Orleans school district continuing to look into Kennedy grade changes

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The Orleans Parish school district is continuing to look into a former administrator’s allegation that Kennedy High School employees improperly inflated students’ grades, despite previously finding that “the school did not act in an improper manner.”

On Thursday, district spokeswoman Ambria Washington confirmed the ongoing inquiry in an email to The Lens.

“Due to recent information that has come to light after our initial investigation, OPSB is continuing to look into the matter and is in regular communication with the New Beginnings School Foundation,” Washington wrote.

New Beginnings did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

As The Lens reported last week, the former administrator, Runell King, suspects that school employees changed students’ final letter grades from F’s to D’s and D’s to C’s in an attempt to give students credits they didn’t earn. At least 17 students in Algebra III moved from an F to a D, he said.

King worked as the director of data, assessment and accountability for the New Beginnings Schools Foundation, which runs Kennedy. He told The Lens that he discovered the irregularities while reviewing records with an employee at the high school. King alerted New Beginnings last month in a letter. Shortly after, he was suspended and has since been fired, which King claimed resulted from his letter.

New Beginnings’ CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams said the grade changes resulted from a correction to the way certain assignments factored into final grades. She said the school’s grading software, PowerSchool, initially miscalculated the grades.

A screen capture of one of New Beginnings’ algebra teacher’s gradebooks. The red symbols denote a manual override for the final grade.

King challenged the school’s explanation, saying that if it were true, every grade in the classes would have changed. But it only happened for some, he said. The school has not addressed that question nor has it answered questions about a mark that appeared next to several students’ grades in a screenshot of a gradebook obtained by The Lens. The mark, a red exclamation point, indicates a manual override.

An internal investigation by New Beginnings found nothing to substantiate King’s allegations. And last week, the school district said it looked into the matter and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

But the district is now taking a second look.

King said the district’s head of charter school compliance Kelli Peterson called him Thursday. He said another individual was on the line too.

“Can you just explain to us what happened again?” King said he was asked.

The Algebra III teacher, Gloria Love, resigned from the school for personal reasons. King thinks her grades were targeted for inflation because she no longer worked there.

King said he provided the grades in question to the district during the initial investigation.

The New Beginnings Schools Foundation also appears to be continuing its investigation. An agenda for its governing board’s Thursday night meeting says it plans to hold an executive session to discuss “investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct related to grade changes.”

Louisiana’s open meetings law allows public bodies, like the charter board, to discuss “investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct” in private. But any action, such as a board vote, must occur in public.

King said he is glad the district is continuing to look into the matter.

“People have to start telling the truth.”

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