Friday, August 31, 2007

List of grievances criticized principal

Booker T. Washington Academy parents and other supporters of the school presented Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman with 21/2 pages of grievances against departing principal Peggy Petrilli, including allegations of financial mismanagement and unethical scoring and administering of standardized tests.

The accusations, made at a meeting Aug. 22, led to Petrilli's announcement Saturday that she was leaving the district.

Parents and district officials have been close-lipped about specifics surrounding Petrilli's departure. Silberman said district staff members have been assigned to investigate the allegations, but he would not address specific issues in the document, obtained yesterday by the Herald-Leader.

"We're working to move the school forward, but we will look into the issues that the parents have raised," said Silberman. "It's not really appropriate for me to discuss those (issues) at this point in time."

The group of parents, former teachers and other advocates complained about:

• the use of disciplinary tactics not approved by the school council, including "kids being grabbed by the arm, cheeks squeezed, fingers pointed in faces."

• meager funding for special education and low-income students.

• poor teacher retention and high teacher turnover.

• low numbers of African-American and Hispanic teachers to reflect the diversity of the student population.

• inappropriate cultural comments and phrases, including the use of "gigolo man" and "these people."

• concerns about grant allocations, "misappropriation of funds" and a failure to involve the school's site-based decision-making council in budget decisions.

• poor-performing students being held in a grade to keep them from testing in the next year.

• school officials standing over students while being tested.

• retaliation against parents for coming forward with complaints.

The letter asks for a curriculum and financial audit, a test-score investigation, an evaluation of teacher turnover at the school, and a new principal "who will encourage greater ethical, moral, and educational standards as well as cultural appreciation toward all of our families."

Petrilli, 59, became principal at Booker T. Washington, which was created by a merger of the Academy at Lexington and Booker T. Washington Montessori Magnet Elementary schools, in the 2005-06 school year. In 2005, she was named principal of the year by the Kentucky Association of Elementary School Principals.

Petrilli was placed at the helm of the new school because she had raised test scores at Northern Elementary.

She was recently praised for raising scores at Booker T. Washington. In 2005, the Academy's academic index was 56.5 and the former Booker T. Washington's was 53.8. In 2006, the merged school's index was 66.4 out of a total possible score of 140.

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross said yesterday that the state had "received no allegations related to CATS (testing) improprieties at Booker T." CATS is the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System.

In a statement, Petrilli said she stood behind her work at the school, and "academic achievement of our students has been my life's work, my passion, my ministry." She said she decided to leave the school after meeting with Silberman and elementary school director Carmen Coleman.

"I did the best I could do, I recognize that I did not build the trusting relationships needed with the school community in order to work together for all children," the statement reads.

Although PTA president Jessica Berry wouldn't talk directly about the allegations, she said discontent with Petrilli's leadership was widespread.

"There were a lot of parents who had concerns," Berry said. "A group got together and met with the superintendent ... upon presenting those concerns, she decided she could not come back to the school."

Silberman met with faculty members Monday to discuss Petrilli's departure. On Tuesday he met with the site-based decision-making council, comprised of parents and teachers, to discuss an interim and permanent replacement principal. Both meetings were closed to the public.

Silberman said the council hopes to interview candidates for the permanent position in February, with the goal of making a selection in May for the following school year. Meanwhile, he is working to find an immediate interim principal and is considering retired administrators for the job.

This from the Herald-Leader.

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