Board chair seeks MSBA advice on how to proceed
by LAURA HAYES
and SARAH SQUIRES
"… this is indeed plagiarism and it is unacceptable." - Supt. Stephen West
Winona Area Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen West admitted to plagiarism during a press conference on Monday, following accusations from WAPS Board Chair Ben Baratto that he'd plagiarized material in the district's technology plan and newsletter, and a subsequent story in the Winona Post's Sunday edition.
West admitted to plagiarizing the work of Emily Wilson, a California educator who wrote the technology plan for Calvin Christian School in 2013. "In putting together the WAPS TL21 plan, I used, without attribution, a direct quote from a colleague," West read from a statement. "Though inadvertent — I had put the quote there as a placeholder for my own thought and overlooked it during the revision process — this is indeed plagiarism and it is unacceptable. For that, I apologize to Mrs. Wilson; it was not my intent to take credit for her work. I also apologize to the faculty, staff and students for this lapse; we expect you not to engage in such behavior and you in turn have the right to expect it from me."
The 125-word passage in question (see newsletter image this page and page 5a) first appeared in the Calvin Christian School plan in 2013. It then appeared in WAPS' technology plan, TL21, within the first chapter, "Letter from the Superintendent." The passage was later attributed to West in a direct quote in the district's newsletter within an article on the upcoming technology referendum, which will ask voters to approve $1 million annually in technology funding from property taxes for 10 years.
Baratto said on Tuesday that he was seeking advice from the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) about how to handle West's admitted plagiarism. In an interview last week, Baratto condemned what he called "an obvious case of plagiarism, not just forgetting to add citations to this plan." He continued, "If a third grader plagiarized a report, they'd get an F. We hold our superintendent to a much higher standard."
West made the admission during a press conference "regarding a Winona Post story" at 8 a.m. on Monday; district staff sent an invitation to the Post's general email account but failed to alert education reporter Laura Hayes.
The Post's Sunday edition article also included a near 700-word passage contained in WAPS' technology plan that mirrors the Waltham Public Schools' technology plan. The passage composes four of the eight-chapter WAPS' plan; West's "Letter from the Superintendent" chapter is the first in the plan. West told the Winona Daily News that a committee had crafted the plan.
During a School Board meeting last Thursday, West spoke about the passages in the plan. “I take pride in citing my sources. I usually have other people help me write documents when I’m going to put it out to the community and make sure that we’re citing. I value making sure things are cited, and if it’s not my voice I make sure it’s given proper [citation]. So if there was an oversight on this document, I apologize for that,” he said. “However, I’m not embarrassed. It’s not done maliciously. It was not done intentionally. I’m –– I’ve got to tell you, I’m extremely upset. This feels like it’s a witch hunt.”
During the press conference, West said that using the successful work of other districts was commonplace. “Administrators take what’s been shown to work elsewhere, adapt it to the needs of their district, and share the result with the education community with the expectation that the next district will do the same ... and on and on. Indeed, a review of other districts’ materials will show a similar pattern,” he explained.
With regard to the admission that he plagiarized Wilson's Calvin Christian School plan, West apologized. The Post reached out to Wilson, who no longer works for Calvin Christian School and is doing graduate work. Wilson said that while she “was glad to share ideas and sources, I also greatly appreciate being cited (especially now that I’m trying to build a career as a kind of educational expert!).” Wilson added that she considered the statement the “intellectual property of Calvin Christian School” and would ask for permission before using it herself for any other purpose.
“A bigger apology, though, is due to the Winona community: These issues are a distraction from our important focus on academic achievement and on growing each and every child and I apologize for creating that distraction,” West said.
West said he wanted to continue the positive work going on in the district including WAPS’ focus on early childhood education, improvement plans for individual schools and the district’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which targets middle-of-the-road students and prepares them for college.
“This week, for example, I’m attending a conference as the District Director of the AVID program where I can share our successes with peers and learn, in turn, from them,” West said. “I want to continue to engage with the ninety-nine percent of this community that shares my goals –– and hopes –– for our children and who believes –– as I do –– that these goals –– and hopes –– are achievable.”
He said that while 99 percent of the energy around the district’s issues is positive, one percent is not and he’s experienced incidents that are “darker, [and] more worrisome.” He alleged that on more than one occasion a man had surveilled his home, a community member has made “unfounded and unsupported charges of wrongdoing” by himself and other district administrators, and that he has been “accused without foundation of harassment and bullying behavior toward female reporters.”
Keep reading the Winona Post for more.