Friday, July 31, 2009

Conway: Board broke law on open meetings

As predicted, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway ruled in favor of the Courier-Journal which agreed with a opinion Conway's office had already issued. Sweet. I think C-J's on to something.

Jefferson County Board of Education chair Debbie Wesslund argued that the possibility of critical comments being made about Jefferson County schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman is the same as the actual disciplining of the superintendent - thus justifying a closed meeting.
If this situation needs fixin' - and it may - then the legislature is going to need to fix it.

This from C-J:

School chief should have been
evaluated in public, opinion says

The Jefferson County Board of Education violated Kentucky's open-meeting law by conducting Superintendent Sheldon Berman's evaluation in private, Attorney General Jack Conway said in an opinion issued Tuesday.

The ruling came in response to a complaint The Courier-Journal filed after the school board held Berman's annual evaluation in closed session July 29, despite a 2008 attorney general's opinion stating that such evaluations must be public except when they might lead to discipline or dismissal.

“There's no reason they shouldn't be able to give a truthful, honest evaluation in public,” said Jon Fleischaker, an attorney for The Courier-Journal.

The ruling, which has the force of law, will require the board to conduct its evaluation in the open next year, he said.

Board Chairwoman Debbie Wesslund disagreed with the opinion, saying she believes the district did nothing wrong because discipline against Berman was at least possible at the session. She said she will consult with the board and attorneys before deciding whether to appeal to circuit court.

“We feel confident that we didn't break the law,” she said. “It was not a secret

But Conway's opinion says the board's interpretation of possible disciplinary action was much too broad, and that it “opens the floodgates to tenuous claims based on an agency's desire to shield (itself) from unwanted or unpleasant public input.” ...

Reflections of an Occassional Semi-Journalist

It has only been a couple of weeks since unsuccessful Kentucky education commissioner candidate Dennis Cheek was fussing at me for my journalistic short comings.

KSN&C had posted news of his creationist writings from the early 1980s. We also picked up a news story from a professional news outlet that contained an error - which we quickly corrected. Cheek and I exchanged a few testy emails.

Cheek argued that it would have been better if I had "checked with [him] first BEFORE posting" rather than "always post[ing] first and "then forc[ing him] to respond to [the story] ex post facto." This was particularly germane in Cheek's case since he now rejects his former creationist position. It would have been better for Cheek if I had. But it was his choice not to mention his paper to the Kentucky board of education that had selected him as a finalist. When the issue surfaced he was immediately put on the defensive.

It is my understanding that when he got "the question" from reporters covering his interview in Kentucky, "he looked stunned for about 20 seconds," and then "very forthrightly" rejected his old paper and expanded his thoughts on religion and science with appropriate detail and recognition of the court's ruling in the Dover case.

But is KSN&C really practicing journalism by simply aggregating such news stories? I think not.

Fellow blogger Tom Eblen, who writes for the Herald-Leader and teaches journalistic ethics at UK tells me that one is a journalist when one practices journalism. I take that to mean, actually putting in the time and doing the work it takes to research the issues, check sources, capture quotes and accurately reflect the differing points of view that attend every news story and to do it from primary (first-person) sources. This pursuit is a noble and critical component of our democracy and like many Americans I am concerned for its future.

In most cases, KSN&C dabbles in semi-journalism. A lot of time and effort goes into assuring that our reporting is authoritative, but we are clearly at the mercy of what others write. Mistakes are to be avoided, but if someone errs it is up to the author to be responsible for their own content.
As I argued to Cheek, "You are responsible for handling what you write. I am responsible for handling what I write. "They" are responsible for handling what they write."

Cheek and I were ultimately unable to agree but my final message to him was,

Finally, and sincerely, I have no personal animosity toward you. It's not about that for me. I have my own opinions, but I am largely disinterested in which individual becomes our next commissioner. That's the board's job to determine, and I don't have a vote. When that selection is made, I'm going to reprint the news - good or bad - no matter who the commissioner is. I will express opinions along the way.

I can understand how you might be frustrated, or even angry, that I found your old creationist paper and printed the fact of its existence. I anticipated and opined that it would be seen as "a problem" by many. I think that has proven to be true. I have wondered aloud why you didn't alert the board to its existence. If the Herald-Leader can be believed - and, right or wrong, I rely on their reporting every day - ...they wrote that it did not come up as an issue for you in Missouri [where Cheek was also a finalist]. But really Dennis, none of that makes me the responsible party when it comes to handling the fallout. It was your [paper], and your responsibility to handle it - which you ultimately did very forthrightly. I believe if you had done that up front, we'd be having a very different conversation right now.
Is it fair to Cheek for me to reflect on this experience? It happened. He is a public figure who was vying for the top job in our state's educational system, and that's "my beat."

More recently, KSN&C has been doing something very different - practicing real-live-honest-to-goodness journalism by "covering" the Petrilli v Silberman trial. This was the kind of detached, yet face-to-face journalism real reporters do every day. For eight full days I sat with H-L's Jim Warren on a hard bench, tapping away on my keyboard, trying to capture as much data as I could. [...not my preferred method, but Judge Ishmael "took away" my digital recorder.]

On the last day, waiting for the jury to return with their verdict, John McNeill mentioned to the judge something about how my blogging and Twittering changed the ambiance of the courtroom - which in his mind became reminiscent of an old WWII movie with the lilt of the telegraph dotting the away in the background; dot da dit dot dot dit - only now it was; tap tap, tap tap tap.

The experience of reporting a trial was more demanding than I anticipated. In court by 8 AM to catch any discussions before the jury arrived; the reporter is pretty well stuck there. To leave for a moment is to risk missing the story. To misunderstand a ruling is to misreport. Then, somewhere around 5PM when the brain is a bit mushy, some kind of story must be written. Several days I found myself "too tired" and not having a deadline or an editor - but having a wife - chose family time instead. I would get up at 5 AM the next day (as is my custom) to post my story. Some days I could bounce off whatever Warren had done the night before.

But that wasn't the worst of it. The very situation put me squarely in conflict with people I know, trust and respect on both sides of the issue. I was neutral in a land where everyone was expected to be loyal and take sides.

As a former principal in Fayette County, I was a colleague of Peggy Petrilli's when she was still at Northern. I was publicly supportive of her work in a Herald-Leader Op Ed and viewed her selection for Booker T Washington Academy as an important history-changing effort in our community. I said I'd be watching what happened.

I had also written in H-L about Fayette County's need for strong consistent leadership at the top following a string of short-lived superintendents. The degree of turnover had left a district somewhat adrift. There was a lot of undirected talent in Fayette County and Silberman seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

But the case also brought forward a string witnesses and visitors to the courtroom that I knew or had worked with, including a couple I worked with pretty closely. Bob McLaughlin had been my director for a number of years, and if he had remained so, I'm pretty sure I would have worked in Fayette County a little longer. And if either one of us ever needed a little "therapy" Jock Gum and I could simply walk next door and get it; me for him, and he for me. Bob and Jock testified on the same day and there aren't a whole lot of people I like better than these guys.

Add to that Barbara Connor, Mike Burke, Becky Sagan, Mary Browning, Mike McKenzie, Vince Mattox, Jack Hayes, Lisa Stone, Amanda Main Ferguson, and I know I'm forgetting some - like I say, it was not easy to be neutral. I sensed periods of discomfiture with the principal combatants. Some days they could manage, if not a smile, a pleasant nod. Other days they avoided eye contact. In my head it was related to whatever I had written the day before, but maybe that's just ego on my part. They may not have read KSN&C at all, but were only reacting to the pressures of the trial itself.

But the stories got read. A modest little niche blog, KSN&C readership - typically eduwonks and news types - doubled and doubled again as Fayette County and North Carolina teachers, and a surprising number of young lawyers, appear to have discovered it.

But that's no match for Jim Warren's readership at the Herald-Leader. Despite their economic woes, H-L readership has never been higher and Warren's stories are read by thousands.

But the news business is in trouble.

On the eve of President Obama's health care press conference, the Herald-Leader came and got Warren out of the courtroom. Concerned by the length of the trial and needing an experienced hand to interview some local folks on health care issues, they sent a young reporter to fetch him to help with the story. Apparently, there was no one else to do it. When he returned the next day, he asked me, "They didn't settle, did they?"

But there is no substitute for the work Warren does. If the case had not fallen in July, as it did, I could have followed the case for KSN&C readers, but I could not have covered it. And I would not have caught issues related to how the law was argued (twisted) before the jury, issues of privilege or the incredible claims by one director that she had never marked a principal down in any category of evaluation in her entire career. We're going to have to talk about that issue some more later.

