Out Of Public View, Schools Rush “Emergency” Pre-Xmas Meeting On Grade-Altering Charges

The Board of Education quietly posted 24-hour advance notice of a Friday night session—after the public had no way of seeing it—to discuss “grade-altering” allegations at Hillhouse High School.

Board officials rushed notice over to the City Clerk’s office after close of business at 5 p.m. Thursday.

It did not alert the media of the meeting.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, after the close of city business before the Christmas holiday.

The agenda describes the business of the meeting with a single sentence:

“Discussion regarding allegations of instances of grade/credit alterations at a High School.”

Click here to read the agenda

School officials were unavailable for comment.

According to someone familiar with the matter, the school system learned of the allegations this week. They concerned alleged changing of grades at Hillhouse High School.

“There’s an allegation of changing some grades,” said the person familiar with the matter. “Not standardized tests. Not a large number. This is not perceived to be pervasive. It is unclear whether it is accurate or not. However it is of such a serious nature that the superintendent felt it important to brief the board as soon as possible.”

Under law, the school board has to give at least 24 hours’ public notice of the meeting. The notice must be stamped and posted at the City/Town Clerk’s Office.

School system Chief Administrative Officer Will Clark called Deputy City Clerk Sally Brown at 4:30 p.m. Thursday asking if someone could stay late, beyond the office’s 5 p.m. closing, to stamp and post the notice, according to Brown.

She agreed to the request. A staffer received the notice by email at 4:59 p.m. Thursday, Brown said. He stamped and posted the notice at 5:08 p.m., after it was publicly closed.

“There’s no question I called Sally late in the day,” Clark said. “There’s no question we got it over there by 5 o’clock.”

Clark was asked if the public could access the information when doors close at 5 o’clock.

“Whatever their hours are the hours are,” Clark responded. “Although that doesn’t technically violate the FOI law. But you guys don’t care” about the technicalities.

Earlier this week Superintendent of Schools Reggie Mayo asked an outside lawyer to look at the cheating allegations. That lawyer, Floyd Dugas of the firm Berchem, Moses & Devlin, did so and met with school officials Thursday. After that meeting, Mayo decided the matter should be discussed in public session, not privately in executive session.

He faced a dilemma given officials’ promise of “transparent” school reform: If he waited until after the weekend, word of the allegations could be spread and the system accused of a cover-up. Rushing a pre-Christmas Friday night meeting could look like burying the news.

Additionally, the school board this past May faced criticism of trying to limit public discussion of a controversial matter by sneaking through a last-minute “emergency” meeting—in this case, on a matter that was not an emergency.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoIn that case, the board was voting on a first-ever contract with a private company to manage a public school, Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy. As in this case, the City/Town Clerk’s Office was contacted toward the end of the business day preceding the surprise meeting. In that case the meeting notice was officially stamped and posted slightly less than 24 hours before the meeting was scheduled, less than the legal requirement. The board proceeded with the meeting anyway, but had to abort it when questioned about it. Read about that here.

And click here to read another story about another instance in which Clark flouted the state Freedom of Information Act this year.

School board member Alex Johnston, reached Friday morning, said he’d like to have “more information” before commenting on the way this latest matter was handled.

He did say that he had no idea a school board meeting had been scheduled for Friday night.

“I haven’t heard about this myself,” Johnston said. “I’d like to get more information.”

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posted by: Vanessa Poholek Fasanella on December 23, 2011  11:35am

I like how they say, “changing SOME grades,” like it was not a big issue.  It is.  It is willful, calculated, and those involved should be fired.  The Board of Education tolerates bad behavior from its teachers and administrators alike, and never doles out consequences.  And now it posts a meeting time that no one can see, so no one can know what it really going on behind those closed doors.  Between this and the property taxes and the murder rate, no wonder so many people want to leave New Haven!

