Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 3

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 3 of 25

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Over the next seven years, the Kid won teacher a the year three more times . . . and got three more award dinners.  There was no politics involved, neither; unlike half the people who won awards, Dom really deserved those dinners.  Course, in 2007, he didn’t just win it for Philadelphia, but for the entire State of Pennsylvania.  That made him eligible for the National Teacher of the Year competition, where Dom, who hadn’t gambled on a single thing in almost ten friggin years, made the finals but didn’t win.  I told Dom not to worry about it, that the whole thing was fixed anyways; the broad from Idaho that ended up winning prob’ly gave the judges a little bit of hand action.

No biggie, though.  The Kid kept going to meetings and working the 12 steps wit Gordon W.  During this time he went back to school, like I said before, and earned his principal certificate.  In the fall of 2008, right when the Phillies was about to win the World Series and Barack Obama was about to become the first, ah, how shall I say it . . . dark-skinned president, Dom got hired as an assistant principal at Eisenhower High School in North Philadelphia.  This place was a friggin war zone, let me tell you.  Kids bringing weapons and shit to school, fighting, cursing, and just basically running amok.  Dom’s first day on the job there was this big brawl right at the main entrance a the school.  Some kids had come to school late and they wasn’t wearing the proper uniforms, which was a school-issued navy blue golf shirt wit Eisenhower High School stenciled on the front; Dom wrote about all a this in detail in his journal.

About a half-dozen teenagers walk up to the front doors and just try to walk in . . . right past the school police and metal detectors.  The police blocked the entrance, reminding the kids that they needed to put on their uniforms and submit to a search a their bags and whatnot.  The kids got all indignant, and started cursing and telling the cops to get outta their face.  One kid supposedly pushed one a the cops, and then this crazy mêlée erupted and all hell broke loose.  A buncha teens who was congregating in the hall jumped in it, and fists started flying, and then Dom and the principal, Mrs. Brown, started running down the hallway shouting into their walkie-talkies.  A few minutes later red and blue lights was flashing and the real cops was there, wit their clubs out and canisters of pepper spray in their hands.

When it all finally settled down, 15 students was arrested for disorderly conduct and hitting cops.  They was suspended from school for ten days and put on disciplinary probation.  The thing was, though, some a the kids was saying that the cops was outta line for getting rough wit the students.  A few a them even got this rally together out front a the school a week later to protest.  There was adults there, too.  These, um . . . educational advocates.  They was complaining about the cops and how they basically started the whole thing by disrespecting the students, how the cops didn’t know how to talk to the students and was too busy trying to act all tough.  This kinda behavior—combined wit the metal detectors at the front doors—made the students wanna act out, they said.

“The cops always be getting in our face,” the one student was quoted in the newspaper saying.  “They be hollering and grabbing us and searching our stuff.”

Now Dom, see, he was smart.  He didn’t wanna piss-off the cops or the students so he started this mediation program at Eisenhower so the kids and the police could, you know, talk things out.  Me, I woulda just throwed them kids out on their asses and if they had a problem wit it, broke their heads for them for good measure.  When I was growing up, we had respect for our elders, and if there was any backtalk we’d catch a friggin smack right across the mouth.  Not today, let me tell you.  These kids today, whoa, they act like animals.  But Dom, he somehow understood the kids and kinda knew why they was acting the way they was.  He had compassion for these little bastards, and could connect wit them.  He said in his journal and at meetings that he knew how these kids felt.  He said no one intentionally wanted to be an asshole, not most a the time, that there was some good reason for it.  It was just like gambling and other addictions, he said.  One day things was okay and you thought you had control, and the next you woke up and realized your whole life was all frigged up and you wondered how in the hell it all came to this.  How in God’s name did you end up in such a deep goddamn hole?

Dom said no one intentionally wanted to screw up their life.  No one woke up and said, “Yeah, frig it, I think I’ll ruin my life today.”  It was a series a little decisions, little dumb choices that added-up, that got you all tied in a friggin knot.  Like wit the gambling for him, and the drinking for me.  You cross a point and you just become powerless, and then you’re screwed; there ain’t no going back on your own.  The only thing you can do is admit you got a problem and ask for help.  You hadda admit it first, though.  You couldn’t blame nobody else, not your wife, not your boss, not the kooky doctor wit the lazy eye who made a living sticking a giant hose up a person’s ass.  Change starts from within, that’s what Dom always said at meetings.  The world might be screwed up and shit might not always be fair, but if you wanted to fix it, you hadda take control for yourself; no politician was coming in on some magical friggin horse and saving your sorry ass, not in a million freakin years.

