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Westover Principal William Chunn acknowledges grade changes of 122 ninth-graders

Principal William Chunn characterizes the grade alterations as an intervention process

Westover High School Principal William Chunn acknowledged last week he had changed the grades of more than 120 ninth-graders in one teacher’s classes as an “intervention” measure. That move prompted an investigation by the superintendent’s office. (File Photo)

Westover High School Principal William Chunn acknowledged last week he had changed the grades of more than 120 ninth-graders in one teacher’s classes as an “intervention” measure. That move prompted an investigation by the superintendent’s office. (File Photo)

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Dougherty County School Board member Darrell Ealum

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Dougherty County School System Interim Superintendent Butch Mosley

ALBANY — An internal investigation by the Dougherty County School System’s superintendent’s office has revealed more than 120 first nine weeks grade changes in five ninth- grade world history classes taught by one teacher at Westover Comprehensive High School.

Westover Principal William Chunn has acknowledged authorizing the mass grade changes.

On Tuesday, The Albany Herald obtained the student summary reports of 122 Westover freshmen. All of the records were from six periods taught by a single teacher. The reports showed that at least 85 percent of the students’ grades had been changed from a failing mark — one as low as zero — to 70. None of the 122 students had a final first nine weeks grade lower than 70 recorded, although the documents revealed many students had actually failed the first grading term.

On Wednesday, The Herald provided a copy of the student summary reports to Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely, who then launched an investigation. Later, the school system issued a response.

“The Dougherty County Board of Education will not allow the requirements of federal laws and mandates, the laws of Georgia, or ethical standards for professional educators to be violated in this system,” R.D. Harter, public information director for the system, wrote. “The superintendent will investigate any breaches in the provisions of standards and will recommend administrative and/or legal action to be taken as required by the circumstances. Georgia’s educator ethics oversight body, the Professional Standards Commission, has been notified of the current investigation of grade changes in the system. Dr. Mosely is managing an administrative investigation and plans to present recommendations to the board at Wednesday’s scheduled monthly work session.”

Mosely immediately notified Georgia Professional Standards Commission Director of Ethics Paul Shaw, apprising him of the situation. Mosely wrote in an email:

“Paul, it has been brought to my attention there have been possible violations of ethics standards, board policy and law regarding the maintenance and entering student grade records in our system. The local media was provided copies of student records with names in violation of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) law and we are investigating changes in grading period scores and student record security. As the facts unfold I will keep you posted.”

Contacted Friday, Chunn confirmed he had authorized the mass grade changes.

“We encountered repeated discipline problems inside some ninth-grade classes during the first nine weeks ending back the first week in October,” Chunn said. “These discipline problems impeded the learning process of the students and prevented the teacher from performing at their full potential, and because of this interventions were put in place by the principal, the teacher, and the assistant principal. The interventions put in place during that time have proven to be successful as we now see academic learning taking place in these classes. ”

Chunn, however, refused to call the grade adjustments “changes,” instead describing them as “interventions” that were required after parents began complaining about the first-year teacher’s high failure rate. According to a source, that failure rate approached 90 percent

“Changes were not ordered … as I mentioned to you earlier that interventions were implemented. The interventions were discussed by the principal, the teacher and the assistant principal.” Chunn said. “These implementations did involve only one classroom teacher and were not school wide. As the principal of the school, I am the principal for the faculty and staff, the students and for the parents. I am obligated to listen to these parents and the students as well. We, as educators, don’t always get it right and when we don’t get it right, the students suffer and when students are suffering, it is my job to intervene and do my best to make it right.

“The problem that we ran into was the discipline was affecting the academic performance of the students. Students cannot lose academic points for behavior.”

Chunn later brought each student into his office and explained each was getting a second chance, a mulligan so to speak. When asked if he thought those conversations would encourage loss of respect for the teacher and create even more discipline problems, Chunn responded:

“In speaking to the students about the discipline inside the classroom that affected their academic performance, they were instructed that sometimes in life people need a second chance, especially as ninth-graders in their first year in high school and they would be given this chance by the teacher and that they should be appreciative of the teacher. As the administrator, I informed them that what happened over the past few weeks would not happen anymore. That is the reason a classroom change was a part of the implementations. These students were moved from the ninth-grade tower to directly across from the principal’s office. These implementations have proven to be successful, as we now have academic success in these classes daily.

“The teacher no longer has to deal with discipline problems and the students are learning and the teacher is enjoying teaching like it is meant to be.”

While the mass “intervention” might appear questionable, Chunn may have the law on his side.

Georgia Code Annotated § 20-2-989.20 (c) states: “Nothing in this Code section shall be construed to prevent a central office administrator, superintendent, or local school administrator from changing a student’s grade. Any grade change made by a person other than the classroom teacher must be clearly indicated in the student’s school records and must indicate the person responsible for making such grade change.”

DCSS Board member Darrel Ealum urged against a rush to judgment.

“While I am disappointed that Coach Chunn felt making the (grade) changes were necessary, we as a board, however, can’t be making decisions based on emotion,” Ealum said. “As I understand the state statute, it is within the boundaries of his responsibilities as a principal to make the grade changes.”

Legal or not, Mosely was not happy about they way the situation was handed by Chunn.

“This whole deal was a total breakdown concerning policies and procedures that were not followed,” Mosely said. “We’ll review all the evidence and will come up with a recommendation for the board.”

Mosely added he could identify with the teacher.

“The kid is still a rookie pumped up with dreams and high standards, then he got thrown in with a class with a few kids who weren’t doing their work and he busted their butts,” The superintendent said. “He should have had a PDP (professional development plan) on file, yet it rocked on. And the results were not pretty.”

Mosely said he would consult with the School Board in executive session at its mid-monthly meeting on Wednesday before recommending any, if any, disciplinary action.