Officials dropped a bomb Monday night right before the opening of the academic year: They released a report accusing Hillhouse High School’s principal of participating in transcript-tampering and preferential treatment for student athletes.
Administrators at the school and at Riverside Academy deliberately changed the course descriptions on some students’ transcripts and overlooked attendance rules, among other instances of tampering with official records, in order to enable the students to advance to higher grades or to mislead the NCAA, according to the report. The alleged wrongdoing concerns three student athletes.
Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina—a main target of the report—and his attorney, Michael Jefferson, blasted the findings as “utter nonsense” and a “witch hunt.”
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” Carolina said. “Everything is a reach at best. They are reaching to connect me to wrongdoing.”
Carolina vowed not to be pushed out of his job.
“I’m here to stay,” he said in an interview. “I have to stand strong. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that Hillhouse continues to grow and flourish.”
For his part Superintendent of Schools Reggie Mayo called the allegations “certainly disturbing.” He said he plans to have staff review grading policies and summer programs, with a special emphasis on Hillhouse.
Mayo said the findings hurt kids in two ways: “Those that are given these breaks are missing out on an education,” and the rest of the kids aren’t getting an even playing field.
Milford-based attorney Floyd Dugas (pictured), who conducted the investigation on behalf of the school board, issued his findings at Monday’s meeting at 54 Meadow St. Mayo commissioned the report right before Christmas based on allegations by a Hillhouse administrator. He originally said the report would be completed within weeks because of the urgent nature of the allegations; however it didn’t get finished and become public until Monday night, less than two days before the opening of the school year. (Click here to read about the pace of the investigation.)
The allegations became tied up with larger political currents in town, with Hillhouse Principal Carolina accusing city officials of targeting him because he failed to support the reelection of Mayor John DeStefano, a charge officials denied. Read about that here.
At Monday night’s meeting, Mayo said the school board would take disciplinary action against the host of administrators involved, but did not specify what action or against whom it would be taken. He did say that he’s not recommending anyone be terminated.
Mayo said he plans to meet with the eight people accused of wrongdoing in the report, with their union representatives present, and hear their side of the story before deciding on discipline.
“Everyone will have their day in court,” Mayo said.
The investigation did not find any tampering with grades on standardized tests. Nor did it uphold all the allegations leveled against Carolina and others by a Hillhouse assistant principal, Shirley Love-Joyner.
But it did conclude that Carolina and others knowingly bent rules and cleaned up transcripts for student-athletes in some cases.
It also concluded that Hillhouse has a “culture at the administrative level of bending or ignoring practices and procedures put in place to ensure the integrity of student grades.” And it described “brazen efforts” to get teachers to change grades.
The specific instances cited in the report were isolated and do not add up to a “culture,” Carolina responded Monday night. He said the cases represent just three of 1,000 students at Hillhouse. “The allegations are inconsistent with” Carolina’s record and character, Jefferson added.
Dugas conducted 32 interviews before preparing the 28-page report.
He concluded that two Hillhouse football players, for instance, got “preferential treatment” on their transcripts for summer courses they took at Riverside Academy, an alternative high school. They attended class for “half the amount of time as other students” because of a “special exception” between Carolina and Riverside Academy Principal Wanda Gibbs, Dugas wrote. The students were awarded twice as many credits for the summer courses as other students were, Dugas found; he said Gibbs “misled” him as to why.
Carolina said Monday he never “conspired” with Gibbs; he said those students went to Riverside summer school before Carolina became principal.
Dugas further accused Hillhouse administrators of changing the course description of the summer classes, which had been listed as “Summer School 2010 English I” and “Summer School 2010 English II” on the students’ transcripts. Hillhouse football coach Tom Dyer became aware that the transcripts had the words “summer school” on them and was concerned “it would not look right or be given appropriate weight by the NCAA,” Dyer told Dugas in an interview.
Dyer brought the matter to Carolina, who brought Dyer to the office of Ed Scarpa, a retired teacher who had returned to Hillhouse to work part-time. Scarpa upgraded the description from “basic” English to “college” English, giving the false impression that the classes were different than the ones the students had already taken at Hillhouse.
Scarpa confessed to making the change and appeared to know what he was doing was wrong, Dugas found: Before making the confession, Scarpa prefaced his remarks by, “I know I will probably get fired, but,” according to Dugas.
