Area Supt. Approved Signal Mtn. Teacher Hire
By David Carroll
UPDATE: Wed. Sept. 2, 8:15 pm
A review of personnel files shows recently-retired Area I Superintendent Don Beard approved the hiring of Wes Greene as an educational assistant at Signal Mountain Middle High last October. At the time, the school was dealing with overcrowded math classes.
In an October 1, 2008 memo to several school administrators, Beard wrote, "Folks, to solve the math issue at Signal Mtn. School, we will hire an Educational Assistant who is a senior at UTC. This person will run the Cognitive Tutoring Lab. The Assistant Principal, Steven Perdue, who is highly qualified in math, will be assigned 25 students to meet school approval in the oversized class. This measure is being done because we do not have a math certified person to hire. I have run the position of Educational Assistant by Tommy Kranz (Chief Financial Officer) and he approved. I have also briefed Dr. Scales and he approved."
Greene began working at the school October 6, and was reportedly teaching a class on his own a few weeks later. One unsigned, handwritten note in his file says, "When he gets his 4 year degree, we'll increase his salary by two steps."
He was hired as "temporary with benefits" according to records, but when he resigned (in lieu of termination) in early July 2009, his status had been changed to "full time with benefits."
Eyewitness News also learned why the school district failed to clarify news reports in July that identified Greene, who had just been indicted, as a "Signal Mountain teacher." Payroll records show Greene was never paid at a teacher's salary, but the district remained silent for two months about Greene's true status, until the news emerged this week about Gravitte's suspension.
Director of Communications Danielle Clark says, "When the story first broke, that was the first indication the system had that Mr. Greene had been teaching students - because we had him listed as an educational assistant. At that time, we launched our investigation. We did not correct the identification of Mr. Greene as a teacher because 1) The story was not about him being a teacher, it was about him being indicted on drug charges and 2) we did not know what the situation was for sure, as we had just begun looking into it.
We wanted to make sure we had all pertinent information before making any statements.
We just recently wrapped up our investigation and have clarified this misinformation through recent information given to the press."
Greene is the son of Deputy Education Commissioner Robert Greene, who is former Superintendent of Meigs County Schools. The younger Greene was employed as an Educational Assistant at Meigs County High School from 2004-08. The elder Greene was superintendent of Meigs County Schools until 2007.
In examing Eddie Gravitte's personnel file, we found a reprimand from Don Beard dated November 12, 2007. Beard wrote, "You have not finished approximately 20 evaluations from Hixson High in the 2006-07 school year....You have neglected your duty as a principal....Failure to stay current with evaluations will result in further disciplinary actions." There are no records of any evaluations of Wes Greene's classroom performance while he was acting as a teacher in 2008-09.
In Supt. Jim Scales' suspension letter to Gravitte on August 28, 2009, Dr. Scales writes, "As you are aware, (HCDE) has been investigating issues concerning the school approval process for Signal Mountain for the 2008-09 school year. (We) have concluded that there were material discrepancies between your master schedule and the documents you submitted for school approval, that these discrepancies had the effect of misrepresenting how you were staffing your school to the State Dept. of Education, and that these misrepresentations have ultimately resulted in students receiving instruction from an individual who was not qualified to teach."
Dr. Scales continues, "Your actions are below the standard I expect for principals...furthermore I believe your actions constitute inefficiency, improper conduct and neglect of duty...Accordingly, I intend to pursue the termination of your employment as principal within (HCDE)."
Dr. Scales concludes by informing Gravitte of his suspension, at the pay rate of a teacher, and his intent to re-assign him to a position "for which you are certified for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year." It is believed that Gravitte will be assigned to an Assistant Principal position.
Gravitte has stated his intention of appealing Dr. Scales' decision, and has ten days from the receipt of the letter to schedule a hearing.
UPDATE: Tues. September 1, 4:45 pm
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Tim Webb has ordered an investigation into the Signal Mountain High School incident, in which non-certified Wes Greene taught trigonometry to 11th grade students last year. That led to a two-month investigation by the Hamilton County Department of Education, which determined principal Eddie Gravitte was responsible. Monday, Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales removed Gravitte from the school, suspending him with pay for "unprofessional conduct" and "neglect of duty."
Rachel Woods, director of communications for the state department, said, "The TNDOE wants to work with the district to make sure that all students affected by the incident do not lose credit for their classes. This may mean looking at ACT scores to verify they are proficient, gateway tests or in some cases maybe asking students to retake a final exam from a fully licensed teacher. However, we won't know what steps need to be taken until we identify the students, and see what happened."
She added, "We have not received any detailed information from HCDE and we need this to determine what happened. In the statute, there is the possibility of fines- basically losing BEP funds for the students affected (prorated for 1/6th of the day). But we won't know how much or if they will be levied until the investigation is complete."
