Convicted APS principal: My students could spell cat and dog and more

Convicted APS educator Dana Evans writes about one of the byproducts of the cheating trial, the belief children in Atlanta schools did not learn. Evans was principal at Dobbs Elementary School.

While convicted of violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act and one count of false writings and statements, she drew the sympathy of the judge.

Dana Evans, former principal of Dobbs Elementary School, talks about her time in jail, her conviction and sentence Wednesday afternoon April 15, 2015 at her lawyer's office in Decatur. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Dana Evans, former principal of Dobbs Elementary School, writes about her students and their progress. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

As the AJC reported, Judge Jerry Baxter was kindest to Evans,  who at one time was an up  and coming star in the Atlanta Public Schools system. He said in  court that Evans’ conviction was “probably the biggest tragedy of  all of them … And I want to tell you I consider you a wonderful  educator,  and that is what makes it so sad.”

Evans told the AJC after the trial she could not accept a deal because, “I’m innocent. I have nothing to stand  on but the truth.”

In this piece, she expands on something else she told the AJC after being sentenced to a year in prison and four years on probation. “Every child there (at Dobbs Elementary)  received strong academic support. I am brokenhearted.  I never hurt a child.”

By Dana Evans

The theme I created while principal at Dobbs was “Growing Greatness” and at almost every school assembly I would have the students say a short quote I taught them, “Good, Better, Best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best!”

On April 2, the second day of my incarceration, one of the officers asked if we would like to go outside. We readily agreed. After being confined in cell block 129 and in various boxlike structures as small 4′ x 2′ (for four people), we relished an opportunity to just breathe fresh air.

As he opened the door, we eagerly anticipated seeing a field, courtyard, anything with sun and grass. I was saddened to see an approximately 20′ x 20′ concrete slab encased by concrete walls. Although I could see the sun, the view was blocked by a thick metal cage-like grate that covered the entire area, necessary I’m sure to keep prisoners from escaping.

But, I had yet to transition mentally from Dr. Dana Evans to prisoner so it was devastating to accept this would be my view of the sky. At very difficult times, looking at the sky had become somewhat of a ritual; I would find myself going outside, lifting my hands up, looking to the clouds and feeling as if I could see and feel God. For the first time, my view was obstructed.

We went outside and began to walk the perimeter of the concrete to get exercise. Ms. Cotman pointed out on the border small seedlings growing through and around the concrete. I was amazed in spite of being in the most inhospitable environment, something was able to grow, and not just grow but thrive. Even more miraculous was that these small plants were growing the farthest from the sun, in the most desolate places.

This moment reminded me of Dobbs and, like being thrown through a worm hole, I was transported back to the school looking at my kids. Remembering them, I looked at the sprouts of vegetation and saw my students. Resilient seeds braving the harshest conditions to defy the world and grow. During the opening remarks from the prosecution, Fani Willis told the jurors that “these students couldn’t do it, some couldn’t even spell cat or dog.”

I probably should have shouted, “I object your Honor!”  She doesn’t know my students; they can and do grow and flourish despite the world’s perception of their limitations.  I am most disturbed with the lasting effects of this diminished view of students living in poverty , the images of failure we seem to propagate daily on the news as we interview parents and students who struggle. I am disturbed at how this trial has decimated, at least in the minds of many, the legitimacy of our hard work to improve student achievement in public schools.

Against overwhelming odds, my students did “Grow Greatness.” In 2011, my last year at Dobbs, when the state’s testing goals were the highest and with a zero  percent erasure analysis (this is the standard used by the Governor’s Investigation Team to identify cheating schools), we met those testing goals.

State Superintendent John Barge wrote a letter to Erroll Davis, APS superintendent at the time, congratulating the district. He wrote, “Almost half of the schools with evidence of cheating in 2009 and in prior years made AYP [testing goals] in 2011 when there was no evidence of cheating and when there was a much higher academic bar to meet. You all are to be congratulated for that!”

It’s unfortunate my congratulations for this hard work was a termination letter.

Yes, my students could spell cat and dog. Yes, my very intelligent, creative and passionate students grew in the shadows. I believe God was reminding me of what I already believed, that as long as there is a seed things can grow….Greatly.