posted by: Mister Jones on December 23, 2011  12:14pm

Wow.  Talk about low profile.  But it’s still a legal meeting, just barely.  Talkin’ letter not spirit of the law.  Notice posted in time.  Now, there are legit reasons for last-minute postings.  They may in fact have only decided that day to try to meet this week, before the holiday week.  They might have had to work extra hard to get a quorum and only got the agreement at the 11th hour. Or someone may have forgot to post the notice…

posted by: Dwight Resident on December 23, 2011  12:29pm

In addition, it seems they are going to rush through a multi-million dollar contract (which they probably already signed) with a private cleaning company that has been fined and charged in other states with hiring child abusers to clean schools. They have not even put that on the agenda.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on December 23, 2011  12:48pm

This is not an issue exclusive to Hillhouse
High School. Cheating and falsification of records and documents occurs in other New Haven schools. Why? It is partly the result of the so called new school reform efforts. Teachers and even some school administrators are so intimidated because they are now threatened with losing their jobs if their students fail to receive passing grades in their classes and acceptable grades on state standardized tests.
Unfortunately education in New Haven has been reduced to preparing students to pass these tests. Curriculum and knowledge of subject matter are sacrificed on the altar of standardized tests. Teachers have to spend so much time teaching test taking skills, giving students practice exams and gearing all or most of their teaching to prepare these kids for the almighty tests that they have less time for content. Result: kids graduate knowing less information now than 15-20 years ago.
When teachers have high academic standards and expectations for their students which the Board purports to support and students fail to do the work to meet those high standards and fail, those teachers are questioned and challenged by administrators. To avoid conflict with administrators, several teachers accommodate them and give them what they want: they give passing grades to students who have not earned such grades. Teachers in New Haven are threatened with termination under our new reform effort if they have too many failing grades in their classes.
I know a veteran teacher who taught in one New Haven middle school for ten years. He was terminated this summer because his students performed poorly on a state standardized test. He had students who were undisciplined, disruptive and had special needs. The students did not study or do homework. Under the new reform in New Haven when the students fail to work, the teachers are branded failures and their careers are destroyed when they are terminated. The impotent Teachers’ union is silent. Parents are kept in the dark.
This is the pressured atmosphere in which many teachers strive to work in New Haven.
This is the atmosphere which leads to academic fraud and dishonesty. Fake grades. Altered answers on standardized tests. Grades changed after being submitted by teachers.  Undocumented courses and grades placed on transcripts to make it possible for students to graduate. Academic credits granted for highly questionable non-academic work. Apathetic and intimidated teachers who fear giving failing grades to students who won’t work hard. The school system is data driven. When the data does not meet expectations some administrators simply change the data, making things appear to look good on paper when the facts are entirely different. All this to the intellectual detriment of our students, many who graduate from high school unprepared. This is why an alarmingly high percentage of New Haven high school students who graduate and go to college wind up taking remedial courses in order to catch up with their better educated peers. Or worse, they drop out after their first year after discovering how woefully unprepared they are.
Parents need to get much more involved in the schools and the press needs to escalate their investigation of what is going on in the New Haven schools. When the Board and Central office close ranks and shut the public out there is something rotten that they want to conceal. The people have a right to know.
Any investigation must go beyond Hillhouse. The problem is systemic. Academic honesty and integrity and the future of our young people are all at stake here. It will be our city’s shame if fraud and deception in the school system are taken lightly and surreptitiously dismissed.

posted by: Tim Holahan on December 23, 2011  1:14pm

It’s inappropriate for the Board to schedule a meeting in such a fashion and at a time when so many people are away with family or not paying attention to the news.

I hope the Independent has the resources to cover this meeting, and to maintain the high level of education coverage that it has provided for years now. To that end, I am restoring my automatic monthly contribution, which seems to have lapsed (through no action of mine).

posted by: Marie Lloyd on December 23, 2011  3:00pm

Mount Molehill: So the point of this article is that a little over 24 hour advance notice of the emergency meeting of the School Board is within guidelines, but not convenient for the press?  It is a bit strange to assume that the purpose of an “emergency” meeting is to inconvenience the Independent.
If I have an opinion about this minor flap at all it is to be pleased to see that the School guys are on the job.  I am sure that none of their family members are happy this is going on at the beginning of a holiday weekend.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 23, 2011  3:11pm

Is anybody truly surprised??????

