Graduation Games Part Deux – Panic on Green Street

I’m just going to post these jewels right now. Going to wait and see what else unfolds before commenting too much.

Links first:

First AJC article and Get Schooled blog post:

http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/the-transfer-track-on-945991.html

http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2011/05/15/hall-county-are-students-being-routed-to-alternative-school-to-improve-grad-rates/

 

TV report by Richard Belcher at Channel 2 News:

http://www.wsbtv.com/video/27890457/index.html

 

Second AJC article and Get Schooled Blog:

http://www.ajc.com/news/hall-county-students-pushed-960650.html

Get Schooled: Helping students or helping system?

Be sure not to miss this!

http://georgiateachersspeakout.wordpress.com/

 

 

FIRST AJC ARTICLE


 5:17 a.m. Sunday, May 15, 2011

The transfer track on the way to a diploma

By Heather Vogell

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Just days before graduation for the past three school years, Hall County’s senior class played a curious game of musical chairs.

On those days, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data found, at least 94 students transferred at the last minute out of their traditional high schools and into the district’s Lanier Career Academy, a school with special programs for struggling students.

The seniors took with them an academic millstone that could have been a liability for their former schools: Each had earned a certificate of performance instead of a diploma. Only regular diplomas boost graduation rates, which have become a key measure of schools’ success.

The fact that the transfers may have helped some high schools meet federal academic standards has led some to ask whether the schools were simply manipulating the state’s accountability system. On one local blog, a poster wrote that some students felt “bullied” into transferring.

“One student was even told one month before graduation that they would not be able to graduate with their class. This is wrong!” the poster wrote, saying students were told they made their school “look bad.”

The district defends the transfers as a way to help hard-to-reach students. Seniors who change schools, officials said, can participate in graduation ceremonies at either their original school or at Lanier.

Hall, a northeast Georgia district of nearly 26,000 students, isn’t the first school system to face accusations of roster manipulation. In other districts across Georgia and the country, federal and state accountability rules have spawned creative attempts to make the numbers, some of which have involved strategically shuffling students around like pawns on a chessboard. The goal: to show “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP.

“Any time when you put such a complicated ball game together like AYP, it just opens the doors for lots of interpretations,” said Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

Mathers said her office plans to look this fall at whether districts are misusing state codes related to transferring students. Manipulating the codes can reduce the reported dropouts while artificially raising graduation rates. She said that from what she knows, however, Hall County does not appear to have broken such rules.

Other local districts have come under question for enrollment shifts that could provide shortcuts to achieving the complex set of academic benchmarks established after the federal No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001.

Last year, a contractor who once ran Atlanta’s alternative school said the school district routinely transferred poor-performing students to Forrest Hill Academy just days before the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. Data confirmed the influx of dozens of students in the month before the test.

And in DeKalb County, a principal resigned after admitting that she unenrolled 13 students before the days they were to take the CRCT, then re-enrolled them afterwards to help Rock Chapel Elementary School improve scores.

An email written in May 2009 by the former principal of Hall’s career academy, which later appeared on local blogs, has incited critics.

“It’s time to look at whether you want to transfer any of your COPs to LCA to improve your graduation rate,” the email to administrators at traditional high schools said. “We’ll be glad to do that for you again if you want us to.”

The plan, according to the email: unenroll students from their schools May 20, re-enroll them in Lanier academy May 21 and graduate them May 22.

By 2010, the flow of May certificate of performance transfers to Lanier had dwindled from dozens to 15. But talk of the moves continued, leaving the district’s superintendent, a close ally of new state Superintendent John Barge, vigorously justifying them.

Superintendent Will Schofield said the vast majority of transfers have been voluntary. District officials sent students to Lanier despite the fact that spring classes were wrapping up, hoping they would take summer courses or pursue GEDs there, he said. Forty eventually earned diplomas, he said.

“It’s not gaming the system,” he said. “We don’t have the financial resources to offer at all our traditional high schools the kinds of programs that we offer at the LCA.”

Congress is considering whether to renew the No Child Left Behind Act as is or modify it. If nothing changes, schools will be expected to meet targets in full by 2014, creating pressure that has ratcheted up annually for schools and districts.

A range of penalties await schools that repeatedly fail, but few have suffered dramatic interventions for poor performance. Reputations — of schools, districts and their leaders — perhaps provide greater motivation to succeed at a time when public schools face intense scrutiny and competition from private and charter schools.

Barge said Friday that the state will look at Hall’s student data for this school year when it becomes available in July. The state has not performed an analysis similar to the AJC’s for prior years.

Barge said that so far he has been satisfied with explanations from the district. “It’s not like we’re not aware of the situation,” he said. “Based on the information that we have right now from the school system, we’ve not seen any reason for alarm.”

Dozens of transfers

State databases show an unmistakable flow of students from other county schools to Lanier in the waning hours of the 2008 and 2009 spring semesters.

