Bishop State Nursing Director Resigns; Report Outlines Deficiencies

MONTGOMERY, Ala., June 30, 2007 -- Chancellor Bradley Byrne and members of Project Phoenix, a team put together to revive the struggling Bishop State Community College arrived at the school at 8 a.m. Friday morning and were met with news of a resignation.

Ms. Barbara Powe, the school's director of nursing, resigned Friday.  Powe's resignation comes on the heels of a "Special Team Report" on Bishop State, at the direction of the chancellor, in which the school's nursing program fared poorly.

The report spoke of an unsigned letter submitted to Governor Bob Riley's office, Senator Phil Poole, and then Senator (now Chancellor) Bradley Byrne and received on May 11, 2007 called "A silent Cry for help!" and purportedly from Bishop State nursing students.  According to the report the letter made the following allegations:

  1. Lack of caring attitude regarding students' problems and fear of retaliation,
  2. Poor quality of nursing instruction,
  3. High attrition rate,
  4. Large number of students having to repeat classes resulting in re-paying of tuition,
  5. Extra points awarded to a few students resulting in those students receiving a passing grade,
  6. Failure of one nursing course within the first block  results in having to repeat the entire first block of nursing courses, and
  7. Lack of proper equipment for the nursing lab.

Related to Nursing Program the team interviewed 28 nursing students in early June as well as President Dr. Yvonne Kennedy, Dean of Academics Dr. Charles Blackledge, Ms. Powe, and Ms. Yvonne Foster, a health programs counselor.  The team issued the following findings related to the nursing program:

Finding 1)  Bishop State Community College's Nursing program generates an excessive number of student grievances, the program's student grievances are generally not appropriately processed, are not properly documented, and the students are not all receiving student handbooks to inform them of the College's grievance policies.  Faculty and administrators at the College have not effectively responded to genuine student concerns from a significant portion of the body of nursing students regarding the quality of teaching in the program.

Finding 2): While it appears that the instructional staff in the nursing program possess at least minimum teaching credentials, and the College's passing rates on the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN exams have significantly improved, serious issues remain regarding the quality of instruction, and the interpretation of faculty evaluations.

Finding 3):  The Nursing program suffers from excessive attrition.

Finding 4):  A local policy in the College's nursing program expels students for failing a single course in the first block.  This has required students to repeat and incur tuition costs for courses that they have successfully completed, and requires them to re-apply for admission to the program, likely impacting financial aid and student retention. 

Finding 5):  Grade reporting records in the Nursing program reflect widespread grade changes and inconsistency between grade books and rolls, chaotic record-keeping, and lack of adequate security for grade records.Finding 6):  The College's Nursing program has been using defective, worn and broken equipment, and outdated instructional media in some of its courses.

Finding 6):  The College's Nursing program has been using defective, worn and broken equipment, and outdated instructional media in some of its courses.

Byrne says Ann Mantel, "who was assigned to work with the nursing school was named acting director of nursing immediately."  Mantel is on loan from Jefferson Davis Community College while serving as a team member on Project Phoenix.

Byrne says retirements and resignations are not unusual in a situation like this.  "There are big changes going at that school.  It's natural."

Project Phoenix, essentially a transition team, is led by Dr. Jim Lowe.  Byrne says the situation at the school is "complicated."  He says Dr. Yvonne Kennedy, who on June 27 submitted notice of her retirement to the chancellor, "is still president for the next month.  We will be in the institution doing a lot of work."  Byrne says following Kennedy's retirement, Lowe will be interim president of the school.  "He is in charge under my specific direction."  He says there are just certain things an interim president can't do without the approval of the chancellor.

Byrne says the team's Friday visit was "smooth."  He says he and the Project Phoenix team, consisting of Dr. Jim Lowe, Jim Dornell, Jim Fitz-Gerald, Latitia McCane, Ann Mantel, and Charles Nash met first with "the senior staff at the school and the different team members got with his/her counterpart" for further discussion.

The school has to prepare another report for its accrediting agency in September related to correcting numerous deficiencies at the school which led the Commission on Colleges to continue the school's probation at least until December 2007 at which time the Commission will issue another recommendation.  By December, the school will have been on probation for a year.

Byrne was asked why he is letting Dr. Kennedy and Shelton State's Rick Rogers retire.  "They wanted to retire.  If somebody wants to retire I'm going to try and work with them.  The idea is ensuring the institution is adequately managed and led, not getting a pound of flesh."

At least 27 Bishop State employees and/or former employees have been charged with wrongdoing related primarily to the misuse of funds and Byrne last week ordered the termination of the school's Director of Adult Education David Thomas, who "has been convicted of a felony."

Thomas was recently impeached from the Mobile school board over accusations he spent $9,000 in school funds to purchase Mardi Gras parade items.  Thomas's felony - he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a 2005 accident in which he allegedly ran over an 8-year-old girl's foot.

Thomas was also paid $700 a month more than the salary schedule allows, according to the review report on Bishop State.

Reported by:  Helen Hammons