Grade changing investigation pending at Kennedy Road Middle School

SHEILA A. MARSHALL
Staff Writer; sheila@the-grip.net
Originally printed in the May 3 issue of The Grip  

“Kennedy Road Middle School has failed some of its students by giving them a passing grade when they have not earned it.”

So says a formal Georgia Professional Standards Commission complaint Griffin-Spalding County School System Superintendent Dr. Curtis Jones filed April 19 alleging that Kennedy Road Middle School (KRMS) Principal Dr. Brenda Ford is in violation of the Georgia law by coercing or intimidating a number of teachers to change the grades of failing students.

The local school district’s internal investigation against Ford was prompted by a complaint filed by a KRMS teacher that alleged three things – inconsistent and unfair practices regarding attendance; inconsistent discipline of students; and unjustified reassignment of teaching responsibilities.

The initial investigation was conducted by Hoby Davenport, former principal of Cowan Road Middle School, who School District Attorney Tim Shepherd said was contracted to review the allegations against Ford.

In the midst of interviewing KRMS teachers in that capacity, Davenport reported that he became aware of a number of additional issues of concern, perhaps the most serious relating to grade changing and staff morale.

“There is a policy within the school regarding student grades. If a student last year made an F on their report card and this year makes a D or F on their report card, they (the teacher) must have a conference with Dr. Ford, the principal,” he wrote. “Three specific records of parent contact have to be shown during the conference and in a specified time frame. If the requirements are not met to the satisfaction of the principal during this conference, the teacher is required to change the grade to a 73, which is the lowest C a student can earn, according to teachers interviewed.”

A number of teachers admitted they had changed their students’ failing grades due to these conferences, and one said grades were changed prior to the issuance of report cards “to avoid the conference, the confrontation or the repercussions,” Davenport reported.

Shepherd said this constituted not only a violation of GSCSS policy, but also state law, citing the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) 20-2-989.20, which states, “No teacher shall be required or coerced into changing student grades; ethical violation; change of grade by person other than classroom teacher.”

With regard to staff morale, Davenport said it is a “major issue according to many of the teachers interviewed.” He said teachers referenced a negative work environment; coming to work on pins and needles; walking on eggshells; being brought to tears; and even a comment that Ford is a bully.

One staff member recounted an attempt to address the problem with Ford at a faculty meeting, but was rebuffed when Ford responded, “I don’t think we have a problem with teacher morale. If so, I have a problem with principal morale.”

According to that teacher, Ford’s comment ended any discussion of the concern.

In response to Davenport’s investigation, Ford on April 6 met with Jones and received a letter of reprimand, specifically regarding the grade changing.

Ford has said that at that time, she requested an outside investigation be conducted.

“When he told me what was being said, I asked Dr. Jones to go ahead and file the PSC complaint, because that would be someone outside investigating rather than your own people,” she said.

This was a concern she had from the onset, Ford explained, and she claims she did share her feelings with Jones.

“You have to know Hoby Davenport,” Ford said, explaining that he was always “very competitive” and had a school that was never off of the Needs Improvement list, unlike her own schools were.

“When I found out who the investigator was, I called Dr. Jones and told him I had concerns because the investigator wasn’t neutral,” she said. “I told him (Jones) about one specific incident with the investigator. He just told me, ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.’”

Despite her concerns regarding Davenport’s neutrality, his final report dated March 20 stated, “there was no documentable evidence that this (inconsistent and unfair practices regarding attendance) was an issue.”

However, Davenport did find that the complaints regarding inconsistent discipline of students and unjustified reassignment of teaching responsibilities were valid.

The independent investigation Ford said she requested will now be conducted by the PSC, Shepherd said. But, he added that this step would have been taken regardless of Ford’s wishes.

“The information that is in the Professional Standards Commission complaint came directly from multiple interviews, as well as meetings with Dr. Ford, Stephanie Dobbins and Dr. Jones,” Shepherd said. “It’s safe to say that the conclusion of the human resources director and Dr. Jones is that grade changing had taken placed, based on statements made by teachers at Kennedy Road Middle School. Because of that conclusion, Dr. Jones was required to file the Professional Standards Commission complaint, under the code of ethics. It would have been an ethical violation on Dr. Jones part to not file it.”

The PSC complaint alleges that evidence was provided to support the fact that Ford “directed, coerced or intimidated teachers to change student grades.”

To demonstrate the affect this had on KRMS teachers, Jones included a quote from one faculty member who said, “I’ve seen teachers cry that had to meet with Brenda Ford, and they didn’t know what the meeting was about.”

Jones goes on to say that Ford’s unwritten policy was not approved by the school system or system level administrator, and furthermore, states that it is a violation of the code of ethics.

“The manner in which Dr. Ford has enforced her policy has caused some students to be adversely affected while those students whose parents are not reachable benefit (grade wise) from the policy,” Jones complaint states in part. “It is arbitrary to change grades based on the involvement level or availability of the parent(s).”

Despite the very serious nature of the allegations against Ford, she remained firm throughout the district’s investigation that she did not commit the acts of which she is accused.

In response to her denial, Dobbins re-interviewed teachers that had reported Ford’s actions to Davenport. The information provided throughout this process was consistent, and resulted in Jones reporting that Ford violated Standard 4 – honesty, by being dishonest during the course of an official investigation.

Finally, the PSC complaint states, “The actions and school environment created by Dr. Ford do not preserve the dignity of the teaching profession.”

Due to the fact that several witnesses expressed fear and were concerned about the possibility of retaliation due to their cooperation, Ford also stands accused of violating the standard of professional conduct.