In 2008, three dozen students transferred on May 21 to Lanier. The next year, 43 did so on May 20.

A handful of districts statewide transferred two or three students on a single day in late May during the past three years, data shows, but none came close to moving the number Hall did.

Schofield, the superintendent, said the transfers would have no effect on the district’s graduation rate, which is calculated by counting all graduates. The numbers of transfers, several Hall principals said, were likely also too small to affect the rate for any particular school.

No Child Left Behind, however, mandates that schools calculate more than the overall graduation rate. It requires schools to figure the rate for subgroups of students larger than 40, such as those who are economically disadvantaged or Hispanic.

Because they include just a few dozen, not hundreds, of students, the graduation rates for those subgroups fluctuate more readily.

Missed subgroup targets can cause a school to fail to make AYP in some cases, if students are also struggling academically.

More than half the Lanier transfers — 56 out of 94 — were Hispanic, records show, and likely would have at least dragged down the subgroup’s graduation rate in their schools.

The 2010 census reports 26 percent of Hall County’s 180,000 residents are Hispanic.

State Education Department data reviewed by the AJC does not reveal where the Lanier transfers originated. But blog posts mention Chestatee High, where the graduation rate rose 25 percentage points in three years.

Chestatee principal Chip Underwood said it has comfortably made AYP in recent years and was not in danger of failing. In 2010, it graduated about 200 students. He praised Lanier academy for offering options to those who weren’t on track to earn diplomas.

“We should have done a better job of locating that child earlier in the year where he was not going to be successful,” he said of the late transfers.

The school doesn’t have many, if any, last-minute transfers this year, he said.

East Hall High School principal Jeff Cooper said the transfers were made with the students’ best interests in mind, though a slightly better graduation rate may have been a side benefit.

“I’ve seen a very minimal effect here in my school,” he said, adding that the school may have sent seven or eight transfers to Lanier in a year.

Schofield said the former principal of Lanier “feels terrible” about the email about raising graduation rates for traditional schools.

“All I can say is that was extremely poorly worded,” he said. “The reason students go to the career academy is that they have more opportunities and resources there.”

Schofield said his staff tried to reach the blog poster who complained about students being pressured to transfer, but had been unsuccessful.

Praise for academy

The transfer issue has likely acquired added political sensitivity given that Schofield is the chairman of the new state superintendent’s transition team. Barge served as principal at Chestatee High years before the transfer question arose. The state’s new governor, Nathan Deal, is also from Hall County.

Schofield and other district officials praised Lanier academy as an innovative school for students who aren’t college bound. Schofield said Hall makes a greater effort than many districts to steer students toward GED programs or provide extra test preparation when it appears they will not meet graduation requirements.

Cindy Blakely, Lanier’s current principal, said the school has been ramping up programs for students at risk of dropping out for several years and the last-minute transfers might reflect that. Now, the district tries to identify and help struggling students earlier.

Some students don’t find out they failed a key portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test until late April, Blakely said. The district decided a few years ago it would be better to try to transfer them to Lanier and start test preparation immediately for a July re-test, instead of waiting for them to finish at their original schools.

The 2009 email by the former Lanier principal, however, recommends not transferring students who could pass the graduation test over the summer. The schools, the principal wrote, “might want to keep” those students because “they cannot be returned to you.”

Blakely said the district believes there is another advantage to transferring students even late in the semester: It familiarizes them with Lanier and increases the chances they’ll return for additional programs instead of receiving their certificates and disappearing.

“We’re out there trying to save students,” she said. “Our superintendent and board has always said we will not put AYP over the needs of our students, because it can become a big, old game.”

 

 

SECOND AJC ARTICLE

Quantcast Quantcast

 5:28 a.m. Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hall County students pushed to go to a new school

By Heather Vogell

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A Hall County student who transferred to an alternative school just days before graduation last year said this week that the district all but forced him to go and provided none of the extra help administrators had promised.

Dillan Hatcher said officials at Chestatee High School told him he was hurting the school’s chances of meeting federal standards for its graduation rate. Hatcher failed one portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test and, as a result, expected to receive a certificate of performance instead of a diploma. Only diplomas boost a school’s graduation rate.

Hatcher said that when he arrived at Lanier Career Academy the final week of school, educators told him it was too late in the year to enroll in any programs. He said he sat in front of a computer, texted friends and stared at the wall.

“I went for nothing,” he said. “I should have just gone home.”

Hall’s practice of transferring struggling students from regular high schools to Lanier days before graduation has been criticized by some who questioned whether the district simply shuffled students around to game the state’s accountability system. The pressure is much greater on regular high schools to meet graduation-rate standards than on Lanier.

Superintendent Will Schofield has vigorously defended the transfers. Last week, however, he said it is possible high schools had moved students to benefit their graduation rate in a few instances. But he said such transfers are not district practice.

