Did she jump...or was she pushed?
In August, Superintendent Stu Silberman declined to comment on a list of parental complaints telling the Herald-Leader the concerns were moot since Petrilli had resigned. KSN&C asked Silberman whether Petrilli had the option to stay. He responded,
"It never got to the point where Peggy ever asked to return to BTWA. As soon as we shared the concerns that were raised she decided that she did not want to go back. So, it never got to the point where that even had to be discussed."But that was before Petrilli sued Silberman alleging racial discrimination.
District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall told the Herald-Leader that "Petrilli had the option of being suspended with pay while the investigation was pending," but it is unclear when she was given this option.This from the Herald-Leader:
Now under the right circumstances, a principal accused of being highly focused on raising test scores might get a hero's welcome at the governor's mansion. Lord knows, I have been in meetings (not with Silberman) where principals with such a singular focus were praised and held up as examples of progressive school leadership - sometimes even encouraged to resist being hampered by certain regulations - "Whatever it takes."
...A report written by school board general counsel Brenda D. Allen accuses Petrilli and some Booker T. staff of engaging in testing irregularities, improperly holding students back a year, misleading parents, circumventing the school's site-based decision making council and retaliating against parents, records show. Petrilli, 59, resigned last August and later filed a lawsuit against the school board.
"During interviews, staff and parents provided that everything at Booker T. Washington Academy under Peggy Petrilli's leadership was driven by test scores," Allen wrote. "They indicated, if it didn't help to raise test scores, it wasn't an option."
The report has been forwarded to the Kentucky Department of Education, which has the power to invalidate test scores for those years. If scores are invalidated the schools may face sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act...
The report also has been forwarded to the Education Professional Standards Board, which licenses teachers and administrators.
Silberman and Petrilli would seem to share a passion for improved numbers. But there are rules, and under the wrong circumstances school administrators can be called to account.
An attorney for Petrilli said she did not break a single law. Attorney J. Dale Golden suggested the report is designed to discredit Petrilli's lawsuit against the school district.
Golden said Superintendent Stu Silberman forced Petrilli to resign after confronting her with allegations from parents in August. Golden questioned why the school board is releasing a report nine months after Petrilli resigned, and he called the report misleading.
Golden said Silberman was pressured by parents to replace Petrilli, who is white, with an African-American at the largely black school off Georgetown Street in North
Lexington. A new principal, Wendy Brown, was hired in April. She is black.
"Peggy was brought in to change the schools," Golden said. "Whenever that happens, there is going to be push back from staff and parents. And then the administration has to decide whether it's about the kids or it's about being politically expedient."
The report states that in a two-year period about 100 students were improperly held back a grade at Booker T., in some instances on the first day of tests.
Students who were performing poorly on practice tests were selected for demotions, including one student who had grades in the 80s and 90s.
Meanwhile, students who did poorly in class work -- in one instance a student had a 29 average in science and a 59 in math -- but did well on practice tests were promoted, according to the report.
One unidentified staff member said this was done to "boost scores."
This "had the effect, intended or unintended, of delaying the state testing, thereby making them at least one year older with one more year of schooling before they took their first nationally norm-referenced assessment or state required assessment with scores attributable to the school," Allen wrote.
Several parents told the district they were misled or pressured into agreeing to hold children back, particularly in the weeks leading up to state testing each April.
Deffindall told H-L, "All of those who were interviewed confirmed that under Ms. Petrilli's leadership, they engaged in the same practices at Northern" where Petrilli received acclaim for raising test scores.
The report alleged that:
• When Petrilli first arrived at the academy in September 2005, she moved 19 third-graders to second grade without consulting teachers or reviewing past grades, as required by law. The decision was based on how they performed in a series of tests conducted at the beginning of the school year.
• Petrilli misreported the number of students who were not academically promoted, which inflated test scores. In the 2005-06 school year, 62 students were demoted from third to second grade. But Petrilli only reported 43 demotions to the school district.
• Students' private files, which include grades and test scores, were left unsecured in the school library during the summer of 2007.
• The site-based decision-making council drafted only one policy in its first two years. "This lack of policies permitted Ms. Petrilli and her leadership team to make decisions as they deemed appropriate in areas that are by law, under the authority of the SBDM," Allen wrote.
• Petrilli retaliated against critics on the site-based council. The day after a mother of a special-education student requested that meetings be audiotaped, Petrilli reported to a school-district administrator that the family was not living in the school district. The allegation was not true.
Golden noted that many of the allegations in the report were not made by parents last year.
"Are they truly investigating the complaint? Or do they have an ulterior motive?" Golden said.
School Leadership in Kentucky
What is proper motivation?
What makes the Booker T Washington Academy story important is its implications for school reform and sound school leadership in Kentucky.The Academy, which was formed from the merger of two low-scoring, high-poverty schools, drew the support of many community groups. Silberman promised to make the academy one of the highest-achieving schools in the state without changing its demographics.
In January 2005, Silberman told Booker T Washington parents that much of their children's low-test-score problem could be attributed to the [former] principals and their ability to motivate their staffs. He said principals -- one at a high-scoring school and one at a low-scoring school -- could be switched, and that the scores would flip-flop in two years.
Motivate? Two years?! What practices does the effective principal employ to accomplish this?
The task of moving low-scoring students into the upper echelons created a high-pressure environment for the adults involved, and a number of teachers jumped ship. Some others were pushed.
A high faculty turnover rate soon caused complaints within the community. While it was generally accepted that some deadwood needed pruning, the broader changes seemed to suggest a different administrative approach was at work.
Well boys and girls, my UK grades are due on Monday and its finals week at Eastern, (and there's this thing called the Derby today) so blogging may slip to the back burner for a few days.
But I'll get into the 50 pages of documents and report back ...fairly soon.