Former Gideons’ principal in the hot seat at APS trial

A former Gideons Elementary School testing coordinator testified Wednesday that her principal ordered her to give teachers access to standardized tests and answer sheets to allow cheating to occur.

Principal Armstead Salters would slam his fist on his desk when giving such directives, Sheridan Rogers testified during the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial.

Rogers’ recitation of what had happened sharply contradicted testimony given Tuesday by Salters, who said he had never done such a thing. Salters had already put himself in jeopardy by backing off from a plea agreement he reached with Fulton County prosecutors in December.

While testifying, Salters clearly irritated prosecutors and frustrated the judge overseeing the case. Before testimony began Wednesday, lead prosecutor Fani Willis said she will be filing a motion asking Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter to revoke Salters’ sentence of two years on probation and allow him to be sentenced again for reneging on his plea agreement.

When backing off from his agreement, Salters, 74, said he was aware he was exposing himself to potential prison time.

Baxter said Wednesday he was “tolling” Salters’ probation, meaning Salters will no longer be on probation until the matter is taken up at the end of the months-long trial.

Salters almost made matters worse for himself by failing to show up to court to finish his testimony Wednesday morning. Baxter told prosecutors to get the word out to Salters that he needed to come to court right away, otherwise “police will go get him.”

Testimony started without him. By the time Salters showed up, prosecutors and defense attorneys had decided they no longer needed to question him further and he was sent back home.

Rogers, who also pleaded guilty in December, testified that she allowed cheating to occur at Salters’ direction. Before the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, Rogers said she told Salters that the cheating, which had gone on for years, needed to stop once and for all.

“I said, ‘Enough is enough. Come on now,’” Rogers testified. “But he got a little puffy with me. I said, ‘Calm down. I got ya.’”

As a result, Rogers said she allowed teachers to continue to get the tests and answer sheets.

It was widely known that the majority of Gideons’ students were below grade level and could not possibly meet the demanding test targets set by former Superintendent Beverly Hall, Rogers testified. The school’s regional supervisor, Michael Pitts, one of the 12 defendants on trial, also knew this, she said.

Rogers said she never complained about it out of fear it would result in her annual employment contract not being renewed or her being demoted to being a classroom teacher. “I wish I had stood up to the pressure,” she said.

Oliver Banks, a former fifth-grade Gideons teacher, testified that he and three other educators spent at least two days changing answers after students finished taking the 2009 CRCT. They met at the Douglasville home of fellow fifth-grade teacher Bernadine Macon, who served fish and grits for the occasion, Banks said.

Banks said they placed transparencies with bubbled-in circles corresponding with correct answers over students’ answer sheets to find out which answers were wrong. Then they erased the wrong answers and filled in the right ones, Banks said.

“I know it was wrong,” the 76-year-old former educator testified, at times pausing when overcome with emotion. “I really know it was wrong.”

When the governor’s special investigators, assisted by GBI agents, began investigating the cheating scandal, Salters called in the school’s fifth-grade teachers for a meeting, Banks said.

According to Banks, Salters said, “They can’t prove that. Stick with the plan.”

The “plan” was not to divulge cheating had occurred, Banks testified, again contradicting what Salters told jurors on Tuesday.

When a GBI agent arrived at Gideons and interviewed him, Banks said, he stuck to the plan and disclosed nothing. Banks said he first wanted to know what his fellow fifth-grade teachers were telling agents.

Fifth-grade teacher Veronica Jordan soon let him know during a phone call one evening.

“She said, ‘You’d better get a lawyer. They know everything,’” Banks testified.

Banks met with a GBI agent again and apologized for not being forthcoming during their first interview. On Dec. 13, 2010, he signed an immunity agreement provided by special investigator Mike Bowers and agreed to cooperate fully with the governor’s investigation.

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