“I would be pretty Pollyannaish if I said that that didn’t happen at some point somewhere,” he said. “But in terms of the whole philosophy of the program, that’s not who we are.”

At one point, West Hall High School was in the running for an award — a Blue Ribbon of Excellence — but missed adequate yearly progress, or AYP, by three students, he said. All the district had to do was transfer the three, he said, but school officials “took our lumps.”

Overall, the district has defended sending students to Lanier, saying the moves are almost always voluntary and allow the district to provide assistance to students in danger of dropping out. Some are studying to retake the graduation test over the summer; others may take GED classes.

Enrollment in Lanier even at the end of the year improves chances students will continue in their studies, officials said.

Pressure to move

The Hall district in northeast Georgia is only the latest school system to face accusations of monkeying with the numbers to try to improve schools’ status under the accountability system built after the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this month that, in the past three years, at least 94 Hall County students who were due to receive certificates instead of diplomas transferred to Lanier in the final days of the school year. A 2009 email by the former principal for Lanier urged other schools to transfer their certificate students to Lanier at semester’s end “to improve your graduation rate.”

Since then, several students who were told by school officials to transfer to Lanier, or who knew students that did, talked with the newspaper about their experience.

The newspaper also performed additional data analysis that showed multiple years in which a small number of graduates made the difference between making and missing AYP for some Hall schools.

Hatcher said that, after he failed the graduation test, Chestatee High officials pulled him into the school office and told him he needed to go to Lanier. They convinced his father the move was good for him.

“They said you’ll learn everything you need at LCA,” said Hatcher, who was reluctant to leave the school he had attended since freshman year.

“When I got to LCA, they said, ‘Get on the computer and do whatever,’ ” he said. “They said, ‘It’s too late in the year; we can’t get you in a program.’ ”

He passed the graduation test re-test anyway. A few weeks later, he received his diploma.

“They threw me under the bus,” said Hatcher, 18, who now works at his father’s landscaping business.

Chestatee High Principal Chip Underwood, who was assistant principal in 2010, said AYP typically isn’t mentioned in such meetings. Last year, the school made AYP by a 21-diploma margin, data shows.

“I don’t believe that to be the case at all,” Underwood said of Hatcher’s recollection he was told he would hurt the school’s effort to meet federal standards. “We use LCA to help kids get graduated. Does it affect AYP? I think it does minutely.”

Another former Chestatee student and friend of Hatcher’s, Christian Beasley, said he, too, felt intense pressure from school officials to transfer the last week of school after he failed part of the graduation test.

“They transferred me before they even told me about it,” he said. “They said they’d transferred my files to LCA and I had to start there on Monday.”

School officials told him Lanier would help him pass the graduation test, he said. “They said it would be a good thing,” he said.

Beasley’s parents, however, objected. They didn’t want him to receive his diploma from an alternative school, he said. He stayed at Chestatee and passed the graduation test anyway. “I don’t know why they wanted to send me off,” said Beasley, 19, who has a job doing maintenance, welding and fabricating.

Schofield said, given that Hall is a district of 26,000 students, a few may walk away not completely satisfied.

“Can you pick up a kid or two that is not happy with our experience? Absolutely,” he said. “But there are an awful lot of positive stories.”

Graduation targets

Analysis of state data shows that for some Hall schools, every diploma mattered.

Three of Hall’s traditional schools missed their graduation-rate targets in 2007. East Hall missed by 14 students. Chestatee was off by three students, state data shows. Johnson High missed by one.

Chestatee and Johnson still made AYP because of a second-chance option that allows schools that are close to the targets to use a multi-year average.

During the next two years, when transfers to Lanier soared districtwide, all three schools fared better.

East Hall made its graduation-rate goals by 10 students in 2008 and nine in 2009. Johnson succeeded as well, by 12 students in 2008 and 11 in 2009. Chestatee made the target by 18 students in 2008 and 14 in 2009.

During those two years, Hall high schools transferred a total of 79 students to Lanier at the last minute. State data obtained by the AJC does not show where the transfers originated.

Schofield said that, overall, the district has had great success in boosting graduates. Its graduation rate climbed by more than 11 percentage points, to about 79 percent, between 2007 and 2010. The Lanier transfers would not affect the districtwide rate.

For months, posters on local blogs have criticized Hall’s late-semester transfers to Lanier.

Some traffic was generated by Krysten Campbell, a 22-year-old former Chestatee student who said several students have complained to her about being bullied to transfer to Lanier.

“It’s just wrong what they’re doing to these kids, especially their last week of their senior year,” she said.

Campbell, a student at Gainesville State College, wrote Hall County school district officials to complain about the transfers as part of a class project. She then posted their responses on a local blog.

Hall officials have said that they expected few, if any, late transfers to Lanier this year. Campbell said she suspects that attention to the issue on blogs and in the media may be part of the reason.

