Thursday, June 4, 2015

Carstarphen: APS is not axing all music programs

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 2:34 PM

APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen
Atlanta Public Schools’ students and parents are up in arms about the school system's recent decision to cut some music and arts programs. But APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says there has been a misunderstanding of the actual developments.

Although local media reported that APS was dropping elementary school music programs — 11 Alive included a heartfelt interview with a distraught former music teacher — Carstarphen says most kids will be able to keep on strummin’.

“Due to incorrect information circulating, there is a lot of confusion about the status of music and the arts in our schools,” she says. “In fact, some are suggesting that Atlanta Public Schools simply eliminated all music and arts in one fell swoop. We have not.”

Cuts are being made. Next school year, APS will be down about 18 band and orchestra teachers, which will leave some 40 band and orchestra teachers remaining.

"Those schools are instead using their staffing allocations for positions elsewhere in their school based on the needs of the students," says Carstarphen.

Some schools have elected to “share teachers” with other schools while others dropped band and orchestra due to lack of student interest. Carstarphen added that every APS elementary school will continue to offer general musical instruction and can continue to pursue musical instrument studies in middle school and high school.

"In regards to other fine arts, we will provide, at the minimum, visual arts at all school levels — adding performing arts in high school," she writes.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Report: APS cheating scandal had 'moderate' impact on children, disproportionately hurt black students

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2015 at 9:42 AM

APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen
It's widely believed that Atlanta Public Schools' historic cheating scandal hurt thousands of students whose test scores were inflated. It forced one of the nation's most revered superintendents to resign, led to convictions of educators found guilty of racketeering, and turned the school system into a textbook case on the perils of high-stakes testing. A new academic report offers greater insight into how much inflated test scores hurt APS students.

APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who commissioned a study from Georgia State University Professor Timothy Sass, last night released a report titled "The Long-Run Effects of Teacher Cheating on Student Outcomes.” Carstarphen briefly discussed the report at this week's Atlanta Board of Education meeting. She said the study, which tracked a total of approximately 3,800 students who had five or more answers changed from wrong to right on tests, was designed to gather data on students to help the district "restore credibility" following the cheating scandal.

“We continue to address the impacted students’ needs and ensure they are supported through graduation,” Carstarphen said in a statement. “This administration, from day one, has supported a student-centered agenda and is focused on our mission to create a caring culture of trust and collaboration, where every student will graduate ready for college and career.”

According to the study, students affected by cheating experienced "negative consequences" for their subsequent reading and english/language arts CRCT scores. How much? A "moderate" amount, the report says. Sass says children on average were set back between "one‐fourth to one‐half of the average annual achievement gain" of a middle school student. In other words, the cheating had the same negative impact as a student being taught by a first-year teacher compared to a teacher with five or more years of experience. The findings were mixed for math scores, the study says.

"There is little evidence that teacher cheating had any deleterious effects on subsequent student attendance or student behavior," Sass writes. "Any impacts that may have occurred were very small."

The study also found that cheating "disproportionately impacted black students" in the classroom. More than 97 percent of the APS students affected by cheating were black — 21 percentage points higher than the overall percentage of black students in the school district. Most of those students are now attending high school, with some falling behind in school.

In a statement, Carstarphen notes APS has already offered students affected by cheating an accelerated academic recovery program, after-school tutoring, weekend academies, parent workshops, and other opportunities. Some of those programs are still in effect today.

"We need time to get this right," Carstarphen told the Atlanta Board of Education at its meeting on May 4. "We are indeed looking at every child."

