Board upholds teacher dismissal

Tuesday, June 8, 2010 10:27 AM
Last updated 10:25 PM
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Columbia County school officials voted late tonight to uphold the termination of Lakeside High School teacher Margaret Mudrak, accused of helping special needs students cheat on tests.

Lakeside High School special education teacher Margaret Mudrak (left) sits with her attorneys Freddie Sanders and Zeva Bruckner during opening remarks in her termination due process hearing at the Columbia County School Board office.  Jim Blaylock/Staff
Jim Blaylock/Staff
Lakeside High School special education teacher Margaret Mudrak (left) sits with her attorneys Freddie Sanders and Zeva Bruckner during opening remarks in her termination due process hearing at the Columbia County School Board office.

Her attorney said she would appeal the decision to the state board. The vote was 4-0 with board member Roxanne Whitaker absent.

Mudrak "inappropriately" helped as many as four special needs students with a math test, as evidenced by their similar answers on the quiz, said Columbia County School Board attorney Pete Fletcher.

Mudrak also failed to follow mandated plans for special needs students, called the Individual Education Plan, made inappropriate amendments to those plans and provided too much assistance to a student who had failed another test, Fletcher said in his opening statement.

One of Mudrak’s students, identified on the stand only as “A.H.,” testified that Mudrak guided him toward specific answers during testing.

Mudrak went so far as to work through the problem for him and then tell him, “write this on the answer sheet,” said the 16-year-old rising junior.

School officials presented test scores for that test from Mudrak’s special ed students, showing they had a 92 average. Two other regular ed classes taking the same test averaged 84 and 73, they noted.

Mudrak's defense attorneys in rebuttal called to the witness stand another student, identified only as "A.R.," who said on the day of testing that he neither received any help from Mudrak nor saw any other students receive help.

A.R. said he scored 100 on the test.

In earlier testimony, Lakeside High Assistant Principal Melanie Sprouse said Mudrak helped students during the tests by giving "specific points to students that led to answers." Sprouse said one student told her Mudrak directed her to erase an incorrect answer on a test.
After Mudrak pushed for a special needs student to retake a math exam, Sprouse agreed to administer the test in April.
On test day, Sprouse testified, the student arrived with sheets containing information he could not keep during the exam. The handwriting on the sheets looked like that of Mudrak's, Sprouse said.
The veteran teacher's attorney, Freddie Sanders, disputed the charges and said the similarities in students' answers were the natural result of Mudrak's teaching methods.
As far as helping the student receive a retest, Sanders said it was indicative of the 30-year teacher's desire to "help her students to a fault."
On cross examination, Sanders got Sprouse to admit that she witnessed no wrongdoing by Mudrak.

School officials recently recommended firing Mudrak, but as a tenured teacher she is entitled to a hearing to fight the charges against her. The members of the county's school board serve as judges in such cases.

A crowd of supporters were attending today's hearing for Mudrak, who also serves as a boys lacrosse coach for Lakeside.

 

 

 

 

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gaspringwater
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gaspringwater 06/08/10 - 11:31 pm
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Sounds like the voters of

Sounds like the voters of Columbia county need to clean up the BOE. It's doubtful they're serving the children's best interest. Politics as usual I guess!

KatieLou
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KatieLou 06/08/10 - 11:28 pm
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Boy, do I hope you're wrong,

Boy, do I hope you're wrong, Little Lamb. What a disaster that would be--even bigger than Sonny.

kel1234
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kel1234 06/08/10 - 11:30 pm
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I attended the hearing today

I attended the hearing today for Mrs. Mudrak and was very disappointed in the direction the hearing took, it was very obvious from the beginning that "Dismissal" was the favored outcome of the CCBOE.Well you got your way for now but when this is appealed you are all going to have to answer some questions and you will have to do much better than use the flimsy evidence you used today.It was almost comical to sit in the room and listen to educated people carry on and prove nothing!Never once did I feel like the Special ED children were the real concern.To Margaret I say Hang in there,we're here for you and Lakeside has given up one of the Best !!!

lenab
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lenab 06/09/10 - 12:38 am
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I attended the entire hearing

