Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

On Ethics, Shaky Start for a Superintendent

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

On Ethics, Shaky Start for a Superintendent

Article excerpt

Several years ago, some Lakewood Ranch High School honors English students got into trouble, and into the news, over a tough summer assignment.

They were supposed to read a daunting piece of literature, the Babylonian "Epic of Gilgamesh," and write about its themes and symbols.

Not how I used to spend my high school summers. And some of them didn't, either. They wormed out of the challenge by stealing from Internet sources.

Some failed to mention taking ideas from writers they found online. Others did, but took more than knowledge and ideas. They took vast numbers of exact words and cut and pasted them into their own reports as if they were their own.

For a while, they may have looked smart and wise and more devoted to the task than they ever were.

Copying the work of others is easy. It is usually equally easy now to catch students at it, by doing Internet searches on suspect paragraphs.

I pleaded for leniency. As teenagers, they needed another chance. But they also needed to be firmly taught that stealing someone's written words is a fundamental sin. They needed to know that transgressions like that later in life could mean far worse consequences than a flunked assignment grade, extra homework and a shaming lecture.

Now, Rick Mills is the embarrassing example. What a way to start his new job as superintendent of the Manatee County school system.

As you may have read in a Herald-Tribune news story, Mills' arrival included his written "entry plan," something he says School Board members had seemed to want from him.

In it, he explained his plans for learning about and leading the Manatee County school system.

Mills never claimed every idea in his plan was his own. He openly said, at the bottom, that "the foundation" of the plan came from a plan written by a well-respected educator.

That would be fine, and Mills had the man's permission.

But did Mills really get two master's degrees without grasping the distinction between crediting someone else's ideas and flat-out taking another's words as if they were his own, which is not at all fine? …

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