New Beginnings schools CEO resigns amid grade-changing investigation

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Charles Maldonado / The Lens

John F. Kennedy High School at Lake Area on Paris Avenue in Gentilly.

New Beginnings Schools Foundation CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams resigned Tuesday in the midst of a weeks-long investigation into allegations of grade inflation at John F. Kennedy High School and falsifying public documents related to a lucrative school bus contract, according to a letter to families sent by charter board president Raphael Gang.

Blouin-Williams had been suspended with* pay since April 1. The three-school charter network’s board suspended her at an emergency board meeting that night and hired law firm Adams and Reese to investigate the allegations.

The Orleans Parish school district is still investigating, Communications Director Tania Dall confirmed.  In a statement, Dall wrote the district is looking into allegations of grade changing, alleged “retaliatory acts against an employee” and alleged violations of the state’s open meetings law.

“We are discussing these serious matters with NBSF and are in the process of collecting pertinent information to inform the district’s investigation,” Dall wrote. “Additionally, the district is in discussions with NBSF’s Board regarding its plans to ensure students and families are well-served during this organizational transition.”

Gang did not immediately respond to a request for comment nor did Blouin-Williams’ lawyer, Robert Jenkins. But in the letter Gang sent to families, he said the network had already begun a search for a new CEO.

New Beginnings has hired an outside consulting firm, TenSquare, to manage the network over the next few months, at a cost of $90,000.

As The Lens first reported in March, former New Beginnings administrator Runell King alerted Blouin-Williams to what he thought were suspicious grade changes at Kennedy earlier this year. He said employees manually 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, according to King.

King worked as the director of data, assessment and accountability for the New Beginnings, which runs Kennedy. He told The Lens that he discovered the irregularities while reviewing records with an employee at the high school. King was suspended shortly after alerting the network of the issue. He has since been fired.

In an interview with The Lens in March, as we prepared to publish King’s allegations, Blouin-Williams explained the shift in students’ grades from F’s to D’s was due to an error in how grades were weighted. In a weighted system, things like homework, testing, attendance and class participation each count for a certain portion of a student’s grades.

King said the changes were suspicious because they only affected the lowest-performing students.  When asked why students with higher grades didn’t see similar changes, Blouin-Williams said she would look into the matter. She never responded.

In mid-April, King appeared at a board meeting to ask for his job back. He hired employment lawyer Dorothy Tarver in early April and at a board meeting April 11 she asked the board to give him his job back.

Blouin-Williams is also alleged to have doctored board minutes to falsely indicate the board voted to approve a contract with Scholars First busing company, which the charter group has since dropped. WWLTV reporter David Hammer asked her about the alleged changes but she would not comment.

The shrinking charter network oversees Kennedy, Pierre A. Capdau Charter School and Medard Nelson Elementary. Nelson will close at the end of this school year.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the terms of Blouin-Williams’ suspension. (May 10, 2019)

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