I'd say yes, it's putting the community back together," Sutton says. "But some of the decisions might have been more proactive. I think the districting shed a real negative light on this community."

Andrea Guinta, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, also considers the end of busing a mixed bag. "I don't think it's a dead issue," she says. "I think what teachers are busy doing is addressing the needs. Especially in Denver, the majority of the schools are going to be in the unsatisfactory category. You can look at the economic status of those neighborhoods and pretty much see a correlation there. I think, perhaps, people have been so busy trying to address the details, they're not looking at it as much as a systemic problem. Teachers don't have the luxury of sitting back and thinking about the ills of society."

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