VIDEO: Beaufort High principal: "I was trying to motivate a kid, trying to help someone get through"  

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 23, 2012 

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Beaufort High School principal Dan Durbin said his decision to change 200 grades for 33 students was based on a desire to "get the kids motivated to move on."

Durbin said each of the grade changes was made on a case-by-case basis. Many involved struggling students who participated in extended learning time or completed other extra work.

Grades were changed to reflect those efforts, Durbin said.

In some cases, a student might have not passed an entry-level English class, for example, but somehow moved on to the next level course, which they did pass. They also passed the high school exit exam in English. In order to give such a student credit for the original course, Durbin changed the grade.

"I hope the message I sent students was that you're not just a number," he said. "If you try hard and work hard, we'll work with you."

Durbin said he's not sure when he started making the changes; he believes it's been at least two years. He said he hadn't realized it included 33 students until he was told it did.

"I wasn't keeping track," he said. "When you're not thinking about doing something wrong, you're not keeping track of those numbers."

Durbin said he regrets not following protocol, but he said he was trying to help the teens.

"I was focused on a one-on-one perspective," he said. "I was trying to motivate a kid, trying to help someone get through. But maybe that blinded me and made the rules less important."

He's said he's been told he would make a better social worker than principal.

He agrees that might be true.

"I'm not sure that the role of principal hasn't passed me by," he said. "To me, it's about nurturing, about building up students to be the best they can be. But the new job of principals is about numbers, statistics and test results. I'm not saying that's wrong. I'm just saying that isn't me."

THE INVESTIGATION

Here's how the investigation into the grade changes unfolded.

A unidentified teacher approached the district earlier this month with concerns that grades had been changed, district spokesman Jim Foster said.

The district then launched an internal investigation.

Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said the first report given to her on the matter was delivered Feb. 13 by district instructional services chief Sean Alford and Jackie Rosswurm, the district's head of human resources.

Truesdale said the district pulled data from its grade-keeping software from the past two years -- the length of time it's been in place.

Officials checked to see if principals from every school had logged in and changed grades.

They hadn't, Truesdale said.

But the data indicated Durbin had -- a number of times.

The district then launched an external review.

Truesdale said a panel reviewed files and documentation on Feb. 17 and Monday.

Durbin and the Beaufort County Board of Education were presented the results separately Tuesday.

According to a statement from the district, Durbin took full responsibility for making the changes and explained his reasoning behind each.

Truesdale said Durbin asked to stay on through the end of the school year.

In lengthy discussions in executive session with the school board Tuesday, there was little support for that, Truesdale said.

"We decided that we would invite him to resign at the end of the week instead of the end of the year," she said.

Durbin filed his official letter of resignation Thursday morning.

THE FALLOUT

Foster said the district is looking into how the changes -- which were made on both quarterly and semester grades -- might have affected class ranking. Currently, he said, it's not clear how drastically the grades were altered.

Durbin said there was little to no effect on class ranking. That's because most of the students involved were not high-achievers, he said.

Truesdale also said she doubts the changes had a major effect on graduation rates or state report card rankings.

"I would doubt that 33 students' grades would affect the performance of a school of 1,500," she said, "(but) I don't know that yet."

All of the 33 students are still in school, Truesdale said.

About 1,485 students attend Beaufort High.

Truesdale said that general information about how the changes affected GPAs or class rank would be made public. She did not know when that information would be available.

"If we find there's no harm, no foul, or that we need to make adjustments ... we would tell you that," she said.

Foster said a letter detailing Durbin's resignation and the grade changes has been sent to the S.C. Department of Education, as required.

J.W. Ragley, a spokesman for the department, said that depending on the circumstances, the department might conduct an investigation. The results of any investigation would be referred to the S.C. Board of Education's educators certification committee.

That panel would consider possible sanctions, including the revocation of Durbin's certification.

That would mean he could no longer be employed by a public school in the state.

THE AFTERMATH

Terry Bennett, the grants administrator for the district, has been named interim principal. He has served as principal at both Lady's Island Elementary and Middle schools.

"He knows the community," Truesdale said. "Hopefully that will help."

Bennett is scheduled to meet with assistant principals and school staff today, Durbin's last on the job.

Durbin, who has been principal at the school for about nine years, said he plans to stay in Beaufort. He has three children -- two daughters at Beaufort High and a son at Lady's Island Middle.

Beaufort has become his family's home, he said.

"It's a great community ... the kind of place I'd like to retire in," he said. "Hopefully in 15 to 20 years, I'll be remembered as a good citizen."

Durbin also said he plans to remain involved at Beaufort High.

"We're going to move on, but I'll still be in this community," he said. "I'll still be sitting and cheering for them at ball games and in the theater ... everything that they're doing."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content

  1. District: Beaufort High principal changed more than 200 grades; Feb. 23, 2012
  2. Beaufort High principal Dan Durbin to resign Friday; Feb. 22, 2012

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