Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Superintendent of Higley Unified School District Sends a Letter of Appreciation...that she didn't write



Today is Teacher Appreciation Day.  In honor of that, Denise Birdwell, Superintendent of Higley Unified School District here in Arizona, had her administrative assistant send this email to the teachers:

From: Olivas, Jill
Sent: Tuesday, May 03, 2011 3:00 PM
To: District Wide Certified Staff; District Psychologists Group; District Gifted Teachers
Subject: Letter from Dr. Birdwell



Higley. Connect, Engage, INSPIRE

Dear Staff:

As the end of the year approaches, it is only fitting that we stop and thank our Higley teachers.  The late William Arthur Ward wrote,   "The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires."  We celebrate teachers who INSPIRE.

While I am eternally grateful to those extraordinary teachers who have touched my soul throughout my life, at the same time I am truly honored to be an educator myself. I am privilege to spend each day surrounded by teachers who inspire students to achieve their potential.  I am fortunate to be in a position that allows me the honor to inspire others and help foster a lifelong love of learning has been a blessing in my life, which has brought me immense joy.

I have the opportunity to listen to teachers express their experiences of discovery along with their students.  They share their journeys as they witness the fascinating transformations as their students achieve success, begin to believe in themselves, and start to value their own worth as unique individuals has been rewarding beyond measure.  These are the moments we remember why we are teachers.

Great teachers bestow invaluable gifts upon their students: lessons upon which to build their lives. They provide stepping stones of knowledge and inquiry, spark the magic of discovery, encourage students to believe that success is within reach, foster courage to take risks, help students learn from mistakes and view perceived failures as opportunities for growth, guide learners to develop the determination to persevere and to stand by their principles even when terrified to do so, inspire conviction for learners to follow their dreams with passion in their hearts, model the need to strive for excellence and the worth of effort and determination, and teach students to value differences in others by taking the time to learn about them rather than fearing what they don't understand - just to name a few!

A great teacher can inspire the spark that ignites a lifelong passion for learning and an insatiable appetite for knowledge that makes learning a marvelous adventure. Perhaps most importantly, teachers lead by example and demonstrate respect, empathy, compassion and patience toward others.

In honor of National Teachers Day, we appreciate those who so proudly embody the noble title of teacher, and make such remarkable contributions to our community. An extraordinary teacher can change lives, and thus change the world. Teachers give students the greatest gift of all: the ability to believe in themselves and to value the special gifts they possess, for which they deserve incredible gratitude.

Sincerely,
Denise Birdwell
Inspiring, right?  Makes you want to stand up and salute.

There's only one problem.  It's lifted almost word-for-word (with some mistakes added) from this opinion piece by Jennifer Lauria, an associate professor of education at Wagner College in Staten Island. 

Once or twice in my career, a student has tried to do this--pass off work from the internet as original.   Apart from failing my class, they faced serious consequences from the university for breach of academic honesty.

Aside from the fact that her action is just plain embarrassing--do teachers really want warmed-over praise?--it's also unethical and dishonest.  Someone who describes herself as an expert in educational law ought to know what plagiarism looks like and should set a better example for the students in her district.  What will the consequences be?  I look forward to finding out.

48 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I hate it when educators-- administrators or teachers-- do such hypocritical things. Good schools get enough undeserved criticism, and perfectly fine educators are perceived as privileged and holier-than-thou. The word "elite" has been misused out of all meaning by conservatives in order to serve as a pejorative against educators, education and the educated.

    And now this.

    [Edited to correct typo.]

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  3. The district's Code of Conduct lists the consequences for plagiarism on page 8.

    http://www.husd.org/cms/lib/AZ01001450/Centricity/Domain/800/CodeofConductHandbook.pdf

    The minimum consequences are:

    K-6th: Verbal warning and parent contact, detention, possible loss of credit on assignment, ISS [in-school suspension] or OSS [out-of-school suspension]
    7th-12th: Formal conference, 1-3 days ISS or OSS, possible loss of credit on assignment

    The maximum consequences are:

    K-6th: Conference, referral to school counselor, 3-5 days ISS or OSS

    7th-12th: 5-9 days ISS or OSS, long-term suspension and possible loss of credit in class

    The whole preamble to the document is worth quoting:

    "PREAMBLE

    A positive learning environment in our schools and a good state of student conduct starts with students, parents and staff having knowledge and understanding of the basic standards of acceptable conduct. In order to assist everyone in the pursuit of a quality education, the district has established guidelines designed to ensure a safe environment for all students and staff in our schools. For these guidelines to be most effective, it is vital for the family, the school and the community to work together.