Reader Comments 0

98 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I'm still perplexed by the 4 ft by 2 ft holding area for 4 people...

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Wascatlady


It could have been read that that small area was built originally to hold 4 people, maximum, temporarily.  I thought Dr. Evans' words were ambiguous as to whether 4 people were actually present in that small holding area when Dr. Evans was held there.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

 Papacorn ........as long as we are not sleeping with you! We will all be okay. The truth is the truth. Why will neither of you loud mouths address the questions? Transportation will be an issue, and I am not claiming poverty myself. Bernie was a hoot. I can send my kids to private school.......no desire! I don't need you or the government. You sound like I may need to extend you a loan. Do you have status envy?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Mr. Pig...... That's great you played sports with black people. There are many more races. Now......when parents have a choice they will segregate their children.  Whether it is by race, behavior, or just because some people feel as though they are better than others. People will be segregated. How will you handle this? Would you put a young child on a bus all day so you can feel like you are saving them? We have already tried busing. What will you do when a child can't afford to move in district and the parents can't afford transportation? Now....will you take away choice, bus them or taxi?

Poverty is in every race. It does not matter what color you are and many poor White, Hispanic, and others are lacking in educational perks. Race is not my issue! If anyone feel different tough!


Troll Brown

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Not one reply! You guys can't type until someone gives you a script. HAHAHAHHHAHAAH!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@JBBrown1968 

 As a longtime blogger here, I will answer you from my own impressions of Astropig and Popacorn... Popacorn is a sniper at everything to do with traditional education, from the teachers to the classrooms. I've been a target like many others. I can't recall him ever revealing views on school choice, vouchers, etc.  Astropig, however, is a conservative who very strongly supports school choice, charters, vouchers because he thinks the traditional public schools are unfixable.  He'd probably deny that his position is due to race.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @JBBrown1968


Prof, I'll respond to you but I won't respond to trolls.


My position on race hasn't changed since my parents and grandparents taught me that we're all God's children.Some people of every race are bad,an overwhelming majority are good.I live in a veritable UN neighborhood in all of my homes and I think my neighbors will tell you that as long as your dog doesn't make a mess in the yard, I treat them like they would treat me if we were lifelong pals.I spent my early life in athletics and I can honestly say that sharing long bus rides over southern back roads with every race to play in front of dozens of adoring fans will give you a perspective that you can't get anywhere else.You get to know some important things in such a situation and I'm thankful that I have.So the race baiters can smooch my..Well, they can just smooch.


As for the schools, I don't believe that there is anything that is impossible.If we have the will, we can move mountains.But the way forward is not to look back 100 years and never progress past the agricultural age.

popacorn
popacorn

@OriginalProf

I guess this character is your new Bernie, and we know what happened to him. Careful 'bout sleeping with dogs, both of you. 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Norning.

Why don’t you just admit your propensity for school choice, and the takeover school mentality is driven by race and money. You and Popacorn would prefer to have schools segregated.  Poor people will go to school with other poor people, just like they always have.  The rich always have a choice of where their children attend school. Poor people regardless of color are just trying to live.

Which statement is race baiting and not fact?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Another Scripted TROLL, all keyboard and no backbone! 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Mr, Pig and Corn


Why don’t you just admit your propensity for school choice, and the takeover school mentality is driven by race and money. You and Popacorn would prefer to have schools segregated.  Poor people will go to school with other poor people, just like they always have.  The rich always have a choice of where their children attend school. Poor people regardless of color are just trying to live.


Norning
Norning

@JBBrown1968

You've quickly established yourself as the race-baiting hater on this blog, haven't you? There no sports blogs with a use for you?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Norning @JBBrown1968


Please tell me how? Second, you’re up to bat. You answer the honest questions I have asked here. I am not on here belittling teachers and asking tax payers to help me put my children in private school.  

How many screen names do you have? 

Norning
Norning

@JBBrown1968

JBClown1968 is one that could grow on me, tough guy. But perhaps we should meet on another blog where things get rougher.

