BY MEAGHAN MCGOLDRICK & ANNA SPIVAK
A Gravesend principal who was found guilty of grade-fixing last summer has been reinstated by an arbitrator after it was deemed that the Department of Education (DOE) had mishandled the case, according to reports.
All charges have been dropped against former John Dewey High School Principal Kathleen Elvin who, in July, 2015, was fired from her post after a yearlong investigation allegedly revealed that she had been awarding “bogus” credits to students and allegedly fudging Regents exam scores during the 2013-2014 school year in an effort to inflate graduation rates at the struggling school.
Now, Elvin – 69 at the time she was let go – has been cleared of all charges after an audit of the courses, conducted in October by the new administration at Dewey and DOE officials, contradicted the investigation’s original findings.
While the original investigation did not find evidence that teachers at the Gravesend school were pressured to pass students, it concluded that Elvin allowed at-risk students to make up credits in classes where they were taught more than one subject at once, or simply complete packets of work without any instruction at all.
According to the arbitrator’s ruling, the audit concluded that the courses had met department guidelines and that the students had, in fact, been properly credited. In a statement released Wednesday, April 13, officials said that the charges against Elvin did not hold up due to inconsistencies with claims made by the DOE.
“I truly feel sorry for the students and faculty of John Dewey High School,” said Councilmember Mark Treyger, a former New York City public school teacher himself. “This school has been dragged through the papers because of, in my view, lax and inadequate oversight as well as inadequate support from the DOE.
“They accused this school of inappropriately administering these credit recovery programs, meanwhile [the DOE] signed off on each and every one of them,” he continued. “The issue for me, as a former educator and now as an elected official, is the quality of education for our children and making sure that our kids were not shortchanged throughout this process.”
Treyger isn’t the only former educator frustrated by the scandal.
Wade Goria, a longtime social studies teacher at Dewey who retired in October, 2015, called the manner in which the scandal was handled “completely corrupt.”
“The whole process was fraudulent, beginning with the fact that there was never a hearing to which anyone was invited,” he told this paper. “No depositions were ever taken by any of the people connected with the case or any of the people who were directly involved with Elvin’s grade fixing. There was no hearing whatsoever.”
In addition, Goria said, arbitrators refused evidence he claims is crucial in illustrating just how many grades were fixed under Elvin’s direction.
“The evidence wasn’t utilized,” the former teacher said, stressing that, somewhere in the basement of the Tweed Building lays a server containing conclusive evidence of the grade changes. “There is information that shows, conclusively, the incredible number of changes made in student grades to bump them up to passing or to graduate them. [The DOE] refused evidence back at the time and there was no further investigation.”
Elvin — who replaced longtime Dewey principal Barry Fried in spring of 2012 as the Dewey community fought to prevent the school from undergoing a turnaround that they contended would destroy the school’s unique culture — was succeeded by Connie Hamilton, an administrator Treyger said he has heard only good things about, and whose future at the school, according to Goria, remains unclear.
“There has been a change of leadership and I am hearing much better things from stakeholders about where the school is now,” said the councilmember, “but these types of stories are so disturbing on so many levels because this calls into question the DOE’s support system for its schools, and calls into question the type of oversight that is provided.”
“I can’t say for sure what’s going to happen to Hamilton,” added Goria, agreeing that, in this case, pressure should be put on those in charge at the department as well as the administration. “When Michael Bloomberg became mayor and he put all the pressure on the DOE to improve passing and graduating statistics, the principals weren’t able to do it, so they manufactured the grades so that they could achieve the goals set by the chancellor. Elvin is only one of them.”
“There needs to be an answer as to what happened here, and to how we make sure this never happens again,” Treyger said.
When asked to comment, a representative from the DOE told this paper that the agency disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision which, the rep further claimed, stemmed from an October meeting between the Office of Academic Policy and Systems, the Brooklyn South Borough Field Support Center and the Dewey administration.
“We vigorously sought the termination of Ms. Elvin’s employment in accordance with Section 3020-a, and an independent arbitrator dismissed the charges,” said DOE spokesperson Devora Kaye. “We are disappointed with this decision, and we are continuing to review our options.”
John Dewey High School is located at 50 Avenue X.