    Students are responsible for their own actions. Students whose actions are in violation of school/district guidelines will be expected to accept the appropriate consequences. We are proud of our students and strive to see that all students learn through school experiences to recognize the essential worth of each individual. Students are expected to respect the rights and property of others, along with demonstrating high standards of personal integrity. This includes their time at school as well as going to and from school, at a bus stop and at school-sponsored events. To meet these goals, we enlist the support of our community.

    Depending on the seriousness of the situation, there may be more than one consequence for a single event. Nothing in this handbook is intended to restrict the district from imposing more or less severe consequences if, in the discretion of the district, the severity of harm, danger, damage or the potential for harm, danger or damage warrants it, or if one incident involves more than one infraction. In addition, based upon the facts long-term suspension or expulsion may be imposed although not necessarily listed as a potential consequence on the grid for a particular behavior.

    The Higley Unified School District uses a progressive discipline philosophy. The purpose of this handbook is to ensure consistency in discipline consequences district wide. However, district administration, the hearing officer(s) and the Governing Board have the discretion to impose a consequence they consider most appropriate for the particular infraction and surrounding facts. Just as we set high academic expectations for all students, the Higley Unified School District has high expectations for the conduct of our students. We will not allow academic progress to be slowed because of the conduct of a few students. Conduct expectations and consequences help to ensure that schools, buses and bus stops are safe and orderly."

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  4. Her M.O. is to hang someone else for her lack of integrity. Let's see who takes the fall.

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  5. Wow, that's embarrassing. I'm amazed at the skill of the plagarist. How do you plagarize something and ADD MISTAKES to it? I imagine you're copy-pasting. Maybe you're not smart enough to copy-paste...

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  6. Email to staff by Birdwell has been recalled. The circus now begins..

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  7. Unreal. What has been seen, cannot be unseen.

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  8. This does not surprise me at all. And to think I lost my job because of her, unfairly I might add. How sad. So many great teachers in this district have lost their jobs because of the belief of others. Why not use the words of others then? This truly makes me feel so much better about losing my job. Seriously, the Superintendent of School plagerizing? I know who will take the fall for this. What goes around comes around! I call this sweet justice.

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  9. Just the beginning of the house of cards falling down!

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  10. A corrected version of the email has gone out to the staff of the Higley Unified School district, citing the original author.

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  11. The "correction" is another insult to the intelligence of the people working under her.

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  12. Why am I not surprised that a Higley USD administrator has contributed to the many other flubs (for lack of a better word) that have occurred in the past few years. HUSD is a horrible district, and I strongly encourage parents to steer clear from it and consider Chandler and Gilbert schools instead. A lot less nonsense goes on there.

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  13. The consequences will be none. This I can assure you.

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  14. Get this into the right media hands, please!

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  15. Maybe this time will be different.

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  16. I have been a Higley parent for 6 years now and have been through 2 graduations where she/Denise Birdwell gave a speech. My son is a Senior at WFHS and will be graduating in 3 weeks, why am I not excited to hear Birdwell's speech? Oh - I know. I don't want to hear a speech that I will eventually read from some where. All I know if my child did not cite sources from where he/she got their information from, they will receive a failing grade. So I would like to take this opportunity to grade our Superintendent - F!!!! I expected more from a woman with her educational background. Or did she manage to get her degrees from "cutting and pasting"? Can you tell I'm an unhappy Higley parent? And I'm not the only one!!!!

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  17. @DS...

    She may have recalled the email and sent out another citing the author, but the damage has already been done. Students can't turn in a paper, take it back, and fix all the errors. It's already been submitted, and in this case it has already been graded.

