When I became superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools a year ago, I knew that many parts of the school district were broken, some even before the CRCT cheating of 2009. I knew that we had a lot of work to do to change the culture of APS and restore its integrity and public image.
A year later, the Atlanta Board of Education and my staff have figured out how to lead the district together in a collaborative, professional and respectful fashion. We have approved a budget and operating system model that emphasizes a more aggressive effort to right size the district for more efficiency and quality. And we have a five-year strategic plan that puts into motion our mission to graduate all students ready for college and career.
But we still have much to do.
During the 2014-2015 school year, APS conducted eight investigations into inappropriate grade changes. Four of those incidents existed before I came on board; four came to light this past school year.
Whenever we peel back another layer of something that needs to be fixed or corrected, it reminds me that this administration is devoted to making APS the best it can be. That, in part, is why I created the Office of Accountability immediately after joining APS.
Let me stress that there is a lot that is great about APS – enthusiastic students, dynamic new programs for the development of the whole child, and a move to a child-centered culture. The vast majority of our employees are doing the right things all the time, and we should praise them for doing their jobs with integrity. However, we must remain laser-focused in our efforts to root out those who are not and remove them from APS.
Unethical behavior of any type will not be tolerated in our school district.
In regards to grade changing, we are doing a comprehensive review of grade changes across the district and identifying process improvements and procedural safeguards before the start of the new school year. That work is in addition to completing the remaining investigations currently underway.
Our new Chief Accountability Officer Bill Caritj and his team are currently reviewing all existing data to determine how extensive grade changes have been over the past few years. The administration is working closely with the Atlanta Board of Education to ensure that all necessary resources are dedicated to this review.
I have many questions. So as part of the review, I have asked my team to determine where and when grades have been changed over the last three years and for which students. The review will reveal the prevalence of grade changing, the most common reasons for them and whether the changes were appropriate. Finally, the review will help ensure that we have a uniform standard across the district for the approvals and documentation for a proper and ethical process for changing grades when necessary.
We will also continue to partner with the District Attorney’s Office and seek advice in the event that additional inappropriate grade changes are discovered.
The public can count on us to operate with complete transparency as we complete this review and hold all employees accountable who have not demonstrated the high standards we expect of them. As we work aggressively to rebuild the culture of APS and to restore the public’s trust in our system, it is imperative that all of our stakeholders know that unethical behavior, again, will not be tolerated at APS.