“I guess that is kind of what it showed me: If I speak out loud enough, it can change,” she said.

————-

How we got the story

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzed databases provided by the Georgia Department of Education for the 2008 through 2010 school years to determine when, and where, transfers were made in Hall County. The databases showed how many students earning Certificates of Performance transferred to Lanier Career Academy after May 1 each year. The state redacted the databases to remove potentially identifying information for small groupings of students, so it is possible that the actual number of transfers was slightly higher. The state also removed students’ names to keep their records confidential. For this story, the AJC also analyzed a second state database that includes information on whether schools and districts met federal standards.

 

 

Please discuss below.  A lot of material here!

Merit Pay Mess

From the Gainesville Times:

‘Teachers wary of pay-for-performance legislation’

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/article/30385/

‘Georgia aiming for an education payout
Hall County’s Schofield chosen to serve on state committee’ http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/article/30260/

I have a few questions for our Mr. Schofield.

1. How will this merit pay be funded? We already are cutting pay and positions and we are expected to believe that we will actually receive this glorious bonus money when earned? Race to the Top money won’t be available for it I believe. So why should we believe this is anything other than an empty, unfunded promise, just like so many other things in education.

2. How many teachers and principals in our schools (or parents for that matter) were consulted when you and the board made the decision to go after this Race to the Top money and the merit pay legislation that is tied to it, that may well affect the livelihood of  teachers? Or was this just a top down decision made because you have been appointed to the Race to the Top committee by the Governor?

3. Why should any of us just believe this merit pay process, that has not been defined in the least, is so wonderful just based on your and other politicians say so? From where I sit, we already know you and the board have given bonuses (18 to 19 thousand dollars over 2 years via inappropriate travel money instead of through contracts as would be proper) to your (your own words) “friend and mentor” principal Akridge while many other principals in this system apparently did not receive such merit pay. Did Mr. Bales, who has done such a wonderful job at East Hall Middle turning around test scores receive his 19 thousand dollar bonus? Why should we believe that this glorious merit pay for teachers will even be remotely fairly distributed? We know you have a bonus clause in your contract. Does anyone else in the system have this perk?

4. From the article, referring to Mr. Schofield – ““I just don’t believe they have a legitimate concern because they can opt out. They can stick with the current plan if they like,” he said. But he added that he has “mixed feelings” about the bill only applying to newly hired personnel and leaving it up to current teachers to opt in or out.”

I find your ‘mixed feelings’ a bit scary here. If this district winds up as an IE2 district won’t you and the board then have the power to do away with the ‘opt in’ caveat? This is what I hear from folks in Gwinnett. Please elaborate. I know, teachers shouldn’t have a choice in your perfect merit based system, they should just do as you say and be happy to have the job, no matter how much time, energy and money they may have expended over the years on their advanced degrees and studies. Options should only be for the non rank and file I suppose.

5. Who is going to craft this glorious unknown process for merit pay? Were any teachers or building administrators or parents included up to this point? If not, why should anyone believe for a second that they will have any input down the road?

6. Why are we dead set that bringing into the profession people who are motivated by money, not by a passion for teaching and young people will better our schools? It has the potential to substantially transform the atmosphere and focus of schools – and not for the better from where I sit.

7. Would you please share the solid data and research that shows this merit pay to be a viable and effective model? Is there any?

8. Why is one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states in the US so hot and bothered to bring in even more Federal control and strings to education through Race to the Top/Merit Pay? I would think the majority of constituents in this county would say we need less Federal interference and control, not more.

9. Is it true that the most ‘effective teachers’ can and will be reassigned (regardless of their wishes) to the lowest performing schools under this program?

Mr. S, I understand you may have a vested interest in the success of this Race to the Top/Merit Pay mess. I just hope every teacher and the relatives of these teachers in this county realizes and remembers that when election time comes around for your board members that have backed you on this. Something with this much potential, good or bad, for such an impact on our teachers and students deserves more than the bums rush we are being subjected to. It deserves careful and deliberate discussion and consensus by stakeholders and clearly defined parameters BEFORE becoming the rule of the day.

But, I suppose the those folks actually in the classrooms and buildings dealing with children everyday  just aren’t worthy of that sort of input or consideration in charting their own futures any more. Father knows best.

Frankly I am sick to death of the attitude that we do not have the ‘best and brightest’ already in the classrooms. Maybe if we supported the ones we do have a bit more and actually had the courage to fairly work on the very few that may have problems and move them out regardless of their tenured status (instead of just targeting those without tenure to be let go as Hall County did to over 100 educators last year regardless of their effectiveness – for the record I call that that cowardice, not courage) then we can see even more improvement for ALL our students. But instead of this we are on to the next cure du jour.

Teachers, it is time to let your board, legislators, professional organizations and the press know how you feel about this. No one else will, or should, do it for you. You are a HUGE voting block and should remember this fact.

