An assistant principal's mistake led
Miami Northwestern High to get graded a D instead of a C last year. But the state's education commissioner won't grant Miami-Dade Public
Schools' request to give Northwestern the higher grade. As a result, the
students at the storied African-American school are being punished
for the errors of the adults supervising their performance, says
Northwestern alumni association President Larry Williams.
of the administration's failure, the kids lost out," Williams says.
"It seems the state wants to keep Northwestern down."
The screw-up at the school occurred this past October 22, the final deadline Miami Northwestern administrators had to submit student grade data to the state. Williams and five members of the alumni association board said an assistant principal forgot to transmit grades for 80 students who took courses at Miami-Dade College as part of a program that allows students to use the credits toward both their high school diplomas and college degrees.
Principal Charles Hankerson is also to blame, William adds. "As the principal, he is ultimately responsible," the alumni president says. "The buck stops with him." Hankerson, who is not returning to Northwestern next year, did not respond to two requests for comment left with a secretary.
Known as a tough disciplinarian, Hankerson was named principal of Northwestern by former Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew to turnaround the under-performing school in the wake of a scandal involving a star football player having sex with an underage female student. This past November, Hankerson clashed with alumni when he briefly fired football head coach Billy Rolle. Hankerson reinstated Rolle three days later.
Through a schools spokesman, Assistant Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says a Northwestern administrator was reprimanded, but declined to name the individual. "The fact that the school submitted the data incorrectly is inexcusable, and disciplinary action has been taken," Vitti says. "School administration has taken ownership of the mistake and feels horrible."
However, Vitti says the onus falls on the Department of Education for denying the district's appeal. "An appeal process is designed to consider mitigating factors," Vitti says. "This situation clearly falls under that category. Points earned by students should be celebrated, not ignored, even when adults make mistakes."
In this regard, alumni members agree. This past March 7, Williams wrote to Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith, pleading with him to reconsider Northwestern's appeal. "The community is outraged not only with the flawed grading system," Williams wrote. "But also with the perception of an education department that has seemed to dismiss the diligence and fortitude of our children."
Williams asked Smith to come down to Miami Northwestern to explain why the students should be denied their C grade. The education commissioner declined this past March 18 via letter. "Regretablly, I am unable to meet the Miami Northwestern Alumni Association in the near future because of previous engagements and the current legislative session," Smith wrote.
He added that he would not change Northwestern's grade because then the education department "must be prepared to reopen the process for other schools" and would "create conditions that might compromise the integrity of the data."
For Marquez Diaz, Smith's decision sucks. The 18-year-old Clark Atlanta University freshman was Northwestern's senior class president and took one of the college courses last year. "I don't feel it is fair," he says. "We pushed ourselves extra hard because they told us our scores would count. It disappoints me to know they won't."