With smaller words you'll more fully understand.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Norning @JBBrown1968


Wow Big man,,,,,you just scare the shot out of me. Really you do! This is your best reply..HAHAHHAHAHA You're just a little Kitty. HAHAHAHAHAH!

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Mr. Pig,


You always seem to have answers. How about stepping up and answer the questions I ask....... Their guilty the end. Move on! 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

The comments of the reader below(Maureen posted them due to technical difficulties) brought up a good point. It is not against the law to socially promote students to a higher grade for which those student are not academically prepared(if done a certain way). I have heard that teachers often give a student a few points to make a 70 to prevent a failing grade. Is that against the law?  It is against the rules/law to change test answers on the CRCT. These three situations seem to be pretty much the same-giving a passing score/placement to a student who didn't earn it. 


Why do many people express such anger and disgust for the RICO charged group but seem to have little interest in the other two examples? I just realized that some of the teachers may have felt like it was no big deal if "moving on when not ready"  was common practice. Not saying their behavior was excusable, but UGA had a similar problem and Fred Davison and Vince Dooley didn't face prosecution and wind up in jail.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/education/12kemp.html?_r=0

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian The "bonuses" they didn't earn made it a criminal matter.  It would have been simpler, quicker, and maybe more just to prosecute for theft by deception.

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian 

I guess I'm just left to wonder when some people will look at the actual facts of this case and stop trying to make these people some kind of folk heroes because other people in other places did things that were as bad or worse.That's not the way real justice works.This lady had to know something was going on that wasn't right.She was in whatever part of the APS management structure and other people knew it and most likely talked about it,even if indirectly.Teachers talk. Teachers gossip. Teachers have secrets and things that they would rather the public not see. They're fallible human beings,so it's not always what you see on the surface. But...


But this went on from 2001 until the paper exposed it.It would still be going on if there hadn't been some light shone in dark places that revealed the extent of the scheme.Maybe she was a little bitty cog in the machine,but she was there.She had a moral obligation to speak up.

outraged7
outraged7

Reading some of these comments helps me understand how the court and jury got it wrong in DR. Evan's case. @gactzn2...she was not at Dobbs 2007-2011. I know this because I worked with her until she left for Dobbs. (CHECK YOUR FACTS BEFORE YOU CONVICT). Because she was not at Dobbs, she received NO bonus. Does anyone realize that she was cleared and commended by the GBI for any wrong doing? She was also cleared by the GA Professional Standards commision. So......

bu2
bu2

@outraged7 

If the facts aren't correct, she had an attorney-From the report:


"Principal Evans became principal in 2007, and cheating continued at Dobbs under her leadership, but not at her direction. She denied any knowledge of cheating, but accepts professional responsibility for all cheating that occurred at Dobbs during her tenure as principal. We commend her for accepting responsibility -- she is one ofthe few in APS to do so. Principal Evans regularly employed volunteer proctors (generally parents) who had no training in test administration. At least one teacher witnessed a parent-proctor prompting students on the CRCT. "


Also:

"Sidnye Fells, who is no longer with APS, spoke to Principal Evans about her suspicions that the fourth grade team cheated, and about testing violations at Dobbs in general. Principal Evans changed the subject and took no action. Malcolm Brooks, who is no longer with APS, also spoke to Principal Evans about his suspicions of cheating by the fourth grade team. Principal Evans told Brooks that the fourth grade teachers simply had a rapport with their students and knew how to motivate them. Naomi Williams told Principal Evans about Curb's cheating, but Principal Evans took no action and instead fired Williams. Principal Evans instructed Tameka Grant to falsify CRCT records to indicate that students who failed to meet expectations in 2009 received remedial help when they received no such help. Tameka Grant met with GBT agents pursuant to this investigation, and informed them of Principal Evans' instruction. Tameka Grant said she was terminated by Principal Evans a few days later. Principal Evans informed teachers at a staff meeting that if she were placed on a PDP for low test scores, she would place every teacher on a PDP for low test scores as well. Teachers suspected cheating at Dobbs, but did not report it for fear of retaliation. "


So unless the report was wrong, sounds like Evans got off kind of lightly.


https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/215057/aps-cheating-report-volume-2-of-3.txt

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@outraged7 Why is there so much discrepancy in when Ms. Evans led at the school?  Serious question.

bu2
bu2

@Wascatlady @outraged7 

Prosecutors do make mistakes, even on the charges.  I was on one jury where they got the dates wrong on when the action took place.  That was an easy not guilty.  On another case they didn't notice a written witness statement that the masked gunman had a gold tooth.  One of the reluctant "guilty" votes noticed it in the documents when we were doing sentencing.  That would have made it a lot easier to convict instead of taking 3 days.