Warren joked with me that bloggers are the new journalists who would transform news gathering - but we both know that's not true. Newspapers may change but I think there are a few critical constants that remain.

  • There is no suitable substitute for the professional practice of journalism.
  • Professional journalism is crucial to democracy.
  • Local papers may well pool journalists for future coverage of state and national news but local papers must "own" local news.
  • Most bloggers fail to rise to the level of "journalism" most of the time and all too frequently fail the test of neutral reporting. Neutrality is just not "their thing." Political voice is.
  • Lots of folks are going to continue to want a print edition of "the paper."

America needs a new model for supporting news gathering and it can't be governmental. Perhaps new media foundations will emerge.

The media will continue to publish stories that shine an unfavorable light on certain powerful individuals and those individuals will continue to attack the media as a result. There may even be some psychological satisfaction for the general public doing so as well.

But by some means, the work of professional journalists must be preserved. It is far too important to be left to the amateurs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bird Calls

Twitter is not really my thing.

The very thought of going through my day tweeting my every inane thought like some ticker tape running across my forehead and hoping someone might care, seems a little creepy to me. I'm not quite sure why, but it does.

Our little experiment, chirping the Petrilli v Silberman trial, was a different kind of use. Real time reporting for folks who have to be elsewhere.

For those of you who played along, let us know what you thought of it all.

Any ideas for the future?

Former principal Petrilli loses lawsuit

attorney says she's likely to appeal

This from Jim Warren at the Herald-Leader, Photos by Mark Cornelison:

A Fayette Circuit Court jury decided against former Booker T. Washington Academy principal Peggy Petrilli on Tuesday afternoon, rejecting her claim that the county school system and Superintendent Stu Silberman forced her out of her job.

Jurors deliberated for a little more than 31/2 hours before emerging to report their conclusion that Petrilli "voluntarily resigned from her position as principal of Booker T. Washington Academy on August 27, 2007."

Under instructions given to the jury by Circuit Judge James Ishmael, the first question jurors had to consider was whether Petrilli's resignation was voluntary. Once jurors concluded it was, Petrilli's other claims essentially were rendered moot. Ten of the 12 jurors agreed on the finding. Nine are required to reach a decision. The jury was composed of seven women and five men, including two African-Americans...

Some of Warren's story from Monday failed to make it into the print edition. Here's what you may have missed:

Petrilli civil case against schools nears deliberation A civil case against the Fayette County Public Schools brought by former Booker T. Washington Academy principal Peggy Petrilli apparently will go to the jury Tuesday. ...On Monday, however, Alva Clark insisted that she never sought Petrilli's dismissal.

"I personally did not want her to be fired," Clark said on direct examination by Silberman's attorney John McNeil. Clark maintained that a meeting the parents had with Silberman on Aug. 22, 2007, was not to demand that Petrilli be fired, but instead was intended to "figure out how we maybe could resolve some things."

Parents gave Silberman a 21/2-page list of complaints about Petrilli at that meeting. Petrilli resigned a few days later.
In other developments Monday, Petrilli's former supervisor, Lisa Stone, offered more testimony about Petrilli's supposed administrative failings. School district officials testified last week that Petrilli was a strong instructional leader, but made repeated and sometimes serious administrative errors.

But Petrilli's attorney, J. Dale Golden, sharply questioned why Stone didn't list such shortcomings on Petrilli's 2005 job evaluation, which showed Petrilli meeting all five standards required of a principal. Stone admitted that she chose not to prepare a formal "corrective action plan" for Petrilli, which would have listed problems and steps to correct them. Stone said she wanted instead to maintain a "positive relationship" with Petrilli. "I felt like I could give guidance ... and she would get better," Stone said.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Messed up

The following comments were accidentally rejected, by me, due to some form of insanity; temporary, I hope. My apologies. I was able to resurrect them from mail however and they are reprinted below.
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Silberman and Fayette Co Bd of Ed Exonerated": I hope Mrs. Petrelli appeals her case. She was indeed the victim. Many teachers continue to support her. As for the superintendent, I guess the best way to put it is "lost trust."

Posted by Anonymous to Kentucky School News and Commentary at July 28, 2009 7:45 PM
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Silberman and Fayette Co Bd of Ed Exonerated": If nothing else, this has knocked the shine off Silberman's armor. Goldman was right with his analogy about who held the gun. Regardless, I guess the real message here is to all the school principals out there in FCPS...if you have a problem teacher, don't bother documenting as your boss does...seems to work for him.
~Posted by Anonymous to Kentucky School News and Commentary at July 28, 2009 5:49 PM

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Petrilli v Silberman Day 7": Holy bile, Batman! Why is this blog a magnet for such vitriol? Posted by Anonymous to Kentucky School News and Commentary at July 28, 2009 5:34 PM
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Silberman and Fayette Co Bd of Ed Exonerated": And now, we can all get back to the most important focus ... getting school ready for our kids to return in August. Posted by Anonymous to Kentucky School News and Commentary at July 28, 2009 5:32 PM
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Ramblings on Petrilli v Silberman": This lack of documentation was one of the major factors that caused Melinda Lewis Cobb to win her case against FCPS several years ago. Posted by Anonymous to Kentucky School News and Commentary at July 28, 2009 3:40 PM
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Petrilli v Silberman Goes to the Jury": Let's hope the jury sees throught Stu's form of truth. Hold him accountable for the negative impact he has had on Ms. Petrilli, the school system and all the honest Fayette Co. Public School employees out there. Posted by Anonymous to Kentucky School News and Commentary at July 28, 2009 2:40 PM
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Petrilli v Silberman Goes to the Jury": I work for the school system, Peggy. You were wronged and I hope you win his case. Your victory will effectively stop Stu from sacrificing us to the parents of Fayette County. Posted by Anonymous to Kentucky School News and Commentary at July 28, 2009 1:57 PM

Silberman and Fayette Co Bd of Ed Exonerated

Ten members of a Fayette County Circuit Court jury said this afternoon that Superintendent Stu Silberman and the Fayette County Board of Education bore no blame in the 2007 resignation of Peggy Petrilli as principal of the Booker T Washington Academy.

Petrilli's civil action stems from her sudden departure from the school following an August 22nd meeting between Silberman, Director Carmen Coleman and a group of parents and community members who presented a 2 1/2 page list of grievances. Actions during a subsequent meeting with Silberman, Coleman and Petrilli took center stage in the jury's deliberations, and based on their decision that Petrilli voluntarily resigned her position, ended the case.

KSN&C reported by Twitter this morning that there was a debate of nearly one hour over jury instructions and the focus was on whether the jury believed Petrilli voluntarily resigned. This turned out to be the critical debate of the day.

Judge James Ishmael argued that if the jury decides Petrilli voluntarily resigned, knowing her options - How is that not a waiver of any claims?

Golden responded that Petrilli had no bargaining power in the matter and was therefore not an equal player. "If you're not the person holding the gun, you don't waive anything," he said.

Again by Twitter, KSN&C reported the argument in real time and reacted to the potential impact of the decision on the case:
  • Jury instructions hinge on one question alone.
  • "Question #1 Do you believe from the evidence that the plaintiff, Peggy Petrilli, voluntarily resigned from her position as Principal of...
  • ...Booker T Washington Academy on August 27, 2007?
  • If you answer have found for the defendants...FCPS.
  • If no...then jury proceeds to 8 pages of instructions on race discrimination, retaliation and whistleblower claims.
  • Wow. So the central question of the case becomes THE big question for the jury. If they believe her resignation as's over.

Following the verdict, both Silberman and Petrilli appeared upbeat but neither made themselves available to the press, electing instead to speak through their attorneys. With reporters after the decision, Golden talked about the impact he felt that decision had on the case.

What we’re looking at is the prospect of an appeal, specifically, the very first instruction that was given. It was our argument that there are four elements to a reverse discrimination claim. So it will be for the appellate court to decide whether that first instruction should have been given or not...

We argued against the first instruction that would nullify not only the reverse discrimination claim, but also the retaliation and the whistleblower claim. In other words, our position would be that she could be – even if Peggy voluntarily resigned there could have been some things that occurred that could constitute a whistleblower violation, so violations of the law could have occurred earlier. That was our argument...

It brought three causes of action into one...

I felt like the testimony of the witnesses… came in for us. We respect the jury’s decision. The jury, I’m sure, did its best job and we respect that, but there’s some issues we’ve identified and I think we’re going to move forward with that...

