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A Principal Struggles to Fix a Richmond Middle School

The third report in a series by education correspondent John Merrow tracks one principal's efforts to reform a troubled inner-city school in Richmond, Virginia on the state's warning list.

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  • JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Special Correspondent:

    Boushall Middle School in Richmond, Virginia. With misbehavior rampant among its 700 mostly low-income students, and half of them scoring below basic on state tests, something had to be done.

    Last fall, Virginia put Parker Land in charge. Recruited from the suburbs, he was one of two dozen principals trained by the state to take over schools stuck at the bottom. Virginia calls these principals "turnaround specialists."

  • PARKER LAND, Principal, Boushall Middle School:

    It's not a huge mystery as to how to turn schools around. It's leadership, establishing a basic understanding of respect among all parties, and that includes students, and somebody had to do it. I mean, it's really — one of the things I really don't want to sound like is a missionary. I do not want to sound like a missionary, but I have a mission.

  • LOIS SMITH, Teacher:

    You're not respecting me.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Within weeks, the mission was in doubt.

  • LOIS SMITH:

    You know the right thing to do.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Many teachers, like Lois Smith, found it impossible to teach.

  • LOIS SMITH:

    Excuse me! You're talking on my time.

    Right now, these children don't have respect for themselves, so they're not going to have respect for me, and they're not going to have respect for their other classmates.

    TAYRON TAYLOR, Student, 7th Grade: A lot of students don't pay attention in class because I don't think the teachers are putting forth effort to make us feel interested in class. If they had more activities, you know, more fun things to do in class, 90 percent of us would be doing our work.

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