Dugas concluded Carolina knew what Scarpa was doing; Carolina offered a “not credible” explanation of not having been aware of the details, Dugas found.
Carolina on Monday maintained he had no knowledge of what Scarpa had done. He said he brought Dyer to Scarpa’s office to address Dyer’s concern, but did not stay “more than 30 seconds” and left the two to sort out the problem.
Carolina said as a new principal, he didn’t know how to address Dyer’s concern about the transcript; Carolina said in cases where he didn’t know what to do, he relied on experts in his building, such as Scarpa, who were familiar with past practices.
Carolina said he had no training, and knows of no policy, governing how to handle transcripts for summer courses. He said he received no orientation and no training as a new principal when he started in 2010.
The report also concluded that one of the students was allowed to graduate despite being absent more than 20 days a year—and that Carolina falsely claimed to the investigator that he no longer followed that rule, known as “the 160-day rule” at Hillhouse.
Carolina noted that his predecessor, Lonnie Garris, had instituted the 160-day rule. Carolina insisted he didn’t believe in the rule and never enforced it; he noted other schools don’t have it.
In the report, Dugas did find that Carolina had correctly identified problems with the school system’s Tenex computer grading system. Teachers have the final say in determining a student’s grade. However, Tenex was overriding teachers’ input, and instead auto-calculating student grades. The district is now switching to a program called PowerSchools. Dugas found that some students’ grades were changed in Tenex, but there was no impropriety: They were changed only to reflect the correct grade that the teacher had given.
Dugas concluded he could not substantiate an allegation that Carolina had given a student work-hours credit for hours he never worked, in order to enable him to graduate. The student did work the hours he claimed, Dugas found.
In the case of another student-athlete being recruited to play college sports, Dugas found he could not corroborate an allegation that Hillhouse administrators knowingly gave him credit for a course that hadn’t been completed yet. Rather, a teacher made an error in confusion. However, the superintendent did discover that the student was receiving suspiciously high grades for some courses, perhaps under pressure from a coach or the principal, according to the report.
The report found that Scarpa deleted from “Student #4”‘s transcript an intermediate algebra class the student had taken, “artificially inflating the student’s GPA.”
Carolina said he was never interviewed about that student; the allegations arose later in the probe.
He and Jefferson decried the timing of the report, just two days before the start of school. The timing aimed to “embarrass” the principal just as school begins, Jefferson said.
Mayo said the probe took eight months because new avenues for investigation arose. He said the district simply released the report when it was ready.
Change the name of the school, the administrators, and the district: I would totally believe it. I’ve seen rule bending, grade manipulation, and/or pressure on teachers at nearly every school I ever worked at.
posted by: RCguy on August 27, 2012 9:20pm
I’m not surprised that Reginald Mayo is still Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools.
Nor am I surprised the John DeStefano is still Mayor.
posted by: Enough on August 27, 2012 10:40pm
Mayor DeStefano & Dr. Mayo, maybe our education motto should be No Athelete Left Behind because that is the message that is being sent that it is ok for your administrators to “temper with grades as long as you are a valuable athelete, even though they are not academically prepared for the next grade or college.
What message are we sending to our students who do not participate in sports, or I should say are not outstanding athletes and have to work hard to get good grades and their parents, by letting these administrators keep their jobs?
But finally, such a disservice has been done to those students who are not prepared to move on academically, maybe the time should have been spent on figuring out how to prepare our atheletes academically just in case they do not become pros and just might need an education.
I really hope that instead of reprimanding those involved, they will be terminated, sending a clear message that grade tampering will not be tolerated for any reason or anyone.
posted by: KidsFirst on August 27, 2012 10:58pm
Carolina says he is here to stay and lucky for him the Superintendent says there will be no terminations. Just because the rule bending and grade shifting appears “isolated” doesn’t mean the practice is harmless. Do the students in question know the content necessary to be successful in college? Will they inevitably fail in college, because the appropriate knowledge and study habits have not been developed? Will the students in question ultimately lose their scholarships and lose out on truly learning? Somebody from Hillhouse should apologize to these 2 or 3 students for setting them up to fail. Lucky for all the adults involved, no one will lose their jobs. But how will these seemingly ill-prepared college bound Hillhouse students fare?
