Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 4

Illustration by Sean Wang

a satire by Christopher Paslay

When beloved high school principal Dominic Rossetti is forced to open a charter school so his uncle Tony, an organized crime boss, can embezzle the money to fund a strip club, Dom is thrown into a humorous yet tragic situation: he is compelled to run his uncle’s bogus charter school while trying to educate Philadelphia’s children.

Part 4 of 25

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF PART 4: 

When the start a the next school year came, Eisenhower was a whatdoyacallit—a well-oiled machine, all thanks to the Kid.  Dr. Beatrice Crothers, the 350 pound colored Superintendent of the Philadelphia Unified School District . . . I think you’s guys have heard a her . . . was all impressed by Dom and what he’d been doing at Eisenhower.  Dom said at first Crothers was always up his ass about something, was always poking her fat face—reading glasses on the end a her nose and all—in his business, pissing the Kid off something awful.  But Dom was smart, see, and figured out pretty quick how to get this broad off his back: paperwork.  The Kid learned early about the paperwork, he wrote in his journal.  In Philly, cause the public schools was all frigged up, there was a crazy amount a paperwork that needed to be done by the principals to make it look like stuff wasn’t so frigged up.  That was the, ah, racket.  Not just in public schools in Filthy-delphia, but in society and even the world at large: the more dysfunctional something was, the more paperwork you needed to show that it was working the way it was supposed to.

Now, when something worked, you didn’t need all the paperwork, see.  When something worked, and the boss or the owner or some other jackass came along and wanted to see how things was going, all you hadda do was show them; the proof was in the pudding.  Like wit a car, for example.  If you was in charge of making sure a certain car was running and in top shape, and you was doing a good job, and the boss came along and wanted to see the car, and you got behind the wheel and drove it all around and the engine purred and the breaks stopped on a dime, it was plain to see you was doing a good job.  Course, if the boss came and the car was up on blocks or sitting in the garage bay wit the hood up, and the mechanics was standing around the car fooling wit it, maybe changing a hose or a filter, and it had been this way for weeks or months or even years, you’d better have papers saying it was all gonna work out.  You’d better have papers saying why all you numb-nuts was getting paid all that money.

That’s how Dom said the Philadelphia Unified School District operated.  Half the stuff didn’t work the way it was supposed to, so you needed mountains and mountains a paperwork to show that it did . . . or would, someday . . . someday soon.  Just as soon as they got just a bit more money, a bit more funds from the city.  That was the key, according to the Kid: cash.  There was never, ever, enough cash.  Forgetaboutit; this is why my brother Tony was smart enough to get in on the education racket, but I’ll get to that part soon.  Anyways, no matter how much money the school district got from the, ah, miserly governor, it was not only way short a being enough, but it was also a heinous crime against the colored children and the poor white-trash kids wit the brown crooked teeth.  Where did all the money go?  God only knew; the Kid worked for Philly schools for 18 years and said he still didn’t have no clue, his hand on a stack a Bibles.  The only thing he knew for sure was that you needed the proper paperwork.

Which is why Superintendent Crothers eventually left the Kid alone—cause he got real good at the paperwork.  He became a paperwork guru.  The Kid had the best looking paperwork in the whole friggin city, perhaps the best paperwork in the entire United States of America, and I’d be willing to put money on it.  I saw the Kid’s paperwork, cause he used to show it around at meetings.  He had these whatchamacallits . . . these data binders, filled wit all the special kinds a data that Dr. Crothers wanted.  I can’t remember all the kinds a data that was in there, but there was a lot, believe me.  A friggin pant-load.  There was I think data on state test scores, and data on the observations a the faculty staff, and data on how many a the free breakfasts the Puerto Ricans and the poor colored kids ate each day, and data on the intervention plans put in place by the school’s special intervention team, and data on the school emergency lockdown plan put in place by the school emergency lockdown team, and data on the slow kids and all their special . . . what’s it called . . . accommodations, and data on the number a seizures the handicapped kids had, and data on how many times the kids farted, and picked at their nuts or nose, and data on whether or not you was keeping the proper data.  Course, once all the data was collected and spot-checked by Crothers and her team a suits wit their nifty clipboards, nothing ever happened wit the data; the word on the street was that a special data team was hired and paid a six figure salary to put the data into special file cabinets in the basement a the district’s central office; this is at least what the Kid wrote in his journal.

