Northside principal goes before Dougherty County CRCT Tribunal

The CRCT Tribunal meets for its third case. / Colby Gallagher

The third day of tribunal cases surrounding the 2009 CRCT scandal began on Tuesday morning.

The tribunal was led by Sid Cottingham and included Gary Walker as chairman and Sam Allen and FD Toth as members. All members have extensive backgrounds in education.

The first and only hearing of the day involved Dr. Angela Shumate, principal of Northside Elementary School, who is accused of aiding students in CRCT tests and was given a notice of non-renewal following the investigation.

Dougherty County School System Attorney Flin Coleman, says Dr. Shumate violated state law by instructing or requiring teachers to change student grades and not follow a legitimate grading policy. Coleman says Dr. Shumate reportedly required every student to have a 60 or better on their report cards and says if teachers did not comply, Dr. Shumate allegedly changed them herself.

Albany native Charlie Cox, who is representing the the defendant, says Dr. Shumate was not aware of the cheating and only told teachers to "take care of my babies", a phrase he says she used frequently.

Cox says Dr. Shumate was not aware of cheating and only told teachers to "take care of my babies," a phrase he says she used frequently.

Deborah Weldon, an paraprofessional at Northside Elementary in 2009, was the first witness Coleman called to the stand.

Weldon recalled the investigation that began in 2011 saying she testified that she did not administer the CRCT test in 2009 and was in no way involved.

Weldon says the assistant principal administered the test but Dr. Shumate held a meeting that involved the CRCT topic.

Weldon says during the meeting, Dr. Shumate told teachers they know what the students are capable of and instructed teachers they were allowed to say "is that what I taught you?" if they looked at student's answers. Following the meeting, Weldon says another official told the employees they were going to do things right despite what Dr. Shumate says.

Cox cross-examined Weldon asking if she believed Dr. Shumate deliberately told students to cheat. Welding says she believed the principal encouraged students to check their work but cannot answer if it was deliberate.

Cox introduced a report made to Georgia Bureau of Investigation as evidence which included a signed statement made by Weldon. According to the report, Weldon testified that she had no knowledge of any cheating made by DCSS employees.

Next, Tiffany Randle a media specialist who was a fifth grade teacher at Northside in 2009, was called the stand.

Randle says during the CRCT tests, she would check students answers if they were incorrect or there were multiple answers of the same letter in a row. Randle was investigated for these infractions and admitted to her wrong-doing during her own tribunal hearing.

Randle says she was given the idea to instruct students by Dr. Shumate, who allegedly told her to make sure her students did well, and that made her believe it was what she was supposed to do.

Randle says she also recalls following a meeting, Assistant Principal Tinsley Dozier, who administered the test, instructed teachers to follow the test manual and not act on Dr. Shumate's commands.

During that year, Randle says there was pressure to have good grades and test results and it was normal to tell students to check their work but she would not have violated the CRCT manual if she wasn't instructed to do so.

Cox asked Randle about her testimony to GBI officials where she allegedly said she had no idea why her school was flagged, she couldn't understand where any cheating occurred and she did not feel pressure to do so. Randle admits she changed her testimony after being interviewed a second time and told the new interviewer there were infractions.

Cox questioned whether or not Randle was given immunity to which she answered she wasn't. Randle says she is in fact being issued a suspension of 40-60 days in order to save her job.

The tribunal took interest in Randle's testimony asking whether or not Dr. Shumate specifically asked her to change answers, where the pressure to do well came from, and if she ever gave students answers.

Randle says Dr. Shumate did not outright ask her to cheat, she felt the pressure from both administrators in and out of the school and she never told students specific answers.

Jane Hill, an early intervention teacher at Northside, took the stand following Randle's exit.

Hill's job is to work with students whose CRCT scores are below a certain grade and she was a proctor of the test in 2009.

Hill recalled the meeting Welding first brought up to Coleman, saying Dr. Shumate did ask teachers to do everything they could do to make sure her babies did well but did not remember her instructing teachers to say "is that what I taught you?" Hill says she interpreted that meeting to mean Dr. Shumate just wanted the kids to do well but she sees how others could have gotten a different idea.

Coleman asked Hill to elaborate the different ways it could be interpreted but Cox objected the move causing Coleman to end his questioning.

Cox began his questioning asking Hill about her meetings with the GBI and her responses to Coleman.

Hill answered that it was a long time ago and she cannot recall exact wording but Dr. Shumate said something along the lines of making sure her babies did well and that was not an uncommon thing for her to say.

Coleman then asked to play the 30-minute testimony Hill gave to GBI. Cottingham asked to go to recess to decide if the move is necessary.

Following the break, the tape of Hill's testimony was played to allow the tribunal to further question the witness. After a short round of questions, Hill was released for the introduction of the next witness.

