Just hours after starting his new job, Washburn High School principal Patrick Exner was put on administrative leave this week after an anonymous e-mail to state and Minneapolis school district officials alleged that he tampered with state tests at his previous school.
The surprising development came as Washburn was seeking a fresh start after a tumultuous year that led to the reassignment of former Principal Carol Markham-Cousins in April. “That’s very, very distressing,” said parent Liz Conway, a co-chair of the school’s site council said of the development.
The anonymous e-mail alleged that, on June 4, Exner changed answers on the state’s reading test for three students whose tests he was proctoring at Ubah Medical Academy in Hopkins, where he was associate director. It also alleged that the school found other instances when Exner reviewed student exams.
The Minnesota Department of Education, which received the e-mail, said Wednesday it had invalidated the test results for four Ubah students after it was notified by the school on July 12 of the breach of test security. The school’s report identified Exner as the testing coordinator.
The detailed e-mail was sent to Minneapolis district board members and administrators, the Department of Education and officials of the state board that disciplines school administrators. The Star Tribune also obtained a copy, after which the district disclosed the leave.
Exner declined to comment, referring questions to the district. District officials said Exner was placed on paid leave Tuesday morning, his second day on the job in his $117,589-per-year post at the 1,200-student school. That e-mail was sent on Monday evening. Ubah board Chair Abdirashid Warsame said he wouldn’t comment on “personal matters.”
Procedures not followed
The report from the 320-student school stated that the testing environment was not secured, as the e-mailer alleged, and that “proctoring procedures were not properly followed.”
The e-mail decried that “there has been no formal action taken to hold Patrick Exner accountable for his unethical, deceitful, and what now appears to be selfish, self-serving actions to pad his résumé with fraudulent successes.”
Meanwhile, Monday’s e-mail also prompted Janet Mohr, director of the Minnesota Board of School Administrators, to seek legal advice on its next steps.
The board investigates allegations of misconduct and enforces a code of ethics that mandates that “a school administrator shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud or misrepresentation in the performance of professional duties.”
According to a member of the Ubah school board, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Exner was put on leave on June 11, forcing the charter school to substitute someone for him at its graduation ceremony that day. The board member said that the testing issue was brought to Ubah’s board July 2 by Musa Farah, who spoke of reprimanding Exner but that Exner was back in school the following week.
Washburn parents rankled
Some Washburn parents were peeved that they hadn’t gotten formal notification that Exner had been put on leave hours after the Star Tribune broke the story on Wednesday morning. The district posted the news at midafternoon on the school’s website, and launched a mass voice mail Wednesday evening.
“I just sent out a new e-mail to everybody saying come and meet the new principal,” said Rebecca Felling-Syring, a parent council member. That student-parent event is scheduled for Aug. 22. The district said that retired district administrator Craig Vana will temporarily oversee the school’s two assistant principals, as he did after Markham-Cousins was reassigned in April after protests involving a conflict with the school’s athletic director.
School board member Richard Mammen said that a fact-finding investigation is appropriate and critical to maintaining confidence in school leadership. “As a Washburn alumni, I’m disappointed that there remains to be a cloud over Washburn’s leader. The kids, the parents, the teachers deserve the opportunity to move forward without being suspicious of people’s intentions, qualifications or ability.”
The state’s GRAD reading test has been a high-stakes test that most students must pass for graduation, but the Legislature recently eased those rules.
The school has not yet responded to a Star Tribune request made Tuesday for data involving any allegations against Exner that must be disclosed under state law governing public employee data.