Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 11

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 11 of 25

While me and the Gorilla was running all over creation trying to find a building for Tony’s charter school, the Kid was spending a lot a his time attending Eisenhower’s, whatdoyacallit, extra curricular activities.  That May, he went to the prom, and a buncha baseball games, and even to some a the track meets.  This one track meet, the District XII Championships, it was a big deal cause the girl, Tamarra, she had qualified to run the mile and the Kid was real excited about watching her.  Tamarra was doing real good, and the Kid had gotten her pretty straightened out by springtime.  Her and the Kid kept meeting once a day in his office, and her intrusive thoughts about what she’d seen New Year’s Eve was almost all gone.  She wasn’t scratching herself no more, neither.  She was living wit her father in West Philly and had gotten in a regular routine, doing her visualization and deep breathing exercises, studying hard in school; Tamarra actually made Eisenhower’s honor roll for the third marking period.

The thing that really got it all to fall in place, though, the thing that kept the girl centered and on the right path, was running track.  It was crazy how things worked.  In January, when the girl was hanging on to her sanity by a thread, when she was having all that anxiety and crazy thoughts about seeing her mom’s brains blowed all over the place, when she would burst out crying in class outta nowhere, Dom had suggested to her to go out for the track team, just to keep her mind occupied.  Dom wrote in his journal that he said this just on a . . . on a whim, not really thinking the girl would go and do it; most a the students at Eisenhower weren’t big on sports.  Plus, at the time, the track team wasn’t really much to brag about, cause Dom had just brought the program back to Eisenhower that year after not having one for a long time.

The guy that Dom got to coach the track team—this young colored kid, who also taught history at Eisenhower—he was like a friggin guru when it came to coaching track.  I think his name was Reed, Lamar Reed.  Well, this Reed kid not only got the girl Tamarra into running, but managed to build a pretty respectable track and field team at Eisenhower High School that year.  Eisenhower didn’t have no track, so Reed hadda build one outta scratch, outta thin air, and he did.  He cleaned up the vacant side parking lot next to the school and used one a those odometer things, a whatdoyacallit . . .  surveyor’s wheel . . . to measure out a 400 meter oval track, and then spray painted lanes right on the blacktop.  On the side field he dug out one a those long jump pits—had the students fill it wit sand—and made a runway and a takeoff board.  Wit Dom’s help Reed was able to also buy a buncha used track equipment, like rebuilt hurdles, a high jump pad and bar, a tape measure, and even a shot-put and one a those frisbee looking things . . . a discus.

Reed held fundraisers to get enough cash to buy warm-ups and uniforms for the kids, which was, according to Dom’s journal, the karat that kept them coming out to practice.  See, the kids loved the warm-ups—the nifty sweat jackets wit Eisenhower Track sowed on the back, their name and year of graduation sowed on the front.  The jackets prob’ly made the kids feel like they was a part of something, like they was a mini famb’ly, gave them direction and purpose; they didn’t need to join no gang since they was already part a the track team.  Course, it wasn’t just the jackets that made the track team—which was boys and girls by the way, a coed squad—feel proud.  They was actually good, which was a compliment to Coach Reed, who Dom said was like a Vince Lombardi a running.  They had a handfula boys and girls who was winning medals at meets, and as a team, they was prob’ly like fourth or fifth best outta 30 teams in the Philadelphia Public League.  This wasn’t bad, being that the program was only in its first year.

The practices and workouts, they was pretty tough, I guess, or so Dom said.  In the late fall, when the team first started, Coach Reed had the kids doing all this distance running, but he kinda tricked them into doing it, making it fun, making it into these competitions so the kids wouldn’t get bored and whatnot.  He had them running laps around the makeshift track in the parking lot, and even took them out in the school van to Fairmount Park so they could run on trails, run up hills and all that.  Slowly they started getting in shape, and soon was going on like six and even eight mile runs, and they started to like it, cause they was a team, a famb’ly, and they was proving something to themselves and each other.  And when the weather got real cold, like from December to the beginning a March, they ran inside Eisenhower in the halls, even jumping hurdles inside, and practiced handoffs, and practiced how to start—Coach Reed telling the kids, Ready, set, go!

