State reprimands Sugar-Salem super over evaluation data


A state commission has formally admonished Sugar-Salem School District Superintendent Alan Dunn, who two years ago told his staff to submit data to the state showing all the district’s teachers had gotten the same overall score on their evaluations.

The state Department of Education’s Professional Standards Commission ordered in September that a letter of reprimand be placed in Dunn’s file, according to Idaho Education News, which first reported the news of the reprimand Wednesday.

The district completed the evaluations accurately but submitted different data to the state. Dunn, who plans to retire at the end of June 2018, told the Post Register he wanted to protect teachers’ privacy and also objected to tying the evaluations to teacher pay.

“Education often is compared to business, and … the two can’t be compared,” he said. “From one year to the next, a teacher may get five struggling students … next year, maybe 15 struggling students.”

Dunn pointed to the troubles districts throughout Idaho, including his own, are having in hiring teachers, and said making things more difficult for prospective teachers will even further drive down the number of applicants.

“The single best thing a superintendent or a principal can do is make sure we hire the very best teachers in every class, and if we don’t have a number of candidates (to) pick from, that’s difficult to do,” he said.

A records request seeking a copy of the reprimand letter and of the original complaint, which according to Idaho Ed News was filed in July by Director of Certification Lisa Colon Durham, had not yet been filled by press time Thursday.

The Sugar-Salem district has received many accolades during Dunn’s tenure. In 2013, Sugar-Salem High School was recognized as one of the nation’s most prestigious schools for high academic achievement. It also was one of 286 schools nationwide recognized that year as Blue Ribbon School as designated by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. That same year the high school was the region’s top-ranking small high school for top scorers on the SAT college entrance exam.

The standards commission issued a similar reprimand to Ryan Kerby, a state legislator and former superintendent of the New Plymouth School District, for reporting inaccurate evaluation data to the state. Kerby expressed concerns similar to Dunn’s and has been fighting the state on the reprimand. In an interview with Idaho Ed News on Wednesday he defended his actions and didn’t say definitively whether he would appeal the ruling further.

Dunn said he was always upfront about what he did. News of Dunn’s actions came out in August 2015 when he told Idaho Ed News about it. At the time, Dunn was head of the Idaho School Superintendents Association, and said several districts had done the same thing.

“There was never any effort on my part to put anything over on anybody,” Dunn said. “I practiced my civil disobedience as ethically and morally as I could.”

Since then, Dunn said, the district has sent in individual evaluation scores for every teacher but they are instructed to redact names from the more detailed evaluation forms, which makes him feel better.

“Even when I disagree (with the Legislature), I recognize that they are working hard to improve education in the state of Idaho and I support that goal,” he said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757.