P. S.  – Anonymous evaluations?! LOL . Are you kidding! We can’t listen to anonymous bloggers but we will listen to anonymous coworkers AND it will affect our pay? Hypocrisy reigns!

More Kool-aid please.

Can We Have More Please?

Now that our fearless leader has deigned to comment on a few issues up in the comments section ( http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/article/26976/ ) perhaps we can get some feedback on a few others?

I would love to clear these up, and I would think the Board and Mr. Schofield would too!

The Hall County School Administration has been criticized for several issues in the recent past. They have not been forthcoming with explanations or answers. It seems the State Auditors over the past two audits have found a few issues to be at least a bit concerned about also. Below are portions from two supplemental letters from the Hall County School System’s past two audits (2007 and 2008). Pretty much supports much of what has been said by bloggers critical of the county school system.

The use of SPLOST money to fund the Johnson High School meeting/dressing facility and the East Hall High Sports Complex not being in compliance with State law noted in the February 2008 letter is also very interesting. Maybe the local news could look into that for us? Is that improper use of our tax money? Were the mentioned reimbursements ever made? Were they allowable? Could having to pay that back or reconcile it have contributed to some of our budget shortfall and job losses and pay cuts across the system?

These documents are public records and are available upon request from the Department of Audits and Accounts.

Excerpts from a letter dated March 30, 2009 to Members of the State Board of Education and Superintendent and Members of the Hall County Board of Education
from THE DEPARTMENT OF AUDIT AND ACCOUNTS AT 270 WASHINGTON STREET, S.W., SUITE 1-156 ATLANTA, GEORGIA 30334-8400

Delinquent Property Tax Accrual

An audit adjustment to Taxes Receivable on the Statement of Net Assets was proposed and accepted by the School District to properly record delinquent ad valorem taxes receivable at June 30, 2008, as confirmed to the auditors by the Hall County Tax Commissioner. In preparation of its financial statements, the School District relied on incomplete information provided by the Tax Commissioner’s office to estimate the value of the delinquent tax that varied from the amount confirmed to the auditors. In the future, after preparation of its financial statements, the School District should consider performing an analytical comparison of the financial statements to the prior year audited information.


Undocumented Employee Compensation and Incorrect Job Codes

Our examination of employee compensation disclosed that one employee was paid travel as part of their compensation package without being included as part of their contract or being approved in the Board minutes through Board resolution. When this was brought to the Board’s attention the Board signed an affidavit supporting the payment of travel to this employee.

Also during our examination, instances were noted where employees had incorrect job code classifications in the Salary and Travel report submitted to the Department of Audits and Accounts.

We recommend that all compensation paid to employees be supported by an employee contract or a formal Board resolution that is included in the minutes of the Board. Also, management should review the job codes assigned to employees to ensure they are reported correctly.”

Excerpts from a letter dated February 26, 2008 to Members of the State Board of Education and Superintendent and Members of the Hall County Board of Education
from THE DEPARTMENT OF AUDIT AND ACCOUNTS AT 270 WASHINGTON STREET, S.W., SUITE 1-156 ATLANTA, GEORGIA 30334-8400

Internal Control Process Documentation

As a result of our audit, we found a lack of formal documentation related to management’s internal control processes and procedures, risk assessments, and monitoring of key controls over significant processes identified by management. Management should formalize their documentation and monitoring of key controls over significant accounts, processes, decentralized operations, and financial statement disclosures that will be relied upon to ensure that Hall County Board of Education’s financial statements are fairly presented.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) Expenditures

As a result of our review of construction activity during our audit, we found that the Hall County Board of Education funded the construction of two athletic facilities with SPLOST proceeds. The facilities constructed included the Johnson High School meeting/dressing facility and the East Hall High Sports Complex which is owned in part by the Hall County Parks and Recreation Department. The sports complex includes a baseball and soccer field, a track, concession stands, storage, etc. Expenditures of SPLOST funds for athletic facilities appear to be in conflict with State laws regarding the imposition and use of SPLOST funds when you consider that Paragraph IV, Section VI, Article VIII of the Constitution of the State of Georgia provides that SPLOST proceeds may be expended on “capital outlay projects for educational purposes” and the Attorney General has ruled in Official Opinion 97-7 that facilities used primarily for athletic competition do not meet the definition of educational facilities.

We recommend that the Board contact legal counsel and research this issue to determine if expenditures incurred for the athletic facilities in question are in accordance with requirements of the SPLOST referendum or allowable under State law. In addition, a determination should be made regarding reimbursement to the SPLOST project for any expenditures that were not an appropriate use of SPLOST funds.

In the normal course of the audit process, the auditor is only required to obtain an understanding of internal control sufficient to plan the audit. This, however, does not imply that the auditor must perform any type of test or other verification of the effectiveness of the internal control system. As such, we strongly recommend that management evaluate the effectiveness of the Board’s system of internal controls. This evaluation should reaffirm management’s responsibility for establishing and maintaining an adequate system of internal controls and financial reporting. Strong and effective internal controls are the responsibility of management and we believe that this practice, conducted on an annual basis, will be of significant benefit in enhancing internal controls and preventing fraud and abuse.”

