Exposed: Albemarle’s Open Classroom Fiasco and Grade-Rigging Scheme

Albemarle County’s $10 million experiment in “classroom modernization” (read: open classrooms) has failed miserably in at least one key county school.

Open classrooms—wherein walls are removed and spaces combined to accommodate additional students—were a big selling-point in 2016 when Albemarle County force-fed a $35 million bond referendum to a gullible public.

Initially led by recently retired Superintendent Pam Moran and recently fired Chief Technology Officer Ira Socol, implementation of the open classroom has been difficult division-wide, as students, parents, and teachers have raised complaints over degradation of the learning environment.

In the first few weeks of the school year, the situation in Albemarle High School’s (AHS) new “open” science “super rooms” became so bad that Principal Jesse Turner pitched an unorthodox, two-fold solution:

  1. Reconstruct a facsimile of the classroom walls
  2. Modify grading scales and slow teacher pace to ensure that no student got less than a “B” in affected science classes

AHS Science Department Chair, Tony Wayne, shared with colleagues Turner’s plan for reconstituting classroom configuration:

From: Tony Wayne
Sent: Thursday, October 25, 2018 11:24 AM
To: Diana Webber; Tracy Soffa; Tony Wayne; Carey Oliver; Jeffrey Schwalm; Melissa Brown; Jennifer Brannock; Michael Farabaugh; Katie Christie; Roni Jennings; Crystal Randall; Kathryn Bender; LaNika Barnes; Michelle Benedict; Kate Howard; John Benson; Megan Spalding; Karen Power

Subject: Super Room conversions

Jesse said that he will get anything we need for changing the rooms from a super room to a pair of singles. I’ve created a spreadsheet in the team drive for entering the stuff you list the items you may need to accomplish this. I also made some notes to help you on the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is called, “Super Room Conversion Needs” and is located here, https://goo.gl/y5mxMx. It is also pre-populated with some possible sources for whiteboards on wheels and mobile sound barriers. You can go to those sites to see what is offered and what you may need.

Let’s get this ball rolling…

-Tony

Tony Wayne
Albemarle High School
Physics teacher
Science Dept Chair
MESA director

Wayne’s communique followed an October 18 email from AHS assistant principal Kate Howard to a host of faculty and staff, which exposes Dr. Turner’s student/teacher grade-bailout scheme:

From: Kate Howard
Sent: Thursday, October 18, 2018 5:54 PM
To: Roni Jennings; Harriet Bell; Katie Christie; LaNika Barnes; Kathryn Bender; Jennifer Brannock; John Benson; Megan Spalding; Carey Oliver
Cc: Tony Wayne; Jesse Turner

Subject: Grading in the Super Rooms for Q1
Importance: High

Super Room Teachers,

After talking in detail with Dr. Turner today, I wanted to mention something to keep in mind as you work on grading and finishing out the quarter – please do not allow the room environment or unpleasant start to the year to result in lower-than-usual grades for students. Unless there is an exceptional situation with a specific student, it’s going to be hard to convince me and Dr. Turner that any student taking a science course that occurs in a super room should earn below a B for Q1. Of course, there would be lower grades in a usual classroom setting, but given all the things that have gone wrong with the beginning of this year, we have to do everything we can to ensure that students do not bear negative consequences for a setup that is not their fault. If you need to slow the pace of your instruction from now until Nov. 1 to allow students time in class to complete missing assignments, that is completely fine with me. Your grading practices and pacing can return to normal when Q2 begins.

If you anticipate concerns from parents, please connect with me to determine how to handle those conversations.

Thanks for your continued patience and support of our students!

Kate

Kate Howard, Ed.S.
Assistant Principal
Albemarle High School

Howard’s letter makes clear that she and Dr. Turner were acknowledging:

  1. A poor “room environment” exists
  2. The start to the year has been “unpleasant”
  3. That no student was to be given a grade below “B” unless “an exceptional situation” existed
  4. That “lower grades” typically would be assigned in “a usual classroom setting”
  5. That teacher grading practices could “return to normal” in the 2nd quarter

All of these disastrous consequences occurred presumably due to Socol and Moran’s open classroom gambit.

Coincidentally, following The Schilling Show’s initial open records request of October 25 and Albemarle County’s October 26 reply, Dr. Turner and his AHS staff had a change of heart.

School division spokesman, Phil Giaramita, reported in an October 31 email to The Schilling Show, a reversion of sorts to earned, rather than gifted grades:

The principal, Dr. Jesse Turner, met with teachers this week to clarify the previous direction that students should not be penalized for the disruption that characterized the learning environment in the larger classroom. That triggered the suggestion that except in an unusual circumstances, students should not receive less than a B.

The guidance now has reverted back to what it is for all teachers and students–students should receive the grade they earned, even if it is less than a B. Dr. Turner reminded teachers that they always have a responsibility to work with students who are struggling with their grades. Our expectation, he said, is that all students can achieve high grades providing they have the proper support from teachers and administrators.

If a teacher believes that the academic performance of a student in the larger science classroom clearly was affected by the change, that should be handled on a case-by-case basis. That student should not be unfairly penalized for a condition beyond their control.

So, ultimately, it appears that most AHS science students were graded on their merits (or lack thereof) rather that benefitting from grade socialism.

However, in many ways, these students were and are the victims of overly ambitious government-school administrators. Those seeking to garnish their professional bona fides and justify exorbitant compensation chose to ignore the clear lessons of the 1970s and 1990s when open classrooms were tried, failed miserably, and subsequently were abolished.

Socol, Moran, and the voters of Albemarle County should have known better.