This is how business is done in New Haven, on every level.

We, as citizens, need to continue to stand up, if there is to be any hope of stopping this flagrant flouncing of the public trust

posted by: A Disgrace!!! on December 23, 2011  3:17pm

This is getting to be ridiculous! The NHPS administration is running out of control with their contempt for the public’s right to know and participate in the matters that go on in OUR schools. Teachers are intimidated, the media and members of the press are marginalized or co-opted by the “revolving door” leading to become mayoral aides and “spokespersons”. And now we have Clark and Hoffman (in a recent tantrum) doing everything they can to keep the public from learning about school affairs. SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG! with these people!

It is becoming more readily apparent that there are many unintended consequences of this school change agenda, consequences that administrators are loathe to discuss (like allegations of grade-changing). We need more disclosure, not less, if we are to have any credibility in the “results” the NHPS gives us on an ongoing basis. Reggie Mayo take note!

posted by: brutus2011 on December 23, 2011  3:30pm

Folks, please carefully read the post by “Thomas Alfred Paine.”

He is telling it like it is. For real.

And, if our other teachers read this, please tell your stories as well.

Like the “Arab Spring,” lets have an “Education Spring!”

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

But even more pertinent are these words from his Notes on Virginia:

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone.” The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improve to a certain degree.”

posted by: What? on December 23, 2011  4:04pm

corruption from the top down

FIRE Mayo!!!

posted by: joe on December 23, 2011  4:27pm

What?  School board member Alex Johnston has not been notified of the meeting?  They still have 2-1/2 hours in which to do so.

posted by: McNulty on December 23, 2011  4:58pm

Teaching to the test in our schools, juking the crime stats for CompStat in the police department…

I am starting to think that Mayor DeStefano is trying to re-enact the whole of HBO’s “The Wire” right here in New Haven.

posted by: Omar on December 23, 2011  5:38pm

This is exactly like the Wire if you ever watched it!! They are all corrupt and should all be removed [...] from the Mayor on down!!

posted by: joe on December 23, 2011  5:55pm

I like Brutus’ metaphor about Arab Spring and the condition in which New Haven’s teachers and principals find themselves.  The only ture revolutionary spirit grows from within and is the only force to depose tyrants.

Keep the faith and keep on preaching; someone is listening.

posted by: Just sayin on December 23, 2011  9:29pm

Well, the NHR is reporting that Hoffman has RESIGNED! Good. One less ... on the overbloated administrators’ payroll. Let’s see what new BULLDOG Mayo is going to put in this position now?

posted by: Gary Doyens on December 24, 2011  12:01am

There is a pattern and practice of circumventing the press and the public. Clark’s weak explaination is both lame and unseemly. Now that the truth has come out about the nature of this meeting, Clark’s explaination is laughablly and demonstrably juvenile.

Will: Why do you carry the water of these ...?

While the update to this story is not posted here yet, the truth in fact has come out. This entire story is manufactured; it is a myth designed to discredit Hillhouse High School and its principal, Kermit Carolina.

DeStefano in writing accused Carolina of secretly supporting the Kerekes campaign. This is all because Carolina refused to be in a DeStefano television ad which featured school children and bastardized teachers and the principal from Davis Street School. While those in the ad sold themselves out to kiss the mayor’s arse, Carolina did not. For that, there is this story.

The mayor’s conduct is beyond dispicable. It is an egregious abuse of power, the likes of which I have never seen in politics in more than 40 years. Whatever shred of respect I had for John DeStefano is gone and it’s not worth the energy to try and put it into words. Will Clark and Reggie Mayo, if they had any personal integrity, would have shut this down. you two bumbling, excuse laden adminstrators ought to have the good sense of Chris Hoffman. Resign.

