Witness in APS trial: ‘I was a dead woman walking’

A one-time teacher at Benteen Elementary School said she knew trouble was coming when she saw a testing coordinator pushing carts loaded with standardized tests that were supposed to be locked away in a closet.

Patricia Whitehead said she and three other teachers were in the cafeteria that day in 2009 when they saw former Benteen testing coordinator Theresia Copeland with the carts filled with answer sheets and Criterion-Referenced Competency Test booklets. Whitehead said she knew she was seeing something that was going “to come back to haunt us.”

On the witness stand Wednesday in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial, Whitehead testified that she “knew those tests should not have been out of that vault.”

Moreover, Whitehead, who now teaches at Humphries Elementary School, said what she witnessed that spring afternoon was one of the moments that led to her involuntary transfer from Benteen.

“I knew I had seen something I shouldn’t have,” Whitehead testified.

Wednesday was Day 45 of the APS trial, in which 12 defendants are fighting charges that they engaged in a racketeering conspiracy to inflate scores on standardized tests. After roughly a dozen days of testimony about Dobbs Elementary, the focus on Wednesday shifted to Benteen.

Whitehead testified in Fulton County Superior Court that on three occasions she saw Copeland with tests that should have been locked away, but she told no one until asked by investigators months later.

“If there was a testing irregularity, you had to report it to the testing coordinator. I would have had to go to Ms. Copeland and say, ‘Ms. Copeland, I saw you rolling the tests” in carts down the hall.

Telling principal Diana Quisenberry also wasn’t an option because she and Copeland were close friends.

“I couldn’t go through that. It wasn’t worth it,” Whitehead said. “When people did anything that Ms. Copeland didn’t like, then people were retaliated against.”

Whitehead said she never told the whole story when questioned by a district investigator in late 2009, about seven months after the CRCT was administered at Benteen. Only when she was questioned by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in late 2010 was she forthcoming.

By then, she said, she had been moved to a job that paid $5,000 less per year. “I felt secure that nothing else was going to be done to me,” Whitehead said.

The final event that ultimately cost Whitehead her job at Benteen came in 2010, she testified. That’s when Quisenberry asked during a meeting who was feeding documents to the district’s investigator in the months before the GBI probe.

Whitehead raised her hand.

“I knew at that moment I was a dead woman walking,” Whitehead testified. “She (the principal) was not going to have anything to do with me. I was not going to be the facilitator at the end of that year. I was done.”