We've included a copy of the GSU report after the jump:

Continue reading »

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Friday, May 1, 2015

APS files lawsuit to gain full control of four vacant school deeds

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 11:06 AM

Milton Elementary School sits vacant in Chosewood Park. The two-story building was one of several APS schools built in the 1910s, such as the George W. Adair Elementary school in Adair Park. It was most recently occupied, according to a certificate in the boiler room, in 2008. On March 2, APS inked a deal with a production company to take over the 21,357 square-foot building. A dispute between APS and the city over the deed to the building, along with other vacant APS schools, could potentially hold up the sale.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Milton Elementary School sits vacant in Chosewood Park. The two-story building was one of several APS schools built in the 1910s, such as the George W. Adair Elementary school in Adair Park. It was most recently occupied, according to a certificate in the boiler room, in 2008. On March 2, APS inked a deal with a production company to take over the 21,357 square-foot building. A dispute between APS and the city over the deed to the building, along with other vacant APS schools, could potentially hold up the sale.
The dispute over who owns vacant Atlanta Public Schools properties, which has become ensnared in a financial and political battle between the city and school system, is now headed to court.

The Atlanta Board of Education has filed a lawsuit to claim the deeds for four former APS schools that have remained vacant for years. According to the legal filing, the city's education board wants a judge to help APS obtain the titles for George Adair School in Adair Park, Arkwright Elementary School in Venetian Hills, Milton Avenue Elementary in Chosewood Park, and Rosalie Wright Elementary School in Florida Heights. With no resolution in sight following an ongoing disagreement with the city, APS wants a judge to "clear the cloud" from the titles, giving system officials full control of the future of those properties.

Mayor Kasim Reed earlier this year said several vacant schools remain part of the ongoing negotiations in the APS-Atlanta Beltline funding dispute. But APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen disagreed, saying the deeds weren't part of those discussions. Reed responded to her remarks saying that the superintendent "doesn't know what she's talking about" regarding the dispute, which still remains unresolved.

According to the March 26 filing, which seeks to "establish title against all the world," the city should have transferred over all contracts, orders, leases, and bonds to the Atlanta Board of Education as part of the city's charter adopted in 1973. That shift in responsibility also should have included the ownership of all properties the city had acquired to provide a public education to Atlanta children when it oversaw the school system. Since that time, the lawsuit says, the city's education board has paid millions in costs associated with the upkeep of those four vacant schools.

The lawsuit says city officials have "routinely granted quitclaim deeds" to allow APS to sell surplus properties to potential buyers despite the actual deeds remaining in the city's possession. How routine? Citing Fulton and DeKalb counties' property records, the city has granted at least 50 quitclaim deeds for more than 150 properties over the course of the past 40 years, according to the lawsuit.

APS says those past decisions are acknowledgment that the city "no longer had, nor did it claim to have, any ownership interest in these education-related properties that had been owned, operated, and maintained" by the school system since 1974. The filing also cites several other efforts in the past — including a 1985 Atlanta City Council ordinance regarding the sale of APS surplus properties and a 1999 surplus property exchange — that supports APS' lawsuit for the four school deeds.

With the lawsuit filed, APS spokeswoman Jill Strickland tells CL the court is expected to appoint a "special master" to give notice to anyone who may claim an interest in the vacant school properties including title holders, lien holders, and nearby property owners. Any party claiming interest in the properties would then need to prove their ownership interest in front of the special master, who would then declare which party legally owns the property.

"The Special Master’s Report then goes to the Superior Court Judge for approval, and if it is approved and not appealed, that ruling gets recorded just like a Deed, putting the world on notice that a court has determined who is the legal owner of the property," Strickland says.

Mayor Kasim Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres, noting the city is not a party in this filing, tells CL the mayor continues to support two current Atlanta City Council proposals to complete ongoing talks for George Adair School and assess all APS properties not being used for school purposes at the moment.

We've also included a copy of the lawsuit after the jump.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Judge slashes sentences for three convicted APS administrators

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 3:47 PM

Convicted Sharon Davis-William, who recently spoke to reporters about the trial at a joint press conference, called Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxters decision a refreshing action.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Convicted Sharon Davis-William, who recently spoke to reporters about the trial at a joint press conference, called Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter's decision a "refreshing" action.
Three former top Atlanta Public Schools educators who received harsh sentences for their roles in the school system's historic cheating scandal have had their penalties reduced following a judge's change of heart.

