MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, presumably those party people who hit up Tastee's in the wee small hours will eat their eggs and wolf down their waffles and then stagger home to hit the hay somewhere around the crack of dawn. And that, as it happens, is right around the time the people we'll meet next are getting their day started.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Adele Cothorne and Bill Kerlina used to be principals with D.C. Public Schools. And last June, they both left their jobs. Not for another school system, but for the gourmet cupcake business and the extremely early hours that business requires. Kavitha Cardoza brings us their story.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Adele Cothorne cuts up chunks of slippery, glistening white cream cheese to weigh.
MS. ADELE COTHORNE
I use a scale because I've learned when you're producing large batches, it doesn't help to use measuring spoons.
MS. ADELE COTHORNE
She wakes up at 4:00 in the morning to begin a long day. At the beginning of the week, she bakes about 500 cupcakes a day. But by Friday...
MS. ADELE COTHORNE
I might bake 700 or 800 and then on Saturday, we pretty much lose count.
Cothorne delights in dreaming up new cupcake varieties. There's a pomegranate martini cupcake, a bacon cupcake, and even a fried chicken cupcake.
So it's a cornmeal cupcake with a chicken nugget breast inside of it, topped with maple butter cream and drizzled with maple syrup. If you like the savory and the sweet, it's the perfect cupcake for you.
Opening Cooks 'n Cakes Bakery has been a leap of faith for Cothorne. She was an educator for 16 years in Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery County school districts. But she says one year as principal of Noyes Education Campus in Northeast D.C. was enough for her. Last year she left a $127,000 job with DCPS to start a gourmet cupcake business along with another disillusioned principal, Bill Kerlina.
MR. BILL KERLINA
And so I did jump on with the Michelle Rhee bandwagon, and was really hoping for true, strong reform for the school system.
Both Kerlina and Cothorne were hired by former chancellor, Michelle Rhee, but left under current chancellor, Kaya Henderson. At least 17 principals are leaving DCPS this year, and a majority of them were hired by the former chancellor.
Kerlina has 17 years of experience in education, mostly in Montgomery County. He was head of Hearst Elementary School in Northwest D.C. for two years. Both he and Cothorne stayed a far shorter time than the average five-year tenure of an urban public school principal. But both these former school administrators brighten when they recall their teachers, principals and especially the children.
I loved the kids, of course, because they always come to you as they are. No hidden agendas.
Ask them what they didn't like and they answer almost in unison. It's what they call DCPS's extreme, intense, overwhelming focus on testing.
Just because you teach it on Monday at 2:00 and the kids don't get it, doesn't mean they're not going to get it Saturday at 3:00 pm, when a light bulb when they're at soccer practice. But we have gotten to a point that every child in that class must get it by Monday at 2:00 because we're going to test Tuesday morning at 9:00 and so you must have it. That's not natural learning.
Both former principals say they received little support from DCPS's Central office.
If your numbers don't look right, you're going to get a phone call or a nasty email, even though you're there 12-14 hours a day, sometimes getting advice from people who have never walked in your shoes. For me, personally, it was way too much.
Kerlina says one incident in particular still upsets him.
The power went out at our school and it was rainy and cold and completely dark and I ended up asking the Sidwell principal if we could move our students over there.
He says no one from the central office ever contacted him, so he decided to send everyone home.
I got my hand slapped. But if nobody calls from the central office, and I'm at a privately funded school who can only host me four hours, what am I supposed to do?
DCPS doesn't offer any explanations about why principals leave. In general, DCPS spokesperson Melissa Salmanowitz says DCPS takes several issues into consideration, including test scores, family and community satisfaction, school culture and enrollment figures. But she says the focus is always on what's best for students.
But research from the Wallace Foundation shows what's called principal churn creates serious problems for a school. Students, teachers and parents have to get used to the new person's priorities and new relationships have to be formed. Plus, there's always the danger staffers believe they don't need to do things differently because the new principal will leave soon as well.
I'm about to melt some semi-sweet chocolate that is going to go in the middle of the s'mores cupcake and then top it with a marshmallow topping and some graham crackers. It's delicious.
Cothorne says it's ironic the cupcakes she baked as gifts to cheer up her teachers have become her fulltime career. She says it was hard to leave her job in education, even though she would never go back to being a principal. For his part, Kerlina hasn't completely closed the door on returning.
Who knows what will happen in the future? I'm only 40, but certainly DCPS will not be in my future.
Kerlina says he walked away from a $95,000 job and is making hardly any money now. Still, he believes he has something even more sweet, something that makes it easier to get out of bed early in the morning, a renewed sense of purpose. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
To see a slideshow of Bill Kerlina and Adele Cothorne at work in their cupcake shop, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
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