Preuss Struggles to Make Grade Following Preventable Scandal

    "Had this been just another failing urban school, no one
    would have made these accusations.”

    When Preuss School Board of Directors Chair Cecil Lytle made
    this comment defending the integrity of UCSD’s nationally recognized charter
    school against allegations of grade tampering, he was also inadvertently
    exposing its Achilles’ heel. Since its inception in 1999, the school has
    stockpiled accolades, including recent slots in Newsweek and U.S. News and
    World Report’s lists of the top 10 high schools in the nation. However, judging
    by the results of the recent UCSD audit of the school’s operations — which
    unearthed multiple instances of administrative mismanagement, including altered
    transcripts suspiciously missing the initial grade entry forms — it’s clear
    that the abundance of acclaim was accompanied by an unhealthy dose of
    managerial complacency.

    Even if none of the 427 grade alterations were deliberate —
    a very unlikely scenario, according to the auditors — it doesn’t retroactively
    absolve Preuss administrators for allowing these problems to go unnoticed for
    many years. As a self-proclaimed model for urban education, the school’s
    leaders should have reasonably foreseen the dangers of lax management,
    particularly regarding their students’ grades. Lytle was correct in
    acknowledging that charter-school skeptics are a dime a dozen — all the more
    reason why there should have been double- and triple-checks in place to ensure
    that there were no closeted skeletons that the reporters flocking around Preuss
    have now uncovered.

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    Ex-Principal Doris Alvarez, waging a media campaign against
    the auditors for implicating her in the grade-changing process, has inferred
    that the university’s post-audit disciplinary actions may not have happened at
    a time when the school was less visible on the national radar. However, UCSD’s
    strong stance against documented cheating is the only acceptable recourse for
    such reprehensible actions.

    Had Preuss administrators periodically performed their own
    internal audits, or even just kept a closer eye on their lower-level employees,
    the scandal never would have snowballed into such a public-relations nightmare.
    Instead, a former registrar was allowed access to her son’s transcripts, which
    she later admitted to altering. Instead, Alvarez chose to terminate Jennifer
    Howard, an ex-teacher who was testifying in the ongoing audit at the time her
    contract was up for renewal. Instead, the Board of Directors allowed Alvarez to
    take the wheel, failing to realize the implications of these decisions until
    the university’s audit was all but inevitable. By turning a blind eye to its
    own operations, the Preuss School did its bright, hardworking students an
    undeniable disservice.

    Now that the captain of the wayward ship has resigned,
    however, Preuss is making strides in the long process of rebuilding its
    national standing and the community’s faith. Alvarez’s successor will have
    undoubtedly learned many lessons from this unfortunate situation, but perhaps
    the most important moral is the necessity of constant internal vigilance — even
    when nothing appears to be amiss. Preuss is not a failing urban school, but a
    successful educational prototype that has been temporarily derailed from its
    upward track. While it is unfortunate that the university must uphold its
    dedication to integrity and personal responsibility through punitive measures,
    continuing to adhere to these values is the only way that UCSD can return
    Preuss to the high regard that it could — and should — occupy.

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