After weeks of public outcry over stiff sentences, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter re-sentenced former APS administrators Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis Williams, and Michael Pitts who were found guilty of racketeering and other lesser charges. Baxter this afternoon told the courtroom that he was "not comfortable" with his original 20-year sentences, which included seven years behind bars and another 13 years on probation, and wanted to give out a fairer punishments.

Baxter re-sentenced the three convicted former educators to three years in prison, seven years on probation, a $10,000 fine, and 2,000 community service hours. All three former educators retained first offender status. Their appeal bonds remain the same amount. According to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, Baxter's new sentences are now in line with his office's most recent recommendations.

Before walking out of court, Baxter encouraged the educators to perform community service at the Atlanta Redemption Academy, Howard's new nonprofit tasked with helping children harmed by the cheating scandal, just in case they lost their appeal. Both Cotman and Davis-Williams told reporters they wanted to give some more thought to participating in community service at the Atlanta Redemption Academy before making a formal commitment.

"You would be well served to do it," said Baxter, who noted that an appellate judge might be willing to suspend their sentence if they do the community service ahead of time. "If you are correct, you will have still served the community."

Cotman and Davis-Williams, who each expressed relief over Baxter's decision to cut their sentences, said they still planned to appeal the decision. A lawyer for Pitts, who did not speak with reporters after the hearing, has previously said his client plans to appeal the verdict.

"I have to appeal," Cotman told reporters. "It's not my choice. I'm in a position where I'm fighting for a wrong to be corrected. We are not the first people to be wrongfully convicted. But there is a process to make that right."

Five other convicted APS educators who received lighter sentences also plan to appeal the verdict. Former Dunbar Elementary teacher Shani Robinson had her sentencing postponed after recently giving birth to a child. Two other former educators, Donald Bullock and Pamela Cleveland, agreed to take plea deals that carried lesser sentences in exchange for accepting responsibility for their roles in the cheating scandal. Former special education teacher Dessa Curb was the only educator cleared of all charges.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Emory lands $1.5 million gift for new John Lewis Chair in Civil Rights and Social Justice

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 1:17 PM

John Lewis shakes hands with fast-food workers at a 2013 downtown protest.
A major philanthropic donation to Emory University's School of Law will create a position in honor of Congressman John Lewis to study contemporary civil rights and social justice issues.

The law school last night announced that an anonymous donor has given $1.5 million to create the John Lewis Chair in Civil Rights and Social Justice. According to Emory Law Dean Robert Schapiro, the gift would allow the department to hire a scholar with an "established academic profile of distinction and a demonstrated desire to promote the rule of law through the study of civil rights." The law school plans to raise another $500,000 to fully fund the position.

Lewis, who last year gave a keynote speech at the law school's graduation and received an honorary degree, has served in Congress for nearly three decades. The civil rights leader, who's now writing a trilogy of graphic novels on his life and experiences, co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and is the only surviving March on Washington speaker.

"John Lewis exemplifies the values of courage, commitment, dignity, humanity, fairness and equal opportunity that were and are the hallmarks of the movement," the donor said in a statement, noting that the recent 50th anniversaries of important Civil Rights Movement events made this a worthwhile time to honor the congressmen. "...[W]e hope that a professorship at Emory Law School in his name will in some small way help to continue the good and great work that he has done these last 50 years."

In a brief interview this morning, Lewis says that he's "pleased and gratified" that the law school named a chair in his honor that will study civil rights and social justice issues. He would like to see the scholar selected for the position study issues such as the excessive use of lethal police force against unarmed African-American people.

"Maybe someone can conduct a study on the violence," Lewis tells CL. "We’re losing too many people to gun violence in communities on the part of law enforcement. It’s frightening to contemplate about what’s happening in so many urban centers all around America. Maybe Emory and other institutions, lawyers and scholars, can find out why so many men of color are becoming to victims to law enforcement."

