E. Louise White understands the students she has brought under her wing as principal of the New School for Enterprise and Development.
"They have always fallen into situations of having the least response in their education," she tells me. "The least-prepared teachers, the most overly neglected physical facilities. They became a forgotten part of the school population — through no fault of their own."
Mrs. White taught her first class in 1957 at Draper Elementary School, in one of the city’s poor Southeast neighborhoods. She took over the New School in January. She turned 70 a month later.
"What was needed then is needed now: teachers who have the heart for teaching the underserved," she said.
Which is what White has instilled in her staff at the New School, a charter high school in Northeast, hard by the toughest parts of town. Which begs the hard question: Why has the D.C. Public Charter School Board revoked the school’s license just as Louise White gets going?
The board says the school has failed to meet its standards. White says that when you offer open enrollment and find that some ninth-graders are reading at the third-grade level, meeting some standards by 10th grade is impossible.
"But we’re going to get much closer this year," she says. "I guarantee it."
You bank on that.
Louise White’s family came to D.C. from Raleigh, N.C., when she was 4. Her mom was a teacher, her father a building engineer. She went to Dunbar High when it was an elite school, to Howard University on a scholarship, and to D.C. Teachers College for her degree.
Then she taught. Students like Jennie Clark, now her grandchild’s pediatrician. Like Faith Davis Ruffins, now a curator at the Smithsonian.
White has retired twice: once from D.C. schools after 38 years as teacher, principal and administrator; once after 10 years as director of education for Covenant House, which serves homeless and troubled kids.
Charles Tate, founder of the New School, lured her back. White says, "I’ve never said no to schools."
Her staff has said yes to making full use the school’s $300,000 learning lab. She has sent students on class trips to the Holocaust Museum and art galleries with assignments to complete projects about the exhibitions.
"Miss White," one student told her, "I’ve never been to a museum before. I must take my parents."
She has focused the entire school on scoring high in the standardized tests at the end of the month, including a pep rally on April 21.
"I’ve always worked with this population," she says. "I may be old, but I’m not too tired of spirit to be dispirited. These kids are at my heart."
For that alone, the charter board should recall its revocation and give E. Louise White a full year to turn the New School around.
Harry Jaffe has been covering the Washington area since 1985. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.