Green nominated as SRC chair; 3 fired in cheating probe
Update: Gov. Corbett has nominated Councilman Bill Green and People's Emergency Center chief Farah Jimenez to the SRC. Green, who must resign from City Council, will be chairman.
As it heard news Thursday night that a stunning 138 educators had been implicated in a widespread cheating scandal, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission prepared for two new members.
On Friday, Gov. Corbett will nominate City Councilman Bill Green and People's Emergency Center chief Farah Jimenez to the SRC, sources said. Green, who would have to resign from Council, is to be chairman. The governor is scheduled to visit Central High School on Friday morning.
The SRC has been without a chairman since Pedro Ramos, who had served in that post since late 2011, stepped down Oct. 23 to deal with family matters. Ramos, a former school board president, city solicitor, and managing director, served during a turbulent time in which the district closed dozens of schools and has endured one budget crisis after another.
If confirmed by the state Senate, Green and Jimenez will have to deal with the fallout of the cheating probe.
The SRC fired three principals Thursday night, but more investigations and discipline are to come.
The implicated educators' conduct "is believed to have violated basic testing integrity, ethical and moral standards," officials told the SRC.
Deidre Bennett, Michelle Burns, and Marla Travis-Curtis were all terminated with cause, effective Friday.
Bennett was principal of Cassidy Elementary, but had been a teacher leader at Huey Elementary; Burns, principal of Kensington Urban Education Academy, had been principal at Tilden Middle; and Travis-Curtis was principal of Lamberton Elementary.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. condemned those involved, saying they "acted neither in the best interests of our schools nor our students."
The actions were years in the making. An investigation of 53 district schools and three city charters began in 2011, after The Inquirer reported allegations that dramatic test-score gains beginning in 2009 were achieved in part through cheating at Roosevelt Middle School in East Germantown.
Also that year, a state-commissioned analysis of the 2009 exams identified suspicious patterns of erasures at schools across Pennsylvania. Later, staffers and parents at Cayuga Elementary told The Inquirer of cheating at their school.
The state Inspector General's Office conducted investigations at 11 district schools - the "Tier I" schools. The district investigated 19 Tier II schools and has yet to probe 22 Tier III schools.
A total of 69 current and former employees were implicated in the Tier I investigations, School District attorney Jessica Diaz said, but discipline against them cannot proceed until the state releases its investigations to the district.
Of the 19 Tier II schools probed, three were cleared, no conclusion could be drawn at three, and cheating was found at 13.
The Tier II investigations were exhaustive, district officials said. Investigators spent more than 5,000 hours on the work.
They interviewed 550 administrators, teachers, testing coordinators, and, in some cases, students. They assessed erasure data, reviewed student testing booklets in Harrisburg, and even traveled to Minnesota to visit the company that performed the initial state-exam analysis.
In all, 40 current district employees and 29 former employees were implicated. Twenty were administrators, 46 were teachers, and three worked in schools in other capacities, including as counselors and a police officer.
The district will pursue state disciplinary action against the 29 former employees; those still employed by the district must go through due process before the state can act.
Robert McGrogan, head of the union that represents principals, said: "In essence, children were hurt as a result of the activity of some adults. That has cast a cloud on our district, and on our profession on a lot of levels, and on members of my bargaining unit."
But in some cases, the investigations appear to be imperfect, he added.
When no evidence of cheating was found, he said, "the district was still willing in the absence of knowing what went on to point fingers and place blame. In those instances where I believe that to be the case, I will fight on behalf of my members to make sure they're protected."
The SRC also voted to renew three schools' charters. Two - Planet Abacus and Laboratory Charter - are strong academic performers whose renewals had been held up because their founder, Dorothy June Brown, was on trial on federal fraud charges.
Brown was acquitted on six counts and will be retried on 54, but officials were satisfied that both schools had met several conditions, including severing ties to Brown.
Another charter, Philadelphia Electrical and Technical, had been investigated by the state for cheating. It has made changes to its testing protocol. Outgoing SRC member Joseph Dworetzky voted against renewing the school's charter, saying he was not satisfied with its academics.
Feather O. Houstoun, another member, said she was skeptical of the school, but voted to renew. She and others said they would monitor the school's progress carefully.
The commission said it would not renew the charter of Arise Academy, which serves foster children. The school, officials said, has academic, financial, and management problems.
Supporters of Arise asked the SRC to reconsider, to no avail.
"By closing our school," said a tearful Paula Barnes, the school disciplinarian, "you are breaking up the only family some of our children have ever had."