Washburn principal Markham-Cousins reassigned

Removal "necessary now to restore the schoolÂ’s effective learning environment"

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Washburn Principal Carol Markham-Cousins said today she has accepted a reassignment by the Minneapolis Public School District.

Markham-Cousins gave the Southwest Journal the following statement, and said she would discuss the details of the reassignment in a later interview.

“I was informed this morning by Minneapolis Public Schools Human Resources Director Rick Kreyer that I was being relieved of my assignment as the principal of Minneapolis Washburn High School. Mr. Kreyer gave me three choices: Resign, take a leave of absence, (or) accept a reassignment in Minneapolis Public Schools. Minneapolis Public Schools Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle informed me this morning that this action taken by the district involving my work is not a disciplinarily action. At this time I have chosen to accept a reassignment in Minneapolis Public Schools.”

Markham-Cousins became principal at Washburn during the 2007-2008 school year.  She declined to immediately discuss any of the reasons behind the reassignment. 

According to multiple reports, Washburn Athletic Director Dan Pratt has been under investigation by the school district. Students conducted walkout protest Monday and left classes for a hallway sit-in Wednesday afternoon.

District spokesperson Stan Alleyne said the decision to reassign Markham-Cousins was made yesterday.

“Events over this current year have distracted from the learning environment at Washburn,” Alleyne said, reading from a prepared statement. “Although we know that Ms. Markham-Cousins has been a passionate advocate for students and families, our administration recognizes that a change in leadership is necessary now to restore the school’s effective learning environment.”

Retired Minneapolis principal Robert McCauley is serving as substitute principal at Washburn. An interim principal will be selected later this year, and the district will move forward with hiring a permanent new principal before the start of next school year, Alleyne said.

Assistant Superintendent Theresa Battle would work with Markham-Cousins to determine her next assignment.

“We’re still determining her new responsibilities,” Alleyne said. “The associate superintendent will make that decision in the coming days.”

Markham-Cousins grew up in the Field neighborhood, just across Interstate 35–W from Washburn High School.

When she was hired as the school’s principal for the 2007-2008 school year, her mission was clear: She had to convince neighborhood families to come back to the school. At the time, most in Tangletown and surrounding neighborhoods chose South or Southwest high schools or left the district.

The district gave Washburn and Edison high schools a “fresh start” for the 2008-2009 school year. That gave Markham-Cousins some leeway in hiring a new staff, but also led to some turmoil when the teaching staff went through significant changes.

But the new principal and introduction of the popular International Baccalaureate program seemed to entice some families to give their neighborhood high school a try. Student placement requests rose 8 percent for Washburn in advance of the 2009-2010 school year. Official enrollment was just 888 students in October of that year, down from more than 1,000 students in 2007-2008, but it rose in every year after to an official count of 1,234 students this fall.

Last school year, the Markham-Cousins’ “honors for all” approach at Washburn came under fire from some parents and students. Putting all freshman and sophomores in the same core classes, instead of differentiating the students by ability level, led some to accuse her of watering down the school’s curriculum.

That spring, Markham-Cousins responded to the accusations in an interview.

“This isn’t an idea that I pulled out of my head, it was really looking at creating a school that had a focus, a real clear focus, on academic success for all kids,” she said. “That doesn’t equate that it’s going to be pulling down some kids to have some kids come up. It really is talking about changing the pedagogy. It also talks about social equity, relational equity. So: Do students have things to offer each other?”

Sarah Duniway has a sophomore son at Washburn and says she’s been happy with Markham-Cousins and the school’s strong teaching staff. 

“She’s been running a school that is one of few examples of a school in the United States that’s doing really well managing a really diverse student body and having that be a positive experience,” Duniway said.

Duniway said she didn’t know all of the details surrounding the departure of Markham-Cousins’s, but she’s sad to see the principal go.

“I worry what will happen to Washburn without her leadership, because that diversity for our family is something we really cherish and we’re so proud of.”

The school drew considerable negative attention earlier this year, after an incident in which students hung a dark-skinned baby doll in a school hallway. The scene was photographed and shared by students on social media.

Markham-Cousins’ response to the incident was criticized as weak by some community members. But students applauded her when she expressed her outrage over the incident at a community assembly.

“We know that Carol has done some very positive things over the years at Washburn,” Alleyne said. “She was instrumental in starting the school over, in fresh-starting the school and getting it to a place where it’s been very successful, so we are definitely very appreciative of that. But we felt like, at this point, we needed to move in a different direction for the school.”

While the district has confirmed Pratt is under investigation, they have not confirmed what the investigation is about. According to media reports, Pratt and Markham-Cousins clashed over the athletic director’s purchase of a scoreboard for Washburn’s football field.

“We haven’t completed the internal investigation,” Alleyne said.” I hope to be able to tell you more in the next few days.”