School officials at risk of firing

120 city principals face discipline over poor recordkeeping

Sun Exclusive

May 19, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun reporter

The Baltimore school system has threatened about 120 principals with disciplinary action, including termination, if their schools fail to provide a complete set of records for each student by the end of this month.

Warning letters were sent to the principals recently after two state audits turned up evidence that missing and incomplete student records have become a widespread problem in city schools.

The latest audit, released in January, revealed incomplete records for 21 percent of the special education students who had dropped out by the 11th grade. Another audit conducted in April 2005 found, among other things, missing health records among the more than 1,300 general student records examined.

The first audit was conducted in response to a student reconds scandal at Walbrook Uniform Services Academy in the spring of 2004 that allowed hundreds of students to graduate or advance to the next grade even though they hadn't completed academic requirements.

Jimmy Gittings, president of the administrative union of Baltimore City public schools - which represents principals, vice principals and other top administrators - challenges the directive by city school officials.

At a recent school board meeting, Gittings said principals have trouble updating records because of high student turnover in city schools. He said that other systems do not have the same issues and that it can take up to a day to update just one student file.

Gittings objected to the threat of firing principals who don't meet the deadline to get their schools' records up-to-date.

"The state and courts have to understand that we have a very transient population," Gittings said. "But my concern is the tone and the threats to the principals. That was disrespectful and makes no sense at all."

Baltimore City schools interim CEO Charlene Cooper Boston said this week that accurate records are a priority for her because of the system's recent history. Boston, who has applied for the permanent position but refers questions about her status in the search to the school board, said she is following state orders that all student records be accurate.

"I'm disturbed," Boston said of the condition of current student records. "I think most of the administrators are working hard at this. It's a task that we haven't been too successful with in the past. So I bring in probably a level of accountability. The state has directed that we have improvement in our records, so I'm following through."

Boston said she understands the difficulty that principals face in updating records but said it's part of their responsibilities.

"Understand that you're accountable for everything, the recordkeeping, the performance of the students, the attendance. You're the principal; you're responsible," Boston said.

Charles Buckler, director of student services and alternative programs for the state, said other systems also face problems with transient students. His department oversaw audits of all the 24 school systems in Maryland two years ago.

For example, Buckler said, the school districts on Maryland's borders frequently have to deal with students moving to and from the state, "and we've vowed to offer those districts support."

State regulations

Maryland education regulations require schools to have information on enrollment, attendance and promotion for all students. In April 2005, state officials pulled a random sample of student records at 43 city high schools and found missing standardized test scores, incomplete immunization requirements and outdated information on students' addresses.

The state requires local school systems to provide record cards for each student. Record cards include attendance data, test performances, health information and transfer records.

State officials say many systems require their schools to use a uniform recordkeeping system - with some using computers - but the city does not.

"They just have a little manila folder, where they stick records in it and put it in filing room," said Carol Ann Baglin, assistant state superintendent for special education and early-intervention services. "So when we go out and ask for records, they have to go through a whole roomful of folders to dig them out."

Although the state's most recent report focuses on children receiving special education services, Baglin said the concern about incomplete records applies to the general student population.

"We only looked at special ed, but these are not special ed folders. They're general folders," Baglin said. "The city is making some progress in certain areas, but in the area of records, there is still sufficiently a very serious problem for all children."

Walbrook problems

In the summer of 2004, an audit of Walbrook transcripts found that some students who participated in the graduation ceremony the previous spring and received diplomas didn't have all the credits they needed to graduate.

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