We’re still planning on pursuing this. Melinda Cobb’s case took ten years. I’ve got another ten years left in me so we’ll keep plugging forward...

Obviously we’re disappointed, but we’re in it for the long haul.
McNeill extolled the jury's vindication of his clients.

KSN&C: Do you think there are any implications for the way principals are evaluated in Fayette County as a result of some of the testimony in this case?

McNeill: No. I think it’s pretty straightforward. We have a jury process. We had citizens in the community come and listen to the evidence. They found that the superintendent did nothing wrong. The district did nothing wrong. That’s how our process works. It’s a sacred system and I don’t have any belief that there are any implications on how the superintendent does [his] job. If anything, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury have confirmed that the way this district was run, and by the individuals who run the district, that they’re doing exactly what they should be doing.

WTVQ’s Michelle Rausch asked about the jury instructions issue.

McNeill: I’m not… going to talk to you very much about that. Everybody looks at the instructions differently. That’s why we have litigation. He’ll make whatever options; and assess that with his client, and pursue those things, and we’ll pursue the things we need to do…

H-L’s Jim Warren asked whether he was worried about his approach with the jury, which basically assumed that nothing happened.

McNeill: I don’t know if I was worried about it. Any time you litigate anything as hard and as long as the parties litigated this case, you’re always concerned. I wouldn’t be a good advocate if I wasn’t concerned. But I have a lot of faith in the jury. That’s the backbone of how we do our business in our society. So I believed that 12 individuals who listened to the evidence and fairly weighed the evidence
would make the right decision.

Warren followed up asking if the amount of jury deliberation time worried him at all, and McNeill said, “No.”

McNeill: If you’ve tried enough cases, you can’t predict…It is their province to take the time they need to go through the evidence and make a decision because after all, you sat through most of the trial. There were lots of exhibits to look at; lots of documents to look at.

KSN&C: I noticed in your close…you stuck very close to the jury instructions. On the other hand, Golden tended to go more toward a jury nullification kind of approach with his close. Do you think that benefited you in being able to focus the jury on the instructions they were going to be faced with in the room?

McNeill: I’m not going to comment on what the opposing counsel’s approach was. And I’m not going to necessarily agree with your characterization of that approach. All I can tell you is that the instructions are the law that the jury is supposed to follow. So, you want to talk about the law. That’s what you need to talk about with the jury...

This from Jim Warren at the Herald-Leader:

Former principal loses lawsuit

A jury ruled against a former Fayette County principal Tuesday in her civil lawsuit against the school district. Jurors deliberated for a little more than 31/2 hours in Peggy Petrilli's case, finding that she resigned voluntarily from the post of principal.

Petrilli didn't make any statement after the verdict was read, but her attorney J. Dale Golden said he will consider an appeal. He expressed dissatisfaction with instruction given the jury. Former Booker T. Washington Academy Principal Peggy Petrilli waited for a bench conference to end during her testimony at Fayette Circuit court on Thursday, July 16, 2009 in Petrilli's racial discrimination lawsuit against the Fayette County Board of Education and Superintendent Stu Silberman.

Golden had argued that the school board and Superintendent Stu Silberman unlawfully forced Petrilli out of her job as principal of Booker T. Washington Academy in 2007.

Meanwhile, school board attorney John McNeil maintained that Petrilli resigned voluntarily, and he rejected Petrilli's contention that there was an organized "reverse discrimination" campaign by parents to force her out.

WTVQ ran their story tonight at 6, but it hasn't shown up on their website yet. Here are their previous stories.

1. Superintendent Defended in Petrilli Case ... problems she was having with the way Peggy Petrilli was handing the staffing and care of special needs students at Booker T. Washington. She sad Petrilli did not return calls to concerned parents.

2. Former Principal’s Resignation in Question A former Fayette County School principal claims she was forced out of her job because of her race. She sued in civil court, and today, she faced the school system’s attorneys.

3. Ex-Principal Testifies in Lawsuit Case A former Fayette County school principal tells a jury the school board and superintendent unlawfully forced her out of her job. Peggy Petrilli testified that in spite of double digit academic gains ...

4. Ex-Principal Lawsuit Trial Starts of Peggy Petrilli versus Stu Silberman and the Fayette County Board of Education. Peggy Petrilli resigned two years ago she was the principal of Booker T. Washington She claims she was told by ...

Petrilli v Silberman Goes to the Jury

"You can see how Peggy's been treated...
how she's been demonized.
Don't let them get away with it."
--J Dale Golden

Testimony and closing arguments in the case of former Booker T Washington Academy Principal Peggy Petrilli against Superintendent Stu Silberman and the Fayette County Board of Education concluded around 12:50 this afternoon. It's all in the hands of the jury now.

John McNeill for the defense held his closing remarks close to the jury instructions focusing on the one central question in the case.
Do you believe from the evidence that the Plaintiff, Peggy Petrilli, voluntarily
resigned form her position as Principal of Booker T Washington Academy on August
27, 2007?
If the jury answers this sole question "Yes," the case is over and Stu Silberman and the board prevail. The longer it takes to reach a verdict - the greater the chances that Peggy Petrilli has prevailed.

If the jury does not believe Petrilli's resignation to have been voluntary they will proceed to the attendant issues of racial discrimination, retaliation and the whistleblower claim.

On racial discrimination the evidence must show:
  • Petrilli was a member of a protected class
  • she was subject to an adverse employment action
  • and was replaced by Silberman by an African American person as Principal at BTWA

On Retaliation the evidence must show:

  • She complained about racial issues committed by agents, representatives or employees of the board
  • The defendants knew of her complaint
  • She was subjected to adverse employment action
  • and there was a causal connection between the complaint and the action

Under the Whistleblower statute the evidence must show:

  • she reported information regarding actual or suspected violations of law or policy to the board through its agents and
  • the board caused her to be subjected to reprisal, or directly or indirectly used its official authority, or influence against her as a direct result of the report.

On damages:

If the jury finds any of these to have been violated it may fairly and reasonably compensate her for mental pain and suffering, lost wages and permanent impairment of her ability to earn money in the future.

McNeill has maintained that it was Petrilli who resigned voluntarily after becoming upset when Silberman informed her of a meeting he had with Booker T parents and community members and shared their 2 1/2 page list of of complaints. He said that Silberman still wanted to defend Petrilli and even offered her the post back at Northern Elementary where she had seen great success, but that it was Petrilli who rejected the offer in favor of looking into retirement.

In his close, Dale Golden followed a much different course weaving a tale of circumstances that he said show the coordinated mistreatment of Petrilli at the behest of BTWA parents Jessica Berry and Alva and Buddy Clark in return for their not pursuing an OEA complaint, picketing the school, or unwanted media attention. Golden argued, "You can see how Peggy's been she's been demonized. Don't let them get away with it."

Ramblings on Petrilli v Silberman

It's probably not wise to try to guess what the jury will find in any case. Absent special insight into the minds of the jurors, it's a risky venture where the chances of being wrong are large.

Plus, as Judge Ishmael has said, this is an unusual case with an unusual set of facts, and those facts are not crystal clear.

What did the jury hear? Did Peggy resign - as it so clearly says on the paper she wrote - or was she coerced into retirement? What story line will they construct in their collective minds? There are three remaining charges and Petrilli only needs to prevail on one of them to "win." Is this case a slam dunk for the district? How will the jury find?

Here are some random thoughts:


Saying that race is NOT a major factor at Booker T Washington Academy is kinda like saying there's no speeding in Indianapolis.

The Academy at Lexington, one of two schools that were joined to create BTWA, was supposed to be a Marva Collins clone; a distinctly African American effort, and one that Collins was quick to distance herself from when she felt FCPS did not deliver the program as promised.

The long history of distrust of the Fayette County Schools in the west end is the very dragon Superintendent Stu Silberman went in to slay. To prove once and for all that the schools could deliver a high quality education to families in generational poverty, despite past failings, he sent his most noble knight and threw the considerable power of his office behnd her. But this is a tough old dragon and evidence suggests the knight erred by ignoring sound advice and trying to go it alone.

I have to think that "race" and "Booker T" will be inextricably linked in the minds of jurors who've been around Lexington for a while. Despite the facts in the case - this could be a problem for the school district.

The district's narrative

The district has been able to put into evidence a long list of failings attributed to Peggy Petrilli. They have shown with great effect that Petrilli's management and relationship problems may well have given parents a reason to distrust her administration of the school on grounds that have nothing to do with her race or old resentments related to her hiring.

