Principal at failing Baltimore high school was under investigation since 2019

Earlier this month, Fox 45 in Baltimore broke an important story about they city’s Augusta Fells high school. The story involved a student, his full name was not given, who had a 0.13 grade point average. Despite passing only 3 classes in four years while missing hundreds of days of school, he had been passed along and promoted through the system. His mother claims she was never notified he was absent and failing. And then she got word that her 17-year-old son would not graduate because he was still technically a freshman and would have to essentially start over.

Most incredible of all, the student’s class ranking showed that he was very near the middle of the pack, meaning almost half of the students in his class had GPAs that were below 0.13. Many people were wondering how performance this bad could go unnoticed for years at a time.

The state’s Governor called the situation “completely unacceptable.” The Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises issued an apology during a recent school board meeting. But it turns out the situation at Augusta Fells hadn’t gone completely unnoticed. In fact, the principal and assistant principal have been on paid administrative leave since 2019 as the district investigates.

Fox45 News recently learned City Schools has been investigating Augusta Fells since the summer of 2019, when North Avenue found “irregularities” at the school. According to a statement from the school district, the principal and assistant principal were placed on administrative leave. But what the statement doesn’t say, is they stayed on payroll.

Principal Tracy Hicks retired in January of this year after being on leave for 17 months. She was contacted by Fox 45 but isn’t talking. The Principal’s Union is also not talking but Chris Papst, the investigative reporter who is digging into all of this for Fox 45, highlighted a previous interview in which the union president suggested (without quite saying) that his principals might be under orders to make Baltimore’s graduation number look better than they otherwise would:

“Let me be very careful about this. That’s why our principals might be doing things that upper management, the public might question,” said [Union president Jimmy] Gittings at the time. “They have no other choice. Either they do what they’re told to do, and either be punished for it, or don’t do it and get punished.”…

Gittings said the pressure principals are under is to improve school data, such as graduation rates and attendance. But they aren’t always provided the resources to do it, so they have to find other ways.

Fox 45 did another follow up report yesterday in which Papst interviewed former Augusta Fells student Marcus Turner and his mother Diane Turner. They both say they saw this sort of unearned promotion happening at Augusta Fells. Marcus, who graduated from the school last June, says he saw some kids graduate who it was clear should not have graduated. “I would say if possible, do not send your child to Augusta Fells,” Marcus told Fox 45.

Diane Turner isn’t surprised the school was being investigated, though she claims she and other parents were never informed about it by anyone:

“No, I was not surprised. I was not surprised at all. That’s something I was waiting to happen,” said Marcus’s mother Diane Turner when asked about the investigation into Augusta Fells.

Diane Turner told FOX45 News she’s had seven children attend Augusta Fells. She said it was a good school, but around 2014, things began to change, which is something the data reflects. In 2013, the year prior, attendance at Augusta Fells stood at 72 percent with a graduate rate of 78 percent. Five years later, attendance was down to 65 percent with just 54 percent of students graduating. It was in 2013, when the school got a new principal, Tracy Hicks.

“I did. I did know her. She was a difficult woman to deal with. She was very difficult,” said Diane Turner about Principal Hicks.

There’s an obvious scandal here which appears to be about a bad principal who failed a lot of students at one Baltimore high school. There’s a second scandal yet to be uncovered in the suggestion that principals were under orders to make the numbers look better than they were. That needs to be pursued up the chain to see if anyone was aware what some principals were doing to make the numbers look good.

There’s also a third scandal in that the district has known this particular school was failing students since at least 2019. Yet somehow the investigation in the “irregularities” is still ongoing and parents have been told nothing nearly two years later. School administrators should have been able to figure out what was happening at Augusta Fells in a matter of weeks or months (assuming they didn’t already know). The fact that this went on for so long while students continued to be promoted despite failing makes it their failure as well.

Here’s a Fox 45 report from last week about the 2019 probe of Augusta Fells. But the latest report from Chris Papst is not available on YouTube so you’ll have to click here for that.