    An instance like this is just ONE SMALL occurrence of corruption within HUSD administration. Too many teachers have lost their jobs because of her and too many more kids are going to be treated unfairly because adults cannot get it together. Shame on HUSD.

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  18. Did Jill Olivas get fired? Or is Denise Birdwell actually taking the responsibility for this one? There's always a first!!!!

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  19. If this is an indication of the dishonesty and corrupt behavior of HUSD ... let's do away with HUSD. These schools are in the city of Gilbert. Let it be under that school district. Then we do not have to worry about budget cuts. The salary of this woman alone I'm sure will pay for 2-3 teachers that we most desperately need.

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  20. I guess her "redo" was loaded with spelling errors too and the content was drastically different from the first email.

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  21. I already sent a copy of this to the Gilbert and Arizona Republic! It's Party Time!

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  22. Good. I hope the AZ republic has a field day with it. HUSD is extremely dishonest. I should know. Maybe this is justice being served to all her hard working employees (admin., certified, classified) that she did not give the time of day to and listen to their side instead of taking the word of those who cater to her and not do what should be done...the right thing. Corruption at its highest.

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  23. I went to Ms. Birdwell's link and found this as the first sentence of her personal exposition. As a high school dropout and GED graduate I find the sentence to be abstruse, incomprehensible and stupid. Maybe that's why she plagiarized the message to her teachers.
    "Dr. Denise Birdwell believes through an inclusive collaborative process with a shared vision and the students at the center of each decision we make as a school community, we can drive the highest levels of student achievement."

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  24. Looks like it's not going to gain mainstream attention?

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  25. Has anyone got a hold of Dr. Jennifer Lauria directly at Wagner College? 718.420.4423 jlauria@wagner.edu

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  26. Channel 12 News at 5pm tonight. The media is on top of this. Before I was interviewed I was told that Dr. Birdwell refused an interview, stating she was ill (recent lap band surgery) and the secretary sent the e-mail on accident. That's it. The reporter was awesome! Can't wait to see how the i terview goes over once tomorrow comes!

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  27. "Mainstream attention has begun!"

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  28. I have been in touch with Dr. Lauria at length today. I have also had calls from some media.

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  29. http://www.azcentral.com/community/gilbert/articles/2011/05/04/20110504higley-school-district-plagiarism-birdwell-letter-3.html

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  30. Did you see Denise Birdwell's interview with Channel 12? Tell me again why she thinks what she did was right? I seem to not get it. That interview made things worse, I think. I'm sorry she's been sick. But if she is not able to handle her job and will make mistakes such as this that will put HUSD to shame, I suggest she takes a leave of absence and take care of herself first.

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  31. Okay, this was on Channel 12 news just a moment ago. Mainstream media has it. Tomorrow is another one... I hear there is a doozie coming this week!

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  32. Someone should submit a Freedom of Information Act request to view emails to and from Dr. Birdwell and Ms. Olivas over the past three days to see if what Dr. Birdwell is saying is a correct version of events......

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  33. Any links for videos for those that we've missed? The only mainstream media attention so far is 3 buried "articles" on azcentral: copies of original letter, article that it was taken from and new letter. I bet the school board will take some minor disciplinary action at school board meeting to "nip it in the bud", bring closure and move forward. Case closed and minor incident UNLESS the original author wants to push further or if people come out of the woodwork to expose Birdwell's multiple transgressions if they think they have her on the ropes and can avoid targeted retribution.

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  34. I just posted the links above.

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  35. Nice work DS.

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  36. By the way, your blog and the link to the original article was blocked by school district. Nobody could access those sites through the district network. Seems reasonable.

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  37. "Those who know her, and are not angry at her for recent staff cuts and difficult decisions she has had to make, know that this was an honest mistake." - From the latest article

    I can tell you that this is NOT the case. There are many people still employed by the district that are upset by what she did and frustrated that this will probably just go away.

    Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/community/gilbert/articles/2011/05/05/20110505higley-superintendent-plagiarism-letter.html##ixzz1LUDHb56t

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  38. The lame teacher/friend of yours that sent the letter to you is a coward and an idiot. I hope they are not returning to teach (my) kids at HUSD.
    If you don't like your boss, quit and move on. There was no need to be so hateful and cause such and uproar.
    Idiots. Both of you.