Regarding the bit under “Undocumented Employee Compensation and Incorrect Job Codes”

Posts here and elsewhere have refered to Raymond Akridge as Will Schofield’s friend, buddy and/or mentor. There is word on the street is that he may be a bit more than that. It has been said that he is actually a relative also. Apparently he may actually be Schofield’s wife’s uncle from what is being said around the system. If this is not the case I hope he will let us know as quickly as possible!

Because if that is true, it might lead one to believe that the 18 to 20 thousand tax dollars paid out in travel money (tax free bonus, whatever anyone wants to call it) as well as the three high ranking, high paying jobs Schofield threw to Akridge without allowing any competition or going through normal protocols and procedures, were all kept in the family. How tidy. It may smell like nepotism more than cronyism. Let’s hope not!

It has also been asked if Akridge was asked or made to pay the money back. The answer apparently is no. The Superintendent and the School Board did not make him pay it back, even after the State Auditors pointed it out. They said it was “a bonus” and allowed him to keep it.

I bet a lot of other folks in this system both would really appreciate, and probably highly deserve, such a fat little bonus (on top of 100 thousand a year some odd salary) from our tax money! Isn’t travel reimbursement tax free?

But only one particular person has received it. Wonder why? If I am mistaken and the Hall County Board has been handing these bonus out as a matter of common practice, someone please let me know.

For a little perspective on how outrageous this really is, think on this: Akridge’s ‘bonus’ travel money for just one of the two years (total of $9767.82 for one year, the previous year he received $8719.45) was the 8th highest paid travel allowance of all the principals in the entire state of Georgia! There were only 7 principals in the entire state that were paid more than him for travel that year And there were only 12 School system superintendents that received more in the entire state. (Figures are taken from http://www.open.georgia.gov/sta/search.aud )

Why?

I still find it very hard to believe that no one involved knew this was directly against State regulations. The Hall County travel form states directly next to the signature lines: ” I do solemnly swear, under penalty provided by law, that the above statements are true and I have incurred the described expenses and mileage in the discharge of my official duties for Hall County Board of Education and the State of Georgia” . Next to the State travel forms signature lines it states: ” “I do solemnly swear, under criminal penalty of a felony for false statements subject to punishment by fine of not more than $1000 or by imprisonment of not less than one nor more than five years, that the above statements are true and I am eligible for the requested per diem for meals, and have incurred the other expenses as described and the state use mileage as reported in the discharge of my official duties for the state.”

State regulations for travel state on page 5.3: Prohibited Mileage Reimbursement:
Employees are not entitled to mileage reimbursement for: travel between their place of residence and their official headquarters, or personal mileage incurred while on travel status.

No where in any state or local policy has it been found that travel money can be used as a bonus in any shape form or fashion, yet our Superintendent and Board sees fit to do so in this one particular case? No one has denied that the large sums of travel were paid on mileage to and from home and work. What is up with that? Why not just give the man a contractual bonus like the rules and policies (and auditors) say? Bizarre.

The Job Codes issue refers to the person listed as a Substitute Teacher making $109,000 a year who is really a Central Office Administrator and a few other ‘mistakes’ of that flavor that have been listed before.

In case you haven’t seen it our Hall County School Superinindent actually addressed a few comments from bloggers over on the Gainesville Times’ website today.

See it here at http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/article/26976/

The part that was changed after the first few comments read:

“The Hall County Board of Education is on track to adopt a hybrid schedule next school year that means contracts will not be renewed for an estimated 35 high school teachers. Hall Superintendent Will Schofield estimates the move will annually save the system between $2.5 million and $3 million.”

That became a reporting error really quick :-) .

Graduation Games

Let’s take a closer look at AYP in our high schools. Graduation rates and the graduation tests are the big deal here as mentioned in the article. http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/article/21112/
It seems that there is now a practice (last 2 years or so) where the students who may be graduating without an actual diploma, but with a Certificate of Performance, (these students would count against the graduation rate and passing rates for the graduation tests and therefore AYP for the schools) are systematically being transferred to the Lanier Career Academy right before graduation (a matter of days in some cases).

This increases all the other 6 high school’s graduation rates artificially. The Career Academy is small and is never expected to do all that well any way so no biggie on AYP there. In fact on the State AYP site it reads There are not enough students in this school for the AYP determination to be
statistically reliable, therefore an AYP determination has not been made for this
school.  These students are included in the District and State AYP reports.”
in reference to the Career Academy. (http://public.doe.k12.ga.us/ayp2008/overview.asp?SchoolID=669-0105-a-1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0)

Interesting. Let’s look at some numbers found on the Governor’s Office of  Student Achievement site regarding Hall County students receiving Certificates of Performance over the past few years now (  http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/ReportingFW.aspx?PageReq=111&PID=62&PTID=69&CountyId=669&T=0&FY=2008 )  (look under the Report card tab for each school and then under the “Indicators” tab for information on High School Completers).