Lewis said that he's had limited discussions about how to address police violence at the congressional level. He also called for individual police departments to have increased nonviolence training to better serve their communities.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Convicted APS educators begin lengthy process to appeal cheating verdict

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2015 at 11:30 AM

Former Dobbs Elementary School Principal Dana Evans discusses why shes chosen to appeal the APS cheating trial verdict.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Former Dobbs Elementary School Principal Dana Evans discusses why she's chosen to appeal the APS cheating trial verdict.
Dana Evans looks tired. On a rainy Friday afternoon in April, the former Dobbs Elementary School principal is dressed in all-black business attire and standing in front of TV cameras inside an East Point law office. She’s attempting to explain her side of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal. Now facing one year in prison, she’s intent on clearing her name and reputation.

“This is war,” Evans says as she describes the physical, emotional, and intellectual burden of her fight to prove her innocence. “It’s a matter of what’s right.”

Evans denies knowing about three fourth-grade teachers at Dobbs who cheated under her supervision until they later confessed. Those teachers have since had their records expunged, regained their professional licenses, and are back in the classroom, she says. Meanwhile, Evans has gone from losing her job overseeing 100 school employees to unsuccessfully applying for about 100 different jobs. The Internet makes her feels like she’s someone whose face appeared on America’s Most Wanted.

Last year, Evans decided to join 11 other former APS educators and reject plea deals to fight charges in front of jurors. By doing so, they effectively became the face of what’s wrong with American public education. That strategy backfired for most of the educators — just one was cleared of charges.

One day before sentencing began last week, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard offered the convicted educators a deal: admit guilt and waive the right to appeal and receive lenient sentences. Two accepted. The eight educators who declined received stiff sentences including prison time, probation, and community service, along with hefty fines.

Four years after state investigators revealed long-suspected cheating inside dozens of APS schools, those eight former educators’ attorneys have now bonded their clients out of jail and begun the arduous process of appealing guilty verdicts. Inside attorney George Lawson’s office, the educators spoke together for the first time since their 2013 indictment to “set the record straight” and reframe the narrative of the APS cheating scandal. In front of about a dozen reporters, the educators shared stories of their work in schools filled with underprivileged children and their selfless sacrifices for those communities — none of which directly involved cheating or helping others cheat.

“It seems to be easier for the guilty than it is for the innocent,” Evans says. “…I don’t wish I were guilty. But it would be easier.”

For two weeks after the verdict, community activists had fervently called for lenient sentences. They were up in arms after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter threw the book at the educators, handing out 20-year sentences to three administrators and shorter sentences to the lower-ranking educators — punishments that critics noted was harsher than many violent offenders.

“No one condones cheating children out of an education,” said Rev. Markel Hutchins at a prayer vigil on April 14. “But to charge these teachers, and to seek a sentence for them that is consistent with racketeering that was intended for murderers and gangsters and robbers and others, is well outside of the spirit of what’s intended for the racketeering act.”

Howard lamented that the eight convicted educators’ didn’t accept responsibility and provide "some measure of relief for what had happened." State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who last week told APS officials that students still suffering from the cheating scandal need further remediation, says the educators shouldn’t get off scot-free just because they’re teachers.

Educators will now try to find enough cash to pay lawyers for an appeal — Evans’ sister has already started a $150,000 GoFundMe campaign. The attorneys will review thousands of court transcript pages — most of which will be paid for by taxpayers because their clients are broke — from the seven-month trial. Then they will craft a legal strategy. Atlanta attorney Gerald Griggs, who represents former Dobbs teacher Angela Williamson, says it could be years until a judge hears the educators’ appeals.

Bob Rubin, Evans’ attorney, said each convicted educator has retained his or her own lawyer for the process, an unconventional decision, but necessary given the case’s complexity. “We’re probably not going to see any more money from our clients who are educators that have gone through the ringer and been unemployed for years,” he admits. “The legal expenses keep piling up, but we believe in them.”

Evans, who’s found strength in the teachings of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, says there’s no choice but to appeal. She says she had to do it for her kids, her family, and herself, even if it costs her everything in the process.

