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CEO of Singleton charter to step down in the wake of standardized test cheating scandal

The CEO of James M. Singleton Charter School and Dryades YMCA will resign after the state voided dozens of standardized tests at the school for suspected cheating and other irregularities.

Gregory Phillips’ departure follows the termination of four Singleton employees last week.

Phillips said he’s assisting in a leadership transition and will step down once that is complete. “I want to make sure the board has a clear pathway to move the organization forward,” he said Thursday.

Phillips directly oversaw School Leader Rosemary Martin, one of the four employees fired.

Board chairman Darren Mire said the educators were terminated after the board started looking into testing problems. “As we were doing the cleanup, we realized this is a systematic problem,” he said.

A lawyer for the four employees has said they did nothing wrong and were fired without a fair hearing.

The state Department of Education received a tip last summer that students had gotten copies of LEAP tests beforehand, test administrators were coaching students, and teachers and staff were taking the tests themselves.

State officials discovered many students had gotten help on LEAP tests that wasn’t authorized by their Individualized Education Program. That describes how a school will accommodate a student’s learning disabilities.

Those accommodations vary. In some cases, teachers read questions and answers aloud to students. Some students get extra time to take the tests.

The state voided tests for 155 students due to those problems.

Separately, officials found that on tests for 21 students, a suspicious number of answers had been changed from a wrong answer to the right one. Those exams were voided as well.

In all, tests for 165 students were voided at the school, which has 410 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school is trying to sort out exactly which students simply lacked the proper paperwork and which shouldn’t have received help.

“We are working on correcting records,” Phillips said.

Test security has been a concern at New Orleans schools in recent years. Test scores at Landry-Walker High School plunged after its CEO at the time hired test monitors. Administrators were suspended after NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune published results of the charter group’s investigation.

After the revelation, the two school districts that operate in New Orleans vowed to hire test security monitors for all charter schools that were up for a contract renewal or extension. Other charter leaders hired their own monitors for one of four testing days.

Mire confirmed Phillips’ resignation, saying the board “decided to move in a different direction with the school.”

“The Board’s Education Committee along with myself are managing the day-to-day activities of our transition team and our corrective action plan,” he wrote in an email.

The Dryades YMCA runs the Central City charter school, a unique arrangement in the nearly all-charter city.

Charter schools in Louisiana get public funds, but they’re run by private nonprofit organizations. They must meet annual academic and operational goals to stay open.

The Orleans Parish School Board plans to turn over its Mahalia Jackson Elementary School facility to the Dryades YMCA this summer. A spokeswoman for the district wouldn’t say whether that’s still in the works.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.