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Here, Kingsbury High School principal Terry Ross is featured in a 2018 district