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Editorial: Waubun principal a sacrifical lamb

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The federal government's one-size-fits-all approach to education through its No Child Left Behind program has taken its first victim locally, with the forced removal of Waubun School Principal Helen Kennedy.

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Minnesota's version of No Child Left Behind is flawed and will have to be replaced, or eventually every school district in the state will be found in violation and will have to fire its principal.

Kennedy, who has been with the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District for nine years as principal, landed on her feet -- she is the new principal of Bagley School.

With the federal government waving a $1 million carrot in front of the Waubun School Board's face, it didn't have much choice but to pursue an option that will result in the rapid termination of the principal.

All four choices the school board has to pick from result in the principal losing her job one way or another.

The two turnaround and transformation models both require removing the principal. Only one requires evaluating the staff and rehiring no more than 50 percent, and the other calls for evaluating the staff and retaining them.

The other options are to close the schools or make the district into a charter school district, and it's hard to see how either would improve things.

And since the application to receive at least $1 million under the School Improvement Grant is due July 1, the school board has to work quickly to come up with the right decision.

If the federal government wants to throw a million dollars at a "failing" school district, it might want to take a closer look than a cursory two-day visit to see which staff should stay and which should go.

The school was named one of 32 worst performing schools in the state based on assessment test scores and graduation data, but a lot of good things are happening there that apparently don't show up in standardized test scores.

Firing the principal is all well and good, we suppose, as long as a school's poor performance is the principal's fault. In the case of Waubun, we don't believe it is.

You might just as well blame the rest of the staff, administration, parents and the community itself.

But money comes with her removal: Under the federal School Improvement Grant, Waubun will get a new principal in the fall and undergo major changes over the next three years. And it will get a $1 million grant to improve academics.

The federal education program is a flawed, cookie-cutter operation that doesn't work well for rural Minnesota school districts.

It's way past time for a well-thought-out change.

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