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California School Fiscal Services

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Principal's suicide, forged tests rock promising NYC school

Posted on August 3, 2015 at 5:00 AM
This story literally makes my stomach turn.  I asked myself how someone can get themselves in such a dark place.  I think to myself, "What's the lesson here for all of us?"  I know I sound like a broken record but since ethical issues seem to come up with such frequency in our jobs, I think we all need reminding here.  

Your job is not "you".  It's your job.  It's what you do to pay your bills so that you and your family can have a nice life.  

We all have crazy, busy, demanding times at work.  But those times should be the exception, not the rule.  When you find that you have become a slave to your job, have no free time, no balance, and a family that never sees you, it's time to stop and reflect.  When we get caught up in this fray, our judgment can easily become impaired.  Our entire self-identity becomes dangerously intertwined with our work place.  

Now enters an ethical challenge.  When our entire identity is tied to our job, making the wrong ethical decision can seem like the only option. We become desperate for acceptance and that desperation pushes us to make poor decisions that we might not otherwise make.

Learn from Jeanene Worrell-Breeden's terrible, terrible mistake.  Take a few minutes and ask yourself how an accomplished school principal can end up throwing herself in front of a train because she chose to cheat on her school's standardized assessment!  

Remember:  

First, don't let yourself get run down and tired.  Don't let yourself be a slave to your job.  It's a choice.  If you can't change it, dust off that resume and start looking.  

Second, you know when you are being asked to do something unethical or illegal.  Don't play the "I won't get caught" game.  Don't roll the dice. You are better than that.  You can always find a new job if you must.  But you can never get back your professional reputation once it's tarnished. 

Third,  if you find yourself in difficult ethical situation at work, find someone that you trust to talk it through.  Don't try to suck it up and suffer in silence.  Lean on your family or this network. You are never alone and I promise you that many others have been in a similar situation. Trust in that and let others help you.

------------------------------------------------

By JENNIFER PELTZ

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Jeanene Worrell-Breeden had what she called a dream job running a public school linked with Columbia University's Teachers College when she killed herself by jumping in front of a subway car this spring.

 

Three months later, the city Department of Education says there was more to her sad story: The principal had fudged answers on third-graders' state English exams, and authorities learned of the cheating allegations the same day she made her fatal leap. All the school's third-grade English scores have been thrown out in the first year its students took the important test.

 

The scandal has stirred sorrow and uncertainty after a promising start for Teachers College Community School and clouded the career of a Wall Street worker-turned-educator who'd earned praise for her approach.

 

"People are devastated," Sanayi Canton, a second-grade parent and president of a local education panel, said Monday. "It has always been a very open and honest and transparent situation that we've been a part of."

 

The allegations, which the city Education Department said it substantiated, come amid debate over testing and the national standards known as the Common Core; teachers' unions and some parents say education is too driven by high-pressure tests, while officials say tests are tools to improve schools. Educators have been accused of doctoring scores before; 11 were convicted of criminal charges in a notorious Atlanta case this April.

 

Meanwhile, Teachers College Community School seemed poised to prosper in its first round of Common Core tests, which factor in teacher and principal evaluations.

 

Intended to pair a public school with the research and other capacities of a noted teacher-education program, Teachers College Community School boasts $30 million in backing from Columbia, graduate students helping out in classrooms and such extra features as a robotics program. Opened in 2011, the Harlem school is on track to enroll over 200 students in prekindergarten to fourth grade. Plans ultimately call for about 300 students going up to eighth grade.

 

Worrell-Breeden, 49, came to the $138,000-a-year job from six years as principal at a Bronx elementary school and over two decades in the city school system.

 

"This is a chance to build the school of my dreams," the former finance worker said in a Teachers College profile at the time.

 

The school quickly developed a reputation that drew 464 applications for 50 kindergarten spots this year. A 2013 Education Department review praised its supportive environment and "deep sense of trust and respect," while suggesting tougher academic challenges for top students. Parents appreciated the tone of openness that Worrell-Breeden set, including through regular parent breakfasts.

 

"We don't have one bad thing to say" about the school, said kindergarten parent Kathie Holsenbeck. "And that's why it's so unfortunate that the actions of one person are going to taint it - because it really shouldn't."

 

Parents were stunned when they heard in April that Worrell-Breeden had died, unsettled again when officials said the English test scores were being invalidated. But it would be months before they learned the whole truth, parents said.

 

Worrell-Breeden was seen leaping onto a Harlem subway track on April 17, police said. Her death eight days later was ruled a suicide.

 

The day she jumped, someone told Education Department investigators that Worrell-Breeden had confided she forged answers on multiple third-graders' April 14 exams because the children hadn't finished them, according to a department memo released Monday.

 

It's unclear whether she knew about the investigation, first reported by the New York Post. The Education Department said Worrell-Breeden died without being questioned, but the agency wouldn't say whether she had been contacted about the allegations.

 

A working telephone number for her family couldn't immediately be found.

 

The school referred questions to the Education Department, where spokeswoman Devora Kaye emphasized the importance of test integrity and said the agency was working to help the school. Pupils won't be held back because of the invalid results, officials said.

 

Teachers College spokesman Jim Gardner said it remains committed to the school.

 

So do parents such as Holsenbeck and Canton, even if they feel bewildered.

 

"Why would she do that? . . . It doesn't fit her personality," Canton said. "It's a lot of unanswered questions."

 ___

 Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

Categories: Ethics

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