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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County schools. You can email him at

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NJ Superintendent provides unintended lesson on plagiarism

The following wire story  out of New Jersey tells of a school superintendent found plagiarizing a commencement speech and a letter to students.

By Joseph Ax

The Record (Hackensack N.J.)

HACKENSACK, N.J. _ Teaneck, N.J., interim Superintendent of Schools A. Spencer “Skip” Denham’s words to the high school’s graduating class of 2010 were ones of inspiration, encouragement and well wishes.

They also weren’t his.

Denham, now retired, borrowed his June speech from that of another administrator, an Australian high school principal named John Warren, who delivered the same words at a graduation ceremony in 2008.

Denham’s welcome-back-to-school letter _ sent to the school community last fall _ was also largely borrowed from other sources, apparently drawing its language from similar letters available online from districts around the country.

And he isn’t alone. Internet searches of the phrases contained within the letter turn up more than a dozen other messages from superintendents and other administrators that share the same wording, an indication that others have followed the same path.

Denham apologized for the speech and the letter, saying he should have acknowledged his source material.

“The central portion of my graduation speech was focused on encouraging our graduating students to fondly remember the special times with their peers, their positive interactions with school staff members, their accomplishments in and outside the classroom, as they start their journey beyond high school,” he said in an e-mail. “At the time, I should have credited Principal John Warren of Eynesbury Senior College. Regrettably, I did not do that.”

Denham said his decision to use other sources for the letter stemmed in part from the tumult of the time.

“Our community was slowly recovering from the untimely death of our superintendent as well as a defeated school budget; therefore I drew, from a variety of sources, words to inspire staff, students, parents and community to not dwell on the past, but to move forward to build a brighter and better future for all our students,” he wrote, referring to the sudden death of John Czeterko. “While the ideas I spoke about are universal and have existed for ages, I did rely on the particular words of others without giving due credit. For that, I apologize.”

Online searches show that only a few sentences in the 500-word letter appear original, though it is not always clear whether Denham’s letter was published before or after the other letters.

For his part, Warren said he was not angry that Denham had used his speech.

“I just would have expected some small acknowledgement,” he said. “The educational community is quite open and sharing, so I wouldn’t be that upset by it. It is an exercise in intrigue _ more than anything, I’m wondering how it came to be in his possession.”