Although Jones deemed a letter of reprimand sufficient disciplinary action on behalf of the GSCSS, Shepherd said he could have opted for harsher measures up to and including suspension and termination.

Because the PSC investigation remains ongoing, Jones declined to comment on this story. Ω

Editor’s note: This story has been changed since the print edition to correct for the error of identifying the School System attorney as Tim Whalen, instead of Tim Shepherd. The Grip apologizes for the confusion. We have also corrected the statement that Hoby Davenport is a former principle of Carver Road Middle School; the correct school was Cowan Road Middle School.
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Comments

  1. SydMarsh says:

    What I don’t understand is why hasn’t this principal been placed on administrative leave? In other schools when teachers or principals are under investigation they are put on administrative leave with pay. Even in the business work place if somebody does wrong they get administrative leave with pay. Not that I agree with paying them if they are doing wrong but at least until the people can get to the bottom of what is going on. A couple of years ago my nephew’s school was on the news in Atlanta about cheating on those crc test those people swooped in and removed his principal during the school day! I am sure it is quite tense in a building full of teachers accusing the principal of something like this. I can’t imagine going to work everyday for the principal or the teachers! This couldn’t possibly be a peaceful environment for the kids. But whose thinking about them at a time like this?

  2. D Hunter says:

    I had a student there for 3 years and we constantly complained to Dr. Jones about the inconsistency of discipline. My daughter was and still is an all A, honor class student and was constantly harrassed by Dr. Ford because of her clothes. When my husband went to pick her up one morning, because she had “cat claw marks” on her jeans, another student walked in with holes in her jeans and my husband spoke out about it and the office secretary said that she was not allowed to do anything about the situation, as if she were afraid to do anything. I have always been concerned about our students “learning to test” and that is how Dr Ford runs her school, so it doesn’t seem a very far streach that she would be willing to change scores to keep her status quo !
    DHK, concerned mom

  3. Mrs. T.R.R says:

    I remembered the incident commented by Ms. Potter while at Kelsey.The shame about her reply to the incident is that every word she speaks is truthful.I can recall many more incidents that the PCA’s investigators could be interested in.Especially incidents that lowered morale among teachers,staff,custodian and nutritional employees. The investigators need to do their homework and question other employers at KRMS,and definitely ex employees who prematurely left in the middle of the school year due to hostile environment. I know all this firsthand .I saw it with my own eyes and heard it from the horses mouth.

    who had to leave due to the hosenvironment.If during this investigation

    • My daughter resigned in the middle of this year due to a principal in Griffin Spalding Schools that behaves very much like Ms. Ford. She begged for help this year from the people that assured her retaliation would not take place, but it did over and over again. Are most of the principals behaving as if they do not have to follow the code of ethics? What would happen if teachers banded together and started writing complaints to the state? Something is very, very, wrong here in a sick and twisted way if principals abuse power. My daughter found another job that did not pay as much, but she is teaching with joy now. Someone needs to help the teachers so they can teach. No wonder our children have such low scores.

      • Mrs. Black says:

        I’m glad to know that other teachers and community members are starting to expose the unfair practices of principals in this district. At Carver Road, administrators behave in the same way. They are guilty of intimidating teachers when faced with any type of opposition. I have never worked in a place where freedom of speech was so limited. I was called into a meeting with all three principals and insulted repeatedly just for saying I probably would not work there during the next school year. I was expecting to be fired, but they just wanted to scare me into silence. In so many words, they told me that I was incompetent. After teaching in a district with a very supportive teachers’ union for several years, I believe I know my rights! That very day, I decided I wasn’t going to stick around after being verbally abused. They are bullies!

        In addition, students were not disciplined consistently. Doctor’s notes were required for some teachers during absences, while others took as many days off as they desired without providing a doctor’s note. As a matter of fact, the principal was so unprofessional that he would not even greet me when he passed me in the hall.

        I RESIGNED during that school year and went to teach in another district. Life has been great ever since I left Carver Road! I won’t ever look back! I really hope that administrators in this district learn to treat their educators as the competent, professionals that they are.

    • i think she should get fired

  4. Shannon Porter says:

    I worked for Brenda when she was the principal for Kelsey Middle School. I was the special education lead teacher there. I have experienced what these teachers at Kennedy Road have experienced when I worked for her. She requested that I create schedules for the Special Education Students in the the school that directly violated their Individual Education Plans. When I explained that I could not legally follow through with her request she stated that “I would do it or I would regret it”. The next day when I came into work all of my things including my computer, desk, and filing cabinet were moved in the hall. She stated that I was being moved to a different location “if” she could find a place to put me. She took away my lead teacher role and put me in a classroom with another teacher. She then evaluated me “after” she had already done my evaluation earlier in the year where I received all satisfactory marks. The second, unwarranted evaluation had all “needs improvement” marked. I took my complaints to the assistant superintendent and Dr. Ford was told that the second evaluation would not count.

    I left the school system the following year. Despite my negative experience with Dr. Ford, teaching at Kelsey Middle School was one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career. I am glad what “went around” is finally “coming around” back to her. You can only treat people the way she does for so long and get away with it. I saw the same things happening to other teachers when I worked under her. Teachers would cry and have total anxiety attacks from having to meet with her. Once you got on her bad side there was no going back.

  5. Raymond Ray says:

    Thank you for fully investigating this issue for all facts and professionally reporting the facts

    • I also agree that your newspaper has allowed the truth to be told about the situation. I would like to say that an additional, serious Professional Practices complaint is being filed during at this time against an elementary principal for over 12 Ethics Violations. Griffin Spalding needs to replace some of their principals who can behave with professionalism. Also, why is abuse from a principal allowed to occur for so many years?

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