Numbers for the 2005-06 school year for the Lanier Career Academy show 12 students graduating with a Certificates of Performance. In 2006-07 The Career Academy had 16 students graduating with a Certificates of Performance. In 2007-08 (the same year Hall County finally made AYP in all High Schools I believe) The Career Academy has a whopping 47 students graduating with a Certificates of Performance. Wow! What is that – something like a 48% increase from 2006-07? HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?!

Good question. Let’s look at the other 6 High Schools now.

If you look at the 6 combined (excluding the Career Academy) in 2005-06 they had 97 students graduating with a Certificates of Performance. In 2006-07 the 6 reported 91 students graduating with a Certificates of Performance. In 2007-08 they reported 28, about a 48% decrease from the year before. Oh I see now. Tricky tricky!! It seems like they are transferring the kids that will hurt their scores to the Career Academy between the taking of the Graduation tests and actual graduation. Neat trick! Really helps to make that pass on AYP.

So in 2006-07 the Career Academy had 16 students out of the Hall County District’s 107 students receiving a Certificate of Performance. In 2007-08 The Career Academy had 47 out of the Hall County District’s 75 students receiving a Certificate of Performance. Unreal! Any statisticians out there want to compute those odds?

All schools were fairly consistent in their Certificate of Performance numbers between 2005-06 to 2006-07. However, from 2006-07 to 2007-08, West Hall High went from 17 students graduating with a Certificates of Performance down to 0. Johnson High went from 23 to 8. North Hall High stayed at 8 for both years (not going to pull that up there I guess). Chestatee High went from 17 to 2. Flowery Branch High went from 12 to 10 (after being at 19 the year prior) and East Hall High went from 14 to 0.

Haven’t looked at the numbers for 2008-09 yet, but I will bet quite a bit that they are low again at the 6 high schools and higher at the Career Academy as it seems they did the same thing.

Have to wonder how ethical this is? Is it cheating? Is it fraud?  You be the judge.

Also have to wonder if a disproportionate number of these students are economically disadvantaged, special needs or of a certain minority status.

And these folks want more freedom from oversight and rules. I guess so!

I also have to throw this in: A couple of articles this past week have reported that AYP and test scores are not the name of the game and are the wrong focus for the current Hall County School Superintendent and administration. Then why is the Superintendent currently at a conference on Jekyll Island this week presenting on better ways to hold teachers accountable based solely on CRCT scores?

Just curious.

Hall County Horror

And we’re back! Lawyery stuff was just request for information (not from any organization), so no big deal after all for this site.

I am in awe.

In awe regarding how spectacularly badly this entire situation with the Hall County teacher ‘layoffs’ has been handled. First there have been several years of reckless spending – remember how this past budget was “the largest passed in Hall County School System history”?  I mean, how many expensive programs does one system need to try to enact in a two year period anyway…and those things aren’t cheap.   And did we really need a combination high school/middle school??  Apparently we didn’t, since we’re not using it for that now?  Reckless payment of travel supplements and moving expenses for friends and cronies coming from their old systems has contributed to the mess.  How can you defend paying that kind of money to your friends from other areas and then turning around and taking someone’s entire livlihood away from them?  One of the defenses that has been thrown out is that we are not top heavy in central office.  Yet, suddenly we can afford to cut 9 positions from the central office level?   Which one is it?? Are these all people from “Central Office South?”  What district this size has two central office buildings and all of the associated costs with running them anyway?   They will tell you that no one saw this economic downshift coming, but that isn’t entirely true.  Bloggers on the Times site were talking about it over a year ago before the last budget was passed.  It’s true, that a lot of these so called “lay offs” could not have been  avoided, but it could have been a lot less painful for a lot of people if we didn’t have such a bunch of know it all, self-serving types running the school system now.

Someone somewhere else pointed out that this should have been handled as a RIF (Reduction in Force) because honestly that is what it is.  However, the people running the district have apparently decided that they wanted to do this a different way by picking on the people with the least legal recourse.  Is the way they have done this legal?  Perhaps.  It is right and honorable?  No.   If this had been done as a reduction in force they would have been REQUIRED to hire the people that were let go back as the situation improves.  The way they have chosen to handle this puts them under no obligation to hire anyone involved back at any time.  If you believe the rumored line they are giving people “if you resign, we will hire you back” then I have a bridge and some swamp land I’d like to try to sell you.

