UPDATED: Washburn principal removed from his job

TANGLETOWN — Amid allegations that he altered his students’ exams at his last job, Patrick Exner has been removed as Washburn principal, just a few days after Minneapolis Public Schools hired him to the post.

“The issues surrounding Mr. Exner’s hiring have created an additional distraction that we cannot allow to continue,” Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said in a prepared statement.

Accusations that Exner tampered with state standardized test results while principal at Ubah Medical Academy, a Hopkins charter school, surfaced in a Star Tribune report on Aug. 7. That story cited an anonymous email subsequently provided to the Southwest Journal.

The email claims Exner “engaged in multiple cases of academic dishonesty” observed by Ubah teachers. While proctoring a test, he allegedly reviewed and changed answers on student exams before submitting them.

The email goes on to say Exner was placed on leave from Ubah this spring during an investigation and missed the school’s graduation ceremony. The school’s board of directors was made aware of the alleged misconduct, according to the email, but another source said that information apparently was not passed on to the Minneapolis district officials involved in Exner’s hiring.

Minnesota Department of Education spokesman Josh Collins said Ubah reported an issue with a GRAD reading exam students there took this spring. Previously, students had to pass the GRAD test to graduate, but the state legislature voted to eliminate that requirement earlier this year.

“What I can confirm is that we received here at the Department of Education on the 12th of July a notice from the Ubah Medical Academy that [on] three students’ tests their scores had been compromised due to unsecured testing environment and proctoring protocols not being followed,” Collins said.

The school’s report did not identify Exner. Collins said he was familiar the anonymous email and its contents, but had not personally seen it.

“We asked [Ubah] to provide a report of that showing how they will ensure that these things won’t happen again, and from our standpoint here, the matter was closed,” Collins said. “Any personnel issue … is a local school issue, and the state doesn’t get involved.”

The state’s Board of School Administrators licenses principals and enforces a code of ethics and standards of professional conduct.

Exner was supposed to bring some stability to Washburn after a rocky end to the previous school year. Former principal Carol Markham-Cousins was reassigned in April.

Johnson, in her statement said MPS was unaware of the allegation when it hired Exner.

“We are glad that the issue was brought to our attention, although we would have preferred to learn of any possible issues of concern during the hiring process and before the job offer was made,” she said. “Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) conducted a thorough hiring process for the Washburn principal position, including references calls, and nothing surfaced as a potential problem.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Minneapolis Public Schools Chief Communications Officer Stan Alleyne said Craig Vana, a former district administrator who stepped in after Markham-Cousins’ controversial removal to serve as interim principal, will return to the school and “temporarily provide support” to its two assistant principals.

Washburn and other MPS leaders planned to meet with the community at 6 p.m. Aug. 15 in the Washburn auditorium.

School Board Member Rebecca Gagnon said Washburn “deserves a strong leader.” Gagnon said “more than one parent” at the Washburn expressed the concern that uncertainty about the school’s leadership could hamper recruitment.

“I talked to a Washburn parent today and said if you haven’t had your straw that broke the camel’s back, this had to be it, and we have to get our act together,” she said.

Staff writer Nick Halter contributed to this report.