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August 15, 2001
Dying Principal Fights Dismissal
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days are dwindling because he has terminal cancer, yet a former Boston public school principal is fighting to reverse the school system's firing of him, charging that he was forced out only because of his health problems.

William B. Stevens spent 26 years with the Boston public schools, but Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant fired him in April 2000, pointing to a lack of academic performance by students at Stevens' school, the P.A. Shaw Elementary School in Dorchester.

Stevens has filed a discrimination complaint with the state, saying he never received a negative evaluation.

"All of this happened to me without warning," Stevens told the Boston Globe. "I had no idea my job was being looked at as less than satisfactory, because it never has been in my 26 years."

The Globe reports that Stevens' removal illustrates the no-excuses push to transform failing public schools in Massachusetts and nationwide. Much of the burden falls squarely on principals, a point that Payzant has made clear by reassigning or demoting school leaders, and not backing down.

City lawyers responded to Stevens' complaint by writing that he "was unable to implement procedures to improve literacy, instruction, and academic achievement."

The lawyers also note that Stevens received a one-year contract without assignment ''in the spirit of cooperation'' so he could draw unused sick days. Those ran out in February, and he had no choice but to apply for medical retirement.

Still, the former principal's plight has caught the attention of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, which sent him $5,000 for his legal fees.

Stevens, 53, has fought Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes, for 10 years. During that time, the sickness surfaced and faded into remission twice. All the while, he scheduled chemotherapy sessions and doctor appointments around his job at the Shaw, trying to minimize his time out of school.

It worked for a time, according to the Globe, but the chemotherapy and other health problems took a toll. By April 2000, Stevens's health had deterioriated, and his doctor ordered an immediate medical leave. He took the leave but expected to return in the fall of 2000 at the helm of the Shaw, a 360-student school that gained fame locally by offering French and Japanese classes.

At the same time, though, Shaw has struggled in recent years with low test scores. So Payzant decided two weeks after Stevens went on leave not to renew his contract, according to documents filed with Massachusetts' anti-discrimination agency.

City lawyers acknowledge that Stevens had not been formally evaluated since 1997, but they maintain he was ''repeatedly'' told that the school needed to boost achievement, especially in literacy.

To view the Boston Globe story, click here.

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