It doesn’t take much scrutiny of the resume of Patrick Exner – the educator whom Minneapolis last week hired and then unhired to be Washburn High School principal – to spot some red flags.
Exner listed his current job as “academic director (principal)” at Ubah Medical Academy, a Hopkins charter school. But the school web site lists him as “associate director” under Director Musa Farah; Ubah also listed Farah as the school’s principal in a mid-July report to the state.
Exner also listed Ubah’s size as 350 students, or 10 percent bigger than the enrollment it reported to the state. He noted that Ubah gained on state tests in 2011, his first year there, but neglected to mention that it fell back the following year.
Exner was cut loose from Washburn by the district after it got an anonymous e-mail alleging that he’d changed answers on the tests of several students in June at Ubah. That left an embarrassed district to explain how that issue got past it; he was stil on the district payroll as of Tuesday afternoon.
The episode has prompted a district review of hiring practices. “We are reviewing all the processes and all the questions,” said new district CEO, Michael Goar. “There are definitely areas we can improve.”
That improvement is especially critical when there are two key principal openings for the district to fill this year. They are finding a replacement for Exner at 1,200-student Washburn, and also filing an opening at 1,800-student South.
Goar said one lesson from the Washburn experience is that hurrying to fill a vacancy can have unintended consequences. The district announced Exner’s appointment on Aug. 2 because it wanted someone in the job to open the school year, but it did so despite only getting 23 applicants and interviewing only Exner.
“We’re always in a better position when we have a bigger pool,” said Chief Human Resources Officer Rick Kreyer. He said he prefers at least three finalists. But that didn’t happen for reasons explained in an earlier story.
Goar said the lesson for the next openings are to do a comprehensive search rather than rushing, and to look at insiders first. “We already know who they are. They have worked for us. They understand our culture. They understand our processes,” he said. But if any insiders applied, they didn’t make the final cut. Now Washburn Assistant Principal Linda Conley will lead the school until a replacement is named.
The district said that it vetted Exner with school stakeholders, did thorough interviews, checked his references, and made informal reference checks. But his boss, Farah, wasn’t contacted. He’s the person who reported the test security breach to the state, listing Exner as testing coordinator. Instead, the district contacted a school board member, whom it didn’t identify.
“We were given nothing but positive feedback,” Kreyer said. “There was not one mention of any blemish on this guy’s record.” Those checks were made about four weeks after the Ubah board met on July 2, reportedly to discuss the testing issue involving Exner.
The district also interviewed Exner. “He answered all of the questions we asked of him. The bigger question is do we ask the right questions,” Goar said.
Perhaps Exner could answer the resume questions posed above, but he wasn't commenting. He’s not the only one. The district has refused to make Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, on whose desk the buck stops, available to discuss her decision to appoint Exner. School board member Tracine Asberry, elected to represent the district including Washburn, also has not responded to requests foir comment.
(Photos: above: Patrick Exner; right: Bernadeia Johnson)