But the Kid’s data binders looked good—the best in the country, no doubt—they was clean, neat, organized, and followed Dr. Crothers’ instructions to the letter a the law, down to the friggin nostril.  Dom’s trick . . . he made me promise never to tell nobody . . . was that he just winged a lot of the data cause he was too busy doing stuff that really mattered.  Anyways, Dr. Crothers was impressed to say the least.  Plus, the Kid’s data binders had leather covers, which was the key to his success wit the School District’s central office.  Leather, my friend.  Some a the principals, see, they had plastic.  Some had vinyl.  Not the Kid—no friggin way.  His was leather, right from Brookstone, the good $200 kind, not the shit $30 kind from OfficeWorld.  This was my idear, to use leather, and it paid off.  Dom told me so hisself.

“Your data binders are in excellent order,” Crothers had said to the Kid during a visit she’d made to his school in September of 2010.  “And leather covers, too.”  She fondled one a the binders in her dark pudgy hands and actually put it to her nose and sniffed it.  “Hmmm, leather.  If you don’t mind, may I ask you where you purchased this?”

“Brookstone,” the Kid said.

“Hmm,” she said.  “You’re a worker, Rossetti.  I see you going places, honey.”

_______

From then on out the Kid was in like flint.  He was Dr. Crothers’ pet, and basically was left alone to run Eisenhower the way he saw fit.  Dr. Crothers was a good person to have in your corner, believe you me.  She was a former . . . what’s the word . . . adjunct professor from Columbia University’s Teachers College, and had won not one but ten, count ‘em—ten—award dinners during her career as an administrator.  Right around the time the Kid was getting his Principal a the Year award, Crothers was getting something called the Best Urban Superintendent in America award that was given to her by this organization called . . . um, the Collation a the Greatest City Schools, or the Greatest City Schools in America, or some such nonsense like that . . . I know it had the word “great” or “greatest” in there, cause it reminded me a Mohammad Ali.  So she got this award, again; the first two times she got it she was working in Chicago and Houston, even though both a these school districts had huge financial, um, deficits after she left, and even though both a these school districts was accused of cheating on state tests while she was there.  Course, the Philadelphia Unified School District was lucky to have the prestigious Dr. Beatrice Crothers, Ed.D., working for them, and the School Board even said so publically in the papers and on TV.  The School District was paying her $325,000 a year, plus a cellphone, plus a laptop, plus limo service and two fulltime chauffeurs, plus they paid for her move from Houston, plus they set her up in an apartment in Center City while she looked for a house to rent when she first got to Filthy-delphia; at least this is what the Kid wrote in his journal.

And the Kid had her on his side, which couldn’t hurt.  So he went full speed ahead putting his time into the things that made a difference at Eisenhower.  You’s guys ever hear a something called accreditation?  Yeah, well, the Kid decided he was gonna try and get that for the school.  Accreditation is this kinda certification that proves that a school is good and running right, you know?  It’s like this stamp of approval to show the community that the school has high standards and whatnot, that the students actually learn stuff, real important stuff, when they walk in the door in the mornings.  The, um, Department of Education is all big on accreditation, and schools that get it get handjobs from the government and fancy write-ups from newspapers like Education World.  According to the Kid, this accreditation can help the school get money and funds and new materials, like books, and projectors, and new computers, and all that good stuff to help the kids learn better.  Plus, like I said, it makes the school look good, and makes the parents wanna send their kids there and maybe even get more involved wit things.

The Kid hadda get the accreditation from this place called the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools.  All the best high schools got their accreditation from these guys, which is why the Kid wanted it for Eisenhower so bad.  Now, I know what you’s guys is thinking.  Eisenhower didn’t have no shot at this, right?  Not no school in the middle a the Bad Lands in freakin North Philly, where the students is mostly colored and didn’t have no parents or if they did, they was strung out on crank or spent all their time drinking 40 ounces a malt liquor?  That’s what I thought when I first heard about the Kid’s idear, when I first heard about the accreditation; course, that was before I really knew Dom the way I do now, and heard the stories about all the strong, dedicated moms and grandmoms who wit Dom’s direction, worked their friggin asses off to get their kids outta the ghetto.  Like I said before, Dom was special.  He had this certain energy, this certain vision, and he could literally will stuff to happen, my hand on a stack a Bibles.  So looking back now, it was definitely possible for Eisenhower to get accreditation, war zone neighborhoods and all.