posted by: True that on August 28, 2012 4:59am
Seems Dugas’ $500.00 contribution to the Mayor got him more than $1,000.00 a page for a 27 page report that took eight months to complete. The sections of the report identified in the article are so incredibly contradictory I. Cannot believe it was written by an attorney. There were allegedly a few instances, which I don’t believe, but that constitutes a culture? When you hunt witches you find them, even if they don’t exist. Mayo needs to go, he does not make the decisions for the district, the Mayor does and everyone knows. I wonder why the superintendent rejected Dugas’ first draft of the report. Dugas should be brought before the Bar for writing a report he knows to be factually incorrect. The emergency meeting takes place two days before Christmas. This report comes out two days before school. Ironic?
posted by: Wildwest on August 28, 2012 6:53am
KidsFirst- the answer is simple. the kids will attend colleges that make sure they will do fine(if you know what I mean). Its the American way these days and has been for quite a while, HhE knows it.
posted by: Threefifths on August 28, 2012 6:56am
Look at this statement.The investigation did not find any tampering with grades on standardized tests. Nor did it uphold all the allegations leveled against Carolina and others by a Hillhouse assistant principal, Shirley Love-Joyner.How did we go from this to now transcript-tampering and preferential treatment for student athletes.This report is utter nonsense and a witch hunt.I hope Carolina takes them to court and also sue Shirley Love-Joyner for libel and slander.
posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 28, 2012 8:20am
I agree with my little fraction. This just comes off as a witch hunt. And lets be honest, Joyner was reprimanded at some point in time (if I remember correctly) Then all of a sudden the witch hunt started because HOW DARE HE remand me?? If we are going to rake through the coals like this… I think that it should be with everyone’s records in the BOE and mayo and all that sit at that table.
posted by: SaveOurCity on August 28, 2012 9:40am
Mr Carolina - this is what happens when you don’t support Johnny D. Over 10 terms, our mayor has developed a myriad of methods to punish those who don’t stay in line.
posted by: anonymous on August 28, 2012 9:49am
Wasting a minute to talk about a couple students in a football program seems like a planned distraction from the fact that the school itself is failing, and the fact that nobody has held Reggie Mayo, John DeStefano, Jorge Perez and the Board, Toni Harp and the “delegation,” and the teacher unions accountable for the tens of thousands of failing students on their collective watch.
posted by: westville man on August 28, 2012 10:30am
While I do not have the benefit of time to reply to all of the so-called “findings” of the “investigation”, I only urge everyone to READ the report, and if pressed for time, read footnote #2 on page 9. And tell me that footnote contains verbiage of an “independent fact-finding” report… A witch-hunt, indeed.
posted by: HhE on August 28, 2012 10:42am
RCguy, surprised; no, disappointed; yes.
Well said Enough, albeit, I am not I necessarily agree with termination. Never fire someone until one has figured out how to do a better job of hiring. I worked in one school where the principal was fired, and her replacement was far worse.
Well said KidsFirst.
Well said, True that. I wish I could get paid $1,000 a page, or better yet, have a job for 20 years with decent pay and great benefits while not having to actually perform. I have to believe that a retired cop and a retired school administrator could have done better for less. We certainly have plenty of the former, and my Mother qualifies for the latter.
MikeM, I’m not so sure about that. My concern is how many kids with inflated grades hit the wall of college. I worked in one school where the grading mantra was “We don’t fail seniors.” I bet a lot of those out in four what ever the cost students din’t cut it in college. My own college, which was slightly above average, but hardly tough, had an over 50% atritattrition in four years.
Threefifths, I admire your optimism for our courts. Have you ever spent any real time seeing lawyers and judges in action? If you think our “Crocked Two Party System” is corrupt, try our courts—the last place I would ever look for justice.
Spot on as usual ceaderhillresident!.
So true SaveOurCity.
anonymous, while I have taken issue with some of the things I have seen teacher unions do, I do not blame them, nor do I hold them accountable. Their remit is not to solve systemic problems in education and our society. Our schools are failing because our leadership is failing, and parents are not up to the task.
posted by: Threefifths on August 28, 2012 10:59am
posted by: anonymous on August 28, 2012 10:49am
the fact that the school itself is failing, and the fact that nobody has held Reggie Mayo, John DeStefano, Jorge Perez and the Board, Toni Harp and the “delegation,” and the teacher unions accountable for the tens of thousands of failing students on their collective watch.
