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CRCT investigators kick off probe, meet with former superintendent

Sally Whatley

Sally Whatley

ALBANY, Ga. -- State investigators looking into alleged Criterion-Referenced Competency Test cheating in the Dougherty Country School System officially kicked off their probe Monday during a three-hour meeting with former DCSS superintendent Sally Whatley and school board attorney Tommy Coleman.

Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert Wilson and former Atlanta police detective Richard Hyde described Whatley as "candid and open."

"We spoke with her for about three hours," Hyde said. "She was candid, open and pledged to help us any way she could. Dr. Whatley was extremely easy to work with and even suggested some areas for us to look at that, frankly, we hadn't thought of."

Reached for comment Monday night, Whatley said it's time for closure.

"I told the investigators that I would do everything in my power to be fully cooperative so we can reach closure as soon as possible," Whatley said. "This has been a very difficult period for the school system and a very difficult time for me personally since this happened under my watch. I would have given anything to have reached closure before I retired (last year). But I have stayed in close contact with Mr. Coleman and we will do anything we can to assist in the investigation."

The investigation into the exams administered to first- through eighth-graders in Atlanta and Dougherty County began last August at the direction of then-Gov. Sonny Perdue. At issue is the number of erasures on the 2009 CRCTs in which wrong answers were corrected.

State officials were concerned that at some of the schools there were too many of those corrections, and eventually focused on Atlanta and Dougherty County.

The findings of state investigations into Atlanta's school districts were announced July 5. Among other things, the governor's report found cheating in 44 of the 56 Atlanta schools examined and said that 178 teachers and principals in the schools had been involved in the cheating or should have known it was going on.

A preliminary probe in February of last year flagged 56 Atlanta schools. Dougherty County had the state's second-highest number at 14 flagged, more than half of the system's 26 schools.

With Whatley's initial interview out of the way, the local investigation will now move into the Dougherty schools.

"We'll go to the schools in question and speak with teachers and other professionals," Hyde said. "The GBI will assist us in this phase, which should be completed in 30 to 45 days. From there we will look at the information we have gathered and begin looking into more specific areas."

Hyde said 12 investigators will spread out over the county this morning.

"I think this investigation will go more smoothly than the one in Atlanta," Hyde said. "That's due in large part to the amount of cooperation from the school system's attorney. He'd pledged his cooperation from the very beginning, and he's done everything he said he was going to do."

Much of the early legwork into the investigation stemmed from publication of a tips hotline number -- (404) 962-3849 -- which Hyde said "has generated so many calls from the 229 area code that we had to have an attorney just to answer the tip line. We've gotten a lot of really helpful stuff from that number."