But that's not all this narrative has done. Jurors have heard the story of a school principal who got special treatment and the chances that some jurors may resent that fact seems high.

In action after action, the district portrayed Petrilli as the principal who couldn't shoot straight. She muffed hiring practices, went back on agreements, ignored IEPs, and made changes with a level of intuitive caprice that damaged relationships and cut her off from those she would otherwise be leading.

The district claims they "supported" Peggy time after time - and much more than any other principal. When she ignored policy or bent the law district directors thought, "This is just one more thing Peggy has gotten us into."

But it seems clear that what the district really did was enable Petrilli without using the evaluation system as it was intended; to motivate her to improve her performance in areas where she was relatively weak.

I have to believe that there will be jurors sitting in conference today who resent those facts.

Somebody's going to think, "That's not how it works on my job. When I mess up, it shows up on my evaluation. Why does she get to get away with all of this stuff without so much as a letter in her file?" I think some jurors are likely to resent it. And those jurors will want somebody to pay.

Petrilli v Silberman Day 7

If yesterday afternoon's testimony produced any news I missed it. Apparently Jim Warren did too. Aside from Jessamine County Superintendent Lu Young's chat, it was a long day rehashing previous evidence; new faces, same story.

But this morning Dale Golden will cross examine Alva Clark and that could be a different story. We've heard an attorney use the word bombshell recently and have been waiting patiently for something to go off. If that's not just bravado, and there is a bombshell out there, this would be a good day for it to go off.

John McNeill promises to start the day with a fight over those all-important jury instructions. It is not clear that KSN&C will be able to get a copy of those instructions; but an effort will be made. That debate begins at 8 AM.

For breaking news on the jury's verdict follow me on Twitter @ reday000.

This from Jim Warren at H-L:

Petrilli case will go to jury Tuesday, judge says
A civil case against Fayette County Public Schools brought by former Booker T. Washington Academy principal Peggy Petrilli's probably will go to the jury Tuesday.

Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael told jurors just before noon Monday that he expects the defense to complete its list of witnesses by the end of the day and that the case would be submitted to the jury Tuesday....

Monday, July 27, 2009

Petrilli v Silberman: Ishmael dismisses Constitutional Claims

In response to a set of motions made late Thursday, Fayette County Circuit Court Judge James Ishmael has dismissed a handful of constitutional claims made by former Booker T Washington Academy Principal Peggy Petrilli against Fayette Co Superintendent Stu Silberman.

In sustaining a defense motion for a directed verdict, Ishmael determined that Peggy Petrilli "had the requsite constitutional guarantees."

In other action, the judge denied the plaintiff's motion for directed verdicts on the other charges.

Trial continued this morning with Silberman and the board still facing claims of racial discrimination, retaliation and a whistleblower charge.

On the stand, Lu Young said she was aware, from Herald-leader reports of Petrilli's sudden departure from BTWA in August 2007, and that her Jessamnie County interview committee was concerned.
Notes from committee members said:
"too fast," "too focused," "left stakeholders behind," "stakeholders (PR)" and "must have PR"
Young acknowledged that Silberman told her of Petrilli's suit against Fayette County but the conversation took place after Jessamine had already slelcted another in district candidate as principal at Nicholasville Elementary, for which Petrilli had applied.

FCPS Special Education Director Kathy Dykes also testified this morning.

Judge Ishmael expects to conclude witnesses this afternoon and come back tomorrow for closing arguments and jury deliberations.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What Size is Race to the Top?

Over at Swift & Changeable, Charlie Barone shows why Arne Duncan is a bigger Ed philanthropist than Bill Gates.
[Race to the Top is] a good chunk of change, no matter what anyone says (see chart below comparing RTTT to the combined funding of the Gates, Broad, and Walton foundations).

Second, Duncan’s already gotten several states to change their policies by dangling the money and making some candid observations about state policies. Imagine what Obama and Duncan can accomplish if they hang tough and keep the bar high.
Barone says, "Secretary Duncan has leveraged $100 billion in education federal stimulus funding, and his $5 billion Race to the Top initiative, to affect more change in state education policies in six months on the job than any U.S. Secretary of Education in history."

Race to the Top

Kentucky may have caught a break.

Instead of Race to the Top funding being dependent upon a handful of criteria as early press reports were indicating, the critical criteria under consideration by the US Office of Ed, numbers nine "reform conditions already in place." In a competitive scoring system, might that have the effect of diluting the impact of any one variable (like charter schools) particularly in the case where a state is in pretty good standing on the other variables? In any case, Kentucky will be at a disadvantage on some criteria, and other states will be at a disadvantage on other criteria.

Over at Prichard, Susan's been doin' the math.

As folks start thinking about Race for the Top applications, it's worth trying to get a ballpark idea of what Kentucky's share might be if we receive a grant.$4.35 billion is the total competitive funding.

$4 billion is available in the main competition, with $350 million set aside for separate funding of new test development.

1.3% is roughly Kentucky's share of the country's public school enrollment.

$52 million is 1.3% of the $4 billion.

Race to the top: Criteria

Charter schools and Race to the Top


Saturday, July 25, 2009

And the Jury Finds for .......?

It's time for another KSN&C flash Poll.

For those of you who have been following the Petrilli v Silberman trial and think you've gained some insight, now's the time to let us know what you see in the near future - with our usual disclaimer.

The usual disclaimer is that KSN&C polls are unscientific, unreliable, invalid, poorly designed, and in this case, unfair since the defense has not yet presented its case. That has not prevented KSN&C polls from also being accurate.

But by Tuesday, this thing ought to be over, and that means we only have a couple of days to gather input, so here we go anyway. Get out your crystal ball and tell us:

Who will the jury find for?
The jury will find for Peggy Petrilli
The jury will find for Stu Silberman

...not necessarily who you think the jury should find for...but who they will find for. Find our flash poll in the side bar.

Viddie well my little drooges.

Kentucky School Finance History

Over at EdJurist, Justin Bathon has been producing videos illustrative of various school law topics.

On Tuesday he posted a nice explanation of the history of school finance in Kentucky as outlined by Council for Better Education co-counsel Debra Dawahare's "Public School Reform: Kentucky's Solution" and Bill Hoyt's, "An Evaluation of the Kentucky Education Reform Act."

Nice. I found myself wanting more, like something on the Rollback law.

Notes: The number of CBE school districts at the time the Council's case was filed was actually 60 according to the council's own records. CBE kept saying 66 because that represented the number at which Bert Combs agreed to represent them. *

It should be noted that the Corns Committee Bathon refers to was determined to be an unconstitutional intrusion into legislative authority. This separation of powers issue was also key to the summary judgment issued in Young.

* Day, Richard E., Each Child, Every Child: The Story of the Council for Better Education, Equity and Adequacy in Kentucky’s Schools, Ed. D. diss., University of Kentucky, 2003

New commissioner must play lead role in review of KERA

No love for bloggers, but the school board deserves credit for a much more serious effort at vetting candidates.

This from the Daily Independent:

The choice
...Dr Terry Holliday will assume his new position on Aug. 5 and will receive $225,000 a year, or $20,00 more than he was earning in North Carolina.Members of the state school board had nothing but praise for Holliday.

“Dr. Holliday has built his reputation based upon an emphasis on what is best for kids,” board Chairman Joe Brothers said.

Former state Sen. David Karem, now a member of the state education board, said Holliday also is a likable man with a strong personality. “I think he will sell very well across the state,” he said.

Holliday said he has never been subjected to a more thorough background check than the one he underwent for this job. Such close scrutiny of candidates is a positive school board members had to learn the hard way. Two years ago, the board hired Barbara Erwin as education commissioner, but immediately afterwards, many holes in her resume were found by the media and educators [numerous problems first reported by Kentucky School News and Commentary], forcing Erwin to resign before her first day as commissioner.

If the school board had employed the same type of scrutiny with Erwin that Holliday said he underwent — and if the firm the school board had hired to help it select the best applicants had done it job — the embarrassment over Erwin’s hiring could have been avoided.

“This board went through an arduous process,” said board member Dorie Combs. “I believe we have the right candidate for the right time.”

Let us hope she is right.

The Kentucky Education Reform Act is undergoing its first major review since its enactment almost 20 years ago. As commissioner, Holliday must be a strong defender of keeping and strengthening what is right about KERA while changing where the reform act has fallen short of meeting its ambitions. The goal should be not to abolish KERA but to make it better.