Tamarra joined the team in January, and from the start, she ran her guts out.  The Kid would watch the practices, cause they was right there in the hallways, and he wrote in his journal that Tamarra, ah, inspired him.  She ran hard, he wrote, put it all out there on the line, every practice, every day.  So did most a the kids on the team, if you’s guys can believe that.  I know a lot a people think that poor people is poor cause they is lazy, that they deserve the life they got, but these kids . . . they wasn’t lazy . . . not when it came to running, at least.  Course, Tamarra was the hardest worker on the team, and I think if I recall what Dom said correctly, she never missed a single practice or workout, not a single one.  Sometimes she ran till she puked, or till she broke down crying.  Now, I actually seen her crying at practice one time, I actually seen it.

I came up to see Dom at Eisenhower once that winter, cause I needed to talk to him about this thing wit Tony . . . he was trying to get that $100,000 advance on the charter school money . . . and while I was waiting for the Kid to come outta his office, I was standing there watching these kids running through the halls, Coach Reed in sweats shouting out times from his stopwatch.  They was running fast, from one end a the hall to the other, back and forth, like five or six times in a row; later, Dom told me they was doing something called 600 meter repeats.  But at the end, instead a stopping, the runners hadda turn and go up the steps, all the way up three flights to the third floor.  They was all looking real tired, and some a the kids was slowing down a lot, but not Tamarra.  She was still running hard, and she was up front wit the boys, and the coach was yelling, “Come on Tamarra, push it now,” and even I could see she was feeling it, that she was in pain cause she was near her limit.  She kept running, though, and headed up the steps, and Coach Reed was telling her to dig down deep and finish strong.

She kept pushing as hard as she could, up one flight, then two, and as she was getting to the top she starting crying, cause it hurt—I could see her legs was like sandbags and her lungs was on fire—but she wouldn’t submit to the pain.  She ran through the pain, and when she was done and finally at the top, she had no shame and just cried, bent over and put her hands on her hips, crying and sucking wind.  Coach Reed came over and told her great job, that she had incredible heart, and after five minutes worth a recovery, she was back doing another one.  After the practice, I heard Coach Reed say to Tamarra, “You gotta hurt all week in practice so you don’t have to hurt in the race,” and she musta believed him, cause according to Dom, she got faster and faster as the season went on.  For some reason, I don’t know why, I remember the times she ran from reading them in the Kid’s journal; for a while, when I was in my 40’s, I would run for one mile on the treadmill and could barely break 10 minutes.

Anyways, the girl Tamarra ran a 5:47 mile in her first race, than a 5:39, than a 5:31.  By the end a the season, she was running around 5:22, but she was stuck there . . . she couldn’t get under 5:20 no matter what she did.  Then came the District XII Championships, the race that could qualify her for the PIAA State Championships.  She would have to run under 5:20 to have a chance to qualify for States, which was one a her, ah, personal goals.

Dom was at this race up in the stands, like I says, all excited; he told me about the whole thing later that night after one of our addiction meetings over a cup a coffee, and I’m gonna do my best to repeat what he told me.  So anyways, the Kid said the mile run was the 8th event a the meet, so he hadda wait about two hours before he got to see Tamarra run.  When the race finally went off, though, it was a . . . howdoyasayit . . . nail biter.  The top two finishers would automatically qualify for states no matter what their times was; course, the top two seeds in the race was running a 5:16 and a 5:19.  The Kid said Coach Reed had talked to Tamarra and explained that she needed to go out wit the top two girls and stay right wit them, to stay right on their heels until the last 50 meters and then turn on the gas and try to go by them.  Tamarra, see, had more speed than the other two girls, but she was a little bit younger and hadn’t been running as long, and didn’t have as much strength.  But if she ran a smart race, if she hung back on the two front girls and let them lead most a the race, she had a chance to maybe win and qualify for States.

