Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is this what MPUSD critics mean when they say "dysfunctional"?

Ever since I began covering the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, I've heard claims that the district's dysfunctional. As proof, people would offer the number of principals that have paraded through the district in the last few years. The teacher turnover. Students fleeing to nearby districts.

The problem is, teacher turnover and student flight it's not just a matter of "push," it can also be of 'pull." Teachers and students are 'pulled' because of better pay, better academic environments nearby.

Dig deeper, I would hear. So I would ask around and get nowhere. I'd ask for proof. If you have evidence of the district's dysfunctionality, send me evidence. Records. Proof.

My prayers were finally answered when I got the high school transcripts of three students in the fall. The records showed the students had the course title for one of their classes, 'Algebra I,' changed for "Algebra Readiness', a class that has not been taught at the district since it was approved in 2009.

The changed had been made to the records of 93 students. And teachers were furious.

For more on the story, you can find my previous reports here and here.

Trustees asked Superintendent of Public Schools Nancy Kotowski to investigate. Tuesday night, she delivered a report that lays the blame squarely on the district's policies and procedures. You can find the complete report here.

Finally, this is what dysfunctionality looks like. Like the board says one thing in its policies, but means another on the high school catalog. Like there's no manual on who gets to change student records. Like students in the 12th grade can get changes done to their records when they were in the 9th grade.

Like any administrator can decide to change the transcripts of 93 students and there are no systems in place to prevent it. 

It's nobody's fault, really. We have four relatively new trustees who are probably as surprised to hear this as I am. I suspect these are issues that have been dragging for years but nobody had paid any attention to them.

So how do you get some attention to be paid? Well, I don't know. Maybe by sending records to your local, friendly reporter?

The MCOE report made a lot of noise about the fact that the Herald -- yours truly -- first reported on the issue and publicized the fact that students records were sent to the public. For the record, we never published the names of those students, so no privacy was violated here.

But what I believe is the most important development to surface after we reported on the records was that something ACTUALLY got done. An external, unbiased, knowledgeable party came and looked at the district's internal procedures and was able to pinpoint its flaws. Kotowski and her team gave MPUSD administrators several recommendations on how to improve things at the districts. The trustees, now on a path to make things pretty, seemed ready to comply.

Isn't this grand? Not only did we get a full report on the district's dysfunctionality, but a roadmap on how to fix it.

And all because somebody had the courage to send some transcripts out to the public.

Yay to the whistleblowers. You deserve a medal, not punishment. I hope you weather the storm -- it was for a good cause, really.

And please, keep my contact information at your fingertips.

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