While he has never worked in Kentucky, Holliday is familiar with KERA. The new commissioner said he likes the way the law sets high standards and holds both schools and teachers accountable. He said Kentucky has earned a national reputation for the improvements it has made in the elementary and secondary education, and he wants to be a part of that success story.

We do not know enough about Terry Holliday to pass judgment on him. We only hope he proves to be as good as school board members believe he will be.

Catching up on Gilpin

This from the Courier-Journal:

Bittersweet tribute held for Max Gilpin
Max Gilpin didn't live to see his 16th birthday, but family and friends came together Sunday to mark the occasion with a bittersweet tribute and party for the Pleasure Ridge Park football player.

The birthday gathering at Sun Valley Park was also the public debut of The Max Gilpin Beat the Heat Foundation. Its goal is to educate youths and others about the dangers of heat-related illness, which claimed the Louisville teen's life last year.
And this from C-J:

Prosecutors: JCPS inquiry into Gilpin ' self-serving'
Judge asked to exclude report

Jefferson County prosecutors want a school district report on the death last year of Pleasure Ridge Park football player Max Gilpin excluded from ex-coach Jason Stinson's trial because it selectively used information to reach a "self-serving and wholly inaccurate conclusion."

Arguing that the Jefferson County Public Schools investigation is "factually and logically unsound," the commonwealth's attorney's office is asking a circuit judge to keep the report out of Stinson's Aug. 31 trial.

And this from C-J:

Attorneys claim prosecutors want to
exclude evidence that 'exonerates' Stinson

Attorneys for former Pleasure Ridge Park football coach Jason Stinson say the real reason prosecutors want to exclude a school district report into the death of football player Max Gilpin is because it "exonerates" the coach.

In a motion filed Wednesday, defense attorneys Alex Dathorne and Brian Butler are seeking to include the report in Stinson's Aug. 31 trial for reckless homicide — and they suggest that prosecutors should want the same.

School News from Around Kentucky

Board withholds funds for building project - Members frustrated as another deadline is set for July: With the start of school looming on the horizon and still no certificate of occupancy for the new Milton Elementary School building in hand, frustrated school board members voted Wednesday to withhold the district’s July payment to the general contractor for the project. (The Trimble Banner)

Board evaluates superintendent in open session - Public review is break from tradition: The LaRue County School Board broke tradition at Monday night’s meeting by discussing Superintendent Sam Sanders’ evaluation in open session....Aproved with [one member] voting no. (LaRue County Herald News)

Lynne Maner tells her story - Innocence lost, justice found: ...Maner, now 46, had been sexually abused from 1978 to 1982 by a succession of four teachers, a guidance counselor and an assistant principal while in Fayette County schools, according to testimony in the 2008 civil trial. (Herald-Leader)

JCPS student assignment case transferred to original judge: A challenge to how the Jefferson County school district assigns students to schools will be heard by a judge whose ruling in a prior case involving the issue was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II will take over the case brought by Sukhjit Bains, the father of a kindergarten student who claims Jefferson County Public Schools discriminated against his daughter on the basis of race by not allowing her into the elementary school of their choice. (Courier-Journal)

School board executive session defended: The recent action by the Jefferson County Board of Education to move into executive (closed) session to consider the evaluation of Superintendent Sheldon Berman prior to issuing its formal evaluation in public session has received conflicting comments. From all indications and given my background, I feel that the board's decision to move to executive session, under advice of counsel, was absolutely correct. (John Heyburn in C-J)

Hat Tip 2 KSBA

'Best Practices, With Money Behind It'

This from the Washington Post:

Here are excerpts from a Washington Post interview with President Obama on education and a $4.35 billion challenge grant fund.

On whether raising standards will cause some children to be left behind "Not if you're putting in the resources to make sure that they can achieve. We do a child no great service by setting a low bar that it appears they can meet until they graduate and can't find a job because they don't have the skills. . . . And what we want to do is raise standards, but also provide the kinds of best practices, with money behind it, that evidence shows allows every child to meet these standards."

On whether politics will influence consideration of applications from such states as Ohio or California "Politics won't come into play. And we've been very clear about that. . . . Now, keep in mind that we're also trying to encourage consensus building. So, for example, we're challenging school districts and teachers' unions to use the collective bargaining process as a catalyst for reform as opposed to an impediment for reform.

On teachers who believe it is unfair to be judged or paid, even in part, on the test scores of disadvantaged students "What I say is you're absolutely right it would be unfair if we set the same standard for kids in Anacostia and kids in Georgetown, and without any additional resources, any additional help, we penalized the kids who are much further behind and reward those who are coming out of middle-class homes and already doing well. The answer to that is, let's measure progress. That we can measure. So what we can say is that if a kid comes in and they gain two grade levels during the course of that single year, even if they're still a little behind the national average, that tells us that school is doing a good job. . . . I think teachers, understandably, in the past have been suspicious of reform measures that seem to make them into a scapegoat and don't take into account the extraordinary
challenges that they face day in, day out."

On charter schools "I think charters, which are within the public school system, force the kind of experimentation and innovation that helps to drive excellence in every other aspect of life. And I think that's a positive thing, as long as we are continuing to set high standards and are applying them consistently to these charter schools."

On the federal role in education "I just don't think about these things ideologically. I just want our kids to learn. We have a tradition of local school district control that I think is important to respect -- which is why this proposal is not a mandate. We're not forcing any local school district or any state to change its practices. But what we are saying is federal dollars need to be spent in ways that actually improve student achievement. And it's not just going to be based on politics."

And this video from the US Department of Education:

Originally broadcast live on Friday, July 24, 2009

President Obama joined US Secretary Arne Duncan in announcing the draft application for the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" Fund.

This largest-ever federal investment in education reform will reward eligible states for past accomplishments and create incentives for future improvement in four critical areas of reform: adopting rigorous standards and assessments; recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in classrooms where they are needed most; turning around low-performing schools; and establishing data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

Other speakers included
  • Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers;
  • Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association;
  • Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation and the Superintendent of KIPP Houston;
  • Eric Smith, Commissioner of Education for the state of Florida; and
  • Matthew Austin, a student at Washington D.C's Howard University Public Charter Middle School of Mathematics and Science.

Quick Hits

Federal dollars may force states to use test scores to evaluate teachers: The Obama administration is proposing not giving Race to the Top stimulus funding for school innovation to states that refuse to use student performance in assessing teachers. Some states have laws preventing the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will direct the $4.3 billion in Race to the Top money to states that make school reform and innovation a priority. (The New York Times), (USA TODAY)

Draft of common standards draws a range of reactions: A draft of national common standards, unexpectedly released on the Internet, is drawing a wide swath of opinions from educators, ranging from praise for encouraging critical thinking to disapproval for a formulaic approach. The project, led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, aims to set core curricula in English and math. Work will continue through the end of the year. (Education Week)

Call for a Kindle for every child gets mixed opinions from educators: A call to supply every student with an electronic reading device is getting mixed reviews from educators. A paper by the New Democratic Leadership Council pointed to the benefits of e-textbooks, including interactivity and the capacity to change as needed. Some teachers agree, but many point out logistical difficulties, such as initial investment, the cost of replacement and the pervasiveness of paper. (eSchool News)

PDAs, cell phones are becoming teaching tools rather than distractions: Cell phones and PDAs are changing roles at schools -- from troublesome distraction to teaching aid. An Ohio district is even implementing a pilot program where third-, fourth- and fifth-graders are assigned PDAs. The devices provide children with interactive education applications in art, writing, spelling, math and more. (MSNBC)

Theory of "plateau effect" in test scores is contested: A study of test-score trends in 16 states contests the "plateau effect" theory about accountability testing -- that scores increase sharply at first under new tests as marginal students are brought up to proficiency, then plateau as students with learning challenges receive additional attention. "It should make us all a little more cautious about believing all test results are sacrosanct," said Jack Jennings, head of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy. (Education Week)

Retest puts Dallas school's test scores more deeply in doubt: The Dallas school district is widening an investigation into test-score irregularities at one school after a retest showed the original results of an eighth-grade math test needed for promotion to high school apparently were greatly inflated. Students were retested this summer after district officials spotted anomalies in the original results. The first test was passed by 79.5% of students, but in the retest only 43.7% passed. (The Dallas Morning News)

