McKinley Principal Pinder put on leave amid allegations

March 23, 2011

McKinley Technology High School Principal David Pinder, under investigation on allegations that he ordered student transcripts doctored, was placed on leave Wednesday by acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Henderson said in a late afternoon statement that Pinder’s placement on paid administrative leave “is not a finding of misconduct” but “a necessary precaution” based on information her office received this week.

Henderson’s statement did not elaborate on the nature of the new information and said the school system would have no further comment on the allegations or the investigation. An e-mail to Pinder, who has led the selective, application-only high school in Northeast Washington since 2007, was returned with an “out of office” message.

Last week, D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan announced that he had turned over the findings of a school system investigation into the use of a $100,000 award to McKinley from AARP to the U.S. attorney’s office. Nathan said information developed in the investigation indicated that school money “may have been mishandled.”

At the time, school officials said there was insufficient evidence to warrant placing Pinder on leave.

He is facing allegations that he changed the senior transcripts of at least 13 students to give them credit for courses they did not take. The accusations were first reported Tuesday by the Washington Examiner.

Rhonda Robinson, a former college and career counselor at McKinley, said in an interview Wednesday that she told D.C. investigators that in the summer of 2008 Pinder ordered her to register two senior transfer students who needed more classes to graduate on time than their schedules would accommodate. One was a senior who had transferred to McKinley to play basketball, Robinson said.

“Mr. Pinder said to me, ‘Put in as many classes as you can schedule, and we will waive the rest,’ ” Robinson said.

She said the two students received credit for a series of classes that they did not take, including “Programming for Multi Media” and an unspecified “Senior Project.”

The student records stored in the school system’s database show that Pinder himself is listed as the teacher. The word “waived” appears in parentheses. The courses, for which the students received passing grades, helped them get the 27 “Carnegie Units” required to graduate.

Robinson provided The Washington Post with copies of the transcripts and online course credit records.

Robinson said that the McKinley staff member who usually teaches the courses, Rick Kelsey, was not at the school during the 2008-2009 academic year. Kelsey, the school’s former STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education director, referred a phone call Wednesday to his attorney.

Kelsey was charged in January with second-degree theft after the discovery of 10 missing laptop computers. A school system investigator came across the alleged theft in the course of investigating the AARP grant. Kelsey has entered a diversion program for first-time offenders, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Robinson said that after Pinder asked her to add what she called the “phantom classes” to the schedules of the two students, she searched for similar additions to schedules and found 11 other instances. In summer 2009, she said, she brought the situation to the attention of other McKinley administrators and officials in the school system’s central office. She said there was no response.

In October 2009, Robinson was one of several McKinley staff members laid off as part of a systemwide reduction in the teaching force because of the budget crunch. The layoffs triggered bitter protests from students, teachers and parents citywide. McKinley students left class one morning to march and demonstrate in front of the school system’s central offices.

Robinson subsequently testified before the D.C. Council that she thought her dismissal was in retaliation for a series of disagreements, including her attempts to alert senior school officials about the transcripts.

Pinder has said in a message to parents at the time that he elected to lay off non-classroom teachers — including an assistant principal and four instructional coaches — rather than trim his educational force.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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