How about also the failing parents!!! Ask your self.How many of these students parents made there children do there summer reading assignments that the teachers give them.
posted by: HhE on August 28, 2012 11:42am
Okay, I read the entire report. It seams to me to be through, and maybe even worth the cost. What I read is a range of systemic problems. Which in turn calls for looking at the top for the solution. Who runs NHPS? I think that would be Dr. Mayo.
posted by: newhavenmom on August 28, 2012 12:04pm
Even if it took 8 months to do the report - it was issued on August 10th. Why wait until the night before school starts to release this? This shows no concern for kids to be educated at Hillhouse - when do they plan to make the suspensions? In the first week or 2 of school?
One thing that strikes me about this is how arbitrary some of it really is.
“Preferential treatment”? In the opinion of Dugas, Ds and D-s constitutes an actual advantage? Really?
Go after my high school math teacher and the principal. I had a pretty rough time in my last 2 years of high school—ending up homeless for a while—and worked overnight throughout senior year (because I was legally old enough).
I didn’t have enough math credits—I was shy a half-credit—so I took a remedial, half-credit math course in my senior year.
I failed that course—it was at the end of the day, and I often had to leave school a little early to go to work.
At the end of the year, my math teacher deliberately changed my grade from an F to a D-, so I’d pass. He knew I’d been going through an awful lot of grief outside of school, and didn’t want me to have to do a mountain of work he knew I wouldn’t have time to do, just to get out of high school with a diploma.
Is this illegal? Unethical?
The letter grade system isn’t even in use at some schools, and it isn’t as if D-s will get these kids into a college.
I don’t understand the severity and extreme reaction to what looks like a few students having their grades modified from an F to a D-? Is there much more that isn’t in the report?
posted by: Brutus2011 on August 28, 2012 12:32pm
Smartest thing Carolina could have done was to lawyer-up and go public. If he had not been proactive, the DeStefano-BOE-Mayo cartel would have railroaded him and his career into oblivion. And the beat goes on.
posted by: Threefifths on August 28, 2012 2:57pm
posted by: HhE on August 28, 2012 11:42am
Threefifths, I admire your optimism for our courts. Have you ever spent any real time seeing lawyers and judges in action? If you think our “Crocked Two Party System” is corrupt, try our courts—the last place I would ever look for justice.
Not true.Court is a roll of the dice.In fact I know teachers and principals who have take there case to court and won.look at Sheff v. O’Neill.Mark my words this case will be going to court.
posted by: PH on August 28, 2012 3:13pm
I’ve got the same sentiment I started out with: changing a couple Fs to D minuses to help an inner-city kid get into college? This happens in every school in the country and I hope those kids make it (academically) at the next level.
posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on August 28, 2012 5:21pm
PARENTS, Don’t send your children to Hillhouse High School until this scandal is resolved. I would not want my child in the midst of this unresolved mess! SHAME on the Mayor, the Superintendent, and the New Haven Board of Education for allowing this investigation to drag on for eight months and releasing their report days before the opening of the new school year! If the report is correct and there will be some disciplinary action taken short of any terminations, why expose the students, staff and parents to the threat of potential transfers or demotions at the beginning of a new school year? It makes no sense! The Mayor, the Superintendent and the Board had all summer to resolve this so that the Hillhouse would not have to open under a cloud of suspicion and scandal. The grading integrity of the entire school is called into question. What does something like this do to the morale of the faculty and the students? PARENTS, Call the offices of the Mayor and the Superintendent! Call the members of the Board of Education! Call your aldermen! KEEP your kids home and boycott Hillhouse until the Mayor, the Superintendent, and the Board get their acts together and put KIDS FIRST. Don’t fear keeping your kids at home because little educating will take place in the school because of this MAJOR distraction. EITHER the Principal and his administration are guilty of grade tampering or they are innocent. If guilty, how can they remain at Hillhouse or any school in New Haven? If innocent, how can their reputations be restored? There can be NO middle ground when students’ lives and futures are at stake and the entire integrity of an academic institution is called into question. The Superintendent and the Board need to take a stand and do what is right, and DO IT NOW for their reputation is on the line as well. UNTIL then, NO JUSTICE, NO SCHOOL!
