(From Sept. 22, 2013) Investigators from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) are already reviewing Joplin R-8 School District records and the scope of their inquiry may involve far more than originally expected.
Sources within the R-8 administration told the Turner Report and Inside Joplin that DESE had started its investigation after receiving information indicating possible misuse of Title I and IDEA funds, essentially to pay for the district's teaching and learning coaches, which, contrary to upper-level administrators' claims that they are there to assist teachers who need help, have mostly been used as another level of administration, serving as the eyes and ears in each school for those at 32nd and Duquesne.
The increasing scope of the investigation appears to involve operations at Joplin High School. The investigators have asked for certain documents, though which ones were not known by the Turner Report's sources.
Previous interviews with teachers, students, and members of administration have raised some possibilities of what might be on the investigators' minds.
Teachers who have talked to the Turner Report have indicated that they have been under increasing pressure the past few years to bring students' grades up. When the teachers have told administrators that a particular student refuses to do work, for instance, the teachers have been told it is their responsibility to make sure the student doesn't fail or it will be the teacher's fault.
However, vague threats (which administrators might refer to as misinterpreted messages) would be difficult for an investigator to pin down.
What might not be as difficult are the students who have somehow managed to make it across the stage and receive diplomas (or get them after a super-accelerated summer school session) when they have not done the work and sometimes not bothered to show up.
An examination of how students have been counted and comparing a few names among those who started out and those who graduated could be a wise use of time for the investigators.
Despite the party at the Holiday Inn last month, not many of those who talked with the Turner Report have faith that the graduation statistics were accurate.
Graduation rates are one of the determining factors for which schools receive accreditation.
Attendance has become a rather fluid term at Joplin High School, where a seat that is empty for 48 out of 50 minutes suddenly counts toward state funding again if the student shows up two minutes before the end of the period.
Two teachers told the Turner Report that on Infinite Campus, students who show up just before the class ends are referred to as LA (or late arrival) instead of absent. Investigators need to be sure to check Infinite Campus, the computer system the district used for grades and attendance and get with teachers to find out what all of the different codes mean.
Sometimes a student's status is classified as "skipped class, but in the building," and if you are considering the whole of Northpark Mall as the building at the 11-12 center, that could very well be accurate.
Students have also indicated that they have missed days, but then found that their records show that they attended on those particular days.
A major concern for the teachers have been students who have been suspended from school, were dropped from the rosters, but the teachers were asked to continue supplying work for them. Those students were then re-enrolled as new students and the days they were gone did not count against the district.
The district receives state funding on the basis of attendance. The percentage of attendance is one of the factors used to determine if the school receives accreditation.
Again, those talked to by the Turner Report believe that the district's claim of having 95 percent attendance is off by a wide margin.