ALBANY, Ga. — As the fallout begins from the governor’s investigative report of CRCT cheating in the Dougherty County School System in 2009, local reaction was mixed, but State School Superintendent John Barge used the opportunity to take a swipe at No Child Left Behind.
On Tuesday, the report to Gov. Nathan Deal included 11 DCSS elementary school principals among the 49 educators the 293-page document cited for misconduct, cheating or failure of duty. Eighteen of the 49 confessed to state investigators.
“It appears to me that if I confessed, I would tender my resignation immediately and move on to curtail future humiliation,” DCSS Board Chairman James Bush said. “It’s really a shame because there are some good people caught up in this. As a board we need to move expeditiously on this. We need to meet soon to deal with this situation and we need to move fast.”
Sally Whatley, who was DCSS superintendent when the cheating occurred in 2009, acknowledged there were trust issues with the school board.
“In a perfect world a school board has to trust a superindentdent to do his or her job,” Whatley said. “It’s when the board loses trust in the superintendent that the lines becomes blurred. Every decision I made I felt was in the best interest of children.
“I did the very best job I could but I bear ultimate responsibility. I never condoned wrong-doing, and I felt that was also the position of the board.”
Gov. Deal, who inherited the investigation begun by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2010, called the report “alarming.”
“There is nothing more important to the future of our state than ensuring that today’s students receive a first-class education,” Deal said. “The findings out of Dougherty County are alarming as they paint a tragic picture of children passed through with no real or fair
assessment of their abilities. To cheat a child out of his or her ability to truly excel in the classroom shames the district and the state.
“We’ll now send the results to the Professional Standards Committee and the Dougherty County District Attorney’s office. It is my hope that brighter days are ahead for the children affected by this unfortunate situation.”
Barge used the opportunity to tout an alternative to No Child Left Behind, which he implied shared some blame in this case.
“Today’s report on cheating by some educators in the Dougherty County School System is another sad case of adults putting personal interests above those of their students,’ Barge said.
“I am especially disappointed in education leaders who would threaten teachers’ jobs if students did not perform well on the CRCT. While this behavior is inexcusable, it does highlight the need to look at a different, more thorough accountability system such as Georgia’s new College and Career Ready Performance Index, which we have already submitted in the form of a waiver to the U.S. Dept. of Education seeking relief from the narrowly defined designation of success found in No Child Left Behind.
“Relying on a single test to determine a student’s and a school’s academic success is plagued with problems.”
DCSS Board Member Darrel Ealum, who said he had read the report twice, was braced for the worst when he learned the report was in the school system’s hands.
“We anticipated early on we’d have serious accusations against principals and teachers,” Ealum said. “We’ve established a tribunal to make recommendations to the Board. These people are from outside of the system and I still concur with that concept.
“We want to reach fair and just responses to these accusations.”
Board member Carol Tharin was shocked by some of the names in the report.
“I am extremely sad right now,” Tharin said. “I am sad that some within the school system think the best they can do for a child is to cheat. I am surprised by some of the people named in the report. Now I think we want to be fair, responsible and move as swiftly as we can to fix the situation.”
Fellow board member Anita Williams-Brown had yet to see the report and refused to comment while Velvet Riggins and Milton Griffin did not return calls for comment.
District Superintendent Joshua Murfree said he wants all educators who cheated out of the school district, either through resignation or firing. Some of those teachers will not return to the classroom after Christmas break, he said.
“This won’t be a Band-aid approach,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday night. “This is a system that has been broken, a system that has hurt children.”
Murfree said the schools will offer extra academic help to any student who could have been affected by the cheating. Investigators estimate that hundreds of children likely had their tests tampered with by educators.
Last month the district created a nine-member tribunal of people from outside the county to hold hearings for each educator named in the report.
“We are committed to removing anybody involved in cheating from Dougherty county school system,” said school board member David Maschke.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.