“There’s no other way,” she says.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eight convicted educators sentenced to prison time in APS cheating trial

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 1:20 PM

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter describes how the three former SRT directors were at the top of the chain when sentencing them this morning in  in Fulton County Superior Court.
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool
  • Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter describes how the three former SRT directors were at the top of the chain when sentencing them this morning in in Fulton County Superior Court.

Eight former educators convicted for their roles in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal today received stiff sentences after rejecting offers requiring them to accept responsibility and waive their right to appeal. Only two educators accepted plea deals in exchange for lenient sentences.

In a heated hearing that effectively concludes one of the nation's largest school cheating scandals, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter sentenced eight of the 11 APS educators convicted of racketeering and a host of other charges to sentences that were more punitive than District Attorney Paul Howard’s recommendations.

Despite calls for leniency over the past two weeks, Baxter sentenced former high-ranking APS administrators Sharon Davis-Williams, Tamara Cotman, and Michael Pitts to 20 years in prison with seven years to be served in prison and the remainder on probation. Baxter, who declined to give the three defendants first-time offender status, also sentenced them to pay a $25,000 fine and serve 2,000 hours.

"Everybody in the APS education system knew that cheating was going on and your client promoted it," Baxter said of Davis-Williams. "She was at the top of the food chain."

Five teachers and principals received lesser sentences for their parts in the cheating scandal. Educators Angela Williamson, Dana Evans, Diane Buckner-Webb, Theresia Copeland were sentenced to five-year sentences consisting of one year behind bars and the remainder on probation. Tabeeka Jordan, former assistant principal of Deerwood Academy, received a five-year sentence including two years in jail. They each received fines between $1,000 and $5,000 and were granted first-time offender status.

Former APS testing coordinator Donald Bullock and teacher Pamela Cleveland agreed to plea deals. They apologized for how their conduct affected students and accepted responsibility for their actions. Bullock’s deal included a five-year probation sentence and six-month jail sentence to be served on the weekends. Cleveland received five years of probation and one year of home confinement. Both will be considered first-time offenders, pay fines, and perform community service.

Shani Robinson, a former Dunbar Elementary School teacher, had her sentencing postponed after giving birth to a son last weekend. Her sentencing is expected to be delayed until August.

The sentencing followed an emotional day inside Baxter's courtroom where family members, friends, and former elected officials pleaded with Baxter for leniency and sentences that included no jail time. Baxter, who seemed sympathetic at times but also insistent on educators taking responsibility for their actions, said that they could accept a last-minute plea deal from the Fulton County district attorney that included serving jail time on the weekends, admitting guilt, and waiving the right to appeal.

After today's sentencing, Howard told reporters that prosecutors gave the convicted educators multiple opportunities to accept plea deals that would hold them responsible and provide "some measure of relief for what had happened" to the children impacted by the cheating scandal. Noting that his office didn't have a goal of sending educators to prison, he expressed his frustrations that only two educators agreed to the deal.

"I wish it would've been different," Howard says.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, senior pastor at First Iconium Baptist Church, who this morning was helping organizing a prayer vigil outside the Fulton County Court, said the educators should have received no jail time, first-time offender privileges, and maintained their right to appeal.

"Nobody really wants to go to jail," said McDonald. "It wasn't really that much of an option for the defendants. At this point their convictions and their personal beliefs about their guilt or innocence doesn't even matter and that's unfortunate in this legal system. They only have the option of accepting the deal or going to jail and that's not much of a choice."

Multiple defendants’ attorneys have stated they planned to appeal the decision. Baxter said they have 30 days to appeal the verdict. Check back soon for more updates.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Convicted APS educators, supporters ask judge for leniency before sentencing

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 4:41 PM

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter talks to the jury on April 1 as he releases them from service.
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool
  • Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter talks to the jury on April 1 as he releases them from service.
Former Atlanta Public Schools educators convicted for their roles in the historic cheating scandal will have to wait another day before finding out the final terms of their sentencing.

