Despite promising to re-submit data to the Virginia Department of Education a month ago, Richmond Public Schools has not yet corrected its misreported numbers related to graduates from its International Baccalaureate program at Thomas Jefferson High School that claimed 53 graduates since 2007-2008 — rather than the five who’ve been awarded the diploma.
“To re-submit any data, the division superintendent has to send the state superintendent a letter requesting permission to do that,” VDOE spokesman Charles Pyle says, indicating that as of May 24, “we have received no such letter.”
Data obtained by Richmond magazine from the International Baccalaureate Organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, indicates that no diplomas were awarded during the last school year. A number of parents interviewed by Richmond magazine have indicated they were told by RPS officials that it was unlikely any diplomas would be awarded this year, either.
Richmond Public Schools spokeswoman Felicia Cosby says the school system has sought guidance "via verbal conversations" about International Baccalaureate data from Virginia Department of Education staff, and that the next steps are being determined. In an email, Cosby writes, "In the interim, we have put additional processes in place to ensure that designated, school-based data entry staff make critical data updates/revisions based on final input from the IB organization."
The district also has been fielding complaints from parents of students in the IB program, some of whom have contacted Richmond magazine. The parents expressed dismay that they were not informed that the person hired to teach the IB biology course is not a state licensed teacher and may not have been trained in a program recognized by the International Baccalaureate Organization, according to an IBO official who previously spoke with Richmond magazine. The international agency licenses IB programs to schools worldwide and also certifies all IB diplomas, which are awarded only after students complete a rigorous course of study. (Click here to read more details about the training required for teachers.)
Most parents with whom Richmond magazine talked declined to to be quoted, citing their children’s continued participation in the program. IB is highly competitive and offers students diplomas that are recognized at universities worldwide, and many feared their children might lose their placement in the program if they went public with their concerns.
But one parent, Jennie Irwin, says she’s decided to remove her son, Sam, a ninth grader, from Richmond Public Schools because of the incident. She says she is not only upset by the teacher’s hiring, but with what she calls a failure by school administration officials to accept responsibility.
“I had no idea she wasn’t certified until Sam came home two weeks ago and said, ‘Guess what, she’s not a real teacher – she’s a permanent sub’,” says Irwin. “He said, ‘I guess that explains why we haven’t learned anything all year.’ ”
At the time, Irwin says, she chalked Sam’s statement up to a teenage boy being overly dramatic. It wasn’t until she read an article published May 2 by Richmond magazine that she realized Sam was speaking literally.
Irwin says she doesn’t blame the teacher.
“She is incredibly nice, but ... if she hasn’t taken an education class, she wouldn’t know how to teach,” says Irwin, who is herself studying to become a teacher.
Equally free of blame in Irwin’s eyes is the school and its principal, Tanya Roane.
“I am very pleased with TJ,” Irwin says. “I think that school has the potential to be a tremendous school — I credit that to Ms. Roane.”
In fact, she says, she has learned after discussing the matter with various schools officials that Roane was out on medical leave when the substitute teacher was hired for the IB biology position.
During an interview three weeks ago with Richmond magazine, Rodney Fout, RPS’ coordinator for gifted programs, did not indicate who hired the substitute, but Richmond schools spokesman Stephen Bolton says that the process of finding a qualified biology teacher to teach the class had been so difficult that Richmond Superintendent Yvonne Brandon had sent a letter to Virginia Superintendent for Public Instruction Patricia Wright “explaining how hard it has been to find an IB-certified teacher” who also holds a state license to teach biology.
Pyle, the VDOE spokesman, says he confirmed that the state had received that letter as part of a "packet of letters" sent in January. Pyle says the letter is of a kind routinely sent by districts that need extensions of limitations on long-term subs that allow those substitutes to serve in place of any individual classroom teacher for a maximum of 90 days.
The letter, signed by Brandon, details the difficulty the district had in hiring a permanent teacher for the IB biology position before the beginning of the current school year, saying the district offered the position to a number of qualified and licensed applicants, but all declined.
In a previous interview with Richmond magazine, district spokesman Bolton indicated that the previous teacher had left suddenly as a result of a change in family circumstances that involved moving out of state and that the substitute was hired as a last-minute replacement.
Meanwhile, Irwin says she continues to receive conflicting answers from the RPS central office regarding who hired the teacher, and why parents were not notified of the teacher’s lack of credentials.
“I wish we could vote for superintendents,” Irwin says. “I think my son deserves an apology.”