Monday, March 5, 2012

Grade-changing costs Beaufort principal his job

An item in the Island Packet reported Friday that the principal of Beaufort High School, Dan Durbin, had resigned immediately at the request of Superintendent Valerie Truesdale "for changing grades."

But there's clearly a bigger story here.

Truesdale says Durbin violated district policy and state law in changing 200 grades for 33 students over the past two years. Durbin never denied making the changes. He chose to resign last week when given the option to resign or be fired by week's end.

In nine years on the job, Durbin built widespread admiration from parents and students. Parents have spoken out in his favor, and students, among other signs of support, protested his resignation by sitting in the school atrium on Durbin's last day until he urged them to go to class.

Mmm. Shades of Dead Poets Society.

The Island Packet takes the editorial position that Durbin's forced resignation is an object lesson, and therefore a good thing.

Parents, too, need to accept the reality of the school district's correct decision and move on in a mature manner.

This is what is often called a teachable moment. In fact, for many of the school's 1,450 students, Durbin's exit may provide their most lasting lesson from high school.

The lesson is that rules are made to be followed, not broken. Rules apply to all, even the principal. And a day of reckoning is coming for all who break the rules. All choices -- good and bad -- have consequences. And in the end, there will be accountability for those choices.

Indeed. Choices have consequences.

And some consequences are slower in coming than others. In this case, Durbin changed grades -- and no one disputes that his intentions were good -- and the consequence upon that discovery was relatively quick.

Durbin maintains his choices were based on the good of the students, and we've yet to see anything to contradict that.

He said each case differed, but many of the grade changes involved struggling students who did extra work or somehow proved they earned a break.

"I hope the message I sent students was that you're not just a number," Durbin said last week. "If you try hard and work hard, we'll work with you."

He went on to say, "I was trying to motivate a kid, trying to help someone get through. But maybe that blinded me and made the rules less important."


But the Island Packet recognizes that Durbin was no ordinary principal, that he may have been, in fact, an inspirational and catalytic figure.

But at the same time, Durbin is credited with bringing order to the school and a level of community support that is all too rare in public education.

We're struck by his statement, "I'm not sure that the role of principal hasn't passed me by. To me, it's about nurturing, about building up students to be the best they can be. But the new job of principals is about numbers, statistics and test results. I'm not saying that's wrong. I'm just saying that isn't me."

This, too, should provide a teachable moment for those who set school policy.

Are systemic changes needed to accommodate the human element in education? Are school policies, mandates, regulations and expectations reasonable -- or are they too often feel-good mandates made by people who have never tried to teach a classroom full of children? Does anyone other than Congress think every child at every grade level will test above average by date-certain if federal law mandates it? By focusing all energies on test scores, are we leaving children behind?

Numbers, statistics and test results.

Does this sound like your school district, wherever you live and teach? Are numbers, statistics and test results more important than any other elements, intelligences or passions you bring to the table?

I'm fascinated often by the quality of readers' comments that accompany these online news stories. In the case of Durbin's forced resignation, readers unloaded several barrels.

Even a Durbin detractor cast this instance as a larger matter than a grade-changing principal and the consequences of rule-breaking.

So let's bring this back to the subject at hand. Dan Durbin could be a pain. He and I locked horns more than once. But Dan was always a man on a passionate mission. He saw that need to help and never ever backed down.

Given the bureaucracy of modern education - and the history of this BCSD, a man like Dan Durbin was bound to draw the ire of a District office that has no room for dissenters and larger than life views of the opportunities of his students.

Unlike the Packet/Gazette - I'll take 10 Dan Durbins for any single Valerie Truesdale any day.
Dan Durbin was an agent of change. The old guard of education slapped down Durbin because of their fear.

Another advises that grade manipulation is, in fact, ordered by the district office, and a protocol exists for the process of grade-changing.

There are proper channels for submitting students' changed grades. Here is a portion of an email sent out in one of our BCSD schools:

"Good Morning! A reminder to all staff - the lowest grade that can be entered in Powerschool for any student in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade is a 60 for the first three quarters of the school year. If you have entered a grade lower than 60 please change the grade by overriding it in your gradebook (Powerschool) and send an email to your guidance counselor informing them of the change so that grades may be locked in."

So, which is it? Beaufort County doesn't tolerate grade-changing, or it does tolerate grade-changing under prescribed circumstances? If grade-changing is dishonest, it's dishonest -- right? After all, grade-changing cost a man his job.

Another focuses on the details that aren't public:

Are we, IP/BG readers, to take Valerie Truesdale's word without sufficient details and story background?

And another asks a question that haunts a great many district administrators across the state:

How many years and at what level did Valerie Truesdale and Jackie Rosswurm teach a classroom full of students?

What's going on in Beaufort these days? Are there issues to unearth there?

1 comment:

  1. Has anyone mentioned what a slap in the face this is to teachers who determined theses grades based on spending many hours with the students and observing their performance. Don't think for a moment this isn't going on many other places. The State Department needs to get active and do some checking. Some schools are going to great lengths to up that report card by improving graduation rates. It is almost impossible to fail now regardless how little work a student does.