The gun went off and right away, everybody was cheering and on their feet, the Kid and Coach Reed included.  The first two laps Tamarra did just what Coach Reed told her, she stayed right behind the front two girls, hanging back.  During the third lap the top two girls started pulling away, and for a while it looked like one a them was gonna win easy, but Tamarra held on and pulled right back behind them.  The final lap—the bell lap, as they say—was super exciting.  Tamarra stayed right wit the top two girls, and the three a them pulled way ahead a the pack.  Wit a half lap to go, one a the girls tied up and fell behind, leaving just Tamarra and the other girl fighting for first place.  It was a fast pace—the winner was set to run around a 5:15, the Kid said.  Right on cue, wit 50 meters to go, Tamarra made her move.  She turned on the gas, but so did the other girl.  The two dug down and gutted it out, giving it their all.  According to Dom, the whole place was going friggin crazy.

“Push it Tamarra!” Coach Reed shouted, and the two was neck-in-neck, pumping their arms and gritting their teeth, their faces twisted wit pain, and wit about 10 feet to go—so close to the finish line they coulda reached out and grabbed it—Tamarra fell down.  Course, I wasn’t there to see it, but the way the Kid described it, it was a goddamn shame.  See, Tamarra’s mind was ahead a her body, or so the Kid said.  I think his exact words were: her mind said go, but her body said no.  What actually happened was that she was going so fast down the finish that she could no longer get her own legs under her body and she lost her balance and fell forward, right onto her face.  When she hit the ground the whole crowd a people watching went ooohhh at once, like they’d been slugged in the gut.  The girl that Tamarra was right next to ended up winning in a time of 5:14.  Second place was the girl who was right behind Tamarra when she fell and she ran I think a 5:17.  Tamarra did her best to get up and finish, but by then she was third in a time of 5:23 or 5:24, I forget what it was exactly.

The Kid ran down to the track wit Coach Reed to meet Tamarra as she left the infield.

“Great race Tamarra, really great job,” Dom said.  “You should be so proud of yourself.”

“We’ll get ‘em next year,” Coach Reed said, and gave Tamarra a hug.

“Thanks,” Tamarra said, wiping her eyes.

Course, there would be no track team next year, cause Tony’ charter school would suck so much cash from Eisenhower’s budget, the Kid would be forced to drop the entire program.

_______

At the end of May the Kid ended up finding a building to use for his uncle Tony’s charter school.  It was the old Langston Hughes Elementary School in South Philly, which was shut down by the Philadelphia Unified School District the year before cause enrollment was low.  See, the District was experiencing a howdoyasayit—a financial crisis . . . they was like $300 million in debt, I kid you’s not . . . and they had hired this fancy consulting group to help figure out a way to balance the budget and make things work.  The financial planner was called the Global Achievement Consulting Group, or some such nonsense, and the District was paying them I think $4 million to come up wit a report of recommendations about how to fix the District’s financial problems.  The Kid said that these bigwig financial planner fellas spent like six months working on the report, sitting in a big room at the District central office in front of calculators and, ah, spreadsheets, mostly talking about cash, talking about who should get the money and who shouldn’t get the money, and at the end a the meetings, at the end a the six months sitting in the room, the District held a School Board meeting and announced the recommendations in their report.  Basically, the report said that about 30 city schools needed to be closed, cause too many a them was only like a quarter full, and they needed to put the resources into newer schools, charter schools, like Tony’s.  Course, the Kid explained to me that it was mostly cause a the new charter schools that the other neighborhood schools was only a quarter full to begin wit, but that’s a whole different story.

After a howdoyasayit—a unanimous School Board vote, the District closed down a buncha schools in Filthy-delphia, mostly in the colored neighborhoods.  It was actually a shame what the District was doing to the kids in these type a schools, bending the colored kids and their famb’lies over and ramming them up the keister, just throwing these kids outta their home schools and telling them they hadda now travel across town to go to some other school, maybe a charter, if they got accepted.  Member when I says that nowadays people was falling all over themselves to help the coloreds?  Member that?  Well, not in the Philadelphia Unified School District, I can tell you’s that.  See, the District was basically run by all coloreds—who was teamed up wit a buncha bigshot rich white people like the Governor—so they was able to get away wit sticking it to the coloreds.  It was all actually a pretty good racket, when ya think about it.  Tony woulda been proud.

