Atlanta Schools Replace 4 Superintendents Amid Scandal

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School board member Khaatim El fights back tears as he unexpectedly resigns from the Atlanta School Board, July 11, 2011

ATLANTA — The fallout from the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal continued to spread as four area superintendents were replaced and a school district in Texas put the superintendent it recently hired from Georgia on paid leave.

Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis replaced the four superintendents late Monday, hours before trustees of the DeSoto Independent School District near Dallas placed Superintendent Kathy Augustine on leave as they re-examine her previous post. Augustine has denied having any knowledge of test cheating as Atlanta’s deputy superintendent.

The four removed from their area superintendent jobs – Sharon Davis-Williams, Michael Pitts, Robin Hall and Tamara Cotman – were implicated in the scandal. Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis did not say whether they will stay with the school district.

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Georgia investigators say 178 educators in 44 schools cheated on standardized tests used to meet federal benchmarks. Educators told state investigators they were pressured by administrators to improve test scores. The testing problems first came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.

Davis also said two year-round elementary schools named in the state investigative report made public last week will get new principals before classes start Wednesday.

In Texas, trustees of the DeSoto Independent School District held a lengthy closed-door meeting that lasted late into the night before Augustine read a statement announcing she was taking the leave of absence effective Tuesday.

“Please know that I understand your need for thoughtful deliberations about my appointment,” Augustine told the trustees after announcing the decision, which she said was reached after “mutual consideration.”

After Augustine announced she was taking leave, the trustees took no immediate action on a proposal to terminate her employment. DeSoto schools hired Augustine in April to the $188,000-a-year job in the district, which has some 9,000 students in the Dallas area.

Also Monday, Atlanta Public Schools board member Khaatim El announced he was resigning from the board.

“I just concluded in the end it just shouldn’t be this hard to do the right things for kids,” El said as he fought back tears. “I failed to protect thousands of children who come from homes like mine. It remains to be seen, no matter how deep this thing goes, whether the soul of Atlanta has been stirred.”

The state investigation revealed the nation’s largest cheating scandal yet on standardized tests, with nearly half of Atlanta’s 100 schools involved, and highlighted the immense pressure put on educators to produce better scores. Criminal charges are likely for some of the educators who confessed and the rest who were implicated by colleagues.

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