The first APS firing: School spent more time projecting excellence rather than attaining it.

The first teacher has been fired in the APS cheating scandal. Damany Lewis confessed to using a razor blade to cut into test booklets and make copies for other teachers at Parks Middle School. A panel of educators today fired Lewis for his misdeeds, which spanned four years.

In his comments to the panel, Lewis described relentless pressure to raise sagging test scores. “We were told failure was not an option,” he said. “Teaching and learning was the primary focus of the teachers. Results were the primary focus of this district and our administration.”

Lewis described the positive culture and spirit at Parks, but said the caring and supportive nature of the school never produced higher test scores.

Having visited Parks a year before the cheating came to light, I was impressed with the well -spoken and courteous students. In fact, everyone I met at the school was upbeat. There was an apparent attitude among students that theirs was a special school.

What unsettled me were the writing samples in the hallway. As I have noted here before, they were too good. They were New York Times good. They were Newsweek good. It wasn’t that Atlanta middle schoolers couldn’t write such great stuff. High school seniors at the best prep school in Atlanta couldn’t write such good stuff.

It seems now that the school spent a lot of effort projecting excellence rather than attaining it.

According to the AJC:

Lewis, who started at the school more than a decade ago as a substitute, said he cared for and believed in the students. Teachers worked hard, and he himself coached softball and other sports and advised clubs to contribute to the impoverished community.

“When students were at Parks, they were motivated to be positive and attain goals. It became a large part of their self-worth,” he said. “The school climate and overall culture was wonderful. However, the [test] scores were dismal at best. The results overshadowed all of Parks’ positive effects.”

Lewis is the first of several educators scheduled to go before a tribunal to contest his termination. Atlanta Public Schools is paying $1 million a month to about 110 educators accused of cheating who are on administrative leave. So far, the district has taken formal steps to fire 11 educators. Three have chosen to resign rather than go through with hearings, which are scheduled through March 30.

Lewis was granted immunity for his cooperation with special investigators. He confessed because he believed telling the truth would help students, and he encouraged others to do the same. Attorneys for APS said Lewis only confessed after he was granted immunity from criminal charges.

Fighting back tears, Lewis encouraged the district to grant leniency to himself and other teachers from Parks. He thanked APS for allowing him to collect his salary after being placed on administrative leave in July, saying he was “broken” when he learned he would no longer be able to teach.

“The people who are being honest and who have exuded the most character are being persecuted the most and being let go first,” he said. “Let us not crucify the teachers and act like there weren’t and aren’t systemic problems that need to be addressed all the way up.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

73 comments Add your comment

A relief but it's not over

March 14th, 2012
7:17 pm

It’s definitely a relief to hear this “teacher” fired but it isn’t over. He still has appeals that cost money and it isn’t paid by him. What is telling is the great lengths he went to to cheat — cutting open test booklets with a razor blade and the using a lighter to reseal.
All this points out the need for teachers and all school employees to be removed during the testing. It might sound expensive but much cheaper than a million a month to pay cheating teachers to sit on their hands every month and to pay all the legal fees, especially Heavy Bevvy’s legal fees. I cannot wait for her trial. I’m putting the finishing touches on her size XXXXXL orange prison jumpsuit now:)
I hate the way this perp characterized his firing as “Let us not crucify the teachers .” Crucify? Really? He is comparing a well-deserved firing to the heinous and painful Jesus Christ was murdered?
Non-government employees get fired for much less. Contracts lose their job for no reason at all. They aren’t even given a reason. This “teacher” got paid for months and months even after he confessed — and now he wants to keep his job? Proposterous? Now he wants to compare his fate to “crucifixition?” Outrageous. Good Riddance. Next!
GM

Ed Johnson

March 14th, 2012
7:19 pm

Sadly, the teacher firings will do nothing to help APS’ organizational psychology recover from Beverly Hall’s reign of terror. So, expect much fear to persist and become even more deeply institutionalized.

Double Zero Eight

March 14th, 2012
7:20 pm

Lewis said not to sweep this under the rug.
This is exactly what will be done.
Hall, Augustine and the SRTs will get off ‘without
even a reprimand.

