Everman Principal Steps Down

Katherine Leal Unmuth, Dallas Morning News, August 30, 2006

Everman—The Everman High School principal who highlighted black students’ poor math scores over the school intercom has stepped down.

The decision was announced Tuesday afternoon after Superintendent Jeri Pfeifer met with faculty and school board members.

A written statement released by the district said Kathy Culbertson’s comments on the first day of school have overshadowed district achievements and put the high school at the center of attention for two weeks.

“Neither the district nor Ms. Culbertson believes in the isolation of any student group or that students are solely to blame for campus performance,” the statement read. “Nevertheless, Ms. Culbertson believes the best way for Everman High School to move beyond the distraction caused by the announcement is for Ms. Culbertson to relinquish her assignment as the principal.”

Curtis Amos, principal of the district’s Powell Intermediate School, will become the high school principal, effective Tuesday. Powell assistant principal Felicia Donaldson will be the intermediate school’s principal.

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“I was trying to use it as a motivational factor to let the kids know that we were so close,” she said. “It was not derogatory in any way. It was not racial. It was just common knowledge of the TAKS breakdown.”

But her remarks set off a racially charged debate on the campus, where enrollment is about 59 percent black. The district is just south of Fort Worth in Tarrant County.

“The first order of business is to restore the students’ confidence,” Dr. Pfeifer said. “I want them to know how capable they are.”

Then, she said, the district could focus on improving its overall performance in math and science.

Low math and science scores among black students on the state’s accountability test bumped the school’s rating to academically unacceptable this year. About 33 percent of black students passed math; 32 percent passed science.

“Is it true? Yes. Do we need to make that a PA announcement? No,” Dr. Pfeifer said. “We all own a piece of this.”

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But Netia Tunson, who has a son at the high school and is a teacher at Powell Intermediate, said she thought Ms. Culbertson should have resigned immediately.

“You can’t put this school’s performance on one race,” Ms. Tunson said. “I think she should have worked with her staff [on the test scores]. It starts with the staff.”

Ms. Culbertson was starting her fourth year as principal and had been with the district for seven years. She plans to continue her doctoral work at the University of North Texas.

“She could have just said we need to work on the math portion of the test,” parent Kristin Dorsey said. “It’s a school that’s predominantly African-American, so it goes without saying that African-American students failed.”

She said she would have been willing to accept an apology if Ms. Culbertson had acted quickly, perhaps through an assembly. Instead Ms. Culbertson waited four days before apologizing over the school intercom. She also declined to speak publicly at an Aug. 21 school board meeting attended by angry parents and students.

At that meeting, school board President Boyd Andress stepped down, saying he personally accepted responsibility for any offense taken over the remarks.

The way the state’s accountability system is structured, a school fails if any subgroup of students, by race or ethnicity or those who are economically disadvantaged, does not meet standards. It forces the school to notice any achievement gaps.

“By disaggregating the data into ethnicity groups and making the schools responsible for every group individually, it has actually helped increase the scores among minority students,” said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson, who is not related to the principal.

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Dr. Pfeifer said students wouldn’t do better until teachers did better. “We’ve got to fix our instructional system first, and we’re doing it,” she said, noting that grant applications and faculty development are already in the works.

“It wasn’t just African-Americans that didn’t pass—it was Mexicans and whites, too,” said Bisah Tennison, 14. “All she should have said was, ‘We didn’t pass the test. We need to do better next year.’”

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