How could principal have been retained after ethics complaint?

March 17, 2010

Two education articles, "Principal signs up Filipino teachers to buy, sell makeup" (March 14) and "School system defends responses" (March 16) provide lessons in incredulity and in the denial of justice to teachers.

The articles describe how a principal during the last school year asked teachers in her school to become salespersons for May Kay and had them purchase thousands of dollars worth of unwanted cosmetics. The principal, as a sales director for the firm, received bonuses and commissions on the teachers' purchases. Instead of being seen by these teachers as an instructional leader whose priority was the academic achievement of students, this principal had to be viewed as having other priorities. Instead of making her classroom visits an opportunity to improve instruction, this principal used some visits as an opportunity to improve her personal finances.

The Filipino background of these teachers makes the principal's actions even more egregious. These fully qualified teachers, part of a group of 500 recruited to fill vacancies, are especially vulnerable to any tactic by a principal that might jeopardize their performance rating and their status in this country. They were convenient targets for the principal's unethical practices.

Despite their fear of retaliation, these teachers came forward last summer and presented school system lawyers and evaluators with e-mails, bank statements and other evidence to support their description of the principal's actions. This documentation showed the principal had clearly violated the school board's ethics code and surely should have been rated as unsatisfactory on the instrument that the school system uses each year to evaluate the effectiveness of all principals. This evaluation, which is usually prepared without lawyers, would have led to her dismissal.

It is beyond belief that last September the person returned not only as a principal but also to the same school. It is also beyond belief that Neil Duke, president of the school board, could consider this return as "an appropriate response" to such unprofessional actions. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke's stated outrage --"Shame on the principal" -- is a far more appropriate response that reflects the shame this principal has brought to the profession.

It is also more than a little ironic that this principal's actions should occur at a high school called the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship. The students' discussions about greed and unethical practices will have a significance that is not limited to Wall Street.

Charles J. Burke, Baltimore

The writer is the former principal of Woodhome Elementary School and former director of the city's Southern District elementary schools.

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