State, 2 educators in MPS grade changing case reach agreement

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama State Department of Education has reached agreements with two of the six educators who were connected to the Montgomery Public Schools grade changing investigation.

The state sent six MPS teachers letters to begin the process of revoking their license due to their role in significant grade changing allegations. Two of those have agreed to settle with the state and must meet numerous standards to maintain their teaching certificates.

According to records obtained by WSFA 12 News, Dr. Betty Cargill, who was involved in the credit recovery program at MPS, signed an agreement to resolve issues that could lead to revocation of her Alabama Leadership Certificate and Alabama Professional Educator Certificate.

According to the agreement, Cargill violated 5 state and district policies by directing improper grade changes. Specifically, Cargill failed to maintain academic integrity by allowing students to complete grade recovery programs that they were not allowed to participate in and signed numerous forms for grade recovery without the proper authority.

The agreement also states Cargill participated in improper grade recovery at Lanier High School, and during the final days of the 2011-2012 school year she directed seniors to be brought to campus to engage in illegal testing and even changed grades without the students completing individual remediation plans. The letter also confirms Cargill signed an excess of 70 forms to replace grades.

Cargill's teaching certificate and any license obtained through the ALSDE will be on probation for two years. The agreement states Cargill must complete a pre-approved ethics class at her own expense in 120 days of signing the agreement, dismiss her lawsuit in Montgomery Circuit Court and cooperate with any further grade changing investigation by ALSDE. She must not engage in any conduct that would give rise to grounds supporting disciplinary action and upon renewal of her certificates or applications for other licenses, she may undergo fingerprinting and background checks through the State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.

The agreement was signed by Cargill and State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice on July 17th, 2014.

The terms and findings surrounding former Lanier High School Principal Michael Gibbs are similar to Cargill's. ALSDE charges Gibbs with failing to maintain academic integrity through improper grade changing and promoting students who were not qualified.

According to ALSDE, Gibbs "unduly pressured" Edwina Riddlespriger, a subordinate in charge of data entry, to improperly change grades. When Riddlespriger refused, Gibbs issued a written reprimand to her, as well as to teachers Erica Patton, Annette Boykin and Talia Smith as retaliation for not following his instructions. Documents also show Gibbs was involved in changing the grades of students who had no grade, or a grade of 40 and below, to grades that exceeded 70.

In a letter signed by State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice, Gibbs' behavior is described as "immoral, unbecoming and indecent." To resolve matters that could lead to revocation of Gibb's Alabama Leadership Certificate and Alabama Professional Educator Certificate, those certificates must be suspended for 2 years AND Gibbs must dismiss his lawsuit in Montgomery Circuit Court.  He must also undergo one pre-approved leadership class and 2 pre-approved ethics classes at his expense. Those classes must be completed within 120 days from the date of the signed agreement. Gibbs cannot apply for, or accept a position as a principal before he completes the required classes.

The agreement also requests Gibbs to give a sworn statement to ALSDE to assist in identifying other individuals and system-wide failures that contributed to the significant and improper grade changing.

The agreement was signed on April 4th, 2014 by Dr. Tommy Bice and Michael Gibbs.

WSFA 12 News also obtained an amended notice for former MPS Assistant Superintendent Louis Washington, who was terminated by the MPS School Board. The letter notifies Washington of the ALSDE's proposed revocation and non-renewal of his Alabama Leadership Certificate and Alabama Professional Educator Certificate.

The letter states that Washington failed to maintain academic integrity during the 2011-2012 school year by directing improper grade changing that prompted high school administrators to promote all 9th graders that failed core classes, to the 10th grade. When informed by Ms. Tracy Blackmon, a Jefferson Davis High School teacher, that the remedial packets were being abused, Washington put her on leave.

On June 8th, 2012, Washington directed Michael Gibbs to reprimand Ms. Riddlespriger for not making improper grade changes.  In addition, the letter cites Washington sexually harassed a co-worker in May of 2011.

In September of 2011 that co-worker protested when Washington, "Thrust his body against hers in an elevator". The co-worker continued to protest the action despite Washington's sexual and romantic advances. Washington is cited for also providing false information to his supervisor during the course of the sexual harassment investigation.  The co-worker resigned in 2012 and filed an EEOC complaint against MPS as a result.

The amended notice was sent by ALDSE Teacher Certification Coordinator Sarah Justiss to Washington on February 5th, 2014. Washington remains in communication with the ALSDE about the future of his certifications.

Letters of intent to revoke Alabama Education Certificates were also sent to Dr. Lorenza Pharrams, Dr. Jacob Holloway and Glenda Harrison. These educators continue to communication with ALSDE about their future.

Officials with MPS say Mike Gibbs, Lorenza Pharrams and Glenda Harrison are still currently employed in the system. Neither Lewis Washington nor Betty Cargill are currently employed by MPS.

Back in 2012 former MPS Superintendent Barbara Thompson made the announcement that following the state's investigation, seven people had been placed on administrative leave.

A letter from State Superintendent Tommy Bice called the grade-changing issue "systemic" and "widespread" and suggested that an "institutional mindset" exists that placed more importance on advancing non-magnet students than in actually teaching them.

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