Because I’m angry, I wanted to begin this heated diatribe by lecturing you on the importance of role models and positive influences in the life of a child – and crow about how we learn core values and the moral imperatives of life at an early age by emulating those we admire – learned traits which form the ethical backbone of our character.
But you already know that.
And you don’t need a degree in educational psychology to understand that building trusting relationships between students, faculty and staff is key to forming a healthy learning environment.
Perhaps most important, anyone with a modicum of human decency knows that intentionally misleading impressionable young people – regardless of how well-intentioned the lie may be – is reprehensible.
Like many of you, when the disastrous news of the ‘placebo’ Advanced Placement examination scandal broke at Mainland High School in June, I was literally dumbstruck – unable to process the breadth and depth of an organized fraud that adversely affected so many families in our community.
I found it hard to believe that ostensibly smart people – veteran educators with extensive training and experience could exhibit such horrific personal and professional judgement – or deliberately devise a scheme wherein 336 high school students would be intentionally deceived into believing they were sitting for an AP examination leading to college credit.
Now, after anxious students and parents waited nearly two-weeks with absolutely no substantive information while the district finished investigating itself – we are being told that no one in a leadership role will be held even marginally responsible for this appalling scam that has destroyed the public’s trust and forever altered the way Volusia County students will perceive and interact with teachers and administrators.
Earlier this week, thanks to the outstanding reportage of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Cassidy Alexander, Volusia County taxpayers – and those who were victimized – learned that the architect of this sordid scheme, Mainland Principal Cheryl Salerno, and the district’s former Chief Academic Officer Teresa Marcks, will receive little more than a stern scolding from something the district absurdly refers to as the “Office of Professional Standards” – whose inquiry described this inexcusable malfeasance as “inappropriate and/or unprofessional.”
My God. . .
According to reports, “No other disciplinary action is outlined in the documents. . .”
Perhaps more disturbing is the fact the Volusia County School Board apparently allowed former Superintendent Tom Russell (who, according to the “investigation,” approved the original plan) to slip the noose and run off to a comfortable new position as principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School with a sack full of severance pay – without ever having been interviewed by investigators. . .
Our elected officials knew about this building fiasco – and voted to award Mr. Russell some $68,700 in severance pay anyway?
In addition, Ms. Marcks – who served as the district’s chief academic officer and a member of Superintendent Russell’s “cabinet” – was allowed to retire the same day Russell left.
Look, I’ve read all the testimonials to Principal Salerno’s professionalism – and I have no doubt she is a wonderful person and creative educator who normally has the very best interests of her students at heart.
However, it appears to me – regardless of her altruistic intentions – Ms. Salerno pursued a path that she either knew or should have known would compromise the trust of over three-hundred high school freshman who were led to believe their academic efforts would lead to advanced credit for their work.
In my view, Ms. Salerno must have realized the depth of the problem the very minute Ms. Marcks refused to pay the $60,000 required for all 414 students to sit for the examination – and it is inconceivable that other senior administrators were unaware of the plan.
Instead of admitting a mistake and alerting students and parents to the problem – inexplicably, the key players concocted a fake ‘placebo’ test intentionally made to resemble the actual exam.
Now, rather than act in a manner her senior leadership role demands and accept personal responsibility for her actions – Ms. Salerno has submitted a letter to district officials challenging the investigative findings and carping that the courageous whistle blower who exposed this travesty to the Florida Department of Education “influenced public opinion.”
What message must that send to the 336 young victims of Ms. Salerno’s bizarre “experiment”?
And how do senior administrators maintain the moral authority to discipline students and staff in the aftermath?
Unfortunately, rather than demonstrate the strong leadership needed during this mushrooming crisis, School Board Chairman Carl Persis, “. . .called the issue of whom to blame and disciplinary actions “a moot point.”
Accountability – the foundational element of good governance that ensures those who make decisions that affect people’s lives are answerable for their actions – is a moot point having no practical value or importance?
An experienced ship captain once wrote on the subject of responsibility, authority and accountability:
“What holds together the tradition of command is inescapable accountability. How many times do we hear people say they take full responsibility for some disaster and then nothing happens to them? No accountability. Without accountability there can be no trust from your crew, especially in times of danger. If they don’t trust you, you’re finished.”
With all due respect to the Chairman’s lofty position and delicate sensibilities – I’m going to offer Mr. Persis an urgent suggestion – in the same spirit an old chief of police I worked for would do for me whenever I had that deer in the headlights look during an emergency:
CARL! PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS – DEMONSTRATE SOME BASIC LEADERSHIP – AND TAKE CHARGE OF THIS CATASTROPHE BEFORE EVEN MORE DAMAGE IS DONE TO THE DISTRICT’S CREDIBILITY!
Because your district is in real trouble – and you are rapidly losing the trust of those you were elected to serve. . .
Now is the time for the elective body we have placed our sacred trust in to establish strong public policy, purge that wholly dysfunctional Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand and establish a lasting culture of honor, virtue and transparency that students of the Volusia County School District can take pride in – and learn from.
It is important that our children know that character counts.