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CMS Deals With Incorrect Data And Principal's Suicide

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools has been in the headlines a lot this past week for two different reasons. The district posted school progress reports that included incorrect information about students on track to graduate. Then, on Monday police found the principal of Northwest School of the Arts dead in his garage. Police have confirmed he committed suicide. Psychologists and social workers flooded the school yesterday to help students deal with their grief. CMS held a press conference today to talk about these events. WFAE's Lisa Miller was there and she joins Mark Rumsey to talk about the district's responses. MARK: Lisa, first of all, the situation at Northwest School of the Arts. The principal there, Barry Bowe, was widely loved and respected by students and parents. The district though had recently put him on administrative leave? What was behind that? LISA: The district had launched an investigation after an incident in December in which someone pointed a gun at a student after a dance. Now, no shooting occurred. The district was looking into allegations that there wasn't enough security or teacher supervision there. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh says this was the only issue the district was reviewing concerning Bowe. He put Bowe on administrative leave and a group of students and parents actually rallied to the principal's side on this. Hattabaugh said today he hadn't talked to Bowe directly about the incident. But he said Bowe met with human resources and was given the options of resigning, retiring, or going ahead with the investigation. Bowe said he needed more time to think about it and when Hattabaugh hadn't heard anything from him on Monday, he sent CMS police to check on Bowe. MARK: Obviously a very difficult situation for students at Northwest School of the Arts. How do they appear to be coping and what's the school district doing to help? LISA: CMS says they had about seventy extra staff members on campus yesterday to talk with kidscounselors, pshychologists and social workers were all there. And many of them will be there all week. Karen Thomas is the district's director of student services and she helped coordinate all of this. She says students had a lot of questions, especially when it began to look like their principal may have committed suicide. THOMAS: We used that as a teaching opportunity so that students and staff and parents and anyone else who is raising the question begins to understand the importance of seeking and asking for help when help is needed, recognizing that we all can become fragile. LISA: She says kids have been quick to honor Bowe. One student was passing out black paper carnations she made today. They've also painted the rock in front of the school for him. MARK: On the other issue...the district has also been dealing with fallout from posting the wrong data on school progress reports. Chris Cobitz who oversaw that for CMS has now resigned. What was wrong with these school progress reports? LISA: School progress reports included a section this year on the percent of students that are on track to graduate. The progress reports showed 98 percent of all CMS high school students were on track. But now when you compare that to a four-year graduation rate of 74 percent something seems off. Ann Doss Helms with the Charlotte Observer first spotted the mistake. She initially asked what the problem was and CMS stood by the numbers. But she kept on asking and eventually Cobitz said the numbers were wrong. MARK: CMS does pride itself on being a data-driven district. How are they offering reassurances that this kind of a data mix-up won't happen again? Lisa: In a district that's working on measuring teacher performance and rolling out new tests, that is a big question. Cobitz told the Observer he didn't want people to question future reports from his office and that's why he's stepping down. Here's what Hattabaugh had to say today. HH: I think it just sends a message to all of us, including me, that you have to really look at data differently and ensure that it is done with fidelity and is valid, reliable information as it goes out to the public and to the board and to principals, teachers as they're making decisions that affect instruction, our core business of teaching and learning everyday. Lisa: He says the district had quality controls in place, but in this case they weren't followed. He's reminding all departments that double-checking and triple-checking numbers and then putting them in the right context is essential.