Also outraged7 is an anonymous message board poster.  We don't know if outraged7 is telling the truth-or-is confused also about the dates.

Starik
Starik

The whole process illustrates a basic rule...when a case in the criminal justice system gets a publicity, in this case a lot of publicity, everything changes. Rest assured that if this were an ordinary criminal case nobody would go to jail at all.  Normally, 7 day trials are uncommon, much less 7 months.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik I disagree. If this were an ordinary case, there would be many in jail, waiting their appeal.  There would not have been so many pleas offered, and there would have been no "resentencing" planned.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady @Starik I can assure you that the system, if allowed to operate without the publicity, would have worked the cases out rather than tying up a court division for 7 months.

eulb
eulb

@Starik @Wascatlady 

Starik, I agree, but not completely.  If I could rephrase your statement, I would say: "If these cases had come before the court without publicity, they would not have tied up a court division for 7 months." IMHO:  if the AJC had not investigated and publicized the evidence of cheating, these cases would never have come before the court.  They would never have become "cases" at all. 

newsphile
newsphile

There is no doubt in any mind that AJC is pushing for less or no punishment for these "educators".  Column after column has been printed in justification of the laws broken by the indicted.  When are we going to see the same number of columns in favor of the jury's rulings? 

Do you really expect the court to give in to media pressure?  A jury of their peers has found these people guilty. Should a court give in to pressure, we have lost some of the freedoms that separate us from the rest of the world.  This is a slippery slope.  Be careful what you wish for. 

Norning
Norning

Ms. Evans obviously has self-pity in abundance. But still no contrition for the harm she did to children she was entrusted with?

Only the anti-reform crowd could imagine her a heroine.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

"I am disturbed at how this trial has decimated, at least in the minds of many, the legitimacy of our hard work to improve student achievement in public schools."


Ms. Evans has a right to stand up and fight to proclaim her innocence. That said, she was tried and convicted, and that is now a matter of public record.


To her statement quoted above, the TRIAL did not decimate legitimacy, the felonious acts of people in positions of responsibility and public trust "decimated . . . the legitimacy our hard work . . .". Ms. Evans has joined the chorus of the convicted attempting to cast blame on the legal system while downplaying, dismissing, or ignoring the underlying felonious acts of cheating and conspiracy. Good luck with that, Ms. Evans, I seriously doubt you are winning over "the minds of many".


living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

I am really astounded that these educators continue to be in denial about their actions.  How could the evidence be so overwhelming that a jury of peers could be completely convinced there was an organized cheating campaign taking place, yet the educators and their lawyers be completely unable to debunk the evidence?


I would really like an answer to that question, Miss Evans et al.


It's best that you and your cronies keep you mouth SHUT, because every time you open it publicly, you elicit more and more adverse reactions from the public. Lesson #1:  if you want to sway the court of public opinion, let others do the talking.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Thanks for printing this essay, Maureen, for better than anything it shows the psychology of these educators...and this was a principal. And Wascatlady, I too wondered mightily about her statement that she was being kept in a 2'X4' holding cell with three others. This seemed to me to cast doubt on everything else she claimed.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@OriginalProf They would basically have to stand up, like a bunch of asparagus.  Unless she is confusing 2 yards with 2 feet, and 4 yards with 4 feet.  That would be 6x12, which is more likely, but what a mistake to make, if so!

