Hillhouse principal disciplined for grade tampering

The principal of Hillhouse High School, above, has been suspended for ampering with grades and other ethics violations, charges he denies.
The principal of Hillhouse High School, above, has been suspended for ampering with grades and other ethics violations, charges he denies. Photo by New Haven Public Schools.

Amid ongoing allegations of grade tampering, the New Haven Board of Education issued Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina a suspension-without-pay order on Wednesday — discipline that Carolina’s attorney said was “bully ball” from Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

The charges levied against Carolina, which he has denied, date back to last fall, when his assistant principal Shirley Joyner brought allegations that Carolina had tampered with academic records of student-athletes attending the school to the Board of Education. Attorney Floyd Dugas conducted an investigation into charges on behalf of New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo, and in the investigation’s August report, Dugas found that Carolina had changed grades, course titles and attendance rules for several students.

While a statement from schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith said the tampering “was not a widespread problem,” Mayo met with Carolina Wednesday afternoon and issued a suspension without pay to be served from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 along with several other disciplinary measures.

“It is time to put this matter behind us and return to our core mission of educating our children,” Mayo said. “Our role as educators and leaders is to help our students succeed in the classroom, go to college and build a bright future.”

But Carolina is not taking the punishment lying down — his attorney, Michael Jefferson, has contested the disciplinary measures and the integrity of Dugas’ investigation, arguing in a letter that “the investigation was orchestrated by John DeStefano because of Mr. Carolina’s refusal to support his re-election bid.” Jefferson added that he and Carolina “are not accepting any discipline imposed by the district” and that it is time “someone stand up to [DeStefano].”

“We have stated from the beginning that this investigation was a witch hunt led by [Dugas], a financial supporter of the mayor’s re-election campaign who was clearly bias [sic] in his role as an investigator,” Jefferson wrote. “Clearly we are not surprised by the way this matter has been handled by the superintendent, who once again has proven his willingness to follow orders from his political master.”

DeStefano declined to comment on Wednesday, but City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said the findings were “carefully reviewed, and all involved were given an opportunity to respond.” She said Carolina’s allegations of political motivations were a “smoke screen” to distract from the issue at hand.

In his criticism, Jefferson also questioned why the investigation took nearly a year to complete and denounced Mayo’s conduct during his long tenure as superintendent.

“If Dr. Mayo was held accountable for all that is wrong with this district he should have been fired as superintendent a long time ago,” Jefferson added. “But because he’s useful as a political hack for the mayor’s political ambitions he conveniently remains as the Mayor’s faithful servant in the black community.”

Smith dismissed Jefferson’s accusations, adding that the investigation was lengthy because it was “very thorough,” including reviews of transcripts, grade reports, correspondence documents and interviews with staff. Mayo also reviewed all the relevant documents himself, she added.

“The investigation had nothing to do with politics. It grew out of a whistleblower complaint by an assistant principal at Hillhouse,” Smith said. “It would have been irresponsible not to fully investigate the allegations and not to discipline staff who played a role in the wrongdoing.”

In addition to a suspension, the school board has stipulated in its disciplinary measures that Carolina must also meet with Mayo and his director, Iline Tracey, within 30 days to outline a set of professional goals. He is also required to attend all professional development events for administrators offered by the school district this year.

James Hillhouse High School, located at 480 Sherman Parkway, currently serves just under 1,000 students in grades nine through 12.

Correction Sept. 30

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Hillhouse High School assistant principal Shirley Joyner engaged in changing students’ records.

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