I attended the entire hearing today as a supporter for Mrs. Mudrak. I want to clear a few things up for those that didn't have the 13+ hours to spend listening to the "evidence". First, the test in question was a classroom test for an Algebra II class usually taken as a sophomore. It is part of the new math curriculum that according to most people is a terrible failure. In fact the regular education teacher, Mrs. Shephard who co-taught the class with Mrs. Mudrak, the same teacher who brought the allegations to the school administrators, and yes, the same teacher that prepared the test said that the textbooks had such gaps that she couldn't follow the curriculum. Although Mrs. Shephard prepared this classroom test, she did not ask Mrs. Mudrak for input. The teacher was out of state the day the test was given, 19 regular education students were given the test by a substitue teacher. Mrs. Mudrak following accomodations contained in student Individual Educational Plans took her 5 Special Education students to a small group setting. These students by the way had a scheduled math lab (math tutoring) each day taught by Mrs. Mudrak. Later each day they would attend the co-teaching class. In Mrs. Shephards' absence the day before the test, Mrs. Mudrak reviewed with all the students, regular ed and special ed what type of problems the test would cover. The day of the test, Mrs. Mudrak reviewed the type of questions that would be on the test later in the day. It appears that the irregularities that Mrs. Shephard found the need to bring to the administrators was that each of the Special Ed students got one problem correct. This was a problem that discussed a graph. The 5 Special Ed students grades for the test spanned from a low of 69 to a high of 101. Now, please answer for yourself the following questions. If Mrs. Mudrak was indeed trying to help the students cheat, why would the scores vary to such a degree? Why would she allow one student to fail the test? Why would a teacher of such experience, a teacher with excellent performance reviews from her 10 years of teaching at Lakeside help her students cheat on a test that could not reflect very much in any of their grade averages? Please remember this was a classroom test, EOCT and finals carry a weight of 15% of the students grade, so a classroom test carries a much smaller impact. Why would a teacher refuse to resign, go to the expense of hiring lawyers, take the chance of dismissal at a hearing that would also take away her teaching credentials throughout the US if she knew she was guilty? Why would a jury of School Board members vote to go against their superintendent's termination action against a teacher, if in doing so may have meant the county would have to foot the bill for Mrs. Mudrak's defense? After today's hearing I am even more committed to standing on Mrs. Mudrak's side. This will be appealed, and I believe she will win. I think she will also be awarded attorney fees and back salary paid by the School Board, which means we as taxpayers will be paying these costs. I don't like paying taxes, but in this instance I will gladly help to right the wrong of her wrongful termination.

redapples
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redapples 06/09/10 - 01:14 am
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Lenab, thank you for

Lenab, thank you for providing some clarity to the proceedings.

corgimom
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corgimom 06/09/10 - 06:22 am
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"I think you have a pretty

"I think you have a pretty good idea by now of the level of my "thought processes", and perhaps you find it challenging, hence the constant attack mode."

"Challenging". Um, no.

Regards,

The Corgi Babe

forwhatitsworth
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forwhatitsworth 06/09/10 - 08:22 am
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I, too, sat through all 14+

I, too, sat through all 14+ hours of the hearing. When I called this a "witch hunt" it was because of the testimony. The Regular Ed. co-teacher, who was out of town during the test (but did leave prompts for the students by leaving a sheet of formulas to use) graded her tests on Monday. She noticed some discrepancies in the special ed tests- the "worst" being that some of the special ed students out-performed regular ed students (testimony was given by experts that this should not have happened! What prejudice!). Then, instead of speaking to the Special Ed teacher who monitored the test or the students involved, she went directly to the administrator. The administrator who called students in and didn't inquire if there was cheating involved, but asked "How did Mrs. Mudrak help you on this test?" (Didn't the attorney say leading questions were wrong for testing? Guess not in interrogating students.) Only after selected students were required to write a statement was Mrs. Mudrak made aware of the investigation. As per the classroom teachers testimony the regular ed tests were destroyed at the end of the year- after the defense asked for copies. The student who testified that they were given all the answers by Mrs. Mudrak was not the student who got a 100% on the test! Witch hunt or trying to find the truth?

bmtopalis
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bmtopalis 06/09/10 - 09:38 am
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lenab, thank you for

lenab, thank you for clarifying all of this. There is something very shady and undermining about this school board and it needs to be addressed. I absolutely agree, an appeal will bring a winning outcome... But from this point forward, an investigation MUST be done! The parents, the students and the community that is involved with Lakeside High should fight this every step of the way. Why allow this type of behavior to go on? When is it going to end? This whole situation is unjust and unfair and it DEMANDS attention. It is very obvious that Mrs. Mudrak was "set up" right from the beginning by a few "less than decent" characters.... The whole situation is completely out of control. It's downright DISGUSTING!!!

workedforit
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workedforit 06/09/10 - 10:02 am
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Columbia county homeowners,
Unpublished

Columbia county homeowners, get ready for your property tax increase to pay for this mistake by some of your elected board members. Given the state of our education system these days I am so thankful my youngest has graduated or I would have been forced to pay for private school. This age of no child left behind even though they don't have the mental fortitude to shovel garbage has gone too far. Why even give the PSAT to a kid who has no intention of going to college. Some of these learning disabled kids will never pass these tests, yet they have to take them and pull the averages down, but in reality if you can teach them to count change and a dozen eggs you have probably reached the top of what they will ever be able to do.

lenab
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lenab 06/09/10 - 10:14 am
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Thank you forwhatitsworth for

Thank you forwhatitsworth for adding information about the hearing. I don't understand why such a wonderful teacher would have been dismissed in such a way. Remember this was the same school, same principal, and the same superintendent that allowed a football coach to keep his job after asking a player to cheat in the game. Remember too, that incident was caught on video tape. As you stated Mrs. Shephard ran to administration without talking to Mrs. Mudrak about the classroom tests of 5 special ed students, and the one graph question they all got correct. Mrs. Mudrak taught this subject matter so well that all of her students knew how to answer the question. Was this an embarrassment to the classroom teacher?