Old timer

March 14th, 2012
7:21 pm

He is a scape goat……

Double Zero Eight

March 14th, 2012
7:23 pm

Why not get all the cheaters since it has been documented that
cheating went on for at least 5 years? I’ll tell you why, APS
and the DOE ‘cannot handle the truth” as the saying goes.
They want this to go away quickly and are satisfied with the
“sacrificial lambs.

Old timer

March 14th, 2012
7:24 pm

I think some of these teachers deserve a second watchfully chance….

bilbo799

March 14th, 2012
7:30 pm

I find it incredible that people blame tests as a culptrit in all of this. I’ve heard a lot of “results became the focus, instead of teaching students.” That contention assumes that test results and teaching/learning are incompatible. I disagree. These tests aren’t random rocket science — they test basic skills that should be taught anyway. This whining is like hearing a marathon-runner complaining about not being able to train properly because he has to prepare for a test requiring him to run a 15 minute mile — he should be able to do that as a natural part of his training.

Ron C.

March 14th, 2012
7:48 pm

Bilbo799, unfortunately the curriculum has advanced well beyond a test of “basic skills.” Piaget’s research has shown that middle grades students are more students are more suited for concrete-operational math (for example), yet the content is much more abstract and complex than say, 20 years ago.

I don’t condone cheating, but I do understand the “systemic problems” Mr. Lewis is pointing out. Look in the mirror, what would many human beings do in response to a threat of job loss? They might have to survive anyway you could (sadly, including cheating). Perhaps if we, as a society, could give up some of the obsession with “excellence” and “grades,” we would see less cheating, fear, and anxiety all around.

Ron F.

March 14th, 2012
7:49 pm

“Let us not crucify the teachers and act like there weren’t and aren’t systemic problems that need to be addressed all the way up.”

So true, but unfortnately also very, very unlikely.

bilbo799: you’d be surprised how many kids can work well with a teacher in an environment differentiated according to their needs who don’t perform well on the mandated tests. They are forced to sit silently for several hours and silently take a test. We’re told as teachers to offer variety, stimulation, differentiation, etc. to help kids demonstrate mastery of the standards. The tests however, are far too one dimensional. Even high school seniors struggle with that fact. As I have said to many, if it seems so easy, we’d love to have your help be becoming a teacher and showing us how it’s done. After 20+ years, I can tell you it just isn’t as easy as you think.

Positive

March 14th, 2012
7:57 pm

The DOE..are you kidding me?? How can they even pretend to be the token of excellence when they not only hired an accused, but now have the person directly responsible for the supervision of APS records???

TP

March 14th, 2012
8:31 pm

Sad thing is, if this had all happened in a whiter system we wouldn’t even be hearing about it because the DOE etc would have swept it all under the rug.

mountain man

March 14th, 2012
9:16 pm

“Having visited Parks a year before the cheating came to light, I was impressed with the well -spoken and courteous students. In fact, everyone I met at the school was upbeat. There was an apparent attitude among students that theirs was a special school.”

Yes, and I am guessing the students came to Parks Middle School with at best a first grade level, and Parks was expected to catch them up in one year. Where are the prosecutions and firings for the feeder school administrators who “socially promoted” students even though they were not at grade level? Why do these people get off scot free?

Fred ™

March 14th, 2012
9:23 pm

When I first started reading the story where he got fired I was of the “the higher ups doing the cheating got off and the rank and file folks pay” camp. But then I realized something. He was a cheating, lying scumbag as well. Screw him, he got less than he deserved.

Former APS Teacher

March 14th, 2012
9:24 pm

Sacrificial lamb. His actions were unethical and inexcusable, but it is outrageous that the people who created the culture in which this behavior flourished are getting away with it.

Fred ™

March 14th, 2012
9:26 pm

TP

March 14th, 2012
8:31 pm

Sad thing is, if this had all happened in a whiter system we wouldn’t even be hearing about it because the DOE etc would have swept it all under the rug.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Well you racist, since you want to go THERE I’ll dance with you. If it were a “whiter system” it would have been nipped in the bud because us white people don’t lie cheat and steal to protect other “white” people like you black folks do. Police your own and shut the hell up until you do with your racist BS.

So your BEST excuse is that you cheated but you only got caught because you weren’t “white.” Really? What a sad pathetic person you are.

MM

March 14th, 2012
9:31 pm

Maureen,

You hit the nail on the head with “It seems now that the school spent a lot of effort projecting excellence rather than attaining it.”

The truth is that the superfical behavior of a “positive” attitude can be taught and learned without any useful learning taking place. We see it all over our sales-oriented culture. Students who don’t participate in the “act” develop an accurately cynical attitude that encourages an adversarial culture we see with “ghetto” behavior. But even worse those most hurt are those who learn to go along with the “act” perpetrated by the authority figures around them.

This is a deeply corrupt sytem of behavior that goes well beyond the APS culture. As Americans we need to take a long, close look at ourselves.

mountain man

March 14th, 2012
9:33 pm

“It’s definitely a relief to hear this “teacher” fired but it isn’t over.”

So where are the firings of the administrators who put the screws to the teachers? Oh, that’s right, there is nothing wrong with THAT! They can threaten all they want and that is just fine – they get off while the teacher they put under duress have their careers ruined.

So I ask again, where are the new stories about those who refused to cheat and lost their jobs? Have they been regaled as heroes? Got their jobs back? Received restitution? Of course not!

APS lost a great teacher

March 14th, 2012
9:48 pm

I think APS lost a great teacher today….a young black male with a math background who could have gone into a number of higher paying careers chose to teach in one of the poorest communities in Atlanta. He taught chess afterschool? He was a victim too…I pray that he recoups…he can go back to school become an engineer or something and find another way to give back…I think he deserved a second chance though…

To Mountain Man

March 14th, 2012
9:48 pm

You make a good point and ask some good questions. Beverly Hall, the head of the cheating is still waiting for her day in court. It will come. She has a huge legal team and bill being paid by we tax payers. That’s the delay. Justice is coming. This is just the beginning. Wait for it and rejoice.
Regarding the heros, maureen did a piece on one of them. She stood up and refused to cheat and was featured in the news. That’s one I can think of. If you’re interested, say so here and I’ll find the story for you about the honest teacher who refused to cheat and about the reason Heavy Bevvy isn’t on trial yet. I realized you are “teched out” up there on your mountaint top and have access to it but if you want, I’ll help you find those stories, Paul Bunyon.
GM

mountain man

March 14th, 2012
9:48 pm

Eleanor – you are being naive. Only the teachers will be fired. The “head” of the monster will escape unharmed.

mountain man

March 14th, 2012
9:58 pm

And I am sure you, Good Mother, are cheering for those poor administrators to keep their jobs and get new, better, non-cheating teachers so they can then create wonders in their new school system.

Ron F.

March 14th, 2012
10:10 pm

APS: perhaps they did lose a great teacher, but for whatever reason he chose to open those tests and copy them, he knew what he was doing. I think his openness will, in the long run, help focus more attention on the threat level involved in this mess we have for a testing system. It is archaic, unfair, and inaccurate. I can appreciate his candor and willingness to admit his fault, but there is a price to pay. I only regret the fact that those who created the environment might one day get their punishment as well.

mountain man: the “head” got her contract paid out I’m sure and is off to cushy retirement. What we’re seeing is nothing but the toenails of the monster getting clipped so we won’t hear them clicking on the floor as it continues its romp through APS and everyone ignores it. Maybe if enough of them speak up and name names we’ll see some higher-ups brought to account, but I doubt it.

Dekalbite

March 14th, 2012
10:29 pm

Corruption always starts at the head. It is unconscionable that Beverly Hall is relaxing in Hawaii or some other holiday resort, and her direct reports will no doubt land on their feet. Ms. Hall still has many friends in high places. That will ensure she gets a pass while the lower level personnel (the teachers) who had the pressure applied to improve those scores “by any means necessary” are the only ones left to prosecute.

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Old Physics Teacher

March 14th, 2012
10:36 pm

Please tell me Principal Christopher Waller was not allowed to resign and get a job in another city, county, state, or nation. Please tell me the administrator/leader who “entrapped” and enticed a morally weak teacher was fired, and his license was revoked so he could never ever be a leader of an operation ever again. Yes, I know Damney Lewis is morally bankrupt and is guilty. Yes, I know Lewis stole from the county and from the state, but the “responsible people” are not supposed to be allowed to tempt weak people into breaking the law and get away with it. Please tell me the really, really evil person didn’t get away with a crime.
I’d like to believe, but in my heart, I know the AJC, the legislature, and the so-called (but not) “justice system” doesn’t care about catching the real criminals. Nobody has the guts to tell powerful people they’re scum; all they want to do is make an example of a powerless weakling, dust their hands off, go home and brag to their family that they’ve done a good job for the day.

When this happens again, and it will – people are people – everyone will be so shocked that it could happen in “their” community.

ATL Teacher

March 14th, 2012
10:37 pm

Maureen your headline is appropriate for APS in general. A couple of years ago, I was in a focus group with other middle school teachers. All of us said that the numbers just didn’t fit the students we had at our schools. This is why I don’t feel bad for Hall and others. I’m happy with progress gains with my students. Truth of the matter is…I’m tired as hell right now. Today I had two fights (out in the hall, was cursed out, had to give supplies to at least 20 kids (with cell phones), dealt with just simply a lack of interest in learning period. I fussed…we read. Fussed again…did hands on activity. Fussed some more…interactive use of Promethean Board (where I let volunteers come up). I did this 4 times. At this point, I just teach the kids. Like another teacher said for another topic on this blog…it’s fragmented learning. How am I suppose to teach about the rebuilding of Japan without teaching a little about their imperialism and at least WWII. Yeah, the later isn’t in my “standard” but I teach it so it’ll make sense. I’m stressed out. Like I said…I don’t feel bad for Hall, not even for Lewis, yet I understand.

Beverly Fraud

March 14th, 2012
11:42 pm

Where are the actions against the ADMINISTRATORS????

As another poster said, where is the accountability for Principal Waller????

If at the END of the process (very hard to give APS any benefit of the doubt) they have NOT held Hall, Augustine, the SRT Directors, etc. accountable, it sends an EXTREMELY bad message.

This situation calls for no less than an educational Nuremberg, where those at the top MUST be held accountable.

Please note: It goes without saying the teacher all but embraced the cheating, instead of resisting it.

Atlanta Mom

March 15th, 2012
12:02 am

This is good news. Hopefully it’s just the beginning. If we can hold young German men in the army accountable for their actions, we can certainly hold professionals in a class room accountable for their actions.

Atlanta Mom

March 15th, 2012
12:08 am

I believe a lot of the pressure and subsequent cheating is the direct result of people spending every dime they earn. The worst six months of my life was the six months after I bought my first house. I put everything I had on the down payment, and I couldn’t quit my job for six months. My priority for those six months was to rebuild my reserve, so if I was put in a precarious position I could walk away.

Beverly Fraud

March 15th, 2012
1:23 am

“If we can hold young German men in the army accountable for their actions, we can certainly hold professionals in a class room accountable for their actions.”

Yes but the REAL question Atlanta Mom is, is APS willing to hold the GENERALS accountable?

And more to the point, is PAUL HOWARD willing to?

Because if we don’t hold the generals accountable, then we haven’t truly addressed the SYSTEMIC rot.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

March 15th, 2012
3:45 am

A fraudulent image of excellence: A situation not unique to the APS among GA public school systems, unfortunately.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

March 15th, 2012
3:47 am

BF,

Your comments at 0123 are on the mark.

mountain man

March 15th, 2012
5:36 am

I have suddenly decided that it IS the teachers’ fault for all the grades and all we need are better teachers. So I think that the administrator of APS should establish minimum qualifications for teaching there: a Bachelor’s degree in the subject being taught, with a minimum of a 3.2 GPA from a major university, plus a master’s degreee in education with a thesis and a GPA of 3.2 from a major university. Of course, the pay grades have to stay the same. These qualifications should be instituted immediately and any current teacher not meeting the requirements would not have their contract renewed, The principals and Superintendent then would be charged with hiring new teachers that meet these requirement to come and teach in these ghetto schools. That should not be hard. If they do not have a full contingent of teachers meeting qualifications hired by August 1, then they are fired themelves and we hire new administrators. Then the grades of all students (especially the ones who don’t come to school) will magically rise!

mountain man

March 15th, 2012
5:55 am

‘I hate the way this perp characterized his firing as “Let us not crucify the teachers .” Crucify? Really? He is comparing a well-deserved firing to the heinous and painful Jesus Christ was murdered?”

For your information, Jesus was not the only one ever crucified. It was a common form of execution in Roman days, meant to be a very cruel and public punishment clearly meant to discourage people from acting contrary to the wishes of those in charge (or getting caught). Seems fitting here.

APS lost a great teacher

March 15th, 2012
6:46 am

Atlanta Mom: You are more ignorant than first thought. Anyone who has to work for a living…excluding the one percenters…would feel the same….six months or even a years worth of cash reserves can only take you so far…ask the thousands that have lost their jobs and homes….this economy started going downhill after 2001…it plummeted dramatically since 2006 to 2007….so, ending every dime has nothing to do with what happened n APS unless your salary Atlanta Mom is 1,000,000 a year.

Atlanta Mom

March 15th, 2012
8:02 am

APS lost,
This cheating was going on way before the economy tanked.
But, does this mean that a bad economy justifies cheating?

Atlanta Mom

March 15th, 2012
8:05 am

Bev,
As I said “Hopefully it’s just the beginning” I don’t want the administrators dealt with a some district tribunal. I want them dealt with in the judicial system.

To Mountain Man/ Not a Chance

March 15th, 2012
8:25 am

Mountain Man, there is not a chance in he)) I want to keep those lying, thieving, thug administrators. My guess and my sincere hope is that they will not only lose their jobs as the teachers will, but the administrators will receive criminal convictions, which they justly deserve. The teachers who cheated may lose their jobs and their license to teach but the administrators deserve much more — real, hard, jail time. Orange jumpsuits for all of them. I would also love to see them on the side of the road picking up garbage like other prisoners just for the chance to see them humiliated and embarrassed. They deserve the Scarlet letter on their chest.
GM

Where are the actions against the ADMINISTRATORS????

March 15th, 2012
8:31 am

Beverly Fraud and others ask “Where are the actions against the ADMINISTRATORS????”

It’s coming! Please be patient.
The system is building its case against Heavy Bevvy and her brutes. It is much easier to use the facts from the teachers as evidence against Bevvy in her trial. the more the teachers spill the beans about how they were pressured, the better the case against Heavy Bevvy. Heavy Bevvy is fighting her case with we tax payers picking up the bill. she has the dream team lawyer defense that we are paying for. It will take time and ammunition to shoot her down but that big monster will go down. Just be patient. Savor it.
Justice is coming.
GM

Just A Teacher

March 15th, 2012
8:34 am

I feel no sympathy for this man. He knew what he was doing was wrong. If your boss tells you to do something unethical, that is your boss’s fault. If you do it, then it is your fault. There is always someone to whom you can report your boss’s behavior. What makes this situation particularly unsettling to me is that I have spent years trying to actually teach students, and this man, and many others in our state, cheated instead of teaching students how to do the work. I am opposed to these standardized tests, but that doesn’t give a person a right to cheat on them. He should have given the students the tests and let the chips fall where they may.

To APS Lost a Great Teacher

March 15th, 2012
8:36 am

You say APS lost a great teacher when it fired Damany Lewis for cutting open test booklets, photocopying tests, encouraging and recruiting other teachers to cheat and carrying on the cheating for more than four years…

…so what is it about him exactly that makes him “great”? You mention he is black. Surely you don’t mean to say that just because he is black it makes him a great teacher. You also mentioned he has a math degree. Do you mean to say that anyone with a math degree makes them a great teacher? How is that?
I think what you really mean is that you cheated too. You know it’s wrong. You feel guilty about it and if you can somehow convince all of us that cheating is not so bad…then your crimes aren’t either. Either that or you are just another teacher defending any other teacher just because they are a teacher, just like made men do in the mob.
Gm

To Just a Teacher

March 15th, 2012
8:38 am

Thank you for your honest, direct, common sense comment. I am delighted to see we have an honest person in you in our teaching rank and file.
Gm

TP

March 15th, 2012
8:58 am

Fred,

I’m white moron. I also speak from direct observation. Hall County was shown to be doing something just as underhanded, investigated by the AJC and Atlanta TV stations. But since the State School Superintendent Dr. Barge used to be a principal in that county his reaction was a big ole ‘Meh’.
Since the Governor, Nathan ‘ghetto grandmothers’ Deal is from that county the reaction from Governor’s Office of selective Accountability didn’t bother themselves to look into it.

So yeah, I do believe there is some race element there. They investigate the uppity black folks and leave the good old white boys alone.

But I see you are on board with that apparently.

teacher&mom

March 15th, 2012
9:06 am

“The first teacher has been fired in the APS cheating scandal. Damany Lewis confessed to using a razor blade to cut into test booklets and make copies for other teachers at Parks Middle School.”

How the heck do you cut into test booklets without anyone knowing? Given the testing protocols in my district it would be impossible to not get caught. Which leads me to believe the cheating scandal did not begin or end at the teaching level.

Administrators are responsible for ensuring test security. If it was an isolated classroom, then reprimand the administrator and tighten up the testing protocol. If it was widespread cheating, fire the administrator.

btw: Mr. Lewis, I may be a tad old-fashioned… but the next time you attend a tribunal to plead for your job, you might want to tuck in your shirt.

Dr. Proud Black Man

March 15th, 2012
9:16 am

@Fred

“Well you racist, since you want to go THERE I’ll dance with you. If it were a “whiter system” it would have been nipped in the bud because us white people don’t lie cheat and steal to protect other “white” people like you black folks do.”

Sure y’all do…;)

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/11/23/sat-cheating-scandal-widens-as-20-students-charged-in-new-york/

Double Zero Eight

March 15th, 2012
9:17 am

What is going to happen to the teachers that have been
identified in sworn testimony that cheated in 2005, 2006,
2007 and 2008? Absolutely nothing! With that being said,
this is synonymous to a “witch hunt”.

APS lost a great teacher

March 15th, 2012
9:42 am

Just a Teacher: Teachers like you are the reason I left the profession….yes he was wrong…but how do you know he didn’t teach? If he was very involved in the school as the article indicated…he obviously care and spent much time teaching and assisting the kids…any teacher that truly understands pedagogy is aware that testing is not an indication of teaching ability….my kids scored lower than the other classes each year..but when my students went to the next grade…the teachers preferred my kids over the high test score teachers….why? I didn’t teach the test…so when my students took the test…they were not as accustomed to the layout as the teachers who had taught test prep from day one….my students understood the content but didn’t have experience with how the test was constructed…perfect example is the LSAT…so, get up off your high horse..

Ashley

March 15th, 2012
9:50 am

This teacher had to get his marching orders from someone…..I”m sure he just didn’t take it upon himself to cheat, this was a conspiracy at best, all the other conspirator should be fired forthwith!

What the hell ...

March 15th, 2012
10:08 am

@Fred — I’ll GoTHERE with you, in this blog and anywhere else. All some white people (consider race relations in America over the last 500) have done is LIE, CHEAT and STEAL.

An answer for To Teacher & Mom

March 15th, 2012
10:14 am

You asked a good question “How the heck do you cut into test booklets without anyone knowing?”
He used a lighter to heat and then reseal the seal so that it did not look like it had been opened.
The complete story or more facts to the story was published in the AJC and other news media.
GM