Can’t a school be good even tho a few students who might have rough lives are boosted from an F to a D- to keep them in college?
The letter grade system is arbitrary, archaic, and punitive. It has disproportionate impact, as it relies on inherently flawed standardize tests. Does an employee who had a GPA of 4.0 do better work than an employee who had a GPA of 3.0?
(Spoiler alert: No credible research has been done showing any causation between higher GPAs and long-term employee performance)
posted by: RCguy on August 29, 2012 12:57am
I most certainly agree with Brutus2011 on August 28, 2012 1:32pm.
I admire Kermit for going public, and taking Mayo and DeStefano on like this.
Kermit’s mother clearly “didn’t raise a punk”.
posted by: HhE on August 29, 2012 7:30am
Thomas Alfred Paine, I find your idea to be offensively irresponsible. A boycott of this school will only harm the students who participate. Grades are not education. They are an evaluation of performance in a class.
In my own experience, the students who worried the most about their grades and were regularly asking, “What’s my grade?” Ought to have spent their energy on learning instead. Most students who earn good grades did so by doing good work, and letting the grade take care of itself.
I have read the entire report, and while it did find problems, they were relatively minor compared with many schools I have worked in. An over the top protest such as a boycott is excessive. Refusing to learn as a form of protest? Why not just cut your nose off and be done with it?
Yes, threefifths, court is a crapshoot—that is the problem. While they are cases that are not clear-cut (such as Sheff vs. O’Neill), one of the salient principles the rule of law is predictability. We all ought to be equall under the law, not only across skin color, but time and place as well. Unfortunately this is not so. If justice finds you at a courthouse, it is because you rolled the dice well. Such arbitrariness no better than the capriciousness of dictatorships.
Streever, first props to you that you have done so much and are so good a person, especially given the start in life you had. As a teacher, I gave a number of students a break, and in most cases, I believe I did the right thing and I do not regret it. In one school I student taught in, this was effectively policy. The minimum passing grade was a 65. By written policy, any student who earned a 60 to 64 was given a 65, and any student who earned a 65 received a 66 (so everyone who worked there could tell what the grade really meant).
Part one of two.
posted by: HhE on August 29, 2012 7:33am
Part two of two.
I do think there is a world of difference between adding a few points to a grade so someone can move on, and changing grades or transcripts to deceive a sports sanctioning body. When we put sports ahead of scholarship, we are in trouble (Penn State anyone?). The absolutely most disturbing thing I read in the report was that a coach was pressuring teachers to change grades. That is beyond the pale.
Please, everyone read the report in full. We certainly paid enough for it, and waited long enough for it. There are a number of red flags, some corners were clearly cut, and I was offended by some of what I read. That said, one would probably find much the same in most any school one looked that hard at.
At the end of the day, I believe this investigation was politically motivated. If you really want to get this sorted out, you are going to need a new mayor and superintendent of schools.
posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on August 29, 2012 10:02am
Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken to bring attention to a problem and get a resolution. I know there will be no massive boycott of Hillhouse by parents and students, but surely I would not want my child to be in the midst of that hot mess. I blame the Board and the Superintendent for that. This whole crisis effects the entire academic integrity of the school. All of the academic records are now suspect of being fraudulent. Kids applying to college may now have serious problems when the college officials see a transcript from Hillhouse. Isn’t that serious? HhE, the students have already been hurt. They have been hurt by a system that thinks it is too much to demand that Black and Hispanic students be held to the highest standards of education and discipline. Grades should never be given. They should always be earned and they should always reflect what the student has actually learned. That principle would be one of the most revolutionary school reforms that New Haven and the nation could see, rather than the current fraud that has been perpetrated on the city and the nation today which takes all educational responsibility and accountability away from the students. If you think that Hillhouse can begin this school year now under this cloud and normal teaching and learning can take place without the teachers and the students and the parents being distracted and pressured to take sides in this debacle, you, sir, are quite naive.Also, many former New Haven public school students are broke because their teachers gave them a “break” by giving them grades because they felt sorry for them and thought they were doing a good thing. That is the worst favor any educator could give and does much more harm than good. Such practices make one unworthy to be an educator.
posted by: robn on August 29, 2012 11:41am
I read the report. Pressuring teachers to bump grades, sending underachievers to chip-shot summer school classes to puff up their grades, falsifying attendance records, and changing summer school course descriptions to deceive the NCAA?
