HOLLYWOOD—“Did you see the paper?” Motor Mouth McNutt shoved it in Jason's face. His eyes riveted to the passage where his own name appeared: Jason Finch, an inexperienced teacher and would-be actor. It felt good—far from the shame he was supposed to feel for being ridiculed as a silly Shakespearean by the sneaky, ambitious reporter posing as a Night School Student.
“No publicity is bad publicity,” he said, mouthing wisdom remembered from his dad, not Mylanta. He had something wonderful to show Mom when she came into LAX tonight. Look, mom, I'm in the news.
“Abby Fenwick and the phony test scores could be curtains for our accreditation,” said Motor Mouth, for whom the sky was ever falling. Turning into hard blue lapis lazuli and crackling across the heavens.
Rachel Villa, one of the newer teachers who had managed to tough it out through the storm of cut-backs, said, “How do you know what the reporter said is true?”
“I believe everything I read in the paper,” said motor mouth. “And even it it isn't true, we're up a creek. I heard a rumor that downtown is sending pink slips to everybody.”
On that note they adjourned from the teacher's room and went to their classroom.
Two thirds into the class tonight (Jason was clock watching. He had to promptly leave at nine o'clock to get to the airport in time for his mom's flight.) The intercom scratched to life, “Excuse the interruption, class, tonight we will have a meeting in the library. Please dismiss your students early and be at the library promptly at 8:30 p.m.”
Even that was not possible. Just as he was shouldering his heavy backpack, a student from Myanmar came to have him fill out paperwork for the county. He was a political refugee, and Jason had the tedious task of fill in all the hours this student had attended in the month of March.
The meeting was already underway when Jason came in. Principal Cloud stopped talking to look at the clock, look at Jason, and sigh. She continued:
“As you know there is a story in the news about one of our teachers falsifying test scores. This is a black eye in the integrity of our school and may undermine the whole accreditation process.”
The library that they met in had a growing air of stagnation. The whiff of incipient mold met the nostrils. Books unread, the sepulchre of knowledge reeked of gathering dampness. Due to lack of funds the librarian had been dismissed from the day high school. Principal Cloud spoke on, her speech liberally sprinkled by alledgedly's:
“Alledgedly the teacher was correcting student exams to bubble in the scores, in alleged overzealousness to boost the scores. This is no way should reflect negatively on our emphasis to get as many benchmarks. Oh,” Roxie dropped any pretense of confidentiality, “we all know who I'm talking about. It was Abby Fenwick. Before you hear the rumors start let me tell you, she's been placed on leave. Of course this doesn't reflect on the integrity of our staff at Jefferson Polytechnic. We've all been working hard, giving our all, and we are hoping for a six-year accreditation. Which is funny. . .” A strange sound came out of Roxie Cloud's rosebud mouth. It was a mingling of laugh and cry, “We don't know even if we're going to be here next year,” she said, “There's not a cent in the budget allocated to our program. It's late in the year as it's ever been, so there's probably no likelihood of summer school.”
Rachel Villa heckled out, “We might be accredited for six more years, but there may be no school. Is that what you're saying?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” said Roxie, the one time Julliard student and cruise ship activities director. “But the show must go on. Mr. Leonard has been kind enough to give us a preview of their ESL musical, which will be a debuting for the benefit of the accreditation committee.” He stood from the table, flanked by Jasmine, Napoleon and Miguel, who had brought a keyboard.
“Roxie, I want to make two announcements,” said Mr. Leonard, flashing his laser-whites. “Tickets are on sale now. And this week the ESL theater got a $5000 grant from the Regal Waste Company. How do you like them apples?”
Scattered applause rose. Then Napoleon raised his guitar. And suddenly, between him and Miguel, the tune of “Making Whoopee” shook the dust from the mouldering library books.
“Another year. Another June/ Accreditation ”“ all too soon/ Another season, another reason/ for loving our school-oo-l.” Jasmine and Mr. Leonard belted out.
“A lot of paper, we want it nice The staff is nervous, we check it twice. . . no thrice./ It's really killin'/ That we're so willin' to love our school-ool.”
Mr. Leonard was so out of tune, an average listener couldn't help wrinkling up their face in a cringe of pain. The song was quaint—it brought back the placid days only a few weeks ago when their biggest fattest worry had been the imminent visit of the accreditation committee, from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. It had put the fear of God into them. . . Now it had been eclipsed by the specter of annihilation itself.
Ever brighter glowed the rag-curtained stage at San Anselmo Church.
(to be continued)
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