MEDIA WATCH: 'New breed of principals' or corporate publicity hounds? Tribune slanders Marshall High School's veteran staff in touting 'turnaround'

Although it's nothing new for the Chicago Tribune, the May 24, 2011 story praising the "turnaround" of Marshall High School and the "turnaround" principal Kenyatta Stansberry is a good example for any journalism class in puffery piece reporting. As usual, all of the sources for the story are proponents of turnaround. As usual, the slanders in the lead-ins to the story are made without blushing ("students didn't get to class..."). And, as usual, the corporate version of reality is puffed — but importantly in a "news" story. The story, posted on the Tribune website on the evening of May 24, 2011, follows so that readers can get another example of how the Tribune published corporate propaganda as "news."

Just for the record, the Tribune reporter who wrote the story about the dramatic "turnaround" was not at Marshall High School "one year ago" and so would have no way — except from sources like Stansberry and Fraynd — of knowing that "fact" she's reporting about fights and hall chaos at the pre-turnaround Marshall High School.


Marshall High principal leading dramatic turnaround of school Her secret: She's tough, but shows she cares. By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Tribune reporter 9:08 p.m. CDT, May 24, 2011

A year ago, students at Marshall Metropolitan High School seemed oblivious to the class bell. They'd linger in the hallways, chat with friends, talk on cellphones.

Then last summer the adults in the building were fired, a new staff was brought on board and the state poured in millions of dollars to turn the school around.

Today, the bell rings and security guards usher students along. Four minutes into the break, the Chicago Bulls theme song kicks in as a warning and stragglers sprint. When class starts, the hallways are clear.

Marshall, one of the state's persistently lowest-performing high schools, is wrapping up the first year of the drastic process known as turnaround. At the same time, Chicago Public Schools is embarking on a turnaround of its own.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and incoming schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have promised dramatic interventions — including more turnarounds — for some of the city's chronically underperforming schools. They've also talked about developing strong principals who can drastically change the cultures of failing schools.

In fact, as educators across the country pay close attention to reform efforts at Marshall, this year's triumphs have been due in part to the tattooed, spiky-haired principal in 3-inch heels who walks the halls between classes, striking a measure of fear and respect.

"Put your IDs on," Kenyatta Stansberry hollers.

She grabs a student by the arm. "Baby, where's your shirt?" She helps him put on the maroon T-shirt, part of the school uniform. She gives the evil eye to another student who has worn blue pants instead of khakis for the second day in a row.

"Come on, y'all," she says. "Let's go."

Stansberry, 39, is among a new breed of principals charged with reforming some of the worst schools in CPS. This is her second turnaround high school. Where other educators run from buildings paralyzed by violence, chaos and virtually no learning, Stansberry thrives.

Once school's out, Stansberry, affectionately nicknamed "the Marine," doesn't let up. She patrols Facebook into the night, looking for signs of a brewing school fight or just to tell her students, "It's 11 p.m. Time to go to bed."

"The minute you slip up, the minute they think you're not paying attention, they're going to think, 'It's OK. We're about to get away,'" says the mother of two and former preschool teacher who now butts heads with the most challenging of CPS students. "You have to be consistent."

That consistency has helped Marshall, a school that habitually landed on the bottom rung of the state's high schools, show signs of improvement this year. Attendance has gone up by 22.7 percentage points. Seventy percent of freshmen are on track to graduate, up from 30 percent last year. Results for the most recent Prairie State Achievement Examination won't be available until July, but because of improved interim assessment scores, school officials expect significant gains over 2010, when only 2.6 percent of Marshall students met or exceeded standards.

The signs of change at Marshall are not due to Stansberry alone. She is bolstered by reading and math experts, data analyzers, beefed-up security, and extra social workers and counselors, a special turnaround staff not available to the average high school principal. Still, there's a reason CPS keeps turning to her to lead drastic makeovers.

"She has the unique ability to hold a student accountable without alienating them," said Don Fraynd, head of CPS' Office of School Improvement, which oversees the district's five turnaround schools. "She will not take any lip. She can defuse a hard-core gangbanger. You can put her in front of a crowd of angry parents and they'll settle down in 10 minutes."

Stansberry was an assistant principal at Dyett High School when she was tapped in 2007 to become a principal at Harper High School, a chronically failing school in Englewood. Her marching orders: Retake control of a school run by gangs.

On an average day, five or more fights would break out in the school, she said. One night, she went home and cried.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," she said. "I knew I had to have a plan. I called my assistant principals and said: 'No more suits and heels. We're going to wear gym shoes and jeans.' I meant business." In a school setting, she figured, sneakers and T-shirts would spur educators to become more active in the trenches.

She created hall sweeps at the school, penalizing students found in the hallways five minutes after the class bell rang. She coordinated with the local police commander to help at dismissal when many fights broke out. She talked to neighboring principals to take in her most difficult students. Thirty percent of Harper students would end up leaving.


May 27, 2011 at 5:41 PM

By: Jean R Schwab


One phrase caught my eye, "She talked other principals into taking her most difficult students. Thirty percent of the students left the school." Most schools would improve if thirty percent of the most difficult students left the school. Sorry for typing errors in any of my comments. I just get so focused on the ideas, I don't pay attention to the typing.

May 28, 2011 at 3:40 AM

By: John Kugler

Marshall Staff Fired and Blacklisted

Funny that the tribune did not mention the non-renewal and blacklisting of teachers at Marshall like at Austin. Plus the cover up and intimidation of teachers not to go to the media to report their loss of jobs.

Seems like the new educational model is:

if you do not fit, you must quit!


no kids, no teachers, great school!

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