Two weeks ago, 11 of the 12 former APS educators who refused to take plea deals and decided to stand trial were found guilty of racketeering and other lesser charges. Ten of those convicted educators today were expected to receive their sentences, which for some included decades in prison, for their part in what's been described as the nation's largest test cheating scandal. Former Dunbar Elementary School Teacher Shani Robinson, who gave birth to a son over the weekend, had her sentencing postponed until August.

After seven months of hearing arguments and waiting through jury deliberations, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter gave the defendants' attorneys one more day to discuss the terms of a potential last-minute deal with Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. But Baxter, preferring to avoid a lengthy appeals process, sent a clear message before adjourning for the afternoon that convicted educators would be wise to reach a plea deal rather than rely on his sentencing.

In a decision that followed calls for leniency, Howard this morning offered the educators deals that included varying lengths of jail time in exchange for shorter sentences, admissions of guilt, and waiving their rights to appeal. According to the AJC, former APS administrators Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams, and Michael Pitts had the option of a one-year prison sentences, $10,000 fine, and five-year probation term. He gave former educators Dana Evans, Angela Williamson, Donald Bullock, and Tabeeka Jordan a deal with six months of jail time served on the weekends, $5,000 fine, and five years of probation. Ex-APS educators Pam Cleveland, Diane Buckner-Webb and Theresa Copeland were given the option of one year of home confinement, a $1,000 fine, five years of probation. APS educator attorneys this afternoon delved into talks to see if the deals could be finalized.

Baxter, who today called the APS cheating scandal the "saddest thing" he's ever seen, struck both a sympathetic and stern tone inside the courtroom as dozens of family members, attorneys, former colleagues, and community members spoke on behalf of the convicted educators and called for lenient sentences. Even more supporters sent letters and watched inside the court and other rooms on a remote feed.

Former U.N. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who spoke on behalf of Williamson, called upon Baxter to not punish the educators. Though Young stopped short of telling the judge how to act, the civil rights leader said that he would "throw the whole thing out" given the larger problems with the nation's public schools and prisons for black children. In response, Baxter questioned whether ignoring the problem would do right by the children hurt by the cheating, some of which he said would eventually end up in his courtroom and face prison sentences.

Two of the convicted educators also addressed Baxter about their roles in the cheating scandal. Bullock asked the judge to be lenient because he felt he did what was right. Now that jurors have convicted Bullock, he asked for leniency given that he had already lost his teaching license. Instead of serving time in prison, he said could "continue to help and not harm" children in the city.

Evans also spoke to Baxter, who called her a "wonderful" educator, acknowledging that he later learned that she worked with his son as a guidance counselor. Noting her respect for the jury's decision, she declined to admit guilt, but apologized for "shaking the fiber and fabric" of Atlanta communities hurt by the APS cheating case.

A support of the convicted APS educators drops to her knees in prayer on the steps of the Fulton County Court before todays sentencing hearing.
  • Joeff Davis
  • A support of the convicted APS educators drops to her knees in prayer on the steps of the Fulton County Court before today's sentencing hearing.
Before the sentencing hearing, community activists this morning held signs, sang gospel hymns, and called for alternative sentencing on the front steps of the Fulton County courthouse. Since the APS cheating verdict, a petition had gained more than 35,000 signatures calling for the convicted educators to receive no time behind bars. Dessa Curb, the lone APS educator cleared of all charges during the cheating trial, stood nearby in support of the teachers.

Former APS superintendent J. Jerome Harris, Rev. Tim McDonald of First Iconium Baptist Church, and other activists called for the educators who had already lost their teaching certifications to be able to serve probation and perform community service by teaching illiterate people in jails and elsewhere in the city how to read. McDonald, calling for an appropriate balance of justice and mercy, said the educators deserved a second chance without spending additional time behind bars.

"It does not serve our community at all," said Concerned Black Clergy President Rev. Frank Brown. "It does not serve our community well to incarcerate our teachers. Think about the impact that placing handcuffs on our teachers have in the minds of young people who are watching. On the one hand, we we're calling our students failing and now on the other hand we're calling our administrators and teachers cheaters. That is something that significantly impacts the psyche of our entire community."