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  39. Hey Anonymous......looks like you are the coward....why don't you tell us your name? Obviously you are uneducated and haven’t written anything that is worth others stealing.

    Sincerely,

    Michael Waterhouse

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  40. There are many problems with this entire incident. The many excuses by Dr. Birdwell just make things worse.

    1. If you send out an email by “mistake” wouldn’t you recall it immediately??? Why would you wait until the next morning?

    2. If you are blaming the theft on being “sick” (actually lap band surgery) does that mean that every student that is “sick” can make the same mistake and correct it the next day without penalty?

    3. If the Superintendent was liked than most likely this would blow over and people would be quick to forgive her. The fact is she is so disliked because of her years of bullying and throwing others under the bus that people are chomping at the bit to expose her incompetence…….not a good quality of a leader.

    4. For those that say “so what, what’s the big deal?” This is no different than stealing somebody’s personal property. This is theft!

    5. If you are going to throw your secretary under the bus for this than what else did you have your secretary doing while you were “sick”? If you are “not on your game” since you have been back what other kind of “mistakes” should we expect and forgive you for?

    6. Apparently Dr. Birdwell read the same message at the Tuesday night district teacher- awards presentation, which was recorded, and forgot to site the author again. No secretary to blame this time……..

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  41. Saw this in the Republic Blog:

    "The worse part of this for me is that my Sup thought so much of what I do for our district she could find none--zero--of her own words to thank me. Then recalled the email after a teacher caught the plagiarism and let her know. Then Dr. Birdwell sent out another thank you full of grammatical mistakes and tried to pass this off as a secretarial mistake and wasn't feeling well.

    When your Boss doesn't appreciate you or what you do, and by Dr. Birdwell's actions, she doesn't. It would have been better that she not say anything on "Teacher Appreciation Day".

    I LOVE children and LOVE teaching, but there are days when the actions of others....."

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  42. BOTTOM LINE - a mistake was make and there are consequences when people do. Excuses do not count or worse, make it right! A good leader has the humility to admit mistakes and then learn from them. A strong leader lives by the rules themselves and then makes sure that others follow. One cannot lead unless they can follow.
    Model by example.

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  43. RE Republic Blog comment quoted by Anonymous (May 5, 2011 11:09 AM):

    I'll have to say-- and I am not taking a side here-- that the person who made the quoted comment has no business complaining about the grammatical errors of others. One should be able to be passionate and exemplary simultaneously.

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  44. To this person....

    "The lame teacher/friend of yours that sent the letter to you is a coward and an idiot. I hope they are not returning to teach (my) kids at HUSD.
    If you don't like your boss, quit and move on. There was no need to be so hateful and cause such and uproar.
    Idiots. Both of you."

    So you'd rather have your child taught by the Barnum & Bailey circus (the plagiaristic likes of Dr. Birdwell and puppet crew) than by reasonable, honest and EDUCATED people smart enough to catch something as fundamentally simple as plagiarizing?

    Glad you threw the idiot card on the table... the table is now turned.... IDIOT.

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  45. All:

    I would appreciate it if we wouldn't resort to name-calling. I deleted one comment from another thread because it was basically name-calling and contributed nothing (in my view) to the discussion. I was going to remove the comment HMK has referred to, but there was already a response to it by the time I saw it, and I didn't think it fair to remove both.

    In case you haven't done so, please read the post entitled "Two Poems." I mean those to be cautionary about the kinds of words we use with one another. I ask for civility here.

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  46. The excuse that the first letter was a draft is disingenuous at best. I generally don't begin my drafts with lifted pieces. And what kind of leader attempts to inspire through stolen words? If I were a board member, I'd vote to sack her at the next meeting.

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  47. The BOARD PRESIDENT is defending Miss Birdwell. It was a mistake, she's been out sick for weeks, etc, etc.

    She will not be getting sacked for this. She has thr Board's favor on this one.

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  48. This comment has been removed by the author.

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