Principal defends Walbrook policies

Bundley cites authority, past practices as helping students to not fall behind

He complains he's `locked out'

August 03, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Andrey Bundley, the former principal of Walbrook Uniform Services Academy, offered a spirited defense of himself yesterday, a week after school officials launched an investigation into why hundreds of students at the high school were improperly allowed to graduate or advance to the next grade.

The 2003 mayoral candidate, who has been suspended with pay, said he has not been able to clear his name because he has been banned from city school buildings and investigators have not interviewed him.

"I've been locked out of the process," Bundley said at a news conference with defense attorney Warren A. Brown at his side. Noting that he was a product of city schools, Bundley added: "I understand the pain of being ill-prepared, so I would not endorse sending children out into the world ill-prepared."

Bundley said he allowed some seniors to participate in graduation activities although they had failed one or two required classes, but did not give them diplomas until they had made up the credits. He also let some students in lower grades who had failed required courses sign up for classes as though they were being promoted, so that they would not fall behind in course sequences.

Bundley said he had the authority to create such policies, and that they have been in place for years. He said he was confident his staff could "clear up every child," if given a chance by the central administration.

After problems were discovered with records at the 2,000-student school, many recent graduates' plans for work or college were cast in limbo as officials hastened to arrange a special summer-school session for those who were improperly given diplomas in June. Other students learned that they would have to repeat a grade because of missing credits they had been unaware of.

At a news conference held yesterday by school officials to announce the repayment of most of a $42 million city loan, schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland said about half of the city's 39 high schools have been checked so far, and no similar problems turned up.

"We find that this is not a pervasive practice, that this is limited to the Walbrook situation," Copeland said

The number of students whose graduations are in question now stands at 93, down from an initial 125, she said. She did not know how many students had been improperly promoted to grades 10, 11 and 12.

Bundley, who was principal at Walbrook for six years until he was transferred last month for unrelated reasons, offered explanations for why students may appear to have improperly graduated or been promoted.

He said he had a policy of allowing students to participate in the commencement ceremony if they were only one or two credits short of meeting graduation requirements, with the understanding that they would make up credits before receiving their diplomas.

On June 6, Bundley said, he permitted more than 100 such seniors to walk across the graduation stage along with nearly 300 students who had met requirements.

"They were close," Bundley said, likening the practice to college students who "walk" in graduation ceremonies and then return for another semester. "My philosophy is that ... you gotta get them up and flying."

School officials said that is not part of the school board's graduation policy.

Some students and a former teacher said all seniors walked across the stage and received a rolled-up blank piece of paper tied by a ribbon. Those who qualified for a diploma picked it up from the school two weeks after graduation, and those who did not had to make up what they were missing before receiving a diploma.

"A few of them [walked], but they knew they had to go back" and make up classes, said Chara Griffin, 18, an honors student who graduated in June. "They're going to get their diploma eventually, so they want to graduate with their class."

But Denitra Whitley, 18, who is negotiating with counselors to get her diploma certified, said she was not aware of the policy to let unqualified students take part in graduation. "I kind of figured a lot of people [weren't qualified], because half of them didn't come to school," she said. "I was wondering why they walked across the stage."

Clarice Brown, who taught Spanish at Walbrook last year, said she disagreed with the policy. "I think it's kind of unfair to the other students who have done everything they're supposed to do and met the requirements," Brown said.

Bundley said another of his policies might have caused the central office to think students had improperly been promoted.

Under that policy, students who fail required courses are allowed to continue taking new classes while they make up those they failed.

For example, if a ninth-grader fails English, the student would take 10th-grade English and other new classes the next year while making up freshman English in Saturday school. The student would retain ninth-grade status until completing the remedial course.

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