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In Memphis, a whistleblower who was fired and two anonymous teachers called attention to unethical practices at a charter high school. The school is now under investigation.
“Three people who worked at a Memphis charter high school are alleging that the administration falsified grades, improperly employed uncertified teachers, gave credits for a class that did not exist, and pulled students out of class to clean the building.
“Marquez Elem, the school’s director of operations until he was terminated this month, and two former teachers made the claims against Gateway University High School in interviews with Chalkbeat. The teachers asked not to be named because they did not want to be associated with the school, and both said they were not returning to Gateway because their contracts as long-term substitutes were not renewed.
“Chalkbeat contacted Sosepriala Dede, the leader of the year-old, 100-student charter school, with a list of questions detailing the allegations. Dede’s response, sent through a public relations firm, described school efforts to ensure proper grading and stated that Gateway employed “qualified” teachers this past school year, but did not directly address all of the claims…
“Elem said he was asked by Dede to change student grades on multiple occasions without a teacher’s knowledge or against their wishes. Elem said that he did not change grades himself but did ask teachers to do so.
“One former teacher who asked not to be named said: “When I finished up my grades, I called Mr. Dede and said that kids were failing. He told me to go back in and change the grades. [I changed] all my grades so kids were passing.”
“This comes as Shelby County Schools faces multiple allegations of grade changing in its high schools. The results of a deeper probe of seven high schools with high numbers of grade changes on transcripts is expected this month…
“Elem said the school also struggled to retain certified or licensed teachers, meaning teachers that are approved by the state, hold a bachelor’s degree, and have completed an approved Tennessee teacher preparation program.
The school had to rely on long-term substitutes, some of which did not have teaching licenses, Elem and sources said. According to state law, a substitute teacher who is teaching for more than 20 consecutive days must be licensed.
“There were only three certified staff in the building,” said Elem, who added that the school had about nine full-time staff in total. “At least four more needed licenses [to do their jobs legally] and did not have them. There were six different English teachers over the course of the year, and only one was certified. Eventually, we had a long-term sub teaching English.”
“Elem provided Chalkbeat with a staff list for Gateway, and according to the state’s database of educator licenses, three of the provided names were not identified as having a license. Elem also does not have a license.
“Gateway also struggled to retain a World History teacher and eventually hired an uncertified long-term substitute for that class, according to Elem and the teachers who spoke to Chalkbeat. They claim the World History sub worked seven months, and a substitute for English worked three months…
“The two former teachers who spoke with Chalkbeat, in addition to Elem, said students were occasionally pulled out of class to help clean bathrooms, hallways, and classrooms. Elem attributed some students’ poor grades to their being pulled from classes, and asked to clean other classrooms.
“Asked to comment on allegations made by former Gateway employees that the school didn’t employ a janitorial staff, Dede said: “Gateway University’s state-of-the-art facility is maintained by building engineering experts and janitorial service providers to ensure the cleanliness of our school building. It’s also not uncommon for our students to assist in cleaning their classrooms, along with their teachers. We are a small, tight-knit school, and this affords us the opportunity to do things in a unique yet efficient way.”
“Dede did not respond to questions asking him to specify the name of the janitorial service or when the service was hired….
“Seven Gateway students were enrolled in a geometry class that was not offered, Elem said.
“Elem said the school never had a geometry teacher, so the students enrolled in a general freshman math class called geometry “received credit for a class that didn’t exist.”
Ah, the joys of deregulation and autonomy!