Rosewood principal defends fundraiser
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 3, 2009 1:46 PM
For the first time since Rosewood Middle School made headlines for its "cash for grades" fundraiser, a parent and the former principal have spoken out about the intent of the idea.
Nearly two dozen people from Rosewood showed up for Tuesday evening's school board meeting, but only two signed up to speak.
The school made news last month when media outlets learned of a fundraiser created by parents, then approved by the principal, to give students extra points in exchange for donations. When school officials learned of the fundraiser, it was canceled, but too late to quell the national exposure.
Before the dust settled, principal Susie Shepherd announced her resignation and a new principal, Mary Kay James, was named, to start Dec. 1.
At the outset, parents and Mrs. Shepherd declined interviews.
Both camps were represented Tuesday night. It is the school board's policy not to respond to public comment, and members made no remarks about the issue during board comment.
Parent Bryan Mooring of Mount Olive addressed the board first.
"With the stuff that's gone on in our community, we are a community that's hurt," he said. "We have been dragged through the mud. Miss Shepherd knows that as a community, we love you, we support you through thick and thin.
"I know it's not going to make a hill of beans now but a lady was crucified because of something some parents did. This was not even her idea. It's not right."
Mooring said he did not know about the chain of command in such matters, but "it doesn't just go through a parent and a principal and that's it."
He said someone besides the principal needs to be held accountable.
Mrs. Shepherd agreed that the school had been "crucified" and attempted to explain the rationale behind the school's fundraiser, using the platform to share her personal career record.
"We were trying to get some technology for our school," she said. "We have one smart board and one computer lab. Our intent was purely to provide technology in our school."
Mrs. Shepherd said she had contacted the county office and spoken with two members of the leadership team before approving the fundraiser. It was later canceled, she said, but still somehow made headlines.
The effort was to have been based on donations -- $20 would buy two 10-point credits to be used on two tests of the student's choosing.
"If you have a test grade and there were 10 points added, over a nine-week period it will not significantly change the grade," she said.
She maintained that the fundraiser was no different from schools that solicit school supplies or canned food and then give students extra points.
"Some would respond by saying, 'But there was money involved,'" she said. "How did parents get the canned goods or school supplies? (As for) kids that can't afford it, do you think every child can afford to buy canned goods or school supplies?"
Certainly, there will always be children unable to afford to participate in a fundraiser, Mrs. Shepherd said. But regardless of how many could take part in the effort, any money raised would have been equally distributed.
"Anything that we would have received from our fundraiser would have benefited every single child," she said.
Beyond that, the school's record, and hers, stand for themselves, she said.
"Even with the limited amount of technology that the school has, we made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) -- 77 percent of the kids achieved overall just three points away from being a School of Distinction," she said. "Overall performance of (end-of-grade) scores at Rosewood Middle are right at the top of any school in the county in spite of lack of technology.
"The real story in the paper should have been not about the grades but why is it schools across the county have to raise funds in the first place to educate our children?"
Mrs. Shepherd said that anybody who ever worked with her over the years knew "what the true intent of the fundraiser was."
"I have 30-plus years in education," she said. "I have never at any point in time broken any rules, I have followed them all. I have always done what I needed to do, but when the time came to get the support that I needed, I did not get it, and I was disappointed."
She thanked the superintendent, school board, Rosewood staff and community for being supportive, then made a challenge to the Board of Education.
"I know that one of your most important duties is to adopt policies. The decisions that you make directly affect all of our schools," she said.
She encouraged them to visit all the schools and talk with staff and parents and students to "see firsthand what's going on in the schools" and then help provide the technology and tools needed.
"The students at Rose-wood Middle, they still need technology, and I challenge you to give a donation and make that happen for them," she said.