The husband of the Deerwood Academy principal reprimanded earlier this month by the state Professional Standards Commission over alleged CRCT cheating at the school and then removed from her post by Atlanta Public Schools pending her appeal wrote this letter on her behalf. Michael Smith sent this protest to a long list of recipients, including the U.S. Secretary of Education.
December 16, 2009
In the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, a travesty has occurred against a phenomenal educator that has dedicated her life to educating children for the last twenty years. I am most assured that this will reach national headlines because if this can happen to my wife without justification, it can certainly happen to principals/administrators across the United States. My wife, Lisa Smith, is in the midst of battling this dilemma legally and cannot give voice to this racially motivated unjust attack against her character and ethical behavior. I however am not silenced and am seeking your support and guidance on how to swiftly right this wrong. I am writing to lodge a formal complaint against the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE), the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GPSC) and its Ethics Committee and to request your assistance with restoring my wife’s name publicly as the distinguished educator she has been for two decades. I have copied various people who need to hear “a husband’s plea” for justice in hopes that my communication falls in the appropriate hands that will take action. I have also copied those who were key players in this unfathomable destruction of a school, a school community, and a school leader.
On Thursday, December 10, 2009, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GPSC) voted to suspend my wife’s licensure for one year because she was the principal of an elementary school where cheating on a statewide summer retest allegedly occurred. She will of course appeal this decision but I wanted to share with you the injustice surrounding this abuse of power that has become the common practice of the Georgia Professional Standards Ethics Committee and the Commission. They are not bothering to review the facts of these cases. They are ruining lives and making decisions in a cavalier manner. I am requesting that an investigation or audit be conducted to ensure that these people that sit on the Professional Standards Commission and Ethics Committee are operating above board and issuing sanctions against educators in a fair and just manner.
I am also requesting that you investigate the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement in the biased way in which they investigated four schools over the past year. All of the schools have a predominantly minority population and the leadership within the schools are African American. Even more unforgivable was the lack of thoroughness in which the investigation was conducted. For example, Ms. Kathleen Mathers, Director, and her team never interviewed the principal that was assigned by Atlanta Public Schools to be over the summer school program at Deerwood Academy. Further, the Erasure Analysis reports that were completed and posted on the GOSA website show only the number of erasures that resulted in answers changed from wrong to right. Never was a report provided that showed wrong to wrong or right to wrong data. This information would have mostly likely revealed that the wrong to right analysis was not as compelling as they made it out to be. Additionally, the GOSA shared reports of the next years’ testing data for the students who supposedly matriculated to the sixth grade. It was not inclusive of the total population of students from the fifth grade at Deerwood Academy (less than half of the Deerwood student population that took the summer retest and moved on to sixth grade remained within the Atlanta Public Schools or the in state). Yet, the report indicated that a low percentage of students met or exceeded on the following year’s exam (a mere 41%). The information was deliberately misleading to the public to support the racially motivated agenda of this office. This was a highly political attack with an agenda of discrediting the Atlanta Public Schools System because of its recent positive gains in student achievement. My wife cannot and will not become a casualty of this political warfare.
In May 2009, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) visited my wife’s school, Deerwood Academy in Atlanta Public Schools System to conduct interviews with all staff that worked during the testing week of summer 2008. The Director of the GOSA, Ms. Mathers, headed up the investigation with a team of three, inclusive of Mr. John Grant, Professional Standards Commission Investigator. According to my wife, it was evident that when they conducted these interviews, they had come with a preconceived notion of an adult making changes to students’ test answer documents. She shared how during her interview, she was spoken to in accusatory tones, was mistreated during their line of questioning, and felt as though there was really little interest in the truth. Ms. Mathers informed her that due to a large number of erasures on 11 students’ answer documents, they believed that an adult had made these changes. My wife was in utter disbelief by the accusations and shared with the interview panel that she was not on the school site during testing and therefore could not validate these claims. She informed the team that another principal that was assigned might be better able to discuss testing week.
In June 2009, GOSA released a report indicating that Deerwood Academy had been one of four schools to be investigated for test tampering. My wife pined over this situation all summer long. It was very difficult for her to piece together what could have possibly happened during the summer school re-test because although she is the principal of Deerwood Academy, she was not the principal of record in charge of the summer school in 2008. She was not on the school premises during the testing period nor was she in town. She was on vacation with me tending to our son, who was a freshman at the time and had to be taken to Savannah State University for entry exams in Savannah, Georgia. My wife has the documented approved leave that was signed off by her superior.
