Aug 2, 2015

NY Principal Commits Suicide Amidst Testing Irregularities Investigation

TCCS Principal Worrell-Breeden 
By Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

One of my worst twenty-something memories was a visit to my best friend after her boyfriend committed suicide in their apartment. He shot himself in the head on the bedroom floor. When I arrived to help my friend retrieve her belongings, I vividly remember seeing the large pool of blood matted into the carpet. The impact of this man’s decision to end his life stayed with me for many years to come.

Those memories came rushing back when I heard about the forty-nine year old Harlem principal who took her life by jumping in front of a New York subway train.

Principal Jeanene Worrell-Breeden committed suicide in April of this year.  According to the NY Post, “around 9:20 a.m. April 17, Worrell-Breeden walked onto the platform at the subway station at 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem and threw herself in front on an oncoming train. She was rushed to the hospital, where she would die eight days later (April 25th) from her injuries. The medical examiner ruled Worrell-Breeden's death a suicide.”

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one-third of all suicides are from hanging. Subway related suicides are the least likely form of suicide and represent 7% of suicides in New York City. Men are far more likely to attempt suicide via subway than women.

The aftermath of Worrell-Breeden’s suicide sucks for everyone she leaves behind. Her family, her school community- her colleagues, her students and their parents.

Worrell-Breedon was the founding principal of Teachers Community College school, an elementary school in West Harlem. A tribute to honor the popular principal is listed on the school’s web page. It reads- “Principal Breeden was a tireless champion for all of the children of TCCS, and she will be greatly missed.”

Worrell-Breeden was a highly accomplished career educator, graduate of Penn. State, held two master’s degrees (from NY City College and Fordham) with 20 years of experience in NY City public schools and served as a classroom teacher, staff developer, assistant principal and principal.

Authorities revealed that the suicide occurred during a Department of Education (DOE) investigation that started the same day the principal took her life.  A complaint was made that Worrell-Breeden cheated on the Common Core standardized test. An internal investigation found that the principal had cheated by forging students’ answers.

Prior to her death, Worrell-Breeden confided in a colleague that she had completed 3rd grade students answers on incomplete exams. While students were interviewed, the principal had yet to be questioned due to her untimely death.

Department of Education (DOE) spokeswoman, Devora Kaye issued the following response to parents, "Principal Worrell-Breeden was the subject of allegations of testing improprieties.” An investigation substantiated these allegations, and we closed the investigation following her tragic passing."

There are plenty of ways to commit suicide, but few more painful than hurling oneself in front of a train. Why would anyone want to suffer this way? Has it come to this for those of us in education?

There is so much emphasis on high-stakes testing that many in education feel the heat. According to Arthur Goldstein, NYC educator and fellow blogger, “the recent example could only have been possible against the backdrop of ed. "reform."  Ed. "reform" is killing the teaching profession; it kills the will of some students to learn.  It closes schools, rips communities apart and, apparently, takes lives.  I would argue its long-range damage will be far more severe and, sadly, that damage remains to be seen.”

And for some like Worrell-Breedon, it drove her to choose "dishonesty" and impose a self-justice that’s unthinkable.

© Candi Peterson 2015


Anonymous said...

Wow. This article makes you think. Your life is all you really have. How sad. How very very sad. The pressure to cheat, to fake results, to make things more than they appear to be. Sort of like our data on teacher retention.

Anonymous said...

Very unfortunate. ..the stress, insurmountable pressure to produce student achievement.

Anonymous said...

It breaks my heart to read this. I that when Dept of Education authorities notified her of these allegations that they offered counseling at the same time. Perhaps she'd still be alive today.