Sunday, March 30, 2008

Teachers say principal threatened to kill them if TAKS test scores didn't improve

Roger Croteau | San Antonio Express-News
March 26, 2008

NEW BRAUNFELS -- A middle school principal threatened to kill a group of science teachers if their students did not improve their standardized test scores, according to a complaint filed with the New Braunfels Police Department.

Anita White, who taught at New Braunfels Middle School for 18 years before being transferred this month to the district's Learning Center, said Principal John Burks made the threat in a Jan. 21 meeting with eighth-grade science teachers.

She said Burks was angry that scores on benchmark tests were not better, and the scores on the upcoming Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests must show improvement.

"He said if the TAKS scores were not as expected he would kill the teachers," White said. "He said 'I will kill you all and kill myself.' He finished the meeting that way and we were in shock. Obviously, we talked about it among ourselves. He just threatened our lives. After he threatened to kill us, he said, 'You don't know how ruthless I can be.'

"We walked out of the meeting just totally dumbfounded because it was not a joke," White said.

New Braunfels Police spokesman Mike Penshorn said the incident was filed as a verbal assault, but is being investigated as a terroristic threat.

Burks did not return a call seeking comment. Other teachers White said were at the meeting also did not return calls.

Jacob Gonzales, an eighth-grade science teacher at the school who was not at the meeting, said another teacher, besides White, mentioned it, telling Gonzales "it was not spoken in a joking manner and it kind of alarmed him and gave him an uneasy feeling."

New Braunfels School District spokeswoman Stephanie Ferguson said Burks told her it did not happen. She spoke to him after learning of the allegation from reporters.

"I did not talk to the other teachers. Other than that, it is a personnel matter and I can't talk about it. We have not seen a police report."

White said she decided to file the police report after one of the teachers spoke to a school board member about the incident, without result. She said she also plans to file a grievance with the school board.

Before she filed the complaint on Saturday, White said, Burks told her she was being transferred to the Learning Center, which houses the district's disciplinary school, because of the test scores. She said her classes' standardized test scores were consistently the best in the grade.

Ferguson later released a three-sentence statement that noted White filed the complaint after being reassigned. The statement quoted Burks as saying, "All personnel decisions are made with the best interests of students in mind."

Many teachers complain about the importance placed on TAKS scores, saying a single, standardized test often does not measure how well their students are learning.

"It sounds like a case of TAKS tyranny taken to the extreme," said Joe Bean a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, who said teachers and administrators are often punished for disappointing test performance.

"Once a principal gets a reputation as not able to get the scores that are required, that principal is virtually unemployable," he said.

Bean said the TAKS provides only a snapshot of how students performed on that day and that students of some outstanding teachers and schools sometimes do not score well for a variety of reasons.

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