Patrick Exner flatly denied Thursday that he changed student answers on state tests at Ubah Medical Academy before he was hired to be principal of Washburn High School in Minneapolis, a position that he’s lost in the wake of the cheating allegation.
“The allegation that I changed students’ answers on state assessment tests is absolutely false,” Exner said in a statement sent to the Star Tribune and in a brief follow-up interview that broke his weeklong silence.
However, Exner’s assertion is contradicted by an eyewitness account from an Ubah staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. On Thursday, that person reported watching from 5 or 6 feet away as Exner changed answers on state tests after students completed them in the school media center.
The school reported a breach of test security to the Minnesota Department of Education for a June 4 reading GRAD test for which Exner was the school’s testing coordinator. The report made no mention of Exner’s changing answers.
An anonymous e-mail sent to state and Minneapolis School District officials said that Exner, the school’s associate director, gave the test to three students while a teacher was conducting classes in the same room.
“The teacher witnessed that as students finished answering the questions on their Minnesota GRAD exam, Patrick Exner had them stop before submitting the exam, step aside, and allow him to take their place at the testing computer and spend an extended period of time reviewing their answers,” the e-mail said. “What’s more, Patrick Exner was witnessed changing students’ responses as he reviewed their Minnesota GRAD reading exam.”
The e-mail asserted that Exner’s supervisor, Musa Farah, told the Ubah board on July 2 that he intended to discipline Exner. However, Exner, the school’s associate director, said he was in good standing with Ubah when he departed and had signed a contract for next school year. The school has not responded to a Data Practices Act request for any disciplinary record for Exner.
That contract was signed in May, before the alleged events, and Exner said he broke it “to do more for the youth in Minnesota.”
Exner said that he originally applied for an assistant principal job in Minneapolis — which the district confirmed was for Folwell Performing Arts Magnet School — but that the district asked him to apply for the Washburn opening. Exner has been on administrative leave since Aug. 13 but said he hopes to work for the district.
His statement expressed “utter dismay that under the veil of anonymity an individual was given the power to disrupt the plans for leadership at Washburn High School and leave me with an uncertain future … but I remain committed to Minneapolis schools and the final resolution of recent events.”
Meanwhile, the district on Thursday clarified its earlier statement about the interview process for the Washburn job. Exner was the only one of 23 applicants for the job who was interviewed at the school level by a staff-parent group that recommended him to Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said in an e-mail. Hicks said that three applicants met with Johnson before Exner was sent on to the school and that seven were interviewed in earlier stages. The district’s human resources chief said that he prefers to send at least three candidates to schools for principal interviews.