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. Celebrating "70" Years.... 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