Kermit Carolina, Hillhouse High School Principal, Led Rule-Bending 'Culture' Of Preferential Treatment, Transcript-Tampering: Report

This piece comes to us courtesy of New Haven Independent.

Officials dropped a bomb Monday night right before the opening of the academic year: They released a report accusing Hillhouse High School's principal of participating in transcript-tampering and preferential treatment for student athletes.

Administrators at the school and at Riverside Academy deliberately changed the course descriptions on some students' transcripts and overlooked attendance rules, among other instances of tampering with official records, in order to enable the students to advance to higher grades or to mislead the NCAA, according to the report. The alleged wrongdoing concerns three student athletes.

Click here to read the full report.

Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina--a main target of the report--and his attorney, Michael Jefferson, blasted the findings as "utter nonsense" and a "witch hunt."

"I did absolutely nothing wrong," Carolina said. "Everything is a reach at best. They are reaching to connect me to wrongdoing."

Carolina vowed not to be pushed out of his job.

"I'm here to stay," he said in an interview. "I have to stand strong. I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that Hillhouse continues to grow and flourish."

For his part Superintendent of Schools Reggie Mayo called the allegations "certainly disturbing." He said he plans to have staff review grading policies and summer programs, with a special emphasis on Hillhouse.

Mayo said the findings hurt kids in two ways: "Those that are given these breaks are missing out on an education," and the rest of the kids aren't getting an even playing field.

Milford-based attorney Floyd Dugas, who conducted the investigation on behalf of the school board, issued his findings at Monday's meeting at 54 Meadow St. Mayo commissioned the report right before Christmas based on allegations by a Hillhouse administrator. He originally said the report would be completed within weeks because of the urgent nature of the allegations; however it didn't get finished and become public until Monday night, less than two days before the opening of the school year. (Click here to read about the pace of the investigation.)

The allegations became tied up with larger political currents in town, with Hillhouse Principal Carolina accusing city officials of targeting him because he failed to support the reelection of Mayor John DeStefano, a charge officials denied. Read about that here.

At Monday night's meeting, Mayo said the school board would take disciplinary action against the host of administrators involved, but did not specify what action or against whom it would be taken. He did say that he's not recommending anyone be terminated.

Mayo said he plans to meet with the eight people accused of wrongdoing in the report, with their union representatives present, and hear their side of the story before deciding on discipline.

"Everyone will have their day in court," Mayo said.

The investigation did not find any tampering with grades on standardized tests. Nor did it uphold all the allegations leveled against Carolina and others by a Hillhouse assistant principal, Shirley Love-Joyner.

But it did conclude that Carolina and others knowingly bent rules and cleaned up transcripts for student-athletes in some cases.

It also concluded that Hillhouse has a "culture at the administrative level of bending or ignoring practices and procedures put in place to ensure the integrity of student grades." And it described "brazen efforts" to get teachers to change grades.

The specific instances cited in the report were isolated and do not add up to a "culture," Carolina responded Monday night. He said the cases represent just three of 1,000 students at Hillhouse. "The allegations are inconsistent with" Carolina's record and character, Jefferson added.

Dugas conducted 32 interviews before preparing the 28-page report.

He concluded that two Hillhouse football players, for instance, got "preferential treatment" on their transcripts for summer courses they took at Riverside Academy, an alternative high school. They attended class for "half the amount of time as other students" because of a "special exception" between Carolina and Riverside Academy Principal Wanda Gibbs, Dugas wrote. The students were awarded twice as many credits for the summer courses as other students were, Dugas found; he said Gibbs "misled" him as to why.

Carolina said Monday he never "conspired" with Gibbs; he said those students went to Riverside summer school before Carolina became principal.

Dugas further accused Hillhouse administrators of changing the course description of the summer classes, which had been listed as "Summer School 2010 English I" and "Summer School 2010 English II" on the students' transcripts. Hillhouse football coach Tom Dyer became aware that the transcripts had the words "summer school" on them and was concerned "it would not look right or be given appropriate weight by the NCAA," Dyer told Dugas in an interview.

Dyer brought the matter to Carolina, who brought Dyer to the office of Ed Scarpa, a retired teacher who had returned to Hillhouse to work part-time. Scarpa upgraded the description from "basic" English to "college" English, giving the false impression that the classes were different than the ones the students had already taken at Hillhouse.

Scarpa confessed to making the change and appeared to know what he was doing was wrong, Dugas found: Before making the confession, Scarpa prefaced his remarks by, "I know I will probably get fired, but," according to Dugas.

Dugas concluded Carolina knew what Scarpa was doing; Carolina offered a "not credible" explanation of not having been aware of the details, Dugas found.

Carolina on Monday maintained he had no knowledge of what Scarpa had done. He said he brought Dyer to Scarpa's office to address Dyer's concern, but did not stay "more than 30 seconds" and left the two to sort out the problem.

Carolina said as a new principal, he didn't know how to address Dyer's concern about the transcript; Carolina said in cases where he didn't know what to do, he relied on experts in his building, such as Scarpa, who were familiar with past practices.

Carolina said he had no training, and knows of no policy, governing how to handle transcripts for summer courses. He said he received no orientation and no training as a new principal when he started in 2010.

The report also concluded that one of the students was allowed to graduate despite being absent more than 20 days a year--and that Carolina falsely claimed to the investigator that he no longer followed that rule, known as "the 160-day rule" at Hillhouse.

Carolina noted that his predecessor, Lonnie Garris, had instituted the 160-day rule. Carolina insisted he didn't believe in the rule and never enforced it; he noted other schools don't have it.

In the report, Dugas did find that Carolina had correctly identified problems with the school system's Tenex computer grading system. Teachers have the final say in determining a student's grade. However, Tenex was overriding teachers' input, and instead auto-calculating student grades. The district is now switching to a program called PowerSchools. Dugas found that some students' grades were changed in Tenex, but there was no impropriety: They were changed only to reflect the correct grade that the teacher had given.

Dugas concluded he could not substantiate an allegation that Carolina had given a student work-hours credit for hours he never worked, in order to enable him to graduate. The student did work the hours he claimed, Dugas found.

In the case of another student-athlete being recruited to play college sports, Dugas found he could not corroborate an allegation that Hillhouse administrators knowingly gave him credit for a course that hadn't been completed yet. Rather, a teacher made an error in confusion. However, the superintendent did discover that the student was receiving suspiciously high grades for some courses, perhaps under pressure from a coach or the principal, according to the report.

The report found that Scarpa deleted from "Student #4"'s transcript an intermediate algebra class the student had taken, "artificially inflating the student's GPA."

Carolina said he was never interviewed about that student; the allegations arose later in the probe.

He and Jefferson decried the timing of the report, just two days before the start of school. The timing aimed to "embarrass" the principal just as school begins, Jefferson said.

Mayo said the probe took eight months because new avenues for investigation arose. He said the district simply released the report when it was ready.

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