Another problem for all of you who have been let go is your superintendent has labeled you all as “ineffective” in a public forum.  It seems, as others have pointed out, that by resigning you are admitting this.  What data was used to make the determination that you are “ineffective?”  Are you on a PDP?  Do you have NIs on your evaluations?  Have all of your evaluations even been completed?  Do you have letters of reprimand?  Are your test scores lower than those of your peers?  I’m betting in the majority of these cases, the answer is no.  You are simply being screwed over in order to expedite this process for the folks at central office.  It’s unfair, because there are tenured teachers who may be less effective than you, who should probably be let go, but administrators by and large don’t do the work necessary to get rid of an ineffective tenured teacher.

Here’s a little something you might not realize.  My understanding is anyone who is non-renewed has a right to request in writing from the Superintendent the reasons for the non-renewal.  They will also tell you that you have no right to a hearing in front of the board.  This is not entirely true.  While you do not have an automatic right to a hearing as if you were tenured, a good lawyer should know how to force a hearing. You lose this right if you resign.

I urge you to do extensive research before signing anything or accepting what you are told at face value.  They are counting on your ignorance! They are capitalizing on the fact that you are upset and scared. Check to see if resigning makes you ineligible for unemployment benefits.  Call the labor department and ask.  Resigning really doesn’t do you any good because most employment applications now ask if you resigned in lieu of non-renewal, and if you lie on an application you can lose your certificate.  Go as soon as possible and ask for a copy of your personnel file from your principal and the one kept at Central Office.  You will want that to help dispute the fact that you have been labeled as an ineffective teacher by Hall County.  Remember, if you were truly ineffective, there should be documentation and you should have been fired.

No doubt we will hear plenty of excuses from 711 Green as well as the normal ad hominen drivel, but you all need to be very sure of where you stand  before going along with anything they say.

Good luck to everyone negatively impacted by this.  Please feel free to share your stories here.

What a great example of character and competency for our children.

Stay Concerned

Well, it seems someone has gone and got all lawyery.

As much as I hate to do it I am turning the site off at this point while I figure out where things stand legally.  The purpose of this was to help create some transparency in our county school system and to promote dialogue and discussion. Unfortunately that has been strongly resisted by many at 711 Green and others but we gave it a shot. Thanks to everyone who has posted and supported the effort.

I apologize for any discomfort this dialogue may have caused certain individuals. This was not the intent whatsoever.

Remember:  Question and find out about your rights. Don’t just take their word for everything! If there is nothing to hide then your questions shouldn’t be met with resistance, disparagement, or dismissal.  They work for you and for all the taxpayers, no matter what they may believe or how they may act.

This is a great school system in many ways. There are wonderful teachers and kids and parents in this county and system, I see them every day.  We just deserve better than what we currently have in many ways . I’m afraid things will get worse before they get better due to some poor decision making and priorities and only everyone together can change things for the better.

Stay tuned, this may be back when you least expect it.

Stay Concerned!

Open Records Oops!

All this information is from public records found at www.open.georgia.gov .

I guess taking some flak for having too many central office people leads our current school system leadership to simply change titles when self reporting to the state and the public which they supposedly serve and then crowing about how they really haven’t grown positions (just buildings and office space).

Apologies to the people listed. I’m pretty sure they didn’t misrepresent/mislabel their own positions. They aren’t the ones responsible for reporting their titles to the state.

Hall County School Year 2008 information.

Just a quick look through.

I’m sure these are all fine people who earn every penny but they ARE central office based and many serve in administrative roles. This is all public record.

Sally Krisel at 98K, Gerald Boyd at 90K and Sandra Perry at 102K – all listed as “Instructional Supervisors” just like the school level instructional coaches. (actual or formal titles of their positions are Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning/Rigor Specialist, Competency Specialist, and Coordinator of ESOL respectively)

Sandra Edwards – IS Personnel at 113K (Hall County IB Coordinator)
David Robles – IS Personnel at 94K ( Instructional Technology Coordinator)
Cindy Tu – School Secretary at 58K (Assistant Coordinator of ESOL)
Delane Melton – IS Personnel at 79K (Chief Technology Officer)
Carrie Woodcock – Director of Curriculum – 40K (4 Curriculum Directors now? Must bring the salary average of the curriculum directors down or something)
Nancy Fields – Other Instructional at 62K (almost 7K in travel) (Singapore Math Coordinator?)
Crandall Autry – Principal at 48K (he was at CO last year in a half time retirement job, not a school)

And the capper!
Aaron Turpin – SUBSTITUTE TEACHER at over 109K! (and over 5K in travel) (Actually a former principal and promoted to Executive Director of Information Technology)

What is that? Close to 1 million bucks in just salaries without adding benefits?

Kind of a big oversight there.

And oh yeah, in case you missed it – We also paid the super’s good principal buddy another $9,700.00 plus to drive back and forth from work and his home last year.

Even though it is against state regulations and a huge waste of taxpayer money. (See prior post for links to regulations – the travel can be found on www.open.georgia.gov ).

You make the call.

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