After court adjourned this afternoon, dozens of APS educator supporters held a large prayer circle outside the courtroom doors calling for leniency. The APS trial will reconvene for one final day at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall dies

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 2:20 PM

Beverly Hall, the former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent who oversaw the school system during a test cheating scandal that attracted national headlines, has died following a lengthy battle with cancer. A member of her legal team confirmed her death to CL.

Hall, who resigned from office in late 2010 amid scrutiny about suspicious test scores, faced charges that included a violation of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, false statements and writings, false swearing, and theft by taking. Hall denied any wrongdoing.

The 68-year-old school system administrator's attorney said she had been unable to stand trial due to her fight against terminal breast cancer. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter had agreed multiple times to delay her trial. A number of other APS staffers, who did not agree to a plea deal, rested their defense last week in the massive trial that started last September.

Hall, who first came aboard with APS in 1999, played a crucial role in turning around test scores in a struggling public school system. In the process, she earned national acclaim and praise from local business and civic leaders. But those gains were found to be the result of edited test scores, pressure to improve school performance through cheating, and what state investigators called a "culture of fear" that discouraged school system employees from speaking out against the wrongdoing. Following an AJC investigation into the falsified test scores, state officials launched an investigation in early 2010 that eventually led to formal charges against her and 34 other APS employees in 2013.

UPDATE, 3:41 p.m. Hall's 8-member legal team released the following statement:

It is our sad duty to acknowledge that Dr. Beverly Hall has lost her long, difficult battle against breast cancer. Dr. Hall fought this disease with great courage and dignity. For the last year and a half, Dr. Hall's directions to her doctor have been simple: get me well enough to stand trial; and to her lawyers: see to it that I get a fair trial. She was never concerned about the outcome of such a trial, only that the process be fair. She never doubted that in a fair trial, with the jury hearing the state's contentions and her rebuttal, to include her own testimony, she would be acquitted. In the end, she was not strong enough to go to trial although that had been her earnest hope.

As the Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, Dr. Hall fought, as she had throughout her career, for urban school children and their ability to learn. She believed to her death that all children, regardless of circumstance, could learn if provided with proper teachers, curricula and facilities. But we now know that there were some educators at APS who cheated in an effort to show improved learning. Dr. Hall long ago accepted responsibility, as the head of APS, for the unfortunate truth that some educators cheated on standardized tests. She was deeply sorry to learn that this cheating had occurred. At the same time, Dr. Hall continued to have deep faith in the thousands of dedicated APS educators and students who worked hard to achieve real learning and success. But one fact never wavered— to her dying breath she denied any role in directing, ordering, or participating in any cheating at APS. Even after millions of dollars, hundreds of witnesses and interviews, and a review of thousands upon thousands of emails, not a single witness has said, nor a single email demonstrated, that Dr. Hall ordered, directed, or participated in cheating. On the contrary, Dr. Hall's tireless efforts to raise standards of education at APS for every child under her care starkly contradict the notion that she somehow conspired to orchestrate widespread cheating. She rebuilt schools, prioritized literacy, improved teaching, developed leaders, and modernized support systems.

As we have in the past, we continue to maintain Dr. Hall's innocence of all charges brought against her. The lawyers of our firm and the other lawyers who worked to defend Dr. Hall donated thousands of hours of their time at no charge to Dr. Hall and her family because we believed in her. Our pro bono defense was intended to spare her and her family the crushing expense of her defense at a time when she was least able to afford it. We have been proud to serve as her counsel.

We express our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Hall's family and to her many friends and supporters.

UPDATE, 4:42 p.m. APS, in a statement pointing to Hall's achievements during her tenure as superintendent, sends along two statements. Says APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen:

“We offer our condolences to the family of Dr. Hall. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time."

Adds Atlanta Board of Education Chair Courtney D. English:

“On behalf of the Atlanta Board of Education, we offer our deepest sympathy to the family of Dr. Beverly Hall and encourage all to respect her family’s privacy in their moment of grief.”