Limits on alternative tests could sting state assessments: Federal education officials have tightened regulations on alternative exams traditionally given to students with disabilities, only allowing states to administer the exams to up to 1% of students. Ohio educators fear a substantial dip in the federal assessment of their schools. "Any school that has a huge concentration of students with disabilities, those schools are going to be greatly hurt," said the superintendent of Cincinnati schools, where 3.8% of students qualified for alternative tests. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Want options for education? Get serious about quality: Charter schools are touted as an application of free-market efficiency to education. But unlike businesses, too many low-performing charter schools are kept open, writes Margaret Raymond, director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University and an author of recent studies on charter schools. Stringent performance measures and clear signs of school quality for parents are some of what's needed, she writes. (Education Week)

2 Maryland schools illustrate possibilities of reform: Restructuring helped two Maryland middle schools get off the state's school-improvement list. At Woodlawn Middle School, which was at risk of a state takeover for eight years, educators surveyed test results and grouped students by skill level. Teachers reviewed concepts that students didn't grasp, and after-school and Saturday sessions were held. "You cannot give up on children ... and you have to have a fundamental belief in the potential of children," said the district's superintendent. (The Sun)

Justice Department tells Mississippi district to end mass transfers: Federal officials have told a Mississippi school district to stop allowing hundreds of white students to transfer from predominantly black schools, a move that is violating a desegregation order. A local NAACP leader who reported the transfers says that federal funding follows the transferred white students, shortchanging the black students. School officials said they will comply with the order before the start of the 2010-11 school year. (The Clarion-Ledger)

More schools consider extending time in classroom: Could more time in school solve problems such as poor student performance and summer learning loss? More districts and states are experimenting with adding hours to the school day and days to the school year. Critics say schools don't have the money to pay for extra hours and that longer hours doesn't necessarily equate to additional learning. (TIME)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama to schools: Change or miss out on cash

This from MSNBC:

President strong-arms educators
by linking $4-billion package to reform

WASHINGTON - President Obama is leaning hard on the nation's schools, using the promise of more than $4 billion in federal aid — and the threat of withholding it — to strong-arm the education establishment to accept more charter schools and performance pay for teachers.

The pressure campaign has been underway for months as Education Secretary Arne Duncan travels the country delivering a blunt message to state officials who have resisted change for decades: Embrace reform or risk being shut out.

"What we're saying here is, if you can't decide to change these practices, we're not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we're not going to send those dollars there," Obama said in an Oval Office interview Wednesday. "And we're counting on the fact that, ultimately, this is an incentive, this is a challenge for people who do want to change." ...

Petrilli v Silberman Day 6

[We] “put a high flying principal at the school…
watch as there will be a drastic turnaround in student improvement”

---Stu Silberman to Starr Lewis

This from Jim Warren at the Herald Leader:

Fayette superintendent testifies
he didn't force principal to quit

Fayette Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman repeatedly asserted Thursday in Fayette Circuit Court that he never forced Peggy Petrilli to resign as principal of the Booker T. Washington Academy in 2007, maintaining that he continued to back her despite repeated administrative mistakes that she made at the school.
Silberman: Mr Golden…it was an ongoing …litany of problems…and we supported Peggy in every single one of them....

There was tremendous staff turnover...Peggy was always dealing with non tenured teachers...constantly turning staff members over. [One staff member's] concern was that Peggy was telling her to do illegal things.

Golden: Of course, when you heard of illegal things you reported it to law enforcement…?

Silberman: If Peggy was cheating on the test…As a matter of fact we reported that to our [District Assessment Coordinator] the next day…[the DAC reported it to] KDE…not law enforcement. Did we have a duty to investigate? Yes, we did…finance issues…Yes we did…

Golden: I didn’t hear you talk about anything Peggy did wrong between Thursday, when you offered her Northern, and Sunday…You all had attorneys on Thursday didn’t you?

Silberman: The only difference is…our attorney looked at the information with a very different perspective…I had advice of counsel on Sunday…
But Petrilli's attorney, J. Dale Golden, sharply challenged Silberman's contention that Petrilli had many administrative weaknesses, wondering again and again why those supposed issues never turned up on her job evaluations.
Golden: Who is responsible for hiring and firing…

Silberman: I am

Golden: You wouldn’t shove that off on anyone else would you?

Silberman: I was seeking counsel…

Golden: Before that meeting [Aug 22nd] you thought things were going well at BTWA…

Silberman: That’s right…please understand…there was a problem every other day...

Golden: Why do you mention that…the ongoing problems?

Silberman: …you look at the number of problems problems…from Peggy compared to all others [Silberman gestured to indicate a big stack for Pertrilli and a small stack]

…[Re: Reading First] Peggy had given an improper form the test…we had to get that corrected or we were going to lose our funding [at all 11 Reading First schools]…

Golden: [With all these problems] wouldn’t there be [something on her evaluation] just one piece of paper?

Silberman: If we weren’t trying to support her…if we were writing her up…that would be very different.

Golden also continued to argue that Silberman forced Petrilli out to placate some Booker T. Washington parents, led by Buddy and Alva Clark and Jessica Berry, who Golden said wanted to replace Petrilli with an African-American. Golden suggested at one point that Silberman had decided that "it would be easier to turn your back on Peggy and give in to the Clarks and Jessica Berry."

"Sir, that is absolutely untrue," Silberman replied.
Golden wrapped up his case late Thursday afternoon. There will be no testimony on Friday. The defense is to begin calling witnesses on Monday, and Circuit Judge James Ishmael has advised jurors that they might not get the case until late Monday or sometime Tuesday.

Petrilli alleges in a civil suit that she was the victim of a campaign, orchestrated by a few parents who wanted to get rid of her. She contends that Silberman and the county schools caved in and forced her to resign because the parents were threatening to picket the school, contact the news media or complain to the state Department of Education.

Petrilli submitted her resignation on Aug. 27, 2007, five days after a contingent of Booker T. Washington parents, some school staffers and some community leaders handed Silberman a 21/2-page list of complaints about Petrilli's work.
Buddy Clark, one of three parents Golden says orchestrated Petrilli's overthrow - the same Buddy Clark who tried to distance himself from a letter written to Silberman - started the BTWA Blog, apparently to celebrate Petrilli's demise. The blog was taken down before the trial began but KSN&C reported on most of its very limited content in September 2007.
This from KSN&C:

A new blog has sprung up in the wake of Peggy Petrilli's departure from the Booker T Washington Academy. The "discussion of issues surrounding the education of Students at Booker T Washington Academy" is the stated purpose for the BTWA blog.

It's early, but so far the blog is long on inuendo - lots of questions - but short on info and ideas. Author and BTWA parent Buddy Clark is rumored to have had an axe to grind with Petrilli.

Clark says, "The extreme emphasis on testing in the public schools has had some unfortunate consequences at BTWA. Administrators were so focused on testing that they forgot about education. Those administrators forgot their obligation to 'teach' honesty and integrity."He applauds Petrilli's demise and says, We recently learned that because 5th graders are not tested on science, some (if not all) 5th graders at BTWA were not taught science.

The principal was thought to excel because of increased test scores. Scores that increased through trickery, deception, and coercion. Tests that did not measure competence in required subjects.

I was at the Wednesday meeting where those so-called “concerns” were raised and what follows is my recollection of the issues. Without identifying attendees, it was more than just parents:

  • Testing irregularities: not all students tested, inappropriate test procedures
  • Curriculum irregularities: teaching the test rather than teaching required
  • Placement irregularities: students with good grades held back because
    they did not test well, students held back over parents objection
  • Misapplication of funds
  • Retaliationn on-compliant teachers punished or dismissed
  • Failing to respond to higher authority
  • Non-compliance with SBDM rules and regulations
  • Potential legal liability

Referring to a Herald-Leader article, he says it "sounds like she got her feelings hurt by some whining parents."

Petrilli's statement in H-L read:

"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."

Petrilli contends that the school district changed the language she approved which referred to a group of parents rather than the school community.

When Petrilli resigned she issued the following statement:

"I stand behind our work at Booket T. The academic achievement of our students has been my life's work, my passion, my ministry. After having a heart-to-heart conversation with [Fayette County Superintendent]Stu [Silberman] and [Director] Carmen [Coleman], it is evident that despite my best efforts, and the fact that I did the best I could do, I recognize that I could not build trust with a group of parents...

It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to leave Booker T. Washington for the sake of our students... I ask everyone to stay focused on high academic standards, a safe and orderly environment, a high-quality professional staff and most of all, our incredibly high-achieving, motivated and bright students."

Golden: [Isn’t it true]…the last person who had the release was [FCPS Community Relations Director] Lisa Deffendall before [it went to the Herald-Leader]…?

