A former Saskatchewan principal says she was “trying to be a good person” when she offered to pay teachers to change her daughter’s high school marks.
Kimberley Sautner, 44, was the principal of Wolseley High school between 2008 and 2014. She was on the stand at a disciplinary hearing Tuesday over accusations of professional misconduct.
Evidence shows in January, six months after Sautner left her position at the school, she sent text messages to English teacher Gayle Wheatley and another teacher asking them to change her daughter’s first semester Grade 12 English grade from 72 per cent to 80 per cent or above. She offered to pay the teachers $500 for their time.
Sautner testified that at the time the messages were sent, her daughter was enrolled at the University of Lethbridge and was struggling with her first-year English course. A faculty adviser told them the daughter had the option to either redo the course with the same or a different professor, or skip the course if she could provide proof she got an average mark higher than 80 per cent in Grade 12 English.
They chose to skip the course, but because the girl’s high school mark was originally not above 80, Sautner said she contacted Prairie Valley School Division director of education Ben Grebinski to see what could be done. She said Grebinski told her to “make it work”.
Sautner then texted the teachers, hoping they could provide her daughter with extra work which could help upgrade her mark. She said she offered to pay them because she felt the task would go above and beyond the teachers’ regular duties.
“I was trying to be a good person and compensate (them) for the time I thought she was going to put into it,” she said, comparing the money to a gift parents may give a teacher or coach for doing extra work.
However, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation lawyer Dennis Fisher questioned why, if Sautner was just trying to be a nice person, did she ask the teachers to keep mention of the payment quiet. He also asked why did she wrote in one of the texts that she didn’t expect a “shit ton of work to be done”.
Sautner said she did not want others to think she was offering a bribe.
When the disciplinary board asked Sautner if she would accept payment from a parent, she said she would have to “consider the situation”, but if the student was currently in her class it would be unethical. Because her daughter was not in anyone’s class, she did not consider the money unethical.
What does ‘upgrade’ mean?
The question remains about whether the word ‘upgrade’ in one of the texts meant just changing the grade or allowing her daughter to work to improve her mark.
Students who pass a class are able to improve their marks through a process called upgrading. Fisher questioned whether this particular instance could be classified as an official upgrade since the girl had already graduated and enrolled in a post-secondary institution in another city. Sautner argued it didn’t matter if her daughter was physically at Wolseley High School.
Sautner said during a typical upgrading process, students come talk to her first, then they speak to the teacher and eventually go to central office to see what can be done. The board criticized Sautner for going to the central office first and working her way back to the teachers.
Sautner said she thought her working relationship with Grebinski would be better than contacting the new principal of the school.
Following Sautner’s text messages, Wolesley’s new principal Crystal Hrbachek looked into Sautner’s daughter’s marks and found a discrepancy between her first semester English mark as it appeared on a mark verification report and her transcript. The mark on the teacher’s signed report was 60 per cent, but 80 on her transcript.
An IT investigation discovered the mark was changed in a program called SIRS, which only the principal and secretary have access too, some time between June 25 and 26.
Both Sautner and secretary Marianne Greening’s accounts accessed the system during that time and both said they did not change the grade. Sautner said she wasn’t very familiar with the program and left most of the work to Greening.
Wheatley, who taught Sautner’s daughter the English class, testified Tuesday she remembers the girl had a final mark of 60.
However, Sautner’s defence lawyer Jay Watson argued Tuesday that if the daughter’s mark wasn’t 80 before June 18, the girl wouldn’t have made the honour roll.
“Which means it would had to have been changed twice, which doesn’t make any sense either,” he said.
The hearing concludes
In his closing remarks, Fisher asked the board to use common sense and understand Saunter had motivation to ensure he daughter’s success. He noted it was odd that Sautner thought her daughter had an 80 in her second semester English when the girl had never achieved such a high grade in English throughout her high school career and because the teacher doesn’t remember giving her that grade.
Watson’s closing remarks said Sautner had no reason to boost her daughter’s second semester English mark at the time because she was already accepted to university.
The Social Studies marks of three other students were also changed in the same time frame, but Sautner denies changing them as well. She also denied allegation she favoured the three students and would text them asking them to get her coffee while they were in class.
Sautner is also under investigation for how she handled the grading of two other students.
Teacher Meaghan Cross said in the same year she was listed as the English teacher for a student when she did not teach him. She said her efforts to have her name removed from the boy’s report card did not work, and her notes on the mark verification report were scratched out.
Sautner said the student had completed the class the year before, but she accidentally forgot to put his mark in the system. She said she contacted the Ministry of Education and they told her to create a class for the boy, list a teacher and find out what his grade was. Cross was listed as the teacher because the boy’s actual teacher was no longer at the school.
Sautner said she told Cross about the plan, which Cross denies.
Meanwhile, biology teacher Jay Reid was listed as the teacher for a female student who wished to do a credit recovery on her Grade 11 biology class which she failed in the first semester in Melville.
Sautner said she spoke with Reid about handling the credit recovery and left it in his hands to make sure the appropriate work was given to the girl and that she was marked. Reid said he didn’t feel comfortable trying to figure out what the girl still needed to learn because she went to a different school for the first semester. Yet, despite not giving or grading any of her work, he said his name appeared next to a mark on her report card.
The disciplinary board questioned whether Sautner should have been more involved in the process and made sure Reid was working with the student. Sautner said she didn’t want to micro-manage her teachers.
The disciplinary board will now consider the evidence and compile a report. If found guilty, Watson said Sautner could lose her teaching certificate.