Mainland High School principal gave students all A's 'even though no class was taught'

Cheryl Salerno improperly assigned teachers to school counselor positions

SOUTH DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A Volusia County School District investigation into the former Mainland High School principal found she gave all of her students in a speech class the same A-grade and had assigned unqualified employees to work as school counselors.

Cheryl Salerno retired amid the Office of Professional Standards investigation last week. She was place on administrative leave of absence Aug. 5 and submitted her intent to retire the following day. The school board recommended Salerno's terminaton from the school district effective Aug. 28, according to a letter to Salerno dated Aug. 5 from Superintendent Timothy Egnor.

The investigation was unrelated to Salerno being reprimanded June 25 for allowing only three of the AP seminar classes to complete the official AP exam. Most of the students were given last year’s exam. She filed a request to rescind the letter of reprimand, which was denied, records show.

A review of the Office of Professional Standards findings shows a pattern of mismanagement by Salerno of her school staff and schedules.

The report found cause for termination for violating Florida statutes and Volusia County School Board policies.

“Each and every one of these violations constitutes independent cause, and is the bases, for termination of the respondent’s employment,” Egnor wrote.

On May 21, the Office of Professional Standards began investigating Salerno after a school board learned of two employees working out of field as school counselors.

During the course of the investigation, the manager of the Office of Professional Standards wrote he learned about additional employee usage and grading irregularities regarding a speech class Salerno taught.

All but one of the nine students in the class were senior student-athletes, and every student in the course received a quarterly grade of 95, the review found.

Students received final grades the first semesters of 2018-19 "even though no class was taught" and there was no evidence in the grade book of graded assignments, according to the investigation. 

A July 18 email showed a review of the course: The course was not added to the scheduled until Jan. 30 but was backdated to August 2018, according to an email in the report. There were no grades for the first semester in the gradebook and for the second semester there was one assignment with a final grade.

“Speech Class grade book showed one assignment for everyone and everyone got a 95/A, and in fact, everyone got 95/A each grading period," according to the investigation.

Salerno told investigators she asked another Mainland employee to input the grades. That employee denied handling the grades for the speech class.

"Having her name on a class roster, that in of itself would not raise a flag," Volusia County School Board chairman Carl Persis said. "We are going to assume at the district level that if there's a class and there's a teacher's name next to it that that class is going to regularly meet and the teacher's going to grade the students."

Persis said it's unclear how or it the students' grades will be affected.

Mainland parents were upset to hear the latest allegiations.

"Dr. Salerno, specifically, really abused the power that she had at the cost of our kids," said parent Jen Reilly. "She robbed kids of grades that they earned and then gave grades to kids who didn't earn them. So, that's ironic. I'm hugely disappointed."

The investigation also confirmed Salerno improperly assigned two teachers to school counselor positions without certification, which is a violation of state statute.

On July 15, a complete review of the master schedule at the school found a physical education teacher was working out of field, but the system showed he was teaching in field.

A business education teacher was teaching out of field, but the system showed she was working in field.

In addition, the investigation found two school counselors working as such who were not qualified to be counselors when Salerno appointed them. One teacher, had not received his eligibility for a school counselor certification and still had internship requirements to complete, according to the report.

On July 25, Salerno denied the two people working at counselors were doing so even though a school employee provided a list of current school counselors to the Office of Professional Standards that included those two employees.

On June 26, after a request from a news reporter the chief human resources officer for Volusia County Schools said she was asked about Mainland High School counselors who are working but not properly certified.

At that time, Salerno said “there were no out of field counselors and that there was a graduation assurance person doing commensurate duties,” according to the investigative report.

Salerno said personnel turnover in the counseling office “made for numerous challenges.”

The Florida Department of Education is also investigating.

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