Whether or not the mayor gets along with this principal, this is not acceptable behavior from our high school administrators.
posted by: westville man on August 29, 2012 1:51pm
@ Robn- Can you tell me where in the report there is evidence of falsifying attendance records? I’m on my 3rd reading of the report as i want to be thorough in my analysis of it before i comment in more detail.
posted by: Threefifths on August 29, 2012 1:53pm
To all I read the report in full.This report is a three card monte.The question that we need to ask is how come some one who works for the BOE due a fair report.How come some one who has no ties to the mayor and BOE was not allowed to do this report.
posted by: HhE on August 29, 2012 8:30am
Yes, threefifths, court is a crapshoot—that is the problem.I remember have lunch on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and I ran into William Kunstler and I ask him why do you go to court,It is not a fair system.He told me that the court system is complex and not always fair.but you have a better chance win you case in court,The in a Political Arena.
posted by: robn on August 29, 2012 3:00pm
Attendance: p 3, 9, 16-17, 18, 27
Add to my list lying to investigators about changing grades (p. 14)
posted by: beyonddiscussion on August 29, 2012 9:33pm
Shameful witch hunt. This was so urgent they had to hold an emergency meeting and ambush the principal on Christmas Eve? They promised a swift investigation and said the results would be out in Feb. or March. Then when things got hairy, they sat on it. It was political retaliation. And then to release this with the kids trying to focus on start of a new school year… All because “kermit was there”.
posted by: westville man on August 30, 2012 11:34am
@ robn Sorry, no EVIDENCE of falsifying attendance records found on those pages.
The report by Dugas is dripping with bias, inuendo, speculation and opinion.
Elaboration with proof forthcoming.
posted by: Brutus2011 on August 30, 2012 11:47am
to NHI: Please stop deleting my comments. I am responsible and do not post things that are not accurate and true.
to Everyone: This issue with Carolina and Hillhouse is huge.
1. The mayor and his superintendent of schools use NHPS as their own private fiefdom.
2. NHPS administrators are either exalted or reviled dependent upon the pleasure of the mayor or the superintendent.
3. When are people going to wake up and effect change at the top instead of whatever they are doing now?
posted by: robn on August 30, 2012 12:31pm
Its fraud. I’ll cite one example from page 3 and let readers peruse the rest.
“...student #3 was granted 3 credits for work experience, and, contrary to procedure, a form attesting to completion of hours worked was not completed, submitted and signed by someone with firsthand knowledge of the hours that the student worked. This was approved by Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina.”
posted by: Threefifths on August 30, 2012 1:30pm
Let us say you are Principal Carolina.What you want the person who works for the BOE and Put money in the mayors relect campaign to investigate the charges against you or would you ask for a outside investigation.
A good district attorney can indict a ham sandwich if he wants to,The accusations harm as much as the convictions. Because all you have right now is accusations. John Carter
posted by: HhE on August 31, 2012 12:50am
NHI, I think it would be a great disservice to delete any comment from Brutus2011, especially now. On education and our schools, his posts are the best we have. He is also the best poster on Race. Clearly the former is topical, and possibly the latter as well.
posted by: robn on August 31, 2012 6:07am
My mind is open to the idea that the NH School System is the last bastion of political patronage, but this doesn’t negate the facts (facts, not accusations) that were described in this report. Id love to hear more information about the trigger and motivations for producing the report; certainly interesting, but nonetheless an exclusive issue.
posted by: Jacques Strap on August 31, 2012 9:00pm
This report has no credibility since Dugas is a close friend of and campaign contributor to DeStefano. The city/school district should have agreed with Jefferson upon a neutral party to conduct the investigation.
posted by: beyonddiscussion on September 1, 2012 9:04pm
Hypocrisy is an ugly thing. If grades were rigged, is it right to do a rigged, bogus investigation? Does Hillhouse have the “rule-bending culture” or does the administration have the rule-bending culture? Wish we could move beyond the vindictiveness.