LHSalumniparent
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LHSalumniparent 06/09/10 - 10:41 am
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I'm glad that lenab and

I'm glad that lenab and forwhatitsworth clarified some of what went on yesterday at the Board of Education. It was unbelievable that the board voted to terminate Mrs. Mudrak on what was presented yesterday. It has been obvious for many years that Jeff Carney is all about the numbers. This was blatant backstabbing to a terrific teacher who believes in HONESTY, WORKING HARD AND DOWING WHAT'S RIGHT FOR THE STUDENTS!

The kids in the special ed class are kids who may have dyslexia, ADD, or anxiety taking tests. They are not dumb or stupid and are capable of scoring very well on tests. They have memory problems and need a way to remember things. I know 40 years ago when I was in school we had poems or little phrases to remember things. All Margaret did was to give them those ways of remembering how to solve problems.

The decent thing that Ms. Shepard should have done was to go Margaret first but she evidently felt threatened by Margaret and her ability to teach. Instead she ran to her asst principal and principal first to bully the kids. You would think Jeff Carney would have had the common sense to also treat his teacher fairly as Mr. Nagle says is supposed to be done. Instead she was called in after the fact and yelled at being told she had to resign and could not speak to anyone about it. I thought we lived in America, not Nazi Germany or Russia.

And the Board - They voted to let a cheating football coach who was captured on film (positive proof) causing an embarrassment to the school nationally keep his job and eventually move on to bigger and better things.

I would like to know how the parents and supporters of LHS can go about having Jeff Carney investigated for his practices of "forcing" out good teachers for his Agenda. With budget problems, I don't understand why a school needs four asst principals. Many of us went to much bigger schools and had just a principal and asst principal. And then all those people out at the Board of Education building - What is their purpose??? So much money being wasted that could be spent on teaching our children.

forwhatitsworth
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forwhatitsworth 06/09/10 - 01:34 pm
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deleted

deleted

butler123
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butler123 06/09/10 - 12:53 pm
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If she is guilty then she

If she is guilty then she should be reprimanded, but fired? Seems like too severe a punishment to me. I agree with an earlier post, sounds like they are trying to get rid of a higher paid teacher to replace her with someone who is cheaper.

Rworkman
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Rworkman 06/09/10 - 03:00 pm
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I have known Margaret Mudrak

I have known Margaret Mudrak for more than 22 yrs. She is my sister -in - law and I have seen how dedicated she is to the education of her students and children. I know she stresses the importance of education. I seen her watch over her own children to read and study and I have seen her dedicate what should be her free time to helping (tutoring) students and neighbor children at no charge. How can your county school board be so stupid and blind. She doesn't believe in cheating and would not tolerate it from anyone for one very important reason they would only be cheating themselves. Margaret is an honorable person and your school board should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. I have to leave but will be back to finish but, before I go I would like to thank all of you that are standing by her side.
R Workman in VA

KaTM
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KaTM 06/09/10 - 09:13 pm
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Hey Martinez, I don't know if

Hey Martinez, I don't know if you are still reading these blogs but Ms. Mudrak does not have an "abrasive personality." All of the kids, teachers, and staff LOVE her. There is a small minority who had it out for her. And stop trying to pretend like you don't know what happened in this case, you know every detail... Rick.

Martinez
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Martinez 06/09/10 - 09:26 pm
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KaTM - My comment was based

KaTM - My comment was based on my own personal interactions with her and others that I witnessed. I stated I believe her to be a very well intended person and also stated I hoped things worked out positive for her. My comment was not to offend but to point out that in some cases, if you don't rub people the right way or play the game of smoozing the right backside, you can become the victim of this exact scenario. She has a strong personality, that can be a great thing but it can also be a double edged sword. Special Ed students in particular need a teacher who approaches their job and life in general with passion. I believe your mother to be the right person for that. I just pointed out that sometimes that strength, even when well intended, can be received or perceived as abrasive. Please don't take that as a person attack as it was never intended that way. But when you look at some of the worst teachers there, the same ones whose noses are glued in the wrong place, their jobs seem to be safe and secure while others are not.

kel1234
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kel1234 06/09/10 - 10:46 pm
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I am very glad to see such

I am very glad to see such strong support for Mrs. Mudrak.I have a son at LHS and I know how much the kids love and respect her.I am sorry and disappointed that she has to go through this.

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