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Atlanta schools replace 4 area superintendents amid cheating scandal

By the CNN Wire Staff
A probe by the state of Georgia confirmed widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools dating as far back as 2001.
A probe by the state of Georgia confirmed widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools dating as far back as 2001.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "There was a culture of fear and intimidation," said Interim Superintendent Erroll B. Davis
  • Children who need remedial help will get it, he said
  • A report confirms widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools on a state test
  • The local district attorney's office will determine the nature and extent of charges

Check out CNN affiliates WXIA-TV and WSB-TV in Atlanta for more on the school cheating scandal.

Atlanta (CNN) -- The man chosen to lead the Atlanta Public School system wasted no time making changes in the wake of a cheating scandal that could lead to criminal charges against some principals and teachers.

Interim Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. replaced four area superintendents and a school principal at a board meeting Monday night.

Hours later, he told CNN's Randi Kaye that children had been failed, and "we can't allow that to happen, and we can't allow anyone who was involved with that remain in our system."

It's the first step taken by Davis to right the alleged wrongs of nearly 200 educators.

The personnel changes were announced less than a week after an investigation revealed that dozens of educators had falsified standardized tests.

"I don't know why it went on," Davis told Kaye, but, he said, the district must "make it clear what our values are." Davis placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the administration.

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"I believe that all failures in any industry are leadership failures," Davis said. "Leadership is accountable for every outcome that takes place under their watch."

The school board has given Davis approval to mandate ethics training for employees and provide remedial help to perhaps thousands of Atlanta Public Schools students who may have improperly advanced because of the cheating.

"We will identify those children, and we will make the requisite investments to remediate the wrongs that were done against them," Davis told CNN.

Dozens of Atlanta public school educators falsified standardized tests or failed to address such misconduct in their schools, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said a week ago. He was unveiling the results of a state investigation that confirmed widespread cheating in city schools dating as far back as 2001.

Investigators said 178 teachers and principals working at 44 schools were involved in the cheating scandal. The educators, including 38 principals, were either directly involved in erasing wrong answers on a key standardized test or they knew -- or should have known -- what was going on, according to the governor's office.

Deal's office said 82 of the educators acknowledged involvement, according to the report. Six principals declined to answer investigators' questions and invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Deal said.

The investigation's findings have been forwarded to the state teacher licensing board, Deal said. That agency could take disciplinary action against the educators involved. Whether to bring criminal charges will be up to prosecutors, Deal said.

The state's report indicated there was a climate of cheating and performance-at-all-costs during the tenure of former Superintendent Beverly Hall. It's a charge Hall has denied.

But Davis said there was "a culture of fear and intimidation" that needed to be changed.

"People felt that it was easier to cheat than to miss their goals and objective," he said. But he also agreed with board members who said it was important to remember that many Atlanta teachers did their jobs well.

"There were so many teachers who have not made ethical compromises who were doing wonderful things on a daily basis," Davis said.

The cheating was brought to light after marked improvements in the district's performance on the 2009 statewide Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) revealed a pattern of incorrect test answers being erased and replaced with correct answers.

Investigators compared the results with test results from other Georgia schools and found that such patterns did not occur normally, Deal said. That the district's CRCT results fell in 2010 further confirmed the findings, according to the report.

Former board chairman Khaatim Sherrer El resigned his District 2 seat at a Monday night meeting. He said he was leaving to accept an out-of-state position, according to the district.

The scandal followed a former Atlanta administrator to her new job in Texas.

A Texas school district placed its new superintendent, Kathy Augustine, on paid leave effective Tuesday, according to a statement from Augustine. She had served as a deputy superintendent for the Atlanta Public Schools.

Augustine has denied any role in the reported cheating.

"I've read the investigative report from cover to cover, and nowhere does it identify anyone as saying I encouraged, directed or condoned cheating," Augustine said last week. "That's because I did not."

She will be on leave while the DeSoto Independent School District considers what to do about her appointment.

Davis said the nature and extent of any charges against educators involved in the scandal will be determined by the district attorney's office.

The principals and teachers accused of cheating will also be referred to the Professional Standards Commission to determine whether they will be allowed to keep their credentials, according to Davis.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the scandal proves there are no shortcuts to success.

"This unfortunate incident highlights the need for transparency and accountability throughout our education system," Duncan said in a statement last week. "Having good information to measure student progress is an absolute bedrock requirement in ensuring that schools are preparing our children for success."

In a bid to increase stability as it seeks to overcome the scandal and receive full reaccreditation, the board extended Davis' contract through June 2012.

Davis recently retired as chancellor of the University System of Georgia.

 
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