This story appeared on the blog of Patrick Hayes’ EdFirstSC.
In Charleston, South Carolina, Principal Jake Rambo was ordered to evaluate his teachers based solely on the test scores of their students. Not multiple measures. Standardized tests.
He was told that he was being transferred to another school because of his school’s test scores.
He said he didn’t want to leave his school.
He was told to tell the school community that he requested a transfer.
He said he wouldn’t lie.
He resigned rather than lie.
Dear Ms. Darby and CCSD Board of Trustees, Ms. Belk and District 2 Constituent Board,
It is with a heavy heart and out of a sense of moral obligation that I write to share with you my concerns about our District, its students, the James B. Edwards community, and specifically the events that have occurred over the last month. Alongside my wife, I have prayed about the decision to compose this letter and have acknowledged my fear continuing to work in a district that seems to often misrepresent the truth and punish those who question anything about its direction. It is my hope that you are truly unaware of what’s occurring in CCSD.
On the evening of April 24, I received a call from the Executive Director of the Elementary Learning Community, informing me that although I would receive a “Principal” contract for 2017-18, it would not be at JBE. I was shocked, as my tenure as principal of the school began less than two short years prior.
Not one time throughout this school year has any CCSD administrator, including the Superintendent, the Associate Superintendent of Schools, the Executive Director of the Elementary Learning Community, or the Director of the Elementary Learning Community visited our building. Neither had any leader shared with me a single concern about my performance, the performance of our teachers, or the performance of our students. Not one time, if it existed, were any community concerns conveyed to me, and not one time was even the “threat” of a potential move shared with me privately, publicly and/or in a group setting.
I was devastated, as I love our community, its parents and most importantly, its students. While we have lots left to accomplish, during my 1 ½ years at the school, we have increased student enrollment, put community programs in place to close the opportunity gap, increased physical activity opportunities, and improved parent, teacher, and student satisfaction.
The following morning, April 25, I met with the Executive Director of the Elementary Learning Community. The first thing he did was take a torn half-sheet of paper on which several rows of numbers were scribbled, handed me the paper and said, “Pick which scores are yours.” After asking for further
clarification about his request, I identified JBE students’ winter MAP scores. He then said, “That’s why you’re being moved.”
Perplexed again, I remained silent. My study of the NWEA website suggests that the intent of MAP is not to penalize students, teachers and/or principals. Instead, its purpose is to be used as a formative tool to help teachers know in what areas they need to focus their instruction throughout the following semester to grow students.
I sat silent, much as I had less than a month earlier on March 29, after being told in a principal allocation meeting that I should use testing data to place educators on improvement plans. I later spoke honestly to the teachers at JBE about my hesitation to do this and indicated that I would never use
student test scores in isolation to place teachers on improvement plans. Make no mistake: teachers and principals welcome accountability, but they want it to be fair, consistent, and student-centered.
After my meeting with the Executive Director on the morning of April 25, I met with the Superintendent later that day, per my request, after which I was more stunned than ever before. She indicated that the school’s data supported I did not have experience working in a “low income” school and said, “You are a young guy. You’ve not had experience working under a strong principal leader, have you?” Raised to respect authority, I did not respond that the principal underneath whom I worked for several years and who mentored me is currently appointed by the Superintendent herself as the Interim Director of Administrator Hiring and Leadership Development for CCSD.
I shared with the Superintendent that no one had visited our school or shared with me any performance concerns throughout the school year and that I was baffled why all of this was occurring. She indicated that because I received a principal contract and wasn’t being “demoted,” this wasn’t an issue. I remained silent. I was shocked to hear that such could actually happen in a school system where due process, best practice, and mentorship should exist for all teachers and administrators.
I changed the subject and shared with the Superintendent that I believed my work at JBE to be unfinished. As a result, I indicated that my community would likely be upset when it learned of this decision.
She then responded, “Your future in CCSD depends on how you handle this situation.” I sat silent.
She continued, “You could either play the victim, or you could tell your community it was your decision to leave JBE and that you’ve been ‘called’ to lead a school with students who need you more.”
Stunned it would be suggested I misrepresent “my” intentions to a community I love because of what appeared to be student test scores, my speaking out against a plan to put teachers on improvement plans, and my inexperience as a leader-I quickly explained that while I would “always respect my employer, I would not lie.”
She then said, “This is your truth to tell.”
On Thursday, April 27, I met with the Associate Superintendent of Schools. She confirmed the reasons I was being moved as student test data and a lack of diverse experience. During this meeting, she discussed the timeline with me for sharing this information with the JBE community. She approved the letter I had written to send to parents with the exception of a few sentences that identified the reasons for my move as student test scores and level of experiences. She requested that I remove those lines as “people don’t need that much information.”
I complied with her request and removed the information.
It was at this time that I made the one special request I’ve made throughout this process to the Associate Superintendent of Schools, to allow my 7 year old son to transfer from JBE and be placed at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School for 17-18. I explained that his remaining at JBE would be too hard
emotionally on him and our family as the school community and its teachers are very special to us all. This would also relieve a hardship on my wife and me in regards to transportation, as my sister is a teacher at the school.
The Associate Superintendent of Schools quickly and confidently approved this request, indicating it “would be no problem at all.” Afterwards, I spoke to the SIES principal and arranged the transfer.
I then notified my community of the transfer. When parents began sharing concerns with the Board of Trustees and district office, I received a call from the Associate Superintendent of Schools, indicating my 7 year old son would no longer be approved for a transfer and able to attend SIES. Instead, she indicated, “He’s been placed on the waiting list.”
Since then, parents and community members have been told by the Superintendent and Board members that it is because “of an outstanding skill set” that I’m being moved and that it has nothing to do with the aforementioned reasons. They even told a select group of parents in a closed-door meeting
that my transfer was unequivocally not about test scores.
If this decision was indeed based on an “outstanding skill set,” which would benefit students at another school, why could it not benefit the students at JBE, the most diverse elementary school in Mt. Pleasant? Who is advocating for all of these children in our community?
When the Associate Superintendent of Schools visited JBE for the first time this year, Friday, May 5, to meet with the faculty without me present, she, once again, informed staff that this decision was not about test scores. After the meeting, she said to me, “The Superintendent is NOT happy with this.”
Meanwhile, all of our students sit silent and wait. They wait for us to value them over test scores. They wait for us to value things like learning through play and physical activity. They wait for us to value real-world experiences over test preparation. They wait for us to empower their teachers to be creative and engage them in meaningful learning. Most of all, they wait for us to value doing what is right.
After nearly 10 years in CCSD, it is apparent that I now have a fundamental, philosophical difference with its leadership. Therefore, please accept this as my official letter of resignation, effective June 30, 2017.
James B. Edwards Elementary School
I now place the name of Jake Rambo on the blog’s honor roll for his principled resistance to unconscionable policies that harm teachers and students.
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