The newly named Texas school district superintendent will take an indefinite paid leave of absence as trustees re-examine her previous post in Atlanta, where officials are investigating allegations of widespread cheating on standardized tests.
Trustees of the DeSoto Independent School District held a lengthy closed-door meeting Monday night before Superintendent Kathy Augustine read a statement announcing she was taking the leave of absence through a mutual agreement with the board.
Trustees appointed Levatta Levels as interim superintendent for the district which has some 9,000 students.
DeSoto ISD hired Augustine in a 4-2 vote in May. She's a former deputy superintendent of the Atlanta school district. She says she discussed the investigation with DeSoto officials while she was being considered for the $188,000-a-year job.
Augustine denies any wrongdoing in Atlanta, where teachers and officials are accused of falsifying and misrepresenting student test scores.
Augustine read the following statement Monday night:
"First, I’d like you to know how shocked and saddened I am by what I’ve learned over these last several days.
The investigative report about cheating on state standardized tests in Atlanta identified 178 professional educators as acting unethically by altering test answer sheets or by some other devious means. To my horror, 82 individuals allegedly confessed to this behavior.
I’ve worked with many of the employees identified. I’ve looked into their eyes; I’ve shaken their hands; and, yes, I believed in them. And now, I read they violated a professional trust.
That is not an easy thing to accept.
I’ve spent my entire career working to improve student learning, so it broke my heart to read how some educators chose to shortchange children by altering test documents.
For my part, I recognize we could have done a better job putting tighter controls on test security.
What angers me most of all is that professional educators cheated students who, I know, were already making progress—according to a full range of state and national indicators.
But after the shock . . . the sadness . . . and the anger, I’ve also become increasingly grateful. I appreciate the work of the governor of Georgia and the special investigators, who had the resources and the subpoena power to conduct a more in-depth investigation. And even though I have moved on, I am relieved to see that the new administration of Atlanta Public Schools is taking swift and certain action.
Because the allegations are so egregious, however, I cannot move on without looking back.
Let me assure you that in my 12 years of service in Atlanta, at no time did I have any knowledge of widespread cheating on state standardized tests in 2009 or any other year. And I want to be clear that I was neither involved in—nor aware of—the kind of behavior that’s been uncovered.
I am and have always been supportive of any investigation that would assist in assessing the functioning of our school district. I have cooperated with the investigation, and have made myself available at all times when requested. I have never knowingly made any false statements nor have I misrepresented any facts to any investigating authority. There has never been any suggestion that I attempted to influence the testimony of anyone else involved in the investigation, nor would I do so. Further, any suggestion that I have not responded appropriately during the pendency of the investigation is simply false.
I care too much about children and their education to falsify . . . misrepresent . . . omit . . . or erroneously report information to the state. I’ve read the investigative report from cover to cover, and no where does it identify anyone as saying I encouraged, directed or condoned cheating. That’s because I did not.
Members of the board, parents, students, employees, and partners, I want you to know what I have done. My actions—and the actions of the overwhelming majority of the 6,000 employees within Atlanta Public Schools—haven’t been adequately covered in the news. One act of violating the public trust is one too many. But, it’s a shame that 100 percent of the school district stands accused although the report identified roughly 5 percent of teachers and principals as allegedly being involved in cheating.
When I joined Atlanta in 1999, in every single grade and subject, roughly one out of every two students failed to meet state standards. One out of every two—that means fully half of our children were not learning.
I’m a lifelong educator second, a mother first—and that’s a statistic I would never accept.
So countless professionals and I went to work—crisscrossing the country to study proven education reform strategies, setting high standards, employing research-based teaching practices, and providing intensive professional development for teachers and principals. As a result, student achievement began to rise. In 2010 and 2011, when state monitors and tighter testing protocols were implemented, still, the significant gains in student achievement over 1999 were apparent.
And when allegations of cheating first surfaced, there were several external investigations conducted, including that of the top testing security firm in the nation (Caveon) and the nationally known consulting firm of KPMG. We also started a confidential hotline for employees to report suspicious behavior.
The reality is . . . that after all that we did . . . it was still not enough. For that, I will be forever regretful. Nothing in my experience prepared me for the possibility that professional educators would cheat students.
It is my sincere hope that the difficult lessons learned in Atlanta will be applied to school systems that have and are grappling with cheating scandals all over this country, including Texas.
Here in DeSoto ISD, that means testing protocols must reflect air-tight, best-in-class security measures that include ethics training across our schools. The superintendent’s responsibility is not only to set high standards for all, but also to be vigilant in monitoring the adherence to processes and procedures.
Testing and assessment are among the most important things we do in public education. Through assessments, we are able to show our students and the world that they can compete and be successful in any environment. I know what our children can do. No one has to cheat for them.
To the board of trustees, I thank you for this opportunity to publicly address the allegations and report findings. From the very first time we met, I have endeavored to be honest, open, and forthcoming about the ongoing investigation, as well as Atlanta’s 12 years of academic accomplishments according to national and state measures.
Please know that I understand your need for thoughtful deliberations about my appointment. Accordingly, after mutual consideration in light of the recent release of the CRCT investigative report in Georgia, and more importantly, in consideration of the interests of the DeSoto ISD students and community, I will be taking paid leave effective July 12, 2011.
Again, thank you to everyone for your time today. "
New Cobb County Superintendent Michael Hinojosa
Cobb County's new superintendent discussed his views on the cheating scandal that's enveloped Atlanta Public Schools in recent days.
Michael Hinojosa was sworn in Monday as the Cobb County system's new leader, and said that other school systems can learn from the scandal.
He told WXIA-TV in an interview after the ceremony that testing is sometimes overblown. He said it's important to make sure people are focused on student learning, "not some number."
Nearly 180 educators in the Atlanta district were accused of cheating after an investigation. School officials and others are now trying to determine what should happen to them.
Hinojosa took the job in Cobb -- one of Georgia's largest school districts -- after serving as head of the Dallas Independent School District in Texas for six years.