Silberman: I also think it was sent back to [Petrilli’s attorney] before it went to the Herald-Leader

Back to H-L:

But Silberman insisted Thursday that no one at the meeting ever asked him to fire Petrilli, expressed a desire to have an African-American as principal or complained about not having had a say in picking the principal.
Silberman described the parents as "very upset" and "very emotional" over "what had been happening to their children at the school." Some parents wanted to remain anonymous, he said, because they feared that Petrilli might retaliate against their children.
Golden pounced on that, asking whether Silberman ever tried to identify which children might have been at risk of retaliation. Silberman said he did not.

Silberman testified that he met with Petrilli the next day to discuss issues raised by parents. He said that he saw no reason why Petrilli couldn't remain at the school, insisting that he didn't believe most of the allegations. He said he told Petrilli, "I believe we can fight this."

The superintendent said, however, that after going over the complaints, Petrilli told him she couldn't return to the school because she had "lost the community's support." Silberman said he then offered to arrange for Petrilli to return to Northern Elementary, where she previously was principal. But she declined, saying she couldn't do that "with a cloud hanging over my head," according to Silberman.

He said that after conferring with the Fayette Schools' attorney on Sunday, Aug. 26, he decided that he would have to suspend Petrilli if she did not resign or retire. Petrilli ultimately submitted a resignation letter the next day.

Is there a lawyer in the house?

Golden questioned Silberman about his Sunday conversation with board attorney Brenda Allen who had "a completely different perspective on what was going on. After that," Silberman said, "the things we talked about were now a part of my thought process."

Golden tried to extract the board attorney's perspective, but surprisingly - to me at least -McNeilll cautioned Silberman that discussing his conversations with Allen would violate attorney-client privilege. Silberman told the jury repeatedly that he wanted to answer Golden's questions and that "it was critical" to explaining his perspective. But on McNeill's advice, he didn't.

Two Kentucky circuit court judges confirmed for KSN&C Thursday that the attorney-client privilege is owned by the client and can be waived by the client at will?

However, since McNeill also represents the board, and the superintendent is part of the board, which has not taken action on the issue, perhaps Superintendent Silberman wanted to waive the privilege but Board Secretary Silberman could not.

Silberman acknowledged, however, that he told a Herald-Leader reporter in a phone interview on Sunday night, Aug. 26, that Petrilli wouldn't return, based on her statement that she couldn't go back.

Golden closely questioned Silberman about the Aug. 22 meeting, other events leading up to Petrilli's resignation and whether Silberman had given in to pressure to get rid of her. Silberman insisted that he had not.

"Peggy made the decision to leave on her own," he said.
Silberman called Petrilli "an outstanding instruction leader" who improved test scores at both Booker T. Washington and Northern. But he said she had "significant issues" with the "organizational piece and the management piece" of being a principal. Silberman said those weaknesses led to "problem after problem after problem" that he had to resolve.
Golden questioned Silberman as to why such issues never showed up on Petrilli's evaluations, in which he always gave her high marks. Golden demanded at one point why Silberman couldn't show jurors "one piece of paper" reflecting the problems.

Silberman said the school system had tried to support Petrilli rather than simply "writing her up."
A Threatening Email
During Silberman's testimony, he made reference to a threatening email that went to all BTWA employees on that Saturday. Silberman testified that FCPS officials were able to determine the orginator as "a former employee of Peggy's" and that it contributed to an ugly atmosphere
From: Booker Washington []
Sent: Sat 8/25/2007 9:32 PM
To: BTWA Staff
Subject: Finally

FInally there is some sort of ramifications for the crap that hastaken place at BTWA for 3 years. Now to get rid of [name redacted], [name redacted], the 4th grade team and the rest of the Peggy's flunkies. In time the truth will come out and you will all be going down!
During his examination of Silberman, Golden took a moment to get something on the record related to his outstanding motion against McNeill.
Golden claims that McNeill displayed absolutely shocking behavior during the depositions in the case by taunting, name-calling and objecting more than 1,000 times. Golden claimed, that McNeill was "writing answers down on a notepad and showing them to a witness for the witness to give that answer under oath." So he asked Silberman, under oath, in front of the jury.

Golden: [In your deposition] the first time you addressed the situation with Peggy [in their Aug 23rd meeting] you mentioned retirement but not resignation...

Silberman: Yes.

Golden: After that happened...your attorney wrote something down on a pad [and showed it to you. After that] … you said retire or resign…?

Silberman: Yes, I think that’s correct.

The trial resumes Monday and is expected to run through Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Petrilli v Silberman Day 5

This long summer continues in Judge James Ishmael's Fayette County courtroom. And the day ended with an announcement from the court that it may well go on even longer. Jurors were warned to look at their calendars for next week as it currently does not appear that attorneys J Dale Golden and John McNeill will complete there examination of witnesses and closing arguments before Monday.

The plaintiffs scored some points today, but the defense continued to give jurors a narrative to explain away Peggy Petrilli's claim that she was forced out of her post at Booker T Washington Academy.

The interim principal who followed Peggy Petrilli at BTWA told the jury that "the instructional piece" was actually in good shape at the school when he took over.

Soon after his arrival at "Booker T" Jock Gum was approached by Jessica Berry and Alva Clark for a meeting. They "came to meet me, and greet me, and check me out…and let me know their concerns," Gum testified. But he explained how he quickly explained to them how he saw his mission. "I said to them, if you are looking for someone to come in here and change a bunch of things, I'm not the guy."

Gum told the jury that Berry and Clark had an inordinate amount of presence in the school and strongly inferred they would be taxing for a new principal to work with. He said Berry was "very opinioniated" and that on more than one occasion she had flown off the handle. "I just thought the new principal would be better off if those people weren’t there," Gum admitted, but it was a circumstance that he decided it was "just one I needed to live with."

Under cross examination Gum explained to the court that relationship building was necessary to becoming a successful principal. "The trust in your relationship between the school and the parents starts with the principal. If the principal does not have the commmincation…trust with the community…it makes it very difficult" to be successful.

Golden attacked the notion that Gum was sent to Booker T as a "relationship guy" who allowed the children to have candy and at one point snapped, "but that did not get you principal of the year did it?"

Cheryl Jones, a librarian clerk and former member of the school council at the Academy at Lexington provided Golden with his first verification of Petrilli's claim that some parents wanted an African American principal.

Jones told the jury that some council members from the old Academy were part of a group that believed it had been empowered to help in the selection of the principal of the newly forming BTWA and "there were already some feelings... they wanted an African American principal...someone who would work in the community…identify with the children."

Golden: …did Silberman tell …this group …that they would be permitted to select…

Jones: As far as I can remember the goal was to narrow it down to three or four…we had in mind several candidates...but it kind of stopped... along the line…

Golden: …was it your understanding that…they would become the final candidates…and that …wanted an African American

Jones: It was a topic that was discussed

Golden: Did people want an African American…

Jones: Yes

Golden: Where were you in the process when you were told …Petrilli

Jones: I wanna say...actually having some candidates in mind..I don’t think anyone was interviewed…I know we were close...and it was a long process..

Golden: Who told this group…Petrilli would be principal?

Jones: I don’t’know…there was a meeting… key people there and it was announced…

Golden: Were you shocked

Jones: Yes

Golden asked Jones to relate provide some background.

Jones: Over the years I’ve been at Booker T… that’s been an ongoing statement – always…One thing that at the top of the list was men...we need more black men…more role models for might think they could reach and achieve…role models…in a more positive light…I think I remember it being more of a want after the Marva Collins thing…[who] we met one on one...showed us that a difference could be made…that there are some top key educators there…

Former Director Bob McLaughlin described himself as Peggy Petrilli's mentor, colleague and friend. He was also her boss at Northern and briefly at BTWA. As a long time school official McLaughlin explained to the jury the historical differences where Petrilli enjoyed great success and Booker T Washington.

"They were two really different types of schools, McLaughlin said, but they had one thing in common; a low percentage of children who were reading proficiently. Northern was relatively new, having been built in the 1960s. Booker T Washington had been in the community almost 100 years and had a very different history.

"One of the major issues at Booker T was establishing trust in a community," McLaughlin said. "Members of the community felt at times like they were not treated fairly by our district." McLaughlin described a long history of problems and an on-going effort by the district to try to establish a trusting relationship.

McLaughlin testified that he warned Petrilli about this history before she accepted the position at BTWA. He said his concern was that for Petrilli to be successful at the level she wanted to be she had to develop incredible relationships first. Then she could move her program.

