JCPS: "Inconclusive" whether Louisville Male Principal David Mik - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS: "Inconclusive" whether Louisville Male Principal David Mike interfered with ACT investigation

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After interviewing more than two dozen people as part of an internal investigation, Jefferson County Public Schools says it's “inconclusive” whether Louisville Male Principal David Mike tried to cover up improprieties in how the ACT Compass test was given at the school late last year.

While not absolving Mike of wrongdoing associated with the ACT Compass, JCPS investigators say they were unable to determine whether Mike “impeded the investigative process and compromised the integrity” of the initial inquiry last December by the ACT organization into how the test was handled.

“The alleged conversations that took place between Mr. Mike and individuals interviewed were one-on-one conversations with no witnesses as to what was actually said,” JCPS says in a confidential Sept. 8 report obtained by WDRB News.

At issue is whether Mike coached students or staff members to lie about cheating that allegedly occurred when  the ACT Compass – an assessment taken by seniors that could boost the school's percentage of “college ready” students – when ACT began looking into how the test was administered in December 2013.

The JCPS report does not say which specific “one-on-one conversations” it's referring to except one alleged by Male graduate Lauren Schanz.

Schanz told JCPS investigators that, before she spoke to the ACT organization last year, Mike told her to “make him sound good” – which she interpreted as a cue to lie about the help she and other students had received on the test.

Schanz was among several Male seniors who took the Compass in fall of 2013 in an environment that JCPS found was “not conducive” to proper testing. Students and staff shuffled around a computer lab where some were taking “live” and others “practice” versions of the test, according to the  Sept. 8 JCPS report.

After its December 2013 inquiry, ACT noted the shoddy testing environment and inappropriate use of its software in a February letter.

But the investigation was re-ignited in May 2014 after Mike had made controversial choices to push a handful of staff members out of the school. Students alleged that cheating was rampant in the ACT Compass computer lab, with even students taking the “live” test getting answers from other students and staff.

Additionally, three then-senior class students told WDRB in May – two by name, one anonymously – that Mike had told them not to tell investigators about the help. But only Schanz talked to JCPS for its investigation conducted between July 27 and Sept. 2.

The JCPS report says school investigators got no response despite “multiple attempts” to reach eight students who “allegedly had firsthand information concerning this matter.”

The JCPS report implies, without directly stating, that Schanz backed off one assertion she made in a written statement in May – that Mike himself had helped her and students “cheat” on the Compass test. “However, during her verbal interview with these investigators, Lauren gave no indication that Mr. Mike provided any assistance to students,” the JCPS report says.

(The report's wording is unclear even whether JCPS is referring to its own interview with Schanz or her earlier comments to investigators from ACT and the state education department.)

Reached by phone Thursday, Schanz – now a student at Jefferson Community and Technical College – said her written statement that Mike “told me to lie about how helped students (including me) cheat on the Compass test” meant that Mike witnessed the chaotic testing environment, with students and staff members helping test takers, but not that Mike personally helped any student with a test question.

Mike admitted, according to the JCPS report, that he told a teacher to “get rid” of student notebooks used in preparation for the Compass test rather than turn them over to ACT's investigator – an allegation that first came to light in the Kentucky Department of Education's July 3 investigative report.

That happened “after the conclusion” of the initial investigation in December 2013 and before ACT and Kentucky Department of Education officials returned to further investigate Male in May 2014, the Sept. 8 JCPS report noted.

The JCPS report does fault Mike for some things not related to the alleged cover up.

It says Mike violated Kentucky's administrative testing code when he “failed to ensure the security and integrity” of the Compass test. It says his “installing and utilizing” the supposed “practice” ACT software violated the portion of the testing code that prohibits any activities implemented “for the sole purpose of artificially increasing test scores.”

JCPS' Sept. 8 investigation – a 29-page document containing findings and conclusions with about 500 pages of support material --  has not yet been made public. WDRB News is not posting the document because the un-redacted copy contains several student names.

It's unclear what the findings mean for Mike's career. He remains assigned to administrative duties in the central office while three assistant principals handle the day-to-day operations at Male.

The report follows a July 9 JCPS investigation -- just reported last week by WDRB News -- which said allegations that Mike bullied and threatened students and teachers were "unsubstantiated." 

Mike, along with two other 2013-14 Male staffers, still faces a preceding before the Kentucky Educational Standards Board as a result of the Kentucky Department of Education's July 3 findings.

The board, which controls teacher certifications, acts mostly in secret when handling disciplinary cases, so it's hard to determine where exactly Mike's case stands. 

Asked about Mike's status, JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey would say only that the "process is ongoing."

Mike's attorney, William Walsh, declined to comment.

In his interview with JCPS investigators, Mike denied ever telling students or staff to lie about the Compass test and said there was “no intentional wrong doing on the part of him or any of his staff,” according to the JCPS report.

“Mike reported that the issue was that they misused the software because they were unaware of the restrictions regarding the use of the practice software,” the report says.

In an Aug. 20 letter that is part of the JCPS' investigative file, Walsh says a number of non-specific, sometimes anonymous allegations against Mike surfaced only following his March decision to “overstaff” – or transfer – a handful of Male faculty members to other schools for the following year.

“While it is generally not possible to say who made these statements, nevertheless it is a fact that they were obtained by a disgruntled staff who waged a campaign to run David Mike out of Male,” Walsh wrote.

Walsh wrote that the campaign was “orchestrated” in particular by assistant principal Todd Barber and social studies teacher Josh Poore, whom Mike had attempted to "overstaff."

Poore and Barber told JCPS investigators that in April or May – after news of the overstaffing got around the school – several students brought them written statements alleging cheating on the Compass test. The statements collected by Barber were used in the Kentucky Department of Education's investigation, according to the JCPS report.

Barber told JCPS investigators that after the students told him Mike “had them cheat (on the ACT Compass) and then lie about it,” Barber called the private investigator hired by ACT, Carl Christiansen, and told Christiansen he had been “duped” back in December when he first visited the school.

Barber then became Christiansen's contact when Christiansen and the Kentucky Department of Education returned to the school to look further into the allegations, Barber told JCPS.

That second look by ACT apparently resulted in the organization taking a harder line on Mike's involvement in administering its tests. After having allowed Compass testing to resume at Male in the spring of 2013, ACT notified the Kentucky Department of Education on June 19 that Mike was no longer allowed to have anything to do with its tests, according to the July 3 department of education report. 

JCPS tried to talk to Christiansen for its July-September investigation, but ACT would not allow it, according to the Sept. 8 report.

On Thursday, Barber told WDRB News Mike's attorney's allegation that he “orchestrated” a campaign was “ridiculous” and said he didn't know anything about the alleged cheating and cover-up until students began telling him toward the end of the school year.

“Whatever sparked the kids to come forward later in the year…why they came forward, I don't know,” he said. “Kids came forward with it; it wasn't adult-driven.”

Poore did not return a call Thursday.

In his Aug. 20 letter to JCPS, Walsh said there is no “credible evidence” of cheating, nor that “Mike was aware of such cheating if it did occur” or that he “encouraged anyone to lie to investigators.”

“What exists is plenty of evidence that certain people at Male were willing to say anything after the March 2014 overstaffing to drive (Mike) from his job,” he wrote. 

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