Have you heard the news? The Atlanta school system is again facing a major crisis.
It appears that unless the school system develops some strategy for turning around its failing schools, 60 percent of them will be taken over by the state of Georgia. The newly hired superintendent of the district, Meria Carstarphen, acknowledges that thousands of children negatively impacted by a former school leader now require substantial remediation and intervention. (http://www.ischoolguide.com/articles/28459/20151007/60-atlanta-public-schools-state-deemed-under.htm)
A backdrop to the crisis
In 1999, a woman under a New Jersey Senate investigation for not being able to account for what she did with $58 million dollars of taxpayers’ money descended on Georgia to take over the Atlanta Public School System.
The school board hired her not knowing or caring that her previous employer, the state of New Jersey, realized that it had made an awful mistake in assigning her the responsibility of improving the Newark School District. The state had taken over the school system because of failing schools plagued by corruption and mismanagement.
Their solution? Beverly Hall, who was given the position as superintendent of the Newark, New Jersey, school system. In the beginning, the entire community embraced Hall as a kind of messiah who would save the lives of their children who were condemned to attending low-performing schools.
The community quickly learned, however, that the interests of children were clearly not on her mind. She created such havoc in the Newark school system that she was forced to leave under a cloud of suspicion related to financial mismanagement that exacerbated the problems of a school system already in desperate need of repair. Parents, community leaders and even the NAACP had begun to call for her resignation.
Hall descends on Atlanta
A dysfunctional board of education, whose members were legend for holding meetings characterized by bickering and name-calling, failed Atlanta’s children by not thoroughly investigating her performance in Newark, hired Hall as superintendent.
Within no time at all, Hall was up to her old tricks. She immediately developed partnerships with the business and corporate community. Realizing that she left Newark with the black community incensed at how she had harmed children, Hall developed major partnerships with Atlanta’s African-American leaders.
All bases being covered, she conducted a superficial and fraudulent overhaul of Atlanta schools the nation had never before witnessed. Hall acted like the president of a country. Chauffeur driven from school to school, always accompanied by bodyguards, even demanding that staff not approach her when meeting in hallways this woman put fear in intelligent educators who acquiesced to her every demand.
After an unpleasant encounter with a former governor, Hall did not realize that she would suffer an awful fall. Before the encounter Hall had been given credit for turning a failing school district around.
Because she was recognized as an extraordinary superintendent in education circles around the country and even the nation’s capital, this woman truly thought that she was invincible. It was later discovered through major investigations, prompted by the former governor, that Hall had probably perpetuated the greatest con in education ever known against children.
It was revealed that she deceived the public into believing that the children whose education and lives she was entrusted excelled on achievement tests used by school districts for placement and promotional purposes. A number of Hall’s co-conspirators ended up serving jail time for these offenses against children.
She died before facing a jury of her peers.
Hall’s legacy — a potential takeover of schools by state of Georgia
Hall and her cabal of data manipulators tarnished Atlanta’s reputation and ruined the lives of countless educators and children.
This woman who was given carte blanc by a great city and its leaders, left behind a trail of malaise that will require Atlanta to attempt to rise from destruction not caused by fire this time, but by a predator whose actions have resulted in children truly being forced into having their dreams deferred.
Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at [email protected]