El Molino teacher suspected of testing violations resigns, gets year paid leave
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 6:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:16 a.m.
An award-winning El Molino High School biology teacher suspected of giving her students advance copies of questions on a statewide standardized test is receiving full pay and benefits this school year while on administrative leave of absence.
The terms of a financial settlement released by the West Sonoma County High School District show that Joan Vreeburg, a teacher on the Forestville campus for 29 years, agreed to resign effective June 30, 2012 in exchange for a promise by the district to drop all disciplinary action against her. In the meantime she will remain on the payroll.
District officials on Tuesday would not disclose Vreeburg's pay but said the top teacher salary was $72,776, not including health benefits of up to $20,400.
Neither Vreeburg nor Superintendent Keller McDonald responded Tuesday to requests for comment.
The settlement document, which was signed Aug. 30, was provided by McDonald to The Press Democrat following the filing by the newspaper of a California Public Records Act request. Portions of the document, apparently references to disciplinary issues, were blacked out.
Vreeburg, 54, of Santa Rosa, was suspended in May following allegations she provided students with questions for the biology portion of the California Standards Test, given this spring.
The allegations surfaced after a student told Principal Doria Trombetta that she thought about 75 percent of the questions on an April exam were the same questions included on a practice exam, according to an investigative report from the district.
Trombetta interviewed other students in the class, who also said many of the practice questions were identical to the ones on the official test, the report said.
Vreeburg maintained the questions were officially sanctioned review materials but students didn't recognize a list of questions she subsequently produced, the report said.
One student provided a copy of the practice test used in the biology class and a district official determined the questions were on the state exam, the report said.
The teacher later acknowledged she had supplied students with the document containing actual test questions, but said she did not remember where she had obtained it, according to the report.
She said she did not get the document from anyone she knew personally, according to the report.
The incident wiped crucial scores from the school's books and forced El Molino into Year 1 Program Improvement sanctions required in the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Education officials said increasing pressure on schools and districts to push students to ever-increasing academic targets is not an excuse to cheat. Under No Child Left Behind, all students are expected to be proficient or advanced in core subjects by 2013-14 or be subject to Program Improvement sanctions.
Vreeburg is a celebrated member of the El Molino faculty. She helped establish the school's biotechnology program and has provided working field trips to the University of California at Davis, Lawrence Livermore Lab, the Buck Institute, Redwood Toxicology Lab and the Bodega Marine Laboratory.
Last year, in advance of receiving her biology teacher of the year award, Vreeburg was hailed by students and colleagues for her deep connections in the science community and energetic delivery of ever-changing curriculum.
Under the terms of the settlement Vreeburg and the district admit no wrongdoing. She agrees not to visit district property and promises not to retire until July 1.
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