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

A reader who cannot get her comment to appear -- sorry that is still happening to some folks -- asked me to post her response. I have been alerting the AJC tech folks to these problems. I have been told the browser may be an issue and to suggest trying to access the blog in a different browser,

So, from TeacherToo:

Several things have been overlooked. First of all, these students did not "fail" based on one test. These students came into their grade level already deficient. Where were the parents when these kids were in first and second grade and could not read a sentence or a paragraph? How did they get to third grade without basic addition and subtraction skills?  

Yes, absolutely the cheating was hideously wrong, both immoral and unethical behavior on the part of these teachers and administrators. But, where is the outrage on the parents who didn't know their kids couldn't read or perform basic math before the kids ever got to a testing situation?  Were they invited to conferences? Did they participate in their child's education at all? 

And, here's the rest of the story...the tests are essentially meaningless because most kids who cannot pass the test are "placed" in the next grade level anyway. Do you know how difficult it is to retain kids in a grade level? It's strongly discouraged, and so the kids move up to the next grade level, falling further and further behind in almost all the academic areas. 

Also, administrators routinely change final grades so students "pass" to the next grade level. And finally, the CRCT was a minimal competency test -- the cut rates were so low that if a student didn't meet, he/she had to be seriously deficient in reading/math skills

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney I agree with TeacherToo: These students would have been sent on anyway.  The bad part is, with "passing" scores, it is likely the next year they would not get some of the additional help, like EIP classrooms, or perhaps Title 1 teachers.  Also, any RTI in progress would probably have stopped, thus denying them the slight chance of testing and placement in sped.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Wascatlady @MaureenDowney Some schools apparently tested their kids at the start of school and made their own decisions on where kids were and what they needed -- I think there is a sense in many districts that the CRCT doesn't tell you much of value and you have to do your own assessments to figure out where kids are. (Decatur Schools relies heavily on MAP for diagnosis and placement.)

During the trial, testimony indicated kids at Dobbs Elementary got extra help because everyone in the school did. 

One overlooked issue -- expressed to me by several teachers in APS -- is they lost ground trying to figure out how a child who did so well on the CRCT the year before did so poorly in their classes. Several teachers told me they worried it was their own fault, that somehow did not know how to reach this child so they redoubled their efforts and tried all sorts of approaches. But some also began to suspect the CRCT scores were bogus and relied on their own skills to figure out where kids were at the start of a new year.

Which is probably the best approach anyway.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @Wascatlady In my former school, CRCT results were used to determine who got into EIP classes, as well as mandated RTI.  The whole school is Title 1 (due to 80% free lunch).  However, after a teacher gets to know her new students, she could "checklist" them into EIP but if there was no room in an EIP classroom, the kid did not get the benefit of the extra teacher.  S/he still got focused instruction, of course, and could still be RTId(a very onerous, largely dead-end deal.)

PJ25
PJ25

@MaureenDowney Unreal.  Typical canned liberal response.  It's everyone's fault but my own. 

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@MaureenDowney 

Okay fine, they would be passed along anyway.  That still doesn't address the matter of all the money the district took for improving their test scores.  This is way more about the cheating and people are refusing to see that for whatever reason.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Ms. Evans' comments are the comments of a born educator and of a born leader.  Even in this opportunity to speak in behalf of herself, her voice focused on the children, and positively so.


I hope that she will seize an opportunity to speak out for prison reform.  So many of those incarcerated have had deprived backgrounds and/or suffer from untreated mental illness.  What they live in daily only exacerbates their problems and the problems of society.


Readers, look into the Democratic State Legislative Educational Plan called a Community/School Cooperative. 

popacorn
popacorn

@MaryElizabethSings I would pay money to eavesdrop on a conversation between you two gals. Birds of a feather and all that. 

Belinda51
Belinda51

A born leader?????? Seriously????? If she's a leader, I can see why this whole cheating thing happened.

Belinda51
Belinda51

Yes, I do Mary Elizabeth. You don't need to lecture me. You and I have different thoughts on leadership I guess. Not very complex, imo. Who are you to question my moral judgments? Pot, meet kettle.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Belinda51


Then, if you think in complexities, I should read some thinking in your posts beyond the obvious.  I am not questioning your moral judgments.  I am urging you to see beyond your moral judgments, not to change them.