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Faced with no recorded grades for students, what should Atlanta Public Schools have done?

Many people are debating this week's decision by Atlanta Public Schools to give a new job to Josie Love, the former principal of Carver Technology High School who awarded grades of 85 to about 65 students in classes where long-term substitute teachers never filed any grades for the 2014 fall semester.

And there is the ongoing secondary drama about the eventual termination of a Carver Technology High secretary who balked at entering the faked grades; she said her job loss was retaliation while APS said her position was eliminated in a consolidation.

As the AJC reported this week:

An Atlanta high school principal involved in a grade-changing scandal will become a director in Atlanta Public Schools’ human resources office. As principal of Carver School of Technology, Josie Love in 2015 ordered a secretary to award dozens of students grades they had not earned.

The students had been taught by substitutes and had not received grades. Love told the secretary to give them all Bs for the semester. The secretary refused, saying it would be unethical. Other staff entered the grades and Love eliminated the secretary’s position at the end of the year, when Carver School of Technology merged with another school.

The Atlanta school board voted Monday night unanimously to make Love the new strategic director for human resources for high schools. In her new position, Love will take the lead on actions affecting high school employees, according to a district job description. Her new job duties include helping with terminating and hiring staff and assisting with hiring new principals, according to the description.

Love will make about $5,000 less in her new job than she did this year as a high school assistant principal, district spokeswoman Jill Strickland said. Love was in her first year as principal during the grading incident last year, district spokeswoman Jill Strickland said.

Here are some critical questions:

What should have been the school's response to students who attended class but had no grades to show for it because of adult failures?

And what should have been Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's response to a school administration that provided woefully inadequate supervision to the substitutes hired to take over for a teacher whose family medical leave went longer than the expected two weeks?

APS allowed the students at Carver to keep their blanket Bs.  (It also maintained the grades awarded to students in other grade-changing incidents at South Atlanta and Washington high schools.)

In my view, APS had no choice. If students attend a class, districts cannot then order them to repeat it or go to summer school because no one bothered to record grades. In those circumstances, any parent would be furious if a child ended up with an  "incomplete" or a failing grade.

While I see no good solution in these situations, whatever is decided should always favor the students as they are blameless. It may well be that assigning an 85 to all the students was the fairest solution. (Carver allowed students who believed they merited an A to complete a project to bring up the grade.)

Carver Tech could have attempted to reconstruct class work and testing trails for each child, but that was discussed by school officials and ruled out as impossible, according to APS's internal review. Apparently, there was nothing to reconstruct.

The 12-page report -- I put it in a Google doc for you to read -- is depressing as no one seems to take any responsibility. For example, the report questions whether the five to seven substitute teachers were ever instructed to submit grades or give graded assignments. No one seems to know for sure, saying there were too many subs to establish what was happening in the classrooms.

In the report, principal Love says she was confident students "were receiving instruction and being assessed." Later, she admits she checked the classroom and found no work, graded or ungraded.

I agree the principal is ultimately responsible, but the report suggests several school administrators with longer tenures at Carver assumed all was well with the string of substitutes. The vice principal and instructional coach provided disappointing responses to why they weren't monitoring the subs and the classes more closely.

If you have time, read the report and let me know what you think. The report depicts a school culture that appears counter to everything Carstarphen says she wants to create in APS -- a student-focus, alert leaders who pay attention and accountability.  Based on the report, the grade fiasco reflects a lack of leadership and ownership.

Here is a statement released this week by APS Chief of Human Resources Pamela Hall on Love’s hiring:

As the Chief Human Resources Officer, I made a recommendation to hire Josie Love as one of our strategic directors in the Office of Human Resources.  In this role, Ms. Love will be responsible for working with our high school principals to staff their schools.  Yes, Ms. Love was the subject of an investigation conducted by my office related to grades being assigned inappropriately at Carver High School.  Our investigation revealed that Ms. Love did not take the proper steps to assess the work of a group of students and assign grades accordingly during the long-term absence of a teacher.  The recommendation from the investigation was that Ms. Love be demoted.  As a result, Ms. Love served as an assistant principal for the 2015-16 school year.

Additionally, this offense was reported to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.  The PSC made a decision not to take further action in this case and deemed the actions of APS appropriate. I must clarify that Ms. Love did not terminate the secretary who reported this violation. Several positions at Carver School of Technology were eliminated by the district because of the consolidation of several small schools on the Carver High School campus.  The secretary remains eligible for employment with APS, and I support her re-employment.  However, she must participate in the interview process and be selected for a position.

Ms. Love is a professional fully capable of functioning in the role of Strategic Director with the primary responsibility of assisting principals.  She made a mistake, accepted the consequences, and served well in her role as assistant principal during the 2015-16 school year.  When making these critical decisions, I consider all of the facts. Based upon my knowledge of the circumstances in this case, I concluded that Ms. Love was worthy of an opportunity to serve APS in this capacity.

As a leader who came with Superintendent Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen to join the APS team, I embrace the importance of doing this work with integrity.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.