"I felt like going from Northern…there could be a tendency to think, 'What I did at Northern, I’ll do at Booker T.' I wanted her to know that that was a recipe for failure" McLaughlin testified.

McLaughlin said he "wanted her to understand that there were folks who were very skeptical" and he did not want the Academy to be perceived as just "one more thing we hang out there." I was cautioning her …about the community…the history…and I thought it could be the biggest challenge she faced.

McLaughlin recounted for the jury a conversation he had with Petrilli shortly after her August 2007 meeting with Silbeerman and Coleman. "She felt like she had to resign or retire," McLaughlin said. He told the court that he had raised the idea that "you can just stay." He told her that she'd probably be suspended while an investigation was conducted."She just indicated that just was not a good option, McLaughlin said.

On cross, John McNeill countered Golden's narrative in a point by point manner.

McNeill: When you stopped being a director, did you maintain contact with Peggy Petrilli?

McLaughlin: I did

McNeill: How would you describe your relationship?

McLaughlin: I would describe it as very professional. I was a mentor, a sounding board, a friend…

McNeill: Were you a confidant?

McLaughlin: I was

McNeill: At the genesis of BTWA…were you involved in the planning?

McLaughlin: I was

McNeill: Describe the concept…

McLaughlin: The idea behind the school was…to be a collaborative effort primarily with UK and…other groups. UK contributed a fair amount of resources and ideas [involving] Booker T…and larger community.”

McNeill: After Petrilli became principal, were there any problems with that collaboration?

McLaughlin: There were some challenges. UK had many key players involved…they had some notions of how the school was to proceed. Peggy knew where she wanted to go and how she wanted to get there.

Typically we would have these meetings with the university representatives and after the meeting was over…Peggy would change her mind…and not communicate it to the university. They would hear about it…and call me…and I ‘d set another meeting together …

It hurt communications and it hurt the trust factor…

McNeill: Did these take place on more than one occasion?

McLaughlin: They did.
McLaughlin described that inordinate amount of intervention required of him to mediate between Petrilli and the district office and various other groups. He counseled Petrilli on John Maxwell's The Bob Principle, which essentially says that If everyone is having a problem with Bob…the problem is probably Bob. "I just wanted peggy to understand how important it is to develop those relationships. I was worried about next director "who might not be able to troubleshoot for her," McLaughlin said.

Following brief testimony form CPA Calvin Cranfill on the amount of lost wages Petrilli has suffered as a result of the alleged dismissal former Director (and new Superintendent of Danville Independent Schools) Carmen Coleman took the stand.

Coleman said she was Petrilli's friend since her days at Anne Mason Elementary in Scott County when Petrilli was just starting out at Northern - but she was only Petrili's boss for a little more than a month. Coleman admitted to Golden that at the time she took over as Petrilli's boss, there were no disciplinary issues pending against her. When asked if Buddy Clark ever angrily threatened Petrilli, Coleman responded the she wasn't sure about a threat, but "she definitely felt uncomfortable."

Under direct examination, Coleman testified about the events leading up to Petrilli's alleged resignation.

She described Silberman's reluctance to holding the August 22nd off-the-record meeting without Petrilli present but ultimately did in an effort to forestall a complaint being filed with the Office of Educational Accountability in Frankfort.

Golden: Isn’t it true that Jessica berry was leading the meeting…?

Coleman: She seemed to be.

Golden: …they were very frustrated…?

Coleman: That’s correct

Golden: At the end of the meeting…one individual was very loud…?

Coleman: One individual at the end of the meeting …said something

Golden: Was that Mr Clark?

Coleman: …it could have been…Clark

Golden: And you said you felt like crying

Coleman: I did . Peggy was a friend…
The next day, Silberman and Coleman met with Petrilli.
Coleman: …Aug 23rd I did [contact Peggy]

Golden: Did Silberman indicate to Peggy that some of the allegations were false…?

Coleman: We did.

Golden: And Stu had indicated this in the meeting that night…there’s such a process of checks and balances… [regarding test allegations] there’s no way…so you knew somebody was a making false allegations…?

Coleman: That‘s what we thought….

Golden: [Re: Northern]

Coleman: The day we met with Peggy, yes, he offered her the position at Northern…

Golden: Then Sunday…isn’t it true that there was a cabinet meeting and …suspension of Peggy was discussed…

Coleman: It was…[Petrilli] said she could not go back…wanted to look into retirement…

Golden: From Thursday the 22nd until Sunday, are you aware of any investigation or any new information…?

Coleman: No…Peggy told us she was trying to figure out what to do….She was supposed to call…She said she wasn’t going to school the next day…We wanted to do what she wanted us to do…She had not made a decision…She wanted to talk to her minister..

Golden: …since Silberman meeting [any new allegations?]

Coleman: She had admitted to several items on the based…She said, ‘Yeah this is true”…payments directly made to a teacher for t-shirts…she said, ‘Yeah that was true…”

Golden: With all that information Mr Silberman still offered her the job at northern

Coleman: That was always the intention to help her…

Golden: But Peggy had not done what Mr Silberman had wanted…walk out and go to Northern…?

Coleman: …[she said,] ‘I don’t know what to do’…[I said,] What do you mean you can’t go back there…[Silberman] said you know Northern has an interim principal right now…you’d have to apply and go through the process later…We didn’t want to suspend her…

Golden: The choices were that she could resign or retire…or she’d be suspended…

Coleman: She said she was going to resign or retire and we couldn’t get an answer from her…

Golden: What were you going to do if Peggy didn’t resign or retire?

Coleman: Actually, in the cabinet meeting…[suspension] came up…It was decided that no…we didn’t want to do that….

Golden: You and Fabio went to Peggy’s house…

Coleman: We just wanted to talk to her…we were close to Peggy…worried about her…see what she wanted…what she decided…

Golden: Do you recall on Monday...Silberman making the decision that if she did not resign or retire…

Coleman: She was supposed to call me and she didn’t. The next thing I heard was that she had an attorney and I was out of the loop

On cross examination McNeill got Coleman to clarify the district's actions in consideration of suspension.
McNeill: ...The question of suspension came up…who suggested it…

Coleman: I believe that was our board attorney…She left to draft a letter

McNeill: Did the superintendent follow that advice…to send out a suspension letter that Sunday

Coleman: No he didn’t.
Despite being Petrilli's supervisor of less than two months, Coleman outlined a long series of interventions of Petrilli's behalf that echoed McLaughlin's prior testimony.

McNeill asked her to walk through the BTWA issues she had to handle. Coleman described receiving complaints from the district Title I office, the Gifted and Talented office, the Special Education Department. There was particular concern over problems implemanting the district's Reading First grant because mistakes at one school would jeopardize funding for the entire district, and 11 schools were involved.

To bolster his racial discrimination argument Golden asked Coleman to confirm a state law [the cite for which I did not catch] that indicated of the superintendent, "He shall be responsible for Hiring and …" Coleman said, "Well, I’ve got a problem with where it says "he"… but otherwise had no retort.

Actually, the applicable statute is KRS 160.345(2)(h) which provides:
From a list of applicants submitted by the local superintendent, the principal at the participating school shall select personnel to fill vacancies, after consultation with the school council. Requests for transfer shall conform to any employer-employee bargained contract which is in effect. If the vacancy to be filled is the position of principal, the school council shall select the new principal from among those persons recommended by the local superintendent. Personnel decisions made at the school level under the authority of this subsection shall be binding on the superintendent who completes the hiring process. The superintendent shall provide additional applicants upon request when qualified applicants are available.
So, does the superintendent, technically, hire the principal? You bet. But he or she does not get to select who that is except under special circumstances.
This from Jim Warren at the Herald-Leader:
School staffer backs up Petrilli's claims
Some Booker T. Washington Academy parents wanted an African-American principal in 2005 and were unhappy when they didn't get one, according to testimony Wednesday in Fayette Circuit Court.

Cheryl Jones, a staffer at the school, said in taped testimony that there was a desire for a black principal among some site-based council members at the Academy at Lexington, one of two elementary schools that merged to form Booker T. Washington in 2005.

Jones said the parents had some candidates in mind when their work was rendered "null and void" by Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman's appointment of Peggy Petrilli. Asked if she was shocked by the appointment, Jones said, "Yes." ...

Jones' testimony Wednesday was the strongest independent support so far in the case for Petrilli's contention that a group of parents wanted a black principal and were angered when she was named....