December 19, 2014

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JVS superintendent borrows phrases from N.Y. administrator’s message

The message written by New York school superintendent Mark Mondanaro, left, was used to craft Lorain County JVS Superintendent Glann Faircloth's message.

The message written by New York school superintendent Mark Mondanaro, left, was used to craft Lorain County JVS Superintendent Glann Faircloth’s message. PDF copies of both messages are posted at the end of the story.

PITTSFIELD TWP. — Lorain County Joint Vocational School Superintendent Glenn Faircloth copied parts of an update attributed to him on the school’s website from a similar message written three years ago by a New York superintendent.

Although Faircloth rephrased some of the language he used in his message, posted this week, much of it is similar or identical to what Kenmore Town of Tonawanda Schools Superintendent Mark Mondanaro wrote on his district’s website.

For instance, both messages begin with a discussion of the seasons.

“In summer we experience cool and comfortable temperatures thanks to Lake Erie acting as Mother Nature’s air conditioner,” Mondanaro wrote. “Fall ushers in a rainbow of colors through spectacular foliage as forests became nature’s canvass, bright leaves her brush. The steady snowfall of our winter season affords us the opportunity to enjoy, celebrate, and appreciate family friendly outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. Hope springs eternal as flowers bloom in spring, the air warms, and we look forward to summer once again. We are fortunate to live in an area where we experience beautiful, inspirational and consistent change. No question we are a more resilient community because of our transitional seasons and the sometimes unpredictable climate we live in.”

Faircloth’s language, which he acknowledged borrowing parts of from Mondanaro, is similar and duplicates the misspelling of “canvas.”

“This past year we experienced cool and comfortable temperatures thanks to Lake Erie acting as Mother Nature’s air conditioner,” Faircloth wrote. “Fall ushers in a rainbow of colors as spectacular foliage becomes nature’s canvass; bright leaves acting as her brush. The steady snowfall of our winter season affords us the opportunity to enjoy family friendly activities like skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. Hope springs eternal as flowers bloom in spring, the air warms, and we look forward to summer once again. I believe we are a more resilient community because of our transitional seasons and the unpredictable climate we live in.”

Mondanaro wasn’t credited anywhere on the JVS website with the language contained in Faircloth’s update, which was taken down from the site Thursday night.

Faircloth said he shared the sentiments conveyed in Mondanaro’s text, but denied he committed plagiarism. He said he meant it as a compliment, but it’s not something he will do again in the future.

“If I knew it was going to be this much of a controversy, I would have put something that acknowledged his expression,” Faircloth said.

Mondanaro said he wouldn’t have taken something another person wrote and used it without attribution.

“It’s a form of plagiarism. If I were to do what he did myself, I would consider it plagiarism,” Mondanaro said. “I think it’s more plagiaristic than plagiarism.”

But Mondanaro also said he reached out to Faircloth after learning about the issue from The Chronicle-Telegram and told him he was flattered.

“I wouldn’t do that, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a compliment,” he said.

JVS board President Rex Engle said that the board will discuss the issue at a meeting next month and decide what, if any, action should be taken. He also said Mondanaro doesn’t appear to have any hard feelings about the situation based on an email he sent Faircloth.

“I can’t say whether it’s right or whether it’s wrong,” Engle said.

Jan Leach, an associate professor of journalism at Kent State University who was one of the authors of a book on plagiarism as part of the National Summit to Fight Plagiarism and Fabrication, said the academic community is struggling with the issue of plagiarism.

“It’s gotten to be more of a big deal in schools because of the Internet,” she said.

Mondanaro said his district has gone so far as to purchase software that can find plagiarism in papers.

Faircloth said plagiarism isn’t acceptable for JVS students. Several JVS teachers noted the same thing in classroom policies posted on the school’s website.

“Merriam-Webster’s (Dictionary) defines plagiarism as using words or ideas of another as if it was your own. You should know that plagiarism is stealing and violates every ethical academic standard. It will not be tolerated,” civics teacher Joseph Csizmadia wrote under the “Important Reminders” section for his classes on the JVS website.

But Faircloth said that there’s a difference between a student taking credit for someone else’s work in a paper they turn in for a class and what he did.

“I’m not trying to earn a grade. I’m not trying to earn extra pay or anything like that,” he said.

He said he wrote what he considers the important part of his message – three sentences that focus on the strides JVS has made and what the school’s priorities will be this year – himself.

Leach said she was surprised by Faircloth’s explanation.

“It is curious that a superintendent would do this and say it doesn’t matter because I’m not getting anything out of it,” she said.

Faircloth also said that it isn’t uncommon for superintendents and other educators to take what others in their line of work wrote and reproduce it for their own purposes. For instance, he said most districts use the same language when writing about the Common Core State Standards to create uniformity.

Mondanaro said he’s borrowed language from others as well, but he usually attributes it or contacts the original writer to get permission before doing so. He said took those steps with an attendance policy he wanted to reproduce and when he quoted extensively from a graduation speech given by the late Steve Jobs.

“If you’re going to use a whole work, you should probably do a courtesy call or email,” he said.

James Minichello, spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators, said his organization, which represents superintendents, is unfamiliar with the concept of one educator using another’s work without attribution.

“It’s best practice to attribute the source of the information,” Minichello said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.