There is a story in this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal that highlights three things that are wrong with the Madison School District.
The story was about new Sennett Middle School principal Jeffrey Copeland, who lasted there only a few weeks. Copeland was placed on administrative leave on September 13th and he left the district altogether on September 26th.
Here’s the first and most important problem with this: The information in the story suggests that Copeland may have been dismissed because he was imposing order and discipline at his school, something that has been a big issue in the district for years. To quote the story:
Teachers said the behavioral issues the school had been seeing in recent years, including bullying and damaging school property, nearly disappeared under Copeland’s short tenure, and some said such problems began returning after he was placed on leave.
The story then quotes an eighth grade language arts teacher who appeared at a School Board meeting last night during which dozens of parents and teachers asked that Copland be reinstated. “You have the ability to save a school, save a staff, save 700 kids,” said Tom Blau. “Please, we’re all begging you. Please just do what’s right” and “bring back Dr. Copeland.”
Then the story said this: Blau said staff are aware of why Copeland left the school, but have been asked not to share details with the media.
This highlights rampant problem number two with the district: lack of transparency. The obvious question that the taxpaying public has a right to an answer for is: why did a principal who seemed to be tackling the fundamental issue of student and staff safety and good order in the classroom leave after such a short time? Blau and his colleagues apparently know that answer but have been muzzled by the administration.
We would assume that if Copeland had done something inappropriate Blau and the other teachers and parents wouldn’t have shown up at the Board meeting to speak on his behalf. So what is the reason he left? And why is it being kept from the public?
District spokesperson Tim LeMonds wouldn’t say. Which brings us to the third issue and something that may become a bit of an ongoing cause here at YSDA. Nowhere in the story does the name Carlton Jenkins appear. You may be unfamiliar with that name yourself. Dr. Jenkins is the Madison Schools Superintendent and has been for the last few years. You would be excused for not knowing that because Jenkins has assumed a low profile. He is rarely quoted in any news story about the district. Here’s a case where a principal was removed after only a few weeks, an action that must have been approved or initiated by Jenkins. He was apparently removed for something related to his imposition of good order in his school, something that has been a top concern of staff, parents, students and citizens. And yet the man responsible for the performance of the district has nothing to say about it.
The way in which Copeland left suggests that he may have received a pay out in exchange for his silence. That’s unfortunately not unusual. But at some point the conditions of any agreement need to be made public. I would hope that the State Journal or other news outlets are filing Freedom of Information Act demands as I write.
Because the health of our city is so intwined in so many ways with the health of our public schools, everyone who lives here has a deep interest in them. We have a right to know what happened to Jeffrey Copeland.