So I guess Dom saw this when he looked at the kids at Eisenhower, saw a part of hisself.  And instead a throwing these little bastards out on their heads like I woulda done—and my pops, too—he set up the mediation wit the cops.  He set up a whole buncha stuff to help reach these kids and get them straightened out.  He started something called, um, restorative justice, where the kids hadda go back and repay the people they hurt so they could learn how their behavior effected other folks.  He also brought in these, um, whatchamacallits, positive behavior supports.  Instead of beating a kid’s friggin ass and throwing him out on the street for doing something screwed up . . . where he’d prob’ly just get in more trouble . . . Dom incentivized the good stuff they did, the stuff he wanted them to keep doing.  He started wit the little stuff like coming to school on-time wearing their uniform, or simply being prepared for class wit a notebook and a pencil.  After the craziness wit the brawl Dom made it a point to be there at the front doors every morning to greet the kids as they came in.  He’d joke wit them and ask how they was doing and when there was a problem, like when they wouldn’t put their bags through the metal detector or wear their uniforms, Dom wouldn’t scream and shout threats but simply pull them aside and talk to them real quiet like, talk to them like they was his own kid and explain why they needed to follow the rules.

The Kid was also real serious about safety.  He was compassionate but he also dropped the friggin hammer on somebody who didn’t respect the rules or who put somebody in, ah, harms way.  As the assistant principal, Dom was in charge a discipline and safety and whatnot, and all his rules had teeth, real teeth.  The Kid didn’t play around when it came to somebody breaking a rule, and that went for the students and the teachers.  I mean what I say, and I say what I mean he was fond a saying, at least that’s what he always wrote in his journal.  Dom didn’t tolerate no kinda weapon in his school, not a chance.  If a kid was stupid enough to bring in a gun or brass knuckles or box cutters—shit that the Gorilla would use on a guy who didn’t pay Tony what he owed or who tried to skim off the top—they got tossed out on their friggin ears, sent away to a whatchamacallit . . . alternative education placement.

But the thing was, see, Dom worked wit the parents and the community to make sure that stuff didn’t find it’s way into the building to begin wit.  At our addiction meetings, when the Kid would get up in front a the group and tell us about his week as A.P. of Eisenhower, he’d say that half the battle was fought outside a school . . . that what you did outside the building had a huge impact on what you could do inside the building.  Like wit those “safety corridors” he set up in the neighborhood so the students who really wanted to learn could get to school without getting jumped on by a buncha thugs and gangbangers and whatnot.  When you boiled it down to the, ah, bare essentials, that shit was the worst: young kids . . . poor colored or white trash, it didn’t matter . . . who wanted to get an education but got shot or stabbed or got their heads kicked-in by other jackasses who didn’t give a frig about nothing.  That was the worst.  Dom knew this, and he knew he hadda protect them.  So he worked wit moms and dads who was either outta work or worked at night and got them involved, got them to volunteer to stand on certain street corners and bridges and alleyways that was the most common routes to school.  They stood out there watching, making sure the sidewalks was safe where the students was walking, cellphones in hand in case they hadda quick call up the cops to report a beating or maybe a girl getting gripped-up by a pervert wit a boner.

Don’t ask me how the Kid did it, cause I don’t have no friggin clue.  But he did do it, that was the thing.  Like wit the students, Dom had this energy, this . . . what’s the word . . . presence, that made people wanna step up and help out.  Since the beginning a friggin time, since bears have been taking giant dumps in the woods, politicians have been writing policies and social workers have been working cases trying to get poor folks who are down and out to rise up above their circumstances, to get some kinda fire lit under their stinking asses and get them active in changing their sorry situations . . . all to no avail.  The large majority a poor folks are screwed, will be born poor, grow up poor, and die poor—so is the, ah, cycle a poverty.  There are a million and one reasons for it, and in the end I think it might be a disease, something real complex, kinda like drinking and gambling.  Anyways, somehow the Kid beat these odds and got poor and depressed moms and dads out there on the streets patrolling the routes to school for their teen sons and daughters in their very own neighborhoods.  He got them excited, gave them a purpose.

And wouldn’t you know it, stuff at Eisenhower started to change.

