A newly appointed Boston middle school principal, hoping to inspire her staff to take risks for success and to learn from one another, extensively plagiarized a Forbes magazine column on leadership in her first memo to the staff, sparking outrage among some teachers and an apology from the principal.
Jaime Moody, principal of Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester, sent the memo by e-mail on July 9, copying word-for-word or slightly tweaking large chunks of the column, titled “Why Getting Comfortable with Discomfort is Crucial to Success.”
The plagiarized material consumed more than 300 words of Moody’s two-page memo, and she never attributed any information to the Forbes column, written by Margie Warrell and published April 22, according to a copy of the memo obtained by the Globe.
For a few teachers the material — immediately following discussion of staffing changes for this fall — seemed to represent an abrupt switch in tone and focus, raising questions about whether the words were hers.
One skeptical teacher pasted a chunk of it into Google. The first entry that popped up was the Forbes column.
“It’s crazy what she did,” said one teacher, who relayed the story of the discovery and asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “We are very strict about plagiarism. We talk [students] through it. . . . It’s almost like she is above the law. It’s just so bad for the kids and us.”
On Friday, Moody issued a written apology to the Frederick staff after the Globe made inquiries about the memo, and after her boss in the central office received a complaint from another source.
“I inappropriately copied words from another author and passed them off as my own,” Moody wrote in her apology, which was provided to the Globe. “We teach our students never to do this and to always properly attribute when they use words written by someone else.
“There is never any excuse for this and if I could turn back the clock I would have done things very differently. I wish to offer my deepest apology to you and to the original author.”
Moody could not be reached for comment.
John McDonough, interim superintendent, expressed disappointment about the plagiarism.
“We expect our students to attribute quotes from other sources in their essays, so we certainly expect the same thing from our school leaders,” McDonough said in a statement. “Our focus is starting the school year strong and building a culture of respect and trust, so we are glad she recognizes this misstep and has apologized. It should not have happened in the first place.”
In Boston schools, a student caught plagiarizing would get agrade of zero for the assignment and could face other punishment, such as suspension for repeat offenders.
But School Department officials would not say whether Moody would face any discipline for her plagiarism.
“We are taking this issue seriously. However, if there were to be any discipline, it would be a confidential personnel matter,” said Lee McGuire, a School Department spokesman.
Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said he could not recall any cases of teachers being caught plagiarizing and then facing discipline.
“I do believe everyone is entitled to a mistake like this,” Stutman said. “I think it is appropriate she apologized, and it is appropriate we accept her apology, and consider it a lesson learned.”
Moody, a Boston public schools educator of the year in 2005, was appointed principal last month with the hope of boosting academic performance and staff morale. She was highly recommended by a search committee that included staff, parents, and members of Frederick’s governing board, and is earning $110,000 annually.
Frederick, which opened 10 years ago in what was then a new building, has been going through a turbulent period.
Its previous principal, DaQuall Graham, was placed on administrative leave last summer after the School Department received complaints about questionable use of technology.
Last month, the School Department decided not to renew Graham’s contract.
Moody, who previously served as the school’s assistant principal, has been soliciting feedback from the staff about their concerns and how to build a more successful program.
When she went to write her July 9 memo, Moody said in her apology, she turned to Warrell’s column to help capture her thoughts as she attempted “to convey the message that we are at our best when we learn from one another.”
Warrell, an executive coach who has appeared on national television shows such as NBC’s “Today,” based the column on her latest book, “Stop Playing Safe,” in which she interviewed several leaders about their paths and hurdles with respect to success.
Moody had strung together about 12 sentences from parts of the column into her memo. In some cases, Moody tweaked the wording to better connect to herself or Frederick Pilot Middle School.
For instance, when Warrell wrote in the Forbes column about Lori Garver’s rise to deputy administrator of NASA, she said: “Like so many other successful people, Lori has always been driven more by what inspires her than what scares her. She’s always been willing to challenge assumptions, and push the boundaries of possibility.”
Moody switched the focus to herself, writing:“Like so many others, I have always been driven more by what inspires me than what scares me. I have always been willing to challenge assumptions and push the boundaries of possibility.”
In concluding her apology, Moody told her staff she was disappointed in herself for plagiarizing and promised, “I will work harder to earn your trust and respect.”