Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools who had been regarded as one of the top urban school leaders in the nation, has been indicted on racketeering and other charges by a Fulton County, Ga., grand jury for her alleged role in a 2009 cheating scandal that called into serious question much of the district's academic progress under her watch.
Hall, along with 34 others who were also named in the indictment late this afternoon, has until Tuesday to turn herself into authorities, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The grand jury recommended that bail be set at $7.5 million for Hall, who in 2006 was selected as the top urban education leader in the country by the Council of the Great City Schools. Hall also won the national superintendent of the year in 2009 from the American Association of School Administrators.
If convicted, Hall could face as many as 45 years in jail and would probably become the highest-profile school leader to be held criminally accountable for cheating. Last year, Lorenzo Garcia, a former superintendent of schools in El Paso, Texas, was sentenced to more than three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud that included leading a complicated effort to manipulate students' test scores on state exams.
I wrote about Hall in 2008, just as she was approaching her 10th year at the helm of Atlanta's system. At that time, many observers in education believed Hall's leadership and the steady progress that had been made in Atlanta under her watch was unfairly overlooked by education philanthropists who were more interested in nontraditional school leaders. Hall, a Jamaica native, had started her career as an English teacher. She later served as superintendent in Newark, N.J., and was a top administrator in New York City schools before taking the Atlanta job.
The grand jury looking into the cheating scandal has been meeting for months, according to the Journal-Constitution. State investigators who were probing possible cheating in the Atlanta schools released a scathing report in 2011 that said the district had engaged in nearly a decade of systemic cheating on state tests. The investigators concluded that Hall either knew about it, or should have.
Shortly after that bombshell report, Hall wrote a piece for Education Week, arguing that no matter what happened in Atlanta, it should not be a set back to school reform efforts nationally.
"There is no excuse for cheating, and I deeply regret that I did not do more to prevent it," wrote Hall, who has denied the allegations, according to a statement from her lawyers, as reported by the Journal-Constitution.
In a statement reported by National Public Radio, the state superintendent in Georgia said that regardless of the final outcome of the charges, Atlanta's students have paid a steep price.
"While these educators have not been found guilty of a crime, the indictments should serve as a warning that test security should continue to be a top priority for educators in every school," said John Barge. "No matter what happens in the courts, our children are the ones who will pay for the cloud cast by this cheating investigation. Now that this issue is in the hands of the District Attorney, we will all be watching closely to see the outcome."
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall attends a school board meeting in 2011. Ms. Hall and other Atlanta educators were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury on Friday on charges connected to one of the largest school test-score cheating scandals in the country.
--Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal Constitution/AP-File