Cottingham announced the tape of Hill's September 2nd, 2011 testimony was admitted into evidence and would be heard.

On the tape, Hill says she interpreted Dr. Shumate's comments as teach harder but she has realized as it was said that others could have taken it a different way.

Hill also testified Dozier commonly told people to follow the rules but she did not specifically remember him saying do not listen to Dr. Shumate's comments.

The investigators repeatedly asked Hill the specifics of Dr. Shumate's comments to which Hill responded there was an awful lot of pressure placed on teachers in regular classrooms.

Hill said she's not sure if the pressure caused the cheating but she does know teachers felt it.

Hill spoke of the 80% passing rates being unrealistic because not every student is a 'B' student and said they set the bar too high.

The court allowed Coleman to stop the tape early so the Tribunal could question Hill.

Allen asked if Hill if she remembers any improper actions when she proctored the test.

Hill responded that she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.

The tribunal asked Hill to reiterate a few points she made earlier before releasing her in order to question the next witness.

Following Hill was the testimony of third-grade social studies and science teacher, Tia Ford. Ford was employed by Northside during the scandal and says Dr. Shumate ordered teachers to change all failing grades to a 60.

When Ford didn't follow orders, she says Dr. Shumate changed the grades herself.

Tia Ford, a third grade social studies and science teacher at Northside in 2009, was sworn in immediately after Hill left the stand.

Ford was identified as a violator of the CRCT tests and was given a notice of non-renewal but it has since been retracted.

Coleman began his line of questioning regarding the CRCT test policies during her time at Northside.

Ford says she was told during a staff meeting by Dr. Shumate that if students received a grade lower than 60, change them. Ford says she did not speak to Dr. Shumate about it but did not follow these orders.

Ford says she went against orders because a child needs extra help if they don't pass and if they're given a passing grade, they won't receive the proper help needed.

The grades of three particular students were brought up. Ford says when she issued the kids a grade lower than 60, they were changed to a 60. When Ford questioned officials, she says she was told Dr. Shumate changed them herself and as principal was allowed to override teacher's grades.

Ford says she then wrote in the correct grades next to the 60's and sent the report cards to the parents. Shortly after, Ford was transferred to Lamar Reese Elementary School against her wishes.

Coleman questioned Ford about certain documents and asked her to point out the discrepancies to provide proof of the changes. Cottingham asked Ford to sign and date the document before admitting it as evidence.

Questioning was turned over to Cox who wanted to know whether or not Ford spoke to anyone else about the infractions to which she answered she did not. Cox also asked about the specifics regarding Ford's transfer. Ford says she feels she was sent away because she did not feed into Dr. Shumate's ego.

Cox questioned Ford about her statements made to GBI agents before the tribunal was given their turn.

Members asked how much the parents knew regarding the matter and what the grading policy is. Ford says she does not think parents knew their children's grades were being changed and to her knowledge policy is to give the grade earned.

The tribunal dismissed Ford and called for lunch before Dr. Shumate is cross examined.

After the break, the last of Coleman's witnesses was called forward to speak about test policy.

Coleman said he changed game plans and called System Test Coordinator, Renee Bridges to the stand.

Coleman asked Bridges about the policies during the administering of the test and whether or not it is a violation to evaluate students and their answers during the test.

Bridges says yes that is a violation and teachers are there to make sure students are writing in the correct section, follow start and stop times and things of that nature.

Coleman then asked Bridges to identify the report of grades for one of the students whose changed grades are in question and admitted it into evidence.

The floor was turned over to Cox who asked Bridges, as test coordinator, if she had any involvement in pressuring students to make certain grades. Bridges says she absolutely had no involvement in the cheating or pressuring teachers to do well.

The tribunal asked what changes were made since the scandal to which Bridges answered teachers are no longer allowed to administer the test to neither their grade nor subject. Bridges also said a proctor must be present during the test no matter how many students are in the examiner's group.

Bridges concludes Coleman's group of witnesses, allowing Cox to begin presenting his own.

Cox began his line of witnesses with Tinsley Dozier, the Assistant Principal at Northside during the scandal who has since retired.

Dozier answered Cox's questions regarding the statements Dr. Shumate allegedly made during the meeting in question. Dozier says Dr. Shumate frequently said "take care of my babies."

Cox asked if Dozier had ever addressed employees not to listen to the principal's comments. Dozier says he did not and Dr. Shumate did not instruct teachers to cheat.

Coleman did not have any questions for Dozier and turned it over to the tribunal.

Tribunal member Allen asked if Dr. Shumate ever made comments regarding prompting students and whether or not he had to address faculty about it. Dozier said Dr. Shumate never made any suspicious comments in his presence and though he may have clarified a statement to a teacher or two, he did not have to address the entire group.

