SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — The principal of Spring Lake High School has stepped down after admitting to changing students’ grades when he should not have.
Mike Gilchrist submitted his resignation Jan. 26 and it was unanimously accepted by the school board at a special meeting on Feb. 10, minutes from that meeting show.
Gilchrist changed 51 records for 31 students, the school district says. Of those students, seven are currently enrolled in the high school, Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton said in a letter to parents that, along with his investigation report, was published on the school’s website Tuesday.
“Each of the changes will be reviewed, including a discussion with the student and parent, before determining next steps,” Furton wrote.
Gilchrist was not supposed change any grades; it is the job of the school registrar to do that when necessary.
“Staff at SLHS were deeply troubled by this conduct. The investigation uncovered not a single hint or allegation that staff were in any way aware, let alone complicit, in this conduct,” Furton’s letter says.
In at least some of the cases the students were experiencing personal trouble and it seemed Gilchrist was trying to cut them a break, Furton acknowledged while explaining to the board what happened. But in most cases, the minutes say, there were no such circumstances:
“Students who were by all accounts not in distress or experiencing any particular difficulty seemed to get a hand when a hand was not needed,” the board meeting minutes read in part.
Exactly why Gilchrist changed grades in those cases is unclear, the meeting minutes said, although the investigation report indicates Gilchrist in some cases cited concerns about individualized education programs not being followed.
“I think it’s important to understand that many of the families I worked with had very delicate situations that involved abuse, mental health, and other traumatic situations they did not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. There were times I made adjustments to properly accommodate kids with special needs and was not aware of a formal policy for these adjustments. There was always a level of confidentiality that needed to be maintained. I thought what I was doing what (sic) was in the best interest of children and providing families trust, comfort, and a relationship during some of life’s lowest points. I did not want any of them to be put through a process or investigation that would cause them harm or animosity. I do want to again apologize for putting you, the Board, staff, students, and community through this situation.”Sept. 9, 2022 email from Gilchrist to superintendent, as included in investigation report
The investigation indicates Gilchrist changed grades at least as far back as 2016. In one case, grades were changed about two years after they were initially posted. Other changes happened between the day after and 14 months after a term ended.
In an initial meeting with the superintendent on Jan. 24, Gilchrist seemed cagey about what had happened. The meeting minutes say that by the end of the conversation, “it was clear … that there were some less than truthful comments and statements made…”
In a second meeting the next day, Gilchrist admitted what he had done.
“‘In regards to our meeting yesterday, I was caught off guard and was not completely truthful…'” the superintendent’s investigation report quotes Gilchrist as saying. “‘…Every question you asked me yesterday, the answer is “yes”. I did those things. All of them.'”
He admitted he was wrong, said no one else was involved and apologized. He said that if he was disciplined, he would come clean with this staff. If he was going to be fired, he said, he would instead resign. He was placed on leave Jan. 24 as administrators kept investigating. Two days later, he submitted his resignation.
Ultimately, the superintendent determined that Gilchrist violated his contract and district policies and acted unethically.
“It is my conclusion that Mike Gilchrist’s conduct related to these matters constitutes grounds for terminating his employment with the District and voiding his contract. However, Mr. Gilchrist has tendered a resignation which I am inclined to recommend that the Board accept. While Mike Gilchrist’s motivations and methods related to the matters at hand may warrant censure, what is most important is that the District and Mr. Gilchrist part ways, not how that is accomplished.”Superintendent Dennis Furton’s conclusion in investigation report
The minutes show that the meeting started with public comment, during which some parents voiced their support of Gilchrist, saying he demonstrated compassion and fairness in his role as principal and that he worked hard to help students.
The superintendent said he has laid out a plan to prevent future grades tampering, including limiting access to grades changing to only the registrar and the head of technology, implementing use of a form that needs specific signatures before the registrar will enter any changes and auditing changes every year.
*Correction: Due to a typo, a previous version of this article misstated the date Gilchrist submitted his resignation. He submitted it Jan. 26 and it was accepted Feb. 10. We regret the error, which has been fixed.