Atlantans reacted with shock, sadness and anger on learning that their former school superintendent, her top lieutenants and dozens of other former Atlanta educators are accused of running a criminal enterprise to cheat students.
A Fulton County grand jury indicted former Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 administrators, principals, teachers and other educators Friday in connection with test cheating.
“These people lied, and they destroyed,” said Chandra Gallashaw, whose daughter attended two schools where cheating was alleged — Parks Middle and Gideons Elementary. Gallashaw said her daughter didn’t get help she needed because of inaccurate test scores, and she blames Hall.
“She made a deal with the devil, and the devil called her out,” Gallashaw said.
The charges in the 90-page indictment read like accusations against mobsters, rather than school personnel. Among the 65 counts: racketeering, influencing witnesses, false statements and writings, and theft.
“That is terrible news,” said George G. Andrews, founder, president and chief executive of Atlanta’s Capitol City Bank & Trust Co. “It’s a sad day in Atlanta Public Schools history when you get the former superintendent and her lieutenants and principals indicted. These people are the pillars of the community. It’s just bad.”
State school Superintendent John Barge said the indictments show test security must be a “top priority” in every school. “No matter what happens in the courts,” he said, “our children are the ones who will pay for the cloud cast by this cheating investigation.”
News of the cheating scandal has traveled far beyond Atlanta’s borders, and that can have an effect on the city’s economic well being. Civic leaders fear the reputation of the school system may prompt corporate chieftains to strike Atlanta off their list when looking for places to expand.
“I do think it will have an impact on jobs,” said Robin C. Loudermilk Jr., retired president of Atlanta-based Aaron’s Inc., who now runs a real estate investment company.
Clark Dean, a senior managing director with commercial real estate consulting firm Studley, said his relocating clients ask him about Atlanta’s schools, and he has to be honest with them.
Dean has a son in a city elementary school and said the teacher is “fantastic.” But the system’s test-cheating reputation has overshadowed that teacher’s work, he said.
“I do a lot of travel for business, and people follow the story,” Dean said. “It’s almost embarrassing how much they know about it.”
Hall’s successor as superintendent, Erroll Davis, imposed swift sanctions on suspected cheaters. Over the past year, he forced dozens of educators to go before disciplinary tribunals. About 150 resigned, retired or lost their appeals to keep their jobs. Twenty-one were reinstated and three are awaiting appeals.
Davis also imposed mandatory ethics training for the remaining 3,000 teachers and principals, and strengthened test security.
“We have done considerable work both to prevent and to punish cheating,” he said Friday in a letter to employees.
The tribunals followed a series of state investigations that began after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2008 about unlikely outcomes in the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, standardized exams that help determine whether schools in Georgia meet federal standards.
A special investigative team appointed by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue reported in 2011 that cheating occurred at 44 Atlanta schools and involved 178 educators, including 38 principals. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard then initiated his own investigation, which lasted 21 months and involved test reviews at about 50 schools and hundreds of interviews.
Not everyone took Friday’s indictments as completely negative. Erica Long, an Atlanta resident and parent of a rising kindergartner, said the crackdown sends the message that authorities care about children.
“I think this will end up being a good day for the city,” she said. “At least the children of Atlanta know they matter.”
Staff writers Wayne Washington and Nancy Badertscher contributed to this article.