Dozier was released and Sheryl Holmes was called to be sworn in.

Holmes, the Principal at Lincoln Elementary Magnet School, testified that she was present for a conversation regarding changes made to grades.

Holmes said she was told by Curriculum Director, Dr. Diane Daniels, students with extremely low grades are given a 60, which is still a failing grade, so they have the chance to pull it up. Holmes said she was told if a grade is low enough, when it is averaged in, the student would still fail so giving a 60 allows them to make it back up.

The tribunal asked Holmes if she believed those who ordered this policy had the authority to do so. Holmes said as the curriculum director, yes she did.

The short testimony was enough for everyone involved and Cox moved on to the next witness.

Dr. Shumate was then called to the stand. Shumate was questioned by Cox regarding her transfer as principal of Albany High School in 2011 and the exchange made with Ford about her repositioning.

Dr. Shumate says Ford was told there was not a need for third grade teachers at Northside but was not happy about the decision.

The human resource director was called in to meet with Ford, said Dr. Shumate, who was then transferred.

Dr. Shumate says she was also told about the below 60 grading policy by Dr. Diane Daniels.

Cox then asked what Dr. Shumate meant when she said "take care of my babies." Dr. Shumate says she considers all children to be her babies, even at the high school.

Dr. Shumate also testified that she never instructed teachers to cut corners on the CRCT tests and she believes she acted ethically during the 2009 test in question.

Coleman was given a chance to question Dr. Shumate about the policy regarding grades below 60.

Dr. Shumate says students with a grade lower than 60 require extra assistance and teachers must provide reasons for the low grade.

Coleman asked if she ever changed a grade to which she responded no. Coleman provided evidence that was presented earlier with Ford of a changed grade on a yellow card. He pointed out a 54 recorded by Ford that was changed to a 60.

Dr. Shumate says if the grade was changed, it was not done by her but the teacher.

She was also questioned as to why teachers who respect her would testify that she advised them to change grades and cheat. Dr. Shumate says she doesn't know what was said to the GBI but says she believes teachers must do everything to make sure a student does well.

Coleman closely examined Dr. Shumate's process for examining grades below 60. Dr. Shumate said when she sees a grade like a 56, if the student cannot pull it up with remediation, they leave it and she never went in and changed them.

Dr. Shumate could not provide the reasons for why grades like Ford's were changed to 60's and says there was no conversation regarding the override of grades.

Questioning was then turned over to Cox.

Cox began his process by asking Dr. Shumate what happened to the student. She responded the student in question was retained.

Cox presented the final copy of the student's report card and pointed out the grade in question was not Ford's subject and it was in the language arts subject.

The tribunal asked if Ford was questioning a grade that wasn't in her subject to which Dr. Shumate said she was.

They also asked whether or not she had ever been questioned for her abilities and if Ford's parents ever raised concerns. Dr. Shumate said she was not questioned and to her knowledge parents of Ford's students did not raise concerns.

The tribunal also wanted Dr. Shumate to clarify who can change a report card. Dr. Shumate says any teacher is authorized to go into the grades and it's possible another teacher was responsible for the change.
Dr. Shumate was then dismissed and closing arguments were presented.

Cox began by saying he was glad the tape of Hill's testimony because it showed shoddy investigative practices. Cox says Hill was told it was confidential but then it was used against her.

He believes the evidence shows Dr. Shumate is a kind principal and Dozier's testimony where he had no knowledge of cheating proves there was no wrongdoing.

Cox says the testimony of Randle where she changed stories shows she needed a story to get herself out of trouble once she began being investigated.

Before turning over to Coleman, Cox says he believes there is no evidence that shows any cheating by Dr. Shumate.

Coleman reflected on each witness's testimony and explained why each provides evidence against Dr. Shumate.

Coleman says Randle admitted to her own wrongdoing and did not blame it all on Dr. Shumate, who she respects and likes.

He said most of these witnesses did not enjoy testifying against a colleague and friend but they were able to provide things they felt violated procedures.

Coleman also says the evidence with Ford shows something unethical was done with the grades and it does not make sense for Ford to fabricate the entire story and Dr. Shumate's involvement.

Coleman says although Dr. Shumate did not sneak in and change CRCT scores, the school system needs employees who follow the test manual and administers the test properly.

It is recommended that Dr. Shumate's contract is not renewed for the current year. The tribunal has five days to deliberate before either rejecting the recommendation or presenting it to the school board during Wednesday's meeting.

The tribunal has rejected the recommendation that that her contract not be renewed and is instead recommending to the school board that her contract be renewed.

The school board will vote on it Wednesday during their afternoon meeting.

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