North Carolina Newspapers

    2A ®QO
NEWSAi;$e Charlotte $obi2
Thursday, August 3, 2006
At-risk students pushed out gde cftaiiotte io^t
Continued from page 1A
during the 2004-2005 acade
mic year, there were more
than 20,000 dropout events
recorded statewide for grades
9-12, with the Afiican
American average being
among the highest. For CMS,
the total was 1,108, with
blacks accotmtmg for 555.
In an age when teaching
jobs are connected to achieve
ment and federal fundir^ for
schools based on the num
bers, schc»Is are taking dras
tic measures to comply but
how far is too far?
Current and former staff
members at Myers Park say
school administrators mis
coded students after convinc
ing or co^xdi^ them to drop
out, so that they did not bring
down testing scores. They
made it look as if students
either transfeired or moved
from Charlotte altogether,
ratha' than being left with
out an education. They called
it “the school of far, far away”
Anything but a fairy tale
In 2002, Newsweek maga
zine ranked Myers Park the
nation’s seventh-best high
school and the administra
tion was lauded for taking an
active role in closing the
achievement divide between
haves and have-nots.
Innovative programs joined
high achiever and struggling
students to create a dynamic
where they learned from and
about each other.
Myers Park sources, who
did not want their identities
revealed for fear of retaliation
from CMS, say that climate
changed when Bill Anderson
took over as principal.
Programs were moved or dis
banded, campus sources say
Counselors were moved,
making it difficult for some
students to stop in and talk
with them without being late
for classes.
“The kids began to hang
their heads ... Uke they were
sent to the back of the bus,”
one source said “They went
froni feeling like they were
important to feeling discon
nected.”
Standardized test scores
began to drop and pressure
from the community to
improve results and the
school’s image led to drastic
measures. Anderson and
other administrators, accord
ing to sources at Myers Park
and CMS, launched a plan to
get rid of specific students.
“They said they weren’t
going to tolerate students
who misbehave, had a hard
time getting to school or had
a hard time taking tests,” one
of the on-campus sources
said. “They’d pick out who
they wanted and who they
didn’t want in the school.”
‘School far, far away’
Sources at Myers Park
described situations where
teachers or administrators
pxuposefully tried to provoke
corfrontations witii students.
“They were coercing kids out
so they wouldn’t brir^ down
EOC,” said another campus
source. “They’d- set them up
to get th^n angry then sus
pend them when they react
ed. Once suspended, they’d
get behind in school, and then
when they reached 10
absences, they’d kick them
out.”
Anderson denies the allega
tions, insisting Myers Park
faculty and staff worked witii
high-absentee students to
keep them on track, even if it
meant exploring other acade
mic options.
“We imequivocally never
coerced or forced students
out. If a student missed 20 or
30 days they couldn’t possibly
pass. Our job is always to
help stud^ts succeed. I am
aware of administrators anti
counselors talkir^ with par
ents to inform them of their
students’ option, if they are in
darker of foiling We may rec
ommend that they go to com
munity college, but we never
coerced or forced students
out”
For those that couldn’t be
provoked but whose test
scores were low, there was a
plan of action as well, sources
say
“They’d tell them. It looks
hke you are not goii^ to
make it this year,” a source
said. “Just drop out, come
back next year, and start over
clean.’ And the kids would do
it, and their parents would
believe it was in their best
interest, and they’d accept it.
When they tried to come back
the next year, either they’d be
told they couldn’t, or there
wasn’t room left for them.”
While coercing or forcing
students out is a radical step,
there are guidelines that
would leave them, in the sys
tem for tracking. However, at
Myers Park, the records were
coded in a way that made stu
dents “disappear” for the
school’s benefit.
For example, should a stu
dent’s parents move, the code
would be WIF, for out of state
or out of the cormtry There
are codes for in-state transfer,
in-system transfer, and even
in-covmty transfer to home
schooling.
Yet at Myers Park, students
that were coerced or forced
out were coded out of state or
cotmtry, in state transfer,
and/or in comity transfer to
private school instead of
dropouts.
Miscoding dropouts circiun-
vented including them
among the required 95 per
cent of students in each state
subgroup that must be tested
to make Adequate Yearly
Progress. Without the
dropouts, test scores are
boosted. Sources at Myers
Park have said Anderson
even made jokes at faculty
meetings about sending stu
dents to the “school of far, far
away”
But campus sources believe
most of the teachers had no
idea what was going on, or at
least didn’t question when
students just stopped coming
to school.