In July 2009, the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, Dr. Beverly Hall spoke out in defense of the school. She was aware of Deerwood Academy being the facility where summer school was housed with another principal being the principal of record. My wife was not responsible for the summer school during the 2008 school year. Georgia’s Governor, Sonny Perdue, responded in a combative manner on the news about Dr. Hall because of her statement in defense of Deerwood Academy. He called her “outrageous”. It created a barrage of news media coverage and interest on this alleged testing scandal.
In July 2009, GOSA recommended to the State Board of Education that the results of the Deerwood Academy summer re-test be thrown out because of the suspicion of test tampering. The State Dept. of Education voted unanimously to do just that. The hard work of the children was discarded based on one woman’s assumptions and not on hard evidence of cheating. We give children pencils with erasures to erase on tests when they need to change an answer. Now to erase has become a reason to throw out the work of children. This is disgraceful. Kathleen Mathers then lodged a complaint to the Professional Standards Commission against my wife charging her with being the principal of an elementary school where test tampering occurred. She had no choice but to retain counsel, Attorney Warren Fortson, to fight this charge.
The Professional Standards Commission used Mr. John Grant as the chief investigator, the same gentleman that conducted the preliminary interviews at Deerwood Academy in May 2009. The only additional investigative request that he made through my wife’s lawyer was for her to have finger prints released to him. She agreed to the request because she knew that she had not performed such a heinous act as to tamper with students’ tests. Even with this evidence on hand that would have totally exonerated my wife, the PSC never bothered to consider the investigator’s report.
The Professional Standard Commission Ethics Committee met on December 9, 2009. My wife’s attorney attended the meeting session as well. Without reviewing the findings of Mr. Grants’ report, the Ethics Committee recommended a year’s suspension for all administrators of the schools where alleged test tampering took place. They were more interested in exercising consistency in delving out punishment than in assigning or not assigning sanctions based on the truth. On the following day, December 10, 2009, the Commission approved these recommendations without discussion.
My wife, Lisa Smith, has been wrongly accused and unjustly treated. The Atlanta Journal Constitution Newspaper has done numerous stories on this “testing scandal” and has made her out to be a villain. They were irresponsible in their reporting because of the many inaccuracies. My wife has spent twenty years in the field of education with an unblemished record and continues to lead with integrity. She has devoted her life to educating children. She has had a career of exemplars. The callous way in which they have soiled her name and reputation is without warrant. Her charge of being the principal of the elementary school where alleged test tampering took place is unprecedented in the state of Georgia. There have been numerous cases in the state of Georgia where test tampering has occurred and none of these principals have been subjected to this level of scrutiny and punishment, especially those who were on documented vacation and directed by superiors to allow the use of his/her building for a summer school program. The summer school program was housed at Deerwood Academy but was run by another principal in Atlanta Public Schools. The failure to thoroughly investigate this matter and interview all pertinent people involved, ie the principal of record from the summer school, by the Georgia GOSA, State Board of Education, PSC, and the Ethics Commission, is the greatest travesty of all. My wife has been punished for having her name on the bricks and mortar in which this summer program was held. This has taken the racial progress of the South back to Jim Crow practices.
This is an attempt to help my wife get her good name and reputation back. I am counting on you to help right this wrong so that other educators that may find themselves in this predicament in the future will not have to endure the pain and suffering that she has endured. I ask you, is this the democratic way? Is this justice? Please Mr. Duncan, become as outraged by this racially motivated injustice as I am.
Mr. Michael Smith
CC: Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary, Dept. of Education, Office of Civil Rights
Nan Orrock, GA Senator (Atlanta)
Thurbert Baker, Georgia Attorney General
Sonny Perdue, Georgia Governor
Kathleen Mathers, Director of GOSA
Kathy Cox, State Superintendent
GA State Education Board Members
Gary Walker, Director of PSC
Penny Bento, PSC Member
Julia Bernath, PSC Member
Sallie Bullock, PSC Member
Stephen Dartt, PSC Member
Albert George, PSC Member
Joy Hawkins, PSC Member
Stephanie Haynes, PSC Member
Emily Jenette, PSC Member
Dr. Craig Smith, PSC Member
Dr. Ed Smith, PSC Member
Jeannie Tucker, PSC Member
Gary Walker, Ethics Committee Director