In other developments, interim principal Dr. Tom McCullough told Eyewitness News that he is interested in keeping the job on a long-term basis. He said he wouldn't have taken the interim position without having been told he was a candidate for the position beyond this year.
And District 2 School Board representative Chip Baker, whose children attend the school, said he did not feel that any blame should be spread beyond former principal Gravitte. In Baker's words, "The principal is the captain of the ship, and everything begins and ends with that individual."
Dr. McCullough said he spent much of the day getting to know students and teachers, and assuring students who were taught by the non-certified teacher that they would get a chance to regain credits by taking exams, and being pre-tested for their proficiency in trigonometry. He said the affected students are now seniors, and many already have enough math credits to graduate.
Monday August 31, 6:45 pm:
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Dr. Jim Scales, Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, announced that he has removed Eddie Gravitte as principal of Signal Mountain Middle High School. Dr. Scales said he removed Gravitte for unprofessional conduct and neglect of duty, which compromised the educational integrity of the school and negatively impacted students.
Gravitte tells Eyewitness News, "I am stunned and disappointed. This came out of nowhere. I plan to go through the appeals process to contest this decision. I would like to thank the students, teachers, staff, parents and community for their support while we were putting together a great school. I wish only continued success for Signal Mountain Middle High School."
He will be replaced by Dr. Tom McCullough, most recently principal at David Brainerd Christian Academy, which closed in June. Dr. McCullough also served as principal at Hixson High in the 1980's and was Superintendent of Chattooga County Schools in Georgia. He had been among the finalists for the recent principal opening at Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences, which later went to Barbara Jordan.
According to Dr. Scales, Gravitte allowed a non-certified staff member to teach high school math classes during the 2008-09 school year, the first year Signal Mountain School was in operation. Dr. Scales said by doing so, Gravitte jeopardized students' academic standing. He says the principal also falsified a report to the state. The school's Area Director for the 2008-09 school year, Don Beard, retired in June.
School Board members tell Eyewitness News the teacher in question was Wes Greene, who was originally assigned to the school as a teacher aide. Hamilton County court documents show Greene and his wife, Jacqueline Newman, were both charged in June with criminal conspiracy, theft of property, possession of a controlled substance for resale and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Greene soon resigned from the school district.
Gravitte is a Hamilton County native who graduated from Baylor School. He taught at Signal Mountain Middle, and was assistant principal at Red Bank Middle, before being promoted to the principal's job at Hixson High in 2005. He was named as Signal Mountain's first principal in 2007, a year before the school opened.
Dr. Scales says Gravitte "is suspended with pay pending his placement in another position in which he is certified." A school district spokesperson did not know if Gravitte would be paid his principal's salary or a lesser salary until a new position could be identified.
Dr. McCullough was present as the news was announced to the Signal Mountain staff Monday afternoon. He said he was appointed on an interim basis but Dr. McCullough told the faculty that he has expressed interest in the job on a permanent basis.
A meeting has been set for Tuesday to inform parents on how students' credits for the non-certified math classes will be made up.
Here is the press release issued by Hamilton County Schools:
--- Dr. Jim Scales, Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, announced today that he has removed Mr. Eddie Gravitte as principal of Signal Mountain Middle High School.
Dr. Tom McCullough, a retired Chattanooga Public Schools principal and former Superintendent in Georgia, has been placed as interim principal of the school for the remainder of the year. Mr. Gravitte is suspended with pay pending his placement in another position in which he is certified.
Dr. Scales said he removed Mr. Gravitte for unprofessional conduct and neglect of duty, which compromised the educational integrity of the school and district and negatively impacted students.
The situation that lead up to Mr. Gravitte's removal involved Mr. Gravitte allowing a non-certified staff member to teach high school math classes during the 2008-2009 school year, which in turn jeopardized students' academic standing. Mr. Gravitte also falsified a report to the state.
"I did not make this decision lightly. I wanted to make sure we had thoroughly investigated the situation and talked to all parties involved before taking such drastic action," Dr. Scales said. "Our goal through this whole process was to do what is right for students. Removing a principal after school has started is a very serious action; however, plans are in place for a veteran administrator to lead the campus through this transition, which will mean minimal disruption to the learning environment."
Dr. Scales added that the district has been collaborating with the state since July on a plan that will prevent any student from being academically harmed by the situation. The district began to implement that plan today.
Dr. Scales said that the situation is unfortunate given the great start to the school year Signal Mountain Middle High School has had.
"Signal Mountain is a high caliber school and while this may be a small speed bump on their journey towards excellence, I am confident the school will continue to boast great achievements," Dr. Scales said. "The school is in the process of International Baccalaureate certification for both the middle and high schools and I know Dr. McCullough will help steer the school through this fragile stage."
Dr. Scales said he will begin the search process for Signal Mountain's new principal using the normal selection and retention process which involves staff and community members.