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Friday, February 20, 2015

'Kanye vs. Everybody': GSU prof. gets academic with Yeezy

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 2:40 PM

Kanye West returns to the Breakfast Club - POWER 105 SCREENSHOT
  • Power 105 screenshot
  • Kanye West returns to the Breakfast Club
A kinder, gentler Kanye appeared on the Breakfast Club this morning. Even Charlemagne the God — who got 'Ye so riled up the last time he visited New York's Power 105 morning show that his following interview with Sway in the Morning yielded the infamous "You ain't got the answers, Sway!" outburst — complimented him on his calm, seemingly media-trained demeanor. (For the record, Kanye's publicist and newly promoted Def Jam Executive Vice President Gabe Tesoriero, was in the building. Though off-camera, Kanye can be seen addressing him once during the interview.) 

But that's beside the point of this post. Then again, maybe not. 

Lest we forget, West had a helluva last week. He refrained from blowing up Beck on the Grammy mainstage during his Album of the Year acceptance, only to blow him up in interviews immediately following the show. Beyonce shoulda won, he said. And apparently the Beygency agreed. But Beck's fans have agency, too, as they proved with a week's worth of social media threads and think pieces that debated the cultural significance of either/or. Funny thing is West admits with a laugh in the Breakfast Club interview that he hadn't even heard Beck's album until he was out to dinner since the show with Taylor Swift and it was playing in the restaurant. That definitely was not a coincidence.

But that's not the point of this post. Then again, maybe it is. 

Turns out, there's a professor at Georgia State University who deems Kanye such a pivotal cultural figure that he's teaching a class in his honor. In "Kanye Versus Everybody: Black Poetry and Poetics from Hughes to Hip-Hop," GSU's Scott Heath "examines 'Ye as an artist and public figure, from his beginnings as an outsider desperate to muscle his way in to his current place as the ultimate culture-controller," according to the Fader

In particular, the good doctor pays critical attention to dissecting Kanye as a media figure, per Fader's Rawiya Kameir:

"[He] is among our most prominent and dynamic public thinkers working today," says Heath. "You can detect his real awareness of himself as a represented, even mediated body.

His relationship with the press is, to the say the least, fraught. But as a "metacritical thinker," that dynamic is complex and layered. "He's aware of the criticism and the critiques that come his way, and he then critiques those critiques. This is a guy who gives interviews where the entire interview is about another interview that he gave earlier," says Heath, pointing to conversations with Jimmy Kimmel and Ricky Smiley as examples. "That, to me, is very keenly discursive."
It is interesting to watch this latest interview in light of all that. Take particular note of how much more measured he is in attempting to articulate his message. Even his return to this show speaks volumes about mastery at managing his image, especially the week following the long-awaited, polarizing release of his Yeezy collaboration with Adidas and those Ugg-looking boots. 

While Heath's course is rooted in American poetry, it's obviously more than that: 
"It's not just poetry, but [also] the ways that we use language, discuss language, think through language," he explains. Other black public figures who have used language to similar effect as Kanye are touchpoints in the class, too: Muhammad Ali, Richard Pryor, Richard Sherman, and, more recently, Marshawn Lynch. "Kanye really wants to control his image. He wants to control his reputation. And, you know, it's off-putting for some, just like how Marshawn Lynch is off-putting for some," he says.
He joins a growing number of professors currently teaching hip-hop-based classes in Atlanta colleges and universities, such as Regina Bradley, who hosted her public discourse series "OutKasted Conversations" via Google Hangout last year, and Marc Lamont Hill, who recently joined the faculty of Morehouse College's African American Studies Department from Columbia Univer—

We gon' let them finish, but this Kanye West class might be one of the best college courses of ALLLLLL TIIIIIIIME!!!! Better yet, imagine sitting in the back of the professor's class every other day yelling, "You ain't got the answers, Scott!!!!" Yeah, sign me up.

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