Now, to get the accreditation, you hadda go through this big old rigmarole, and the whole racket took like three years to do.  The Kid jumped in head first in the fall of 2010, and from the start swung for the fences.  Just to spare you’s guys the boring details, the Kid basically hadda officially apply for the accreditation and get approved by some fancy board just to get the whole process started, which he got, but just barely.  The Kid kept running into these paperwork snags, and having to redo the application to the board’s liking.  This frustrated the Kid cause he was normally real good at the paperwork, but the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools was all snotty and kept sending his stuff back and telling him to do it again.  They would pick out these stupid asinine things to fix, saying his mission statement wasn’t worded right, and he complained about this a lot at our addiction meetings.  Course, when I heard about this I asked the Kid if he wanted me and the Gorilla to get involved—if he wanted me to throw around some a the board members or shake them up a bit . . . maybe pullout a fingernail or two . . . but Dom, he was all above board and whatnot, and said he wanted to do it all hisself.

So finally, around Christmastime, Eisenhower’s application got approved and the Kid could start the formal process a getting the accreditation.  In the New Year, in January of 2011, these accreditation guys showed up at the school to look around and work wit the Kid and his staff on identifying Eisenhower’s strengths and weakness.  These accreditation jag-offs graded Eisenhower on stuff like safety, the conditions a the school, quality a Dom’s leadership, the quality a student services, and, what was the other one . . . oh yeah, fiscal stability.  After spending a week wit the Kid at Eisenhower, these accreditation people gave their recommendations, and told Dom he hadda form an improvement team—a real one, not like the one Dr. Crothers wanted—and write this big old complex school improvement plan that the Kid would have to submit to them for their approval.  The Kid did it, worked his friggin balls off and did it, and the accreditation jack-wads only sent it back to Dom three times to redo before saying it was good . . . not great but good . . . good enough to stamp it wit the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools seal of approval.

That, as the Kid said, was the easy part.  Now all Dom hadda do was meet all the, um, improvement benchmarks in the freaking improvement plan.  By the time the Kid got down to this part it was the following school year, the fall of 2011, a terrible time for the Fightin Phillies, I might add, who was the Vegas odds-on favorites to win the World Series but ended up choking in game five of the NLDC to the St. Louis Cardinals, one zip.  Freakin horrible showing, that game was, and I lost a goddamn boatload a cash on it; it was so bad I almost went back on the bottle.

But enough about baseball.  What I wanna tell you’s guys now is how the Kid stopped perhaps the biggest fight in the history a Eisenhower High School from happening and single handedly saved Eisenhower’s chances a getting accreditation.  In October of 2011, when the accreditation guys came to Eisenhower to do a visit to see if Dom’s school was meeting all the standards in the improvement plan, there was a bit a drama unfolding amongst the clientele.  This 12th grade student nicknamed Cram—wit a “C”—was supposed to fight this other 12th grade student nicknamed Kram—spelled wit a “K”.  According to Dom’s journal, these two morons didn’t like each other, but not cause they had a rivalry over their nicknames, but cause they was from different gangs; K-Kram was from the Kirkwood Village Projects, and C-Cram was from Diamond Park.

Supposedly, one a the guys from C-Cram’s crew talked shit on one a the guy’s from K-Kram’s crew, said a guy from K-Kram’s crew—perhaps K-Kram hisself, nobody really knew for sure—ate C-Cram’s Cheesy Doodles, and when he was done, threw the empty bag on the classroom floor and said, “Diamond Park is a buncha bitches.”  That was the word all around school: somebody from Kirkwood Projects ate C-Cram’s Cheesy Doodles, threw the empty bag on the classroom floor, and said, Diamond Park is a buncha bitches.  Students was talking about it for a coupla days.  Now, when things started getting all heated up, when the rumor spread through Eisenhower that Kirkwood Village was gonna fight Diamond Park Friday morning before school in this friggin gigantic gang rumble right outside in the parking lot, that guys from both crews was planning on bringing pipes and knives and guns and what have you to school so they could throw down and settle all the bullshit, Dom knew he hadda jump in and work things out.  Not just so none a the kids got hurt or killed, but also cause the accreditation guys was supposed to show up that day and check on, of all things, how safety was coming along at Eisenhower.