Anyways, the building that used to be Langston Hughes Elementary was now just empty and collecting dust, cause the District was having trouble selling it.  That was also part a the recommendations a the Global Achievement Consulting Group—to sell off the buildings a the schools they shut down and bring in as much cash as possible for them.  Everybody on the School Board liked this idear, cause they all knew people who might want the buildings, and wit a little . . . what’s the word, negotiation, they could work out a deal that was good for everybody.  And the City Council people, including the mayor, whoa—they liked the idear, too.  They knew lots a people who could use these buildings, who could buy them up and turn them around in some type a scam.

Course, some a these buildings was real big and hard to heat and not in good shape, wit like mold in the ceiling and lead paint on the walls and whatnot, and not a lot a people was interested in buying them.  From what I read in the papers, the District was having a whole lot a trouble selling them and they was getting frustrated cause they was so broke.  This is how the Kid ended up using Langston Hughes Elementary for Tony’s charter school, how he was able to sign a three-year lease on the place for a total of $108,000 . . . which came to $3,000 a month for 36 months.  He hadda pay $36,000 for the first year, which ended-up coming outta Eisenhower’s budget, cause Tony wasn’t gonna part wit one single penny—not one penny—of his titty bar start-up cash.

Langston Hughes Elementary was actually a good building to use for Tony’s charter.  It was good and clean, wit no mold, asbestos, or lead paint anywhere in the joint.  It was small, just two floors, and could, according to the Kid, hold about 400 students total.  There was still a lot a school stuff inside there, too.  There was desks, and black boards, and these things called white boards—which was these electronic chalk boards that you could hook up to a computer and do all kinda crazy stuff on.  There was also other school supplies left over in a back room, like boxes a chalk, pens, pencils, paper, erasers, markers, paperclips, binders . . . just sitting there in a big stack, and the District said that Dom could use this stuff if he wanted, that it was part a the deal.

Now, on the second floor, in a giant storage closet, the Kid actually found even more stuff, and he wrote in his journal that he wasn’t sure if the District even knew it was there.  The District might a known it was there, but prob’ly not; the Kid said the District was so, um, disorganized that they didn’t know where half their shit was from one year to the next.  Anyways, upstairs in this storage closet was all these textbooks—stacks and stack a them—just sitting there on the floor in messy piles.  There was prob’ly 1,000 textbooks, the Kid said, maybe more.  All different kinds a books, old ones and newer ones, some a them math and some a them science, some English and some history.  Just sitting there, in stacks that was about to fall over.  There was also workbooks to go wit the textbooks, and these was in crooked stacks, too, covers missing on a few, pages falling outta others, there was even a bunch written on in permanent marker—prob’ly the work a some asshole graffiti artist.

On the other side a the storage closet, though, was what really messed wit the Kid’s head.  Stacked in a junk pile, up against the wall in the corner, was all this computer equipment.  Most a it was real old stuff, Gateway towers and monitors and whatnot.  It was all taken apart and just sitting in pieces . . . cords and wires here, a mouse and keyboard there.  There was some printers, too, maybe a dozen a them, just sitting collecting dust.  Dom said he went over to this stuff and tried to put it together, but it was so old that it was a waste a time; it would cost thousands a bucks just to upgrade the equipment and make it work wit the current technology.

There was no real surprises wit the rest a the school, though.  It would do just fine for Tony’s charter.  The Kid officially gave the address a the building to Willard Fairweather during the last week a May, and by the middle a June, World Peace Charter High School was back in good standing wit the Philadelphia Unified School Board and the State Department of Ed.

The Kid, as they say, was given the green light.

Part 12

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