Leading ladies: Francine Deal (right) and Christine Black (left) talk with senior Sijo Kurian, 18, in the hallway of George Washington High School. The new co-interim principals were named last week, and now oversee 1,800 students. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO
Christine Black and Francine Deal are laying down the law at George Washington High School.
The two veteran educators were named co-interim principals at the school last week.
The women, both with 45 years of experience in the School District of Philadelphia, have been on site since Dec. 8.
They replaced Gene Jones, whose last day was Dec. 7.
That day, three male students burst into a classroom to try to take a cell phone from a female student. When the teacher tried to intervene, he was beaten.
The brawl was the latest incident at Washington, and it led to the ouster of Jones, who was in his third year at the school. He remains a school district employee, assigned to the district’s Center City headquarters.
People inside the school who want to see a positive learning environment have spoken of fights, assaults, students cutting class and pulling fire alarms and general insubordination. Often, they say, incidents were not reported. And sometimes when they were reported, there were no consequences.
Enter Black and Deal.
“Franny and I work as a team,” Black said.
Black and Deal have worked as co-principals at a half-dozen other schools when the principal left for one reason or another.
They are not overwhelmed at Washington.
“We’ve seen much worse,” Deal said.
Still, they are overseeing a school with 1,800 students.
“Our goal here at Washington is working on restoring the procedures for staff and students,” Black said. “The students truly want to learn. We want to concentrate on the children and students so they are happy and safe and achieving.”
The decision to replace Jones came four days after state Rep. Mark Cohen wrote a letter to Superintendent William Hite.
Cohen said he heard complaints about kids roaming hallways, smoking pot and cigarettes and disrupting classes. Many young people in Washington’s catchment area, he said, do whatever they can to avoid going to the school.
The lawmaker said Jones lost control at the school.
“I strongly recommend that Mr. Jones be transferred out of George Washington High School and that a new principal be appointed in his place,” Cohen wrote.
Black has worked as an elementary school principal, guidance counselor and supervisor of student teachers at Rosemont College.
Deal has more than 20 years experience as a principal, along with 23 years as a teacher. She’s also mentored new principals and taught college classes for aspiring principals.
The women work a rotating schedule at Washington.
“Christine and I speak every evening at length,” Deal said. “We text during the day, and plan together in the evening.”
So far, they’ve had a positive experience.
“I find the students to be excellent students and not a behavior problem,” Deal said. “They’re really nice. We’re trying to provide a safe and conducive learning environment for them.”
The principals also like the makeup of the staff, which includes several teachers who are Washington alums who recall the school’s good ol’ days.
“They’re willing to work with us to make it like it used to be,” Deal said.
“We’re working to empower the staff,” Black said.
Deal said that, before she and Black arrived, the school was loose in enforcing rules.
That has changed. The principals wrote a letter last Friday to parents and guardians.
“The administration will be following ALL policies and procedures,” the letter stated.
No student will be permitted into the school before 7:20 a.m.
Anyone arriving after 10 a.m. must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and will be marked with a half-day absence.
Students will not be allowed to wear scarves, hoodies, hats or other headgear.
Cell phones must be placed in book bags or lockers at the start of school and retrieved only at dismissal. Students can make calls from a counselor’s office. Parents can call the main office to reach their children.
Many students have been leaving school and returning later in the day.
“This is unacceptable!” the principals’ letter read.
Now, any students who leave during the day will be readmitted only if they are accompanied by a parent of guardian.
School district police patrol Washington, and Black and Deal have already met with Capt. Mike Gormley, commander of the 7th Police District. They are open to providing the 7th district with an office, if necessary, but are pleased to know that officers are on call.
“We’re there if they need us,” Gormley said.
Gormley explained that two officers are assigned to patrol the exteriors of schools throughout the district during school hours.
“They concentrate on the area around Washington,” Gormley said.
Gormley added that additional personnel are deployed at dismissal.
Seth Kaplan, a 2003 Washington graduate and the president of the Somerton Civic Association, said his group will support any effort to improve the school. The teachers are good, he said, but need support.
Kaplan said he hasn’t heard many complaints from neighbors about fighting or vandalism, unlike what Mayfair residents deal with when Abraham Lincoln lets out.
Still, the Somerton Civic Association Facebook page features negative comments about Washington, though they are generally limited to happenings inside the school.
Kaplan, whose dad, Jay, taught at Washington, said the school was once considered elite. Today, standardized test scores are down and the mayhem is exacerbated by the fact that some security cameras in the hallways do not work.
“It’s sad to see the decline in the school. It has a great tradition and a great history,” Kaplan said. “They need to get their house in order. I think parents need to be more engaged.”
Indeed, a parents meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 16, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the library. Among those in attendance will be Dion Betts, an assistant superintendent.
Rosemary Hatcher, a regional Home and School Association president, will try to re-start a group at Washington.
Also speaking will be Sherry Williams, coordinator of the Parent Family Engagement Neighborhood Network #8.
Black and Deal, of course, will be there, too.
The two principals will serve until the school district selects a permanent replacement.
In the meantime, they want to leave Washington in better shape than they found it.
“We’re open for anybody’s suggestions,” Black said. “Whatever anyone needs, we’re a phone call away.” ••
Time for change: Francine Deal (left) and Christine Black (right) were named co-interim principals at George Washington High School last week. The former principal was ousted after a recent classroom brawl, which is the latest in a string of assaults. There have also been complaints about students cutting class, smoking pot and cigarettes, and general insubordination. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO