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.
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