Washington High interim principal ready to focus on students
Carlos Grant fears teacher-student sex scandal could overshadow what's best for kids
CEDAR RAPIDS — With less than a week until Washington High students head back to school, newly-named interim Principal Carlos Grant said the Washington community needs to direct its attention back to students’ well-being.
Washington High students, parents and alumni are still waiting for answers about the teacher-student sex scandal that led to the sudden retirements of both 35-year Principal Ralph Plagman and 21-year Associate Principal Mike Johnson in recent weeks. District officials are still investigating that situation.
“The reality is, because of all the complications behind this situation, we may never know all the details of it,” Grant said. “My fear is that that overshadows what’s best for kids. To me, that would be just so unfortunate because we’ve got so many kids that need us.”
Grant, who was principal at Metro Alternative High last school year, started as the district’s executive director of personalized learning and middle level education on July 1. In that role, he oversaw the district’s six middle schools, as well as Metro.
But he felt he had to apply for the interim role at Washington High, he said, given his skill set and the limitations of the district’s search. The interim principal position was posted for one week and was open only to internal candidates.
“I’m a team player,” Grant said during a Tuesday news conference. “I believe — and the way that I was raised my morals say — that as a team, if you have a skill or something that can contribute to your organization, you do as such.”
Before joining the Cedar Rapids district, Grant worked as a K-12 charter school principal in South Carolina and a middle and high school assistant principal in North Carolina. He was a high school teacher for six years and earned a doctoral degree from University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Grant said he has no plans to apply to be the school’s principal when the job is posted in January and is to resume his work as an executive director for the district come next July.
While Grant is at Washington, his district-level work is to be folded into Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering’s work around innovation and school improvement, Pickering said in an email.
“I want to make it very, very clear that the role that I’m in right now is as the interim principal at Washington High School,” Grant said at the news conference. “(I will) help and engage the community to find the long-term principal because I’m going to be eventually transitioning back.”
The vacancy at Washington High was created when Plagman, 72, retired Aug. 2 after he said district officials asked him to leave in the midst of a district investigation into how his administration handled claims that substitute teacher Mary Beth Haglin, 24, was having sex with a student.
Members of the Washington community quickly voiced their displeasure with the move — rallying outside the school and dominating the school board meeting on Aug. 8. The retirement of Johnson, 57, was announced the day after the board meeting.
“I aspire to positively impact the lives of children as they have in their careers,” Grant said of Plagman and Johnson’s decades at the school. “I think it is important that we acknowledge their legacy and prepare our minds to welcome students in the coming week.”
Grant said he is going to strive to maintain the traditions created under Plagman.
“I do not anticipate a lot of change,” Grant said. “My mind-set and vision for this year is to be a learner and understand what it means to be a Warrior.”
Many Washington High students, particularly seniors, expressed doubt in the wake of Plagman’s departure on social media that anyone could adequately replace him.
One of those upset seniors, Chloe Sauer, 17, said she’s hopeful about Grant’s hire. Her friends at Metro Alternative High told her Washington is lucky to have him, she said.
“I think he’s probably one of the best picks we could have gotten,” Chloe said.
Grant said he’s anticipating a wide range of emotions from students as they return from summer break on Tuesday.
“We have to be prepared, I have to be prepared, for what those emotions are going to be like and take kids where they are,” he said.
Grant is meeting with Washington High’s remaining administrators — Darius Ballard and Valerie Nyberg — and some Washington parents and students this week, he said.
“I’m not above learning, and I think I have a lot of experiences and things to give to this building and this community, but I’m still a learner,” Grant said. “I consider myself to be the first learner in the building, and hopefully kids will pick up on that mantra.”
But learning every student’s name — as Plagman was known for doing during each student’s freshman year — isn’t in Grant’s wheelhouse yet, he said.
“I’ll tell you, I’m going to try my darnedest. One good strategy is to stand by the cafeteria machine as kids go by and watch when their names come up,” Grant said, alluding to one of Plagman’s well-known memorization tricks.
“That’s a good way to learn. A wise person told me that.”
Dr. Grant’s full comments to the media;
Welcome to Washington High School,
Since it opened in 1957, Cedar Rapids Washington High School has grown to be a perennial provider of high-quality instruction. It has been recognized nationally for its successes. Our school team, which includes teachers, administrators, and support staff, believe that all students should be prepared for post-secondary education and should pursue the most rigorous academic programs in high school that they can successfully handle. Washington offers a wide array of recognitions to help encourage academic achievement from all students. At Washington High School, we celebrate the rich diversity that characterizes our school community.
Likewise, numerous co-curricular activities are offered at Washington and students are also strongly encouraged to participate in the more than two dozen clubs available to for them. Our Warrior Nation has a strong community support system anchored by four extraordinary parent-based groups. The Parent Teacher Association, Washington Athletic Club, Patrons of the Performing Arts, and Friends of Forensics all regularly step up to provide extensive support to students and staff.
We know that Washington High School is an important and historic educational landmark in the greater Cedar Rapids community. As such, our students are groomed by the vision of its leaders. It is important that we all share in this aim. This will require a community focused on inspiring all members to grow academically, socially, and emotionally within a safe, caring, and nurturing environment. In challenging students and staff toward excellence, we support a collaborative and cooperative school striving for enthusiasm and joy in learning. We are respectful of the vast diversity of individuals and groups, and we teach the values of our democratic society. Kindness, respect, honesty, and cooperation are central to our success as a community of learners.
I have come to understand and respect these aspects of Washington High School through my interactions with Ralph Plagman and Mike Johnson. They have contributed to the success of this school in many ways. I aspire to positively impact the lives of children as they have in their careers. I think it is important that we acknowledge their legacy and prepare our minds to welcome students in the coming week.
Please know that I pride myself on being an educational champion. I deeply believe that we have a responsibility to prepare citizens with the ability to thrive in this world. I have a personal mission to aid in reversing the systematic cycle of poverty which is the source of many social ills. It is life or death for many of our students in this country, and I believe that education is the new currency. My purpose in life is to stand in the gap for our children and prevent systemic failures from blocking their high-level access to opportunities.
In the coming days and weeks, I will be engaged in a learning tour with the Washington community. This includes in-depth meetings with Dr. Nyberg and Mr. Ballard. They have been working diligently with teachers and staff to prepare for the start of the school year. I am developing and will soon share a plan outlining the structure of my work this fall as Interim-Principal. This plan may change as I learn more about the school community and surrounding neighborhood. As with any improvement plan, frequent and intentional review of key metrics are needed to formatively assess our progress.
Our school community is going through a metamorphic stage in leadership and I plan to work diligently to maintain the rich traditions here at Washington, while still focusing on school improvement efforts. During this time, our organization will engage in a robust process to find the next innovative leader for our school. I want to stress that my role is to be a strong instructional leader during this interim time as
we work together in support of the Washington Warrior community. During this year, I will be focused on three primary goals:
Goal 1: Establish and nurture positive and productive relationships with the members of the Washington High School family in order to better understand and maintain the history, norms, values and traditions of the school community-at-large.
Goal 2: Establish a foundation for continuous school improvement by identifying strengths and opportunities of the school and school community and create systems to that support a thriving and successful learning community.
Goal 3: Rally the Washington High School Family towards achieving goals outlined in organization’s Theory of Action