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D.C. School Featured In Documentary
A former D.C. principal talks about the challenges of educating students

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Tanishia Williams Minor is the former principal of Washington Metropolitan High school, an alternative school in D.C. She now works for New York Public Schools.
Courtesy of Tanishia Williams Minor
Tanishia Williams Minor is the former principal of Washington Metropolitan High school, an alternative school in D.C. She now works for New York Public Schools.

A new education documentary set in Washington, D.C. airs Monday on public television stations across the country. It's called 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School. The four-hour documentary follows five students from Washington Metropolitan High School or DC Met, as it's called. It shows what life is like inside this alternative high school in northwest D.C. and how the approximately 250 students struggle to overcome obstacles before they can graduate.

Tanishia Williams Minor is the former principal of the school. The documentary follows her efforts to raise test schools and get students to apply to college, as well as try and reduce truancy and fights at school. She now works for New York Public Schools and spoke to WAMU 88.5 special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza about her time in D.C. Following are highlights of their conversation.

There are scenes of you teaching cheerleaders a chant, encouraging educators, and looking at data scores. You are such a compelling character in the documentary. Were you a good principal?

"I think I was a great principal. I think that I was able to rally folks together to do good work. We really had students who were successful, who overcame obstacles, and that to me, is what makes a good principal... A success in and of itself was the fact that all of the students showed up to take the test, and all of the students participated in outside preparation classes. The truth of the matter is, no we weren't able to move students from a third grade level to 10th grade proficiency. Or even in some cases, from an eighth grade level to 10th grade proficiency. But what we were able to do was ensure that every single student got better, and that to me is a success."

Toward the end of the documentary, your contract was not renew — basically, you were fired. Why?

"I was never given a formal reason. I don't like to use the work fired, I prefer to say that my contract was not renewed, but to this date, I have not actually had a conversation with someone surrounding the termination of my contract."

"Part of the job of the principal is to rally the troops behind a common cause, so when all of a sudden the main cheerleader for that common cause is removed, as a professional, I'm going to question, 'does that mean what I've been doing all year is wrong?' As a student, you're going to question, 'does that mean I shouldn't have listened to this adult all year long?' So folks start to get disengaged, and they start to feel desensitized, because they feel like, 'oh, well you might not be here at the end of the year,' or 'oh, it doesn't really matter, I just need to wait you out.'"

What do you hope people will take away from the documentary?

"You know, it was tough when my contract was not renewed, and I had to have the conversation with my close circle, I had to have the conversation with my mother, I had to have the conversation with even the film crew... there was a point where I was like, 'I'm sorry, you chose a horrible principal because clearly, I'm bad, I couldn't even make it to the end of the year.' Now that I'm getting past all of those things, I think what I really want people to take away is that, it's OK, to know that you're doing the right thing, in spite of folks telling you that you need to do it a certain way. And it'll end up being OK because you'll have 100 percent of your seniors graduate, you'll have 100 percent of your seniors go to college. It doesn't matter that you said the wrong thing, you looked too fat, or that everyone in the world knows that you got fired, because the work that you did speaks for itself."

Listen to the full conversation here.


[Music: "Moody Alarms" by Bryan Russo]

Watch 180 Days : A Year Inside an American High School Episode 1 on PBS. See more from 180 Days.

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