To Top

The Buck Stops Here: Anatomy of a Smear – Part V

OK, here’s the final chapter of “The Buck Stops Here” series.  Click on these links to read the previous entries: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  To recap…

The brouhaha involves Pinecrest Academy, an excellent charter school in Henderson, Nevada.  As a charter school, parents choose whether or not to send their kids there…and there’s a waiting list to get in.

The school has an excellent principal, an excellent teaching staff, an excellent administrative staff, an excellent student body and an excellent board of directors.

Nevertheless, there’s always somebody kvetching and bellyaching about something.  At Pinecrest that person is a parent named Teicha Ashcroft, who is unhappy with the school’s recess policy.

And Ms. Ashcroft was able to get a blogger named Karen Gray to write a blistering, biased and one-sided blog post voicing Ashcroft’s complaints which was published on the highly-regarded conservative think-tank Nevada Policy Research Institute’s (NPRI) website.

Ms. Gray is an employee of NPRI.  She’s also the mother of Ms. Ashcroft.  A detail that Ms. Gray unethically neglected to mention in her hit piece on Pinecrest, its board chairwoman and its award-winning principal.

SIDENOTE: The award-winning principal’s name is Dr. Carrie Buck.  And before taking over Pinecrest Academy last spring, Buck was principal of C.T. Sewell Elementary School.  You may recognize the name of C.T. Sewell.  That’s the school where teacher Brenda Moynihan just won that $100,000 grant to fund a new technology center.  Moynihan, along with Sewell’s current principal, Holli Ratliff, both worked for Buck last year when the whole grant idea first germinated.  Go figure.

But back to our story…

Once the hit piece on Pinecrest and Dr. Buck was brought to my attention – and the fact that the author had failed to disclose her relationship with the star complainer of the story – I contacted NPRI President Andy Matthews.

Andy immediately investigated the matter and advised me that, yes, a serious ethical breach had occurred in not disclosing the relationship between Ashcroft and Gray in the story.

Unfortunately, rather than do the right thing – remove the blog post from NPRI’s website – the decision was made to instead put lipstick on a pig.  So at the end of the blog-o-smear, the following “Editor’s Note” from editor Steven Miller has been added…

“The initial version of this story failed to include notice that Tiecha Ashcroft is the writer’s daughter. By the editor’s oversight, that fact was not deemed germane, as both the editor and the writer were focused on the evidence that dysfunctional CCSD patterns of board behavior appeared to be migrating into Nevada’s charter-school community. Belatedly, we recognized that the amount of space given to the departing parents’ views required more balance. Thus the article’s subsequent revisions.”

“Editor’s oversight”?  You mean Miller KNEW that Ashcroft was his employee’s daughter yet somehow didn’t notice that the relationship was completely hidden from the public in the story?

“Not deemed germane”?!!!  Is Miller serious?

How could the fact that a highly critical column attacking the reputations of so many highly-regarded pillars of the community doing absolutely fabulous things for children was written by the mother of the discontented parent who was raising the whole stink not be “germane”?

“Evidence”?  What evidence?  The entire story was based on hearsay complaints and opinions of two parents without disclosing that one of the parents was the daughter of the writer!

In fact, there was no “evidence” presented whatsoever to justify the accusation – repeated in Miller’s “Editor’s Note” – that “dysfunctional behavior” was being displayed by Pinecrest’s board of directors.  As I pointed out in Part IV of this series, that accusation has been completely overblown and disproven as false.

In fact, Gray’s story was so biased and one-sided that the board chairwoman whose reputation was being besmirched wasn’t even interviewed for the story!

“Belatedly, we recognized that the amount of space given to the departing parents’ views required more balance”?  Hello???

If Miller “recognized” – after I bought to NPRI’s attention that the biased, one-sided, ethically-challenged story was in fact unbalanced – then the only fair and ethical thing to do would be to delete the entire offending story, not try to make it better after the fact.

Here’s an example of the “revisions” that Miller is talking about.  This is an excerpt from the original story…

“On the other hand, it was Principal Buck’s philosophy — ‘sitting these kids at computers and teaching them to test,’ says Franks…”

Amazingly, that hearsay accusation was allowed to be published without so much as the courtesy of a phone call to Principal Buck to see if it had any validity.  It was only AFTER it was disclosed that Ms. Gray hid her relationship with Ashcroft that Miller bothered to contact Dr. Buck who, in the “revision,” “vehemently denies that she holds any such ‘philosophy,’ calling the charge ‘absolutely not true.’”

So you have a disgruntled parent making an unsubstantiated accusation…and an impossibly conflicted “reporter” publishing it as fact without even bothering to contact the accused for a response…and NPRI is going to leave it up on its website because they contacted Dr. Buck after the fact and she DENIED the accusation?

What school of journalism taught Mr. Miller that this is acceptable and professional behavior?

Ryan Reeves, Chief Operating Officer for Academica Nevada, which is the professional management company retained by Pinecrest Academy, emailed Miller pointing how egregious the ethical lapse was in not disclosing the Ashcroft-Gray relationship, as well as the “inappropriate content and tone of this article.”

Mr. Reeves wrote…

“I am aware of some minor additions and changes made to the article.  However, the entire basis for the article is a misrepresentation that no amount of editing can fix.  Furthermore, allowing an article to be written and published by one of the involved/interested parties is simply unethical. The article must be retracted and removed.”


Miller responded…

“I believe you mischaracterize the article in question.  While it does have some warts – primarily my own egregious decision to initially ignore Karen’s relationship to Ms. Ashcroft…”

“Some warts”?  Are you kidding me?

There ain’t enough Dr. Scholl’s in the galaxy to remove all the warts in this article!

Including the fact, acknowledged in his response, that Miller knew about the Ashcroft-Gray conflict and IGNORED IT!

Nevertheless, Miller told Reeves that the wart-infested article “will not be taken down.”

Sorry, Charlie.  Nothing short of removing the article completely from NPRI’s website is sufficient.  Gray’s smear, with Miller as an accomplice, is an inaccurate and unfair representation of the school, the principal, the board and the entire situation that should never have been published in the first place.

Leaving it on their website discredits NPRI every bit as much as Gray and Miller have been discredited.

Although I assured Andy Matthews that our conversations – which took place over a period of three days leading up the start of this series – would remain private, I can tell you that I literally BEGGED him to take this highly-offensive and ethically-challenged article down before it did further damage to the reputations of Pinecrest Academy, Principal Buck and everyone else involved.

For whatever reason, he has, to this point, chosen not to.  Probably under pressure from Miller, who got caught in a royal ethical screw-up and is now desperate to save face…no matter how unfair or harmful it is to the Pinecrest Academy community.

But now that this series in finished and the truth about Ms. Gray’s undeserved smear of Dr. Buck has been exposed, I will make one last formal and public request that NPRI do the right thing and take the article down.

And if they do, I will similarly remove all five of my posts on this matter, as well.

I’m posting the text of my letter to Mr. Matthews online.  If any of you would like to add your name to it before I send it off after I get back from Washington, DC this week, please do so by going to…

Here’s hoping that soon we all can get back to fighting the true enemies of education reform instead of wasting our time arguing over the recess policy of an excellent charter school run by an excellent principal and administered by an excellent board of directors.