This is nothing more than a lynching—orchestrated by a while plantation “owner” and his two stooges who pretend to be “bosses.” Words fail to capture my disgust.

posted by: joe on December 24, 2011  12:36am

The New Haven motto should be changed to “failure is not an option” as this is what New Haven teachers are told all the time.  It does not matter how hard you work, or how much help you offer, if the kid fails, then you are to blame.  New Haven teachers are not perfect. But every single one of us go in everyday and fight th system to make the lives of the children better. However, nothing matters but the grade.  And if a kid fails, we are STRONGLY reminded that “failure is not an option.”

posted by: Mu Dear on December 24, 2011  6:30am

I do not have a problem with the timing of the meeting because this looks like an escalating problem. I have heard rumors of staff members fighting at Hillhouse, staff members staging student fights at Hillhouse, a veteran female teacher having her nose broken by a student, and veteran teachers targeted by Carolina for dismissal. I find it strange that he is lashing out at 2 of the men who appointed him to his position now that the heat is on. Dr. Mayo is not perfect but he has led the best school district for minority students in the state and he has worked with the mayor to produce the finest physical plant in any city in America.
Carolina has won a few (and lost some) championships and other than that done relatively little for students who are not athletes. This is a man who plays hip hop to start the day and end it. As for bullying, ask the staff at Hillhouse what they think. Ask about the near fight that Carolina almost had with one of his people. There are lots of witnesses. I am sure that people at Hillhouse would love to see Dr. Garris back!

posted by: streever on December 24, 2011  8:48am

New Haven needs our own “Arab Spring”.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 24, 2011  1:40pm

I have known Mr. Corolina ever since he was a teenager.  Mr. Corolina has has always strived to persevere to make his lovely mother proud of him. 

Kermit as a young man grew up in Westville Manor a public housing complex.  I can recall many a conversation i had with Mr. Carolina and can attest to the young man’s character as being flawless.

This investigation spearheaded by the mayor, is stained with politics.  I would suggest an investigation be applied to the investigators doing the investigating. 

It is apparent that the goal here is to find a way to remove Kermit from his position as an educator in the New Haven School System.  When you remove and try to taint young men like this, in your city, what message are you really trying to send to young black males who are trying to make a positive difference in the lives of the younger generation? 

I have been talking about how detrimental this Mayor is and has been to this city for years.  More and more people are beginning to see my point now. 

Hold your head up Kermit and always know that I like many others, find your entire body of work to be most impressive.

posted by: TC on December 24, 2011  2:25pm

If you only read one comment; read Thomas Alfred Paine’s.  What he is speculating on is true. It’s all true and there is more than what is being reported that needs to come into the light.  But, in the end,  what difference will it make?? You reelected the whole crew, didn’t you??  Who will stand up and end this?? What a disgrace for poor New Haven. I am so ashamed to say I live here…the State should take us over.

posted by: Just sayin on December 24, 2011  4:46pm

Hey Joe-

Failure is not an option IS the motto in East Haven. A lot of good it does there too. You are right- the grade AND those test scores are THE most important thing. If the kid fails for WHATEVER reason, YOU are at fault. No one or nothing else matters. RIDICULOUS!

Like I’ve said before in other areas- if all these “EXPERTS” THINK they have ALL the answers, then WHY aren’t THEY in the classroom? They spend maybe 2-3 years dealing with kids, then they make their escape and get their 6th year and suddenly become experts and end up with a six figure salary. What a joke!

posted by: Snoopy on December 25, 2011  9:50am

Change will only come when Destefano and Mayo are gone, NOT before.  They voted John back in and should only expect more of the same.  Carolina has improved Hillhouse and now his reward is the ‘Lynching Mob.’  Mayo is following orders to keep his position and may well be next.

posted by: school violation on January 2, 2012  8:18pm

this all over new haven new haven schools cheat on their cmt and have lots of violation students smoking pot in middle school principals not reporting to look good school security playing the principal role suspending students Dr. mayor needs to come more around and see all the violations the principal are performing. look into mauro school