“A new principal came into
PHOTOCURTIS WILSON
Myers Park, with a wonder
ful reputation,” said a Myers
Park source. “The new princi
pal does not know that this is
going on, but Andersen is still
in touch with his old cronies.”
Anderson, who is now direc
tor of Communities In
Schools, a program that
keeps at-risk students in
school, said he knew nothing
about students being miscod
ed after dropping out.
“I know absolutely nothit^
about that,” he said. “That
would be fraud on the part of
the registrar. I can’t believe
the registrar at Myers Park
or any other school would
ever do that.
“There were never instruc
tions given, by me or mem
bers of my administration, to
falsify documents, ever.
There was this one employee
terminated finm Myers Park
due to changing grades. That
pCTson alleged that the regis
trar was responsible for
changing the grades. The
matter was investigated and
the claim was foimd to be
false.”
When Myers Park was
named a school of distinction,
teachers and administrators
received bonuses.
A future lost
Turner admits he was a
below average student, but
he had an opportunity to
improve his grades by mak
ing up missed .assignments.
Ttimer, who hoped to go to
college to become a sports
manager or agent, admitted
to numerous tardies and a
suspension, but felt he had a
good relationship with some
of his teachers and the
administration. Instead, he
spent a year aimlessly living
in Winston-Salem.
‘T would rather have gone
throu^ with the hearing,”
said T\imer,” and tiien see
what the board would have
said ...instead of just letting
the school take everything in
their hands.”
Though Myers Park was
his neighborhood school,
Turner was turned away.
Campus somces maintain
students never get to see the
codes themselves, so they
don’t know why they won’t be
accepted at other schools.
Ttimer said he tried to enroU
at other schools and Central
Piedmont Commimity
College, but insists his Myers
Park records kept him out.
Although he was the only
dropout willir^ to do an inter
view whoi contacted by The
Post, Tbmer is not alone.
In a sample group of 49
Myers Park student records
obtained by The Post, 16
were coded incoiTectly and 12
' of those were African
Americans. Among the 16
correctly-coded dropouts,
only three were black and of
the 17 left, students couldn’t
be reached to confirm or deny
their status.
Silence broken
In a school of 200 teachers
and about 2,700 students,
few at Myers Park were will
ing to discuss the situation on
campus.
“What’s really tou^ is that
good people do awful things,”
a campus source said “That’s
just historically true. I hate to'
do this; I know some of these
people. I hke them. But they
are part of a system that has
run amok”
Tbp-tier public high schools
aren’t the only ones pushing
students out.
Crossroads Charter Mgh
School came forward as well,
because of disgust for the sit
uation thm^.
‘It’s aU about money” said a
source at Crossroads, who
requested anonymity because
of fear of reprisal. “Kids are
coimted through to October,
but once the head count is
taken, and state money is cal-
cvdated, students are sus
pended and forced out left
and right.”
In 2004-2005 Crossroads
Charter reported 10
dropouts; in comparison,
Kennedy Charter reported
none.
‘Tt is a disservice to chil
dren, parents and the com
munity,” the Crossroads
source said. “There is no point
at which you give up on a stu
dent. If a child comes to class,
I don’t believe you fail a child
who comes to school and
tries.”
Kenneth Simmons,
Crossroads’ principal, said
the school doesn’t force stu
dents out.
‘T just finished my first year
as principal at Crossroads;
the reason I was brought
here was to correct the school,
but none of those problems
are related to students beit^
coerced or forced out,” he
said. ‘T have never experi
enced anyone sharing this
information; I have never
heard anything before about
these concerns. My staff and I
considered who might have
made such comments and we
decided it must a former
staff member.”
‘A significant problem’
Though not aware of coer
cion and force-outs, CMS
Chief Operating Officer
Maurice Green said no one
should give up on education,
especially for at-risk stu-
daits.
‘Tt is a significant issue and
a significant problem,” he
said. “Tbo many in the com
munity want to say it’s the
fault of educators, but it’s
everyone’s fault.
“We haven’t followed
throi^h with the action of
educating students. We have
allowed large sections to fed
that maybe education isn’t
important. When kids
dropout they are hmting
themselves and hurting the
rest of us,” said Green.
What is the solution, when
the problem is not just
dropouts?
‘T don’t really know,” said
one of the Myers Park
sources, ‘but it’s up to every
one in schoob to be dedicated
to do what’s best for the stu
dents.”
Correspondent Angela IJndsay
contributed to this report.
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