First thing Dom did was go right to the source.  He somehow got K-Kram to come down to his office and asked him if he ever said that about Diamond Park.  K-Kram said he never did, but also added that he wasn’t scared a C-Cram or any a those pussies from Kirkwood Projects.  Dom said that that was good news, that they was making headway.

“So you never said that about C-Cram, right?” Dom says.

“Naw,” K-Kram says.  “But I ain’t scared of him.  You know, I’ll rock that dude in a minute.”

“Did you eat his Cheesy Doodles?”

“Naw, man.  I don’t even know what people is talking about.”

“That’s good,” Dom says, staying real calm.  “So I guess you never called Diamond Park a bunch of bitches, then, either?”

“Naw.  People talk too much shit at this school.”

Dom kept talking to this K-Kram guy for a while, and somehow . . . God only knows how . . . got the other idiot down to his office, that C-Cram kid, and got the two a them talking.  Dom wrote in his journal that they was both kinda scared inside, that they was mad but also anxious and feeling like they hadda prove something so people wouldn’t think they was punks or nothing.  Dom said he had them talking in his office for like an hour . . . really talking, and he said he could see the relief on their faces, that maybe they could call the whole thing off, just put a stop to the whole gang rumble thing.  He asked which kid would be the bigger man, would have the strength not to fight.

“Who’s the bigger man?” Dom asked, but neither Cram nor Kram answered.  Dom said, “Fine, let me put it to you like this.  You’ve both been in fights before, right?  You both know you’re not scared, right?  That’s what I’m talking about.  Maybe when you two were younger you had to prove to yourself you could stand up and fight—you had to have this rite of passage.  And the both of you did.  You guys aren’t scared.  Now you have a different test—a bigger test to see if you are a man.  You have to prove to yourself that you can walk away.  Be the bigger man and walk away.  Does that make any sense?  Think about.  Seriously.  I know deep down the both of you are men.  I know deep down the both of you will do the right thing, I have faith in you.”

The two kids actually shook hands before they left Dom’s office, but said they couldn’t promise nothing.  Course, Dom didn’t stop there.  He worked wit the school cops and the counselor and systematically rounded-up nearly every known student in both gangs, called them into his office and gave his “bigger man” speech, did his best to get the kids talking and shaking hands and even in some cases, laughing about the whole friggin stupid thing.

Somehow it worked.  On Friday morning, just when the accreditation pricks was there observing the school and taking notes, Eisenhower was business as usual.  There was no rumble, not even a single argument.  Once again the Kid did the impossible.

Part 5 

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4 Comments

Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

4 responses to “Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 4

  1. Ellen

    Looking forward to the next chapter… I’m hooked

  2. phillystyle71

    Thanks. Part 5 coming Friday . . . (you’ll love it).

  3. Sam

    Chris.
    I am enjoying your series. Is it suppose to be guilty pleasure reading? I laughed so hard when I read this…data on how many times the kids farted, and picked at their nuts or nose, and data on whether or not you was keeping the proper data. Course, once all the data was collected and spot-checked by Crothers and her team a suits wit their nifty clipboards, nothing ever happened wit the data…

    It’s great to see your writing craft in different form/ context. What feedback have your received from your students.

    Cant wait to read the part 5 and more.

  4. phillystyle71

    Hi Sam,
    Good to hear from you. Yes, this is supposed to be guilty pleasure reading, a break from the serious education commentary. It’s supposed to be farcical, and at times I use colorful language and I hope everyone is able to laugh at this and take it in context. My students do not subscribe to my blog, so they are not reading it. Anyways, thanks for your positive comments and for reading my stuff. I hope all is well with you and that you are having a happy New Year and a productive school year. Hope you enjoy the rest of the parts, and for a real laugh, you should listen to the audio in my Tony Soprano voice.
    Take care,
    Chris

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