According to Beverly Hall’s attorney — “Dr. Accountable” herself is nowhere to be found — the former superintendent “most definitely did not know of any widespread cheating” in Atlanta public schools.
If that is true — and it probably is — it’s because Hall “most definitely” chose not to know of any widespread cheating.
Hall chose not to look. She chose not to care. She chose to be blind because it suited her own interests to be blind, and her own interests were paramount.
The state investigative report released this week documents repeated instances in which Hall and her top staff took aggressive, conscious action to ensure that the superintendent would not be confronted with evidence of cheating. She did not wish to hear, see or know anything that might threaten the illusions she had created for herself and others.
For example, in a conversation several months ago but long after the scale of this scandal had become obvious to anyone willing to see it, Hall repeatedly took umbrage at my use of the word “pervasive” to describe the cheating problem. She continued to insist that problems, if they existed at all, were isolated incidents that reflected only on the integrity of the individuals involved. I hung up the phone frustrated and stunned at the level of denial.
Ignorance can never be an acceptable excuse for leadership failure on this scale. However, it is particularly unacceptable when that ignorance has been willful and self-imposed, as it was in Hall’s case.
The harsh depiction of Hall in the state report as a leader detached, unwilling to accept responsibility and consumed with protecting her own reputation has been confirmed in no uncertain terms by her subsequent public reaction, or lack thereof.
For 12 years, she ran the district with an iron fist, eagerly accepting the awards, laurels and financial benefits that came with her leadership position. Today, with the district dealing with the aftermath of the greatest cheating scandal in U.S. education history, with the harsh glare of a national spotlight on the people she led into this mess, Hall herself has vanished, leaving others to take the heat.
In fact, judging from her own recent statements and those of her lawyer, Hall continues to believe herself no more responsible for what has happened to the students, teachers and other employees in the district than if she had been some night janitor at an elementary school.
Consider this lovely statement issued through Hall’s attorney, Richard Deane:
“Apparently, not one of the 82 persons who allegedly ‘confessed’ to cheating told the investigators that Dr. Hall at any time instructed, encouraged or condoned cheating.”
Look at those words “allegedly ‘confessed’.” They drip with denial verging on contempt. The quote marks around the word “confessed” are particularly telling, as if there were some doubt about it. Even now, in the face of all this evidence and first-hand, eyewitness testimony, Hall cannot bring herself to admit the truth. She continues to demonstrate precisely the type of behavior and lack of character that state investigators attribute to her in the report.
Meanwhile, 178 teachers and administrators who in some way or other compromised themselves in order to try to operate in the environment that Hall created now face the loss of their livelihood and in some cases worse. Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis — the perfect person to handle a very tough job — has made it clear that they will never again work for the Atlanta Public School system, and most will probably never work again in education anywhere.
That’s appropriate and necessary. In fairness, however, it should be acknowledged that some of those 178 people simply got caught up in something larger than themselves, something they felt helpless to buck. While that cannot excuse their behavior, it does help explain it. We all would like to think that placed in such situations, we would do the right thing, but most people are not heroes; heroes, almost by definition, are rare.
Instead, the brunt of the blame belongs to those who create a system so perverse that compliance or heroism seem like the only available options — those who even now seek to evade accountability.
It starts at the very top.
– Jay Bookman