Classrooms To Cupcakes: Two Principals Exchange Old Careers For New (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Classrooms To Cupcakes: Two Principals Exchange Old Careers For New

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
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

00:00:18
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

00:00:37
Adele Cothorne cuts up chunks of slippery, glistening white cream cheese to weigh.

MS. ADELE COTHORNE

00:00:43
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

00:00:51
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

00:00:59
I might bake 700 or 800 and then on Saturday, we pretty much lose count.

CARDOZA

00:01:05
Cothorne delights in dreaming up new cupcake varieties. There's a pomegranate martini cupcake, a bacon cupcake, and even a fried chicken cupcake.

COTHORNE

00:01:14
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.

CARDOZA

00:01:27
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

00:01:53
And so I did jump on with the Michelle Rhee bandwagon, and was really hoping for true, strong reform for the school system.

CARDOZA

00:02:00
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.

CARDOZA

00:02:14
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.

COTHORNE

00:02:38
I loved the kids, of course, because they always come to you as they are. No hidden agendas.

CARDOZA

00:02:45
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.

COTHORNE

00:02:54
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.

CARDOZA

00:03:16
Both former principals say they received little support from DCPS's Central office.

COTHORNE

00:03:21
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.

CARDOZA

00:03:38
Kerlina says one incident in particular still upsets him.

KERLINA

00:03:42
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.

CARDOZA

00:03:53
He says no one from the central office ever contacted him, so he decided to send everyone home.

KERLINA

00:03:59
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?

CARDOZA

00:04:08
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.

CARDOZA

00:04:29
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.

COTHORNE

00:04:56
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.

CARDOZA

00:05:10
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.

KERLINA

00:05:26
Who knows what will happen in the future? I'm only 40, but certainly DCPS will not be in my future.

CARDOZA

00:05:34
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.

SHEIR

00:05:54
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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