Hall to keep superintendent of the year award for now

12:28 PM, Jul 14, 2011   |    comments
Beverly Hall speaks with 11Alive's Karyn Greer in Hawaii on Wed., July 13.
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ATLANTA (USA Today) -- The public official at the center of the Atlanta cheating scandal will keep her "superintendent of the year" award for now, says the group that gave it to her two years ago.

Leaders of the group say although they're "gravely concerned" with the findings of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's recent investigation in the case, they don't have enough evidence to act yet.

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The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) in 2009 gave Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall its highest award, saying her leadership in the district since 1999 had "turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform."

Deal's investigative report, issued last week, found that teachers and principals in 44 Atlanta schools had cheated in order to raise students' test scores, and that cheating had gone on there since 2001. It identified 178 teachers and principals, of which 82 confessed.

Investigators found a "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation" around standardized testing under Hall, which they said "created a conspiracy of silence and deniability" regarding cheating by teachers and principals.

Hall has denied involvement or knowledge of widespread cheating under her watch.

In an interview Wednesday in Maui where she has been vacationing with her husband, Hall said "I did not know about the cheating."

It was the first time Hall spoke publicly about the scandal, but she refused to answer most questions under the advice of her attorney.

Hall retired last month as head of the 48,000-student district. She is accused of pressuring faculty and administrators into accepting ever-increasing targets of achievement and turning a blind eye to the way those goals were achieved.

When asked what she had to say about what's happening in Atlanta, Hall said: "Well as you know I'm on a planned trip and at this time I have no further comment. I issued a statement that was printed in the (Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper), and at this time have absolutely no further comment.

"I will have no other comment than what I issued on Sunday, but I absolutely knew nothing about cheating," Hall said.

AASA's executive board, which was already scheduled to meet on Wednesday in Washington, said it had gotten calls to rescind the 2009 award. Instead the board issued a statement Thursday saying it "wishes to respect the integrity of the investigative and legal systems of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia as it runs its course."

In an interview Thursday with USA TODAY, Dan Domenech, the executive director of AASA, said the group wanted to let the investigation run its course until it decides definitively on the fate of Hall's award. For now, at least, the group had no indication of Hall "deliberately being involved in this scandal."

"No charges have been brought," he said. "There's no conclusive evidence that she's been found guilty of any kind of unethical behavior."

Taking the award away from Hall "is not going to fix the issue in Atlanta," Domenech said. "It's another sad by-product of testing and its results that is having an ill effect on education around the country, and I think that has to be addressed."

Federal investigators last week said they had begun assisting the Washington, D.C., inspector general in a probe of D.C. public schools after a USA TODAY investigation in March found unusually high erasure rates on tests in more than half of the city's elementary schools since 2008. The city had earlier investigated the erasures, but USA TODAY found that the investigation was limited.

Domenech is the former superintendent of Fairfax County, Va., schools.

"This is really a sad situation for the Atlanta schools and the kids there," he said. "I hope it doesn't take away from the real achievement in that district."

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