Paul Boniface studied the computer screen. The statewide statistics were sobering, to say the least. While Jamesville High did not rank as the worst school in the district, the district as a whole didn’t have much standing statewide. Rather sad but indicative of problems beyond his pay grade.

After two quick knocks, the door opened. Kenneth Franklin Herold, director of Human Resources, stepped through the doorway. He smoothed his Brooks Brothers suit while scanning the walls of the office. “Hello, Paul.”

Paul tried not to shiver. “Mephistopheles” Herold never showed up for any good reason. “Mr. Herold, to what do I owe this visit?” he asked.

Herold walked over and stood in front of the wall where Boniface’s college degrees hung. “Krepner sent me,” he said without looking in his direction.

Paul bristled at the name of the District Superintendent. It was one thing to have Herold show up, quite another for Krepner to have instigated it. On his own, Herold was a feckless gadfly who took up more space on a golf course than a chair in an office. In tandem with Krepner, however, he played his role as a professional bootlicker and minion with finesse. The two were connected, if not by anus, certainly by having graduated from Harvard Business School together. That said, their combined impact on the school system had little to show for it other than accelerating Jamesville’s declining academic standards and chasing away the kind of teachers needed to reverse that trend. Still, that didn’t mean they wouldn’t stop trying to blame everyone else for their shortcomings.

Paul swallowed hard. “What does that have to do with me?”

“How many years have you worked for the district?” Herold straightened his tie in the reflection cast by Paul’s framed doctorate degree.

Bastard. Herold knew the number but was clearly trying to goad him. “This year will be my twenty-ninth in the system.”

“Too bad.”

A chill ran down his spine. “How so?”

“Dr. Krepner and I have looked over the performance of Jamesville High and found it wanting. It was his recommendation that we terminate your contract.”

Paul’s face grew hot, and his hands started to shake. “What?”

Herold smiled, though it was crooked and thin. “Relax. I recommended an alternative.”

His heart thumping wildly, Paul swallowed again. “Which is . . .”

“I convinced Dr. Krepner to keep you on but to reassign your vice-principal. We’ll bring in some new leadership in Dr. Clark’s place to see if we can turn this school around.”

A dull burn seethed through him. Dr. Duncan Clark was a supremely gifted administrator and a close friend. It made no sense to remove the man. “Who is replacing Dr. Clark?”

“The assistant principal at Harrison Middle.”

Boniface felt sick. The assistant at Harrison Middle was Gregory Herold, Mephistopheles’ son. “How is that going to help me?”

“You? Well, I don’t know about that, but if the school doesn’t make its AYP goals this year, we have to go with a management style capable of providing the needed leadership.”

Paul knew that code and the result. Making AYP under the current constraints on resources was impossible in the next couple of years, let alone by the end of the current one. So, his contract would be terminated short of full retirement, and Greg Herold would become principal. It took all his strength to not leap out of his desk and strangle the man.

Herold tapped Paul’s desk. “Well, I’ve got an appointment to keep. Clark has already been informed.” He turned and started to leave the office but stopped in front of Boniface’s degrees again. With a thumb and forefinger, he adjusted the frame slightly off-center. After casting a smile over his shoulder, he vanished out the door.

Boniface felt the walls closing in and rubbed his temples. They set him up for failure. How was he going to get out of this? Then the answer erupted in his mind. What’s he got to lose?

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