A laundry list of parents, politicians and other supporters showed up to the School Reform Commission meeting yesterday to defend South Philly High principal LaGreta Brown after a cartoon in Tuesday's Inquirer depicted her as sleeping on the job.
Michael Lerner, president of the principals' union, said the paper took a "cheap shot" at Brown, calling her an easy target because of the assaults on a number of Asian students at the school in December.
Jerry Mondesire, president of the local NAACP, called the cartoon an outrage. Ozzie Wright, an interim assistant principal at South Philly High, praised Brown.
"There's been a great change in the staff [at the school], a great change in the students, a great change in the attitude," he said.
Afterward, a junior who introduced herself only as Christina agreed that much has improved since Brown took over at the beginning of the school year.
"Ms. Brown helped us change a lot in this school," she said, adding that the administrator introduced or expanded various programs including student ambassadors and peer mediation.
Later, Brown spoke before the commission on her own behalf.
"When I saw the cartoon, I was offended and appalled," she said.
"Many days I come to work at 6:30 a.m., and I leave work many days after 6:30 p.m."
The cartoon, by Inquirer editorial cartoonist Tony Auth, shows a woman with her head down on her desk, the phone off the hook next to her, a shattered window unnoticed.
Brown said it was an unfair characterization. "I'm rarely at my desk during the day," she said. "Most days, I'm located in the halls and in the classrooms. How dare anyone portray me as sleeping . . .
"I'm not tired. I'm not clueless. I'm not knocked out," she continued. "I come to serve and I'm not going anywhere."
A swirl of media attention followed a series of attacks on about 30 Asian students of various ethnicities on Dec. 3. The district has since added security cameras and personnel.
In other business at the SRC meeting, a district official noted that participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in the district's contract bidding has increased.
So has the district's outreach efforts in recruiting more of these companies, said John Byars, executive director for procurement services.
The district has seen the improvements since adopting an anti-discrimination policy in 2003, to ensure equal opportunity in district contracts. Since 2003, participation has jumped from 2 percent to 27 percent, he said.
The district outspent both the city and SEPTA in awarding contracts last year, he said. It awarded $25 million to African-American-owned businesses, $17 million to those owned by women and $8 million to companies owned by Hispanics.
On average, the SRC approves millions of dollars in contracts every month. For that reason, Michael Masch, chief business officer, said the district should implement a better method for monitoring contracts.