_______

The next year, 2009, right when the Phillies was about to go back to the World Series and lose to the scumbag Yankees in six friggin games, Mrs. Brown retired and the Kid became the principal of Eisenhower High School.  All the stuff the Kid started, all the safety programs and the positive behavior supports and whatnot, well, he ramped it all up another notch and Eisenhower started to turn into a respectable institution a learning.  This one website, called “Philly School Report Card” which was sponsored by the Philadelphia Post, gave a grade to all the public schools in Filthy-delphia, charters included, measuring stuff like attendance, safety, academics, graduation rate, and what have you.  Now, in years past, Eisenhower got like straight D’s and even an F or two on their report card, but by the spring of 2010, Eisenhower’s rating creeped its way up.  The school’s overall grade was a C+, and for the first time was removed from the State’s “persistently dangerous schools” list.  The Kid was so excited about this that he came to a meeting one night wit a printout a the report card, telling us wit pride that suspensions and expulsions was down something like 50 percent, that the state test scores in reading and writing and math was up, and so was the school’s attendance rate.  Now, I forget the exact numbers a the test scores, but I do recall that the Kid said that the attendance rate went from something like 63 percent all the way up to I think 77 percent, which meant that more than three-quarters a the students was showing up for school everyday.

As usual, everybody at the meeting cheered and clapped for the Kid, and I remember seeing Gordon W., the Kid’s sponsor, standing in the back all teary-eyed; Dom just had that effect on people.  Gordon was trying his best not to cry but he couldn’t help it, and like halfway through Dom’s “share out” wit the group Gordon excused hisself to go to the restroom cause he supposedly had something in his contact lens.  This was in April . . . I remember cause it was a week after Easter . . . and the next month, in May—the month of the Blessed Virgin Mother, Mary—the Kid won principal a the year for the Philadelphia Unified School District.  Yes, you’s guys guessed it, they threw him a big fancy award dinner and gave him a plaque that said 2009-2010 Principal of the Year on it.  They also gave the Kid a check for $10,000 that he could use anyway he wanted at Eisenhower; Dom said he was gonna spend it on equipment for Eisenhower’s track and field program that Dom was trying to get up and running.

I never went to any a the Kid’s award dinners, cause it wouldn’t look good if a guy like me showed up at something like this; I’d usually catch them on the eleven o’ clock news.  But I missed the news that night, cause I was out wit the Gorilla trying to collect a buncha cash for Tony from this jag-off coke dealer who had taken out a loan for $7,000 so he could put a new roof on his house and get his three kids a coupla ice cream cones from Dairy Queen . . . or so was his sob story; he wasn’t fooling nobody, though, cause me and the Gorilla knew the money went right up his friggin nose.  But the guy didn’t wanna pay, and so I hadda get involved in person—I hadda break out the heavy equipment, the power drill and whatnot—which is why I missed the Kid’s award dinner on the news.  The whole time I was roughing this clown up I was thinking a the Kid and all his successes at the high school, the colored kids showing up and working out quadratic equations and all, and as I was drilling-out the guy’s kneecaps I couldn’t help but wondering if the mayor would be there this time, or the superintendent, or the State Congress people.

Turns out they was all there, all a them, sitting right up at the head table wit the Kid, yucking it up and slapping butter on the rolls and gobbling down the drumsticks—meat hanging outta their greasy mouths.  U.S. Rep. Barry Al Akbar was there, the scumbag, and at one point this jag-off had the balls to stand up in the middle a the dinner and go up on stage and clink his knife on his wine glass and propose a toast to all a Dom’s great work and his, um, dedication to the children a Filthy-delphia.  Dom told me about the whole thing the next day on the phone.  So Al Akbar goes up on stage and says something like, “Let’s have a toast to Dominic Rossetti, a man who makes a difference in the lives a so many famb’lies and children,” and he smiles at Dom and raises his glass.  Then the prick changes gears and starts talking all about hisself and how his polices was the ones that was making all the difference, how he was the one who started the “safety corridors” that worked so well for the Eisenhower community, and how he was the one who supposedly had something to do wit Dom getting the job as principal, and all kinds of other made-up horseshit.

This pissed the Kid off to no end.  Thankfully, though, it didn’t hurt the Kid’s morale in the least, and if anything, it just made Dom wanna push even harder to make Eisenhower a great school, which he did.  Dom worked the whole summer through without any friggin air conditioning, pulling 10 hour days and even working on Saturdays, organizing teams of students and parents to pick up litter and scrub the graffiti off the walls, paint murals, clean out book rooms and closets, and all kinds of, um, school beautification projects.  He hired this one computer guy he knew from college to come in and update and recalibrate Eisenhower’s computers and laptops, got folks from book fairs to donate and replace textbooks and novels.  The Kid didn’t care if he got dirty, neither.  Half the time he did the work hisself, landscaping the school grounds, pulling weeds and whatnot, and he even helped plant a garden in the back a the school where they grew I think zucchinis or radishes or some kinda vegetable.

For lunch, the Kid even put the zucchinis on his friggin salad, right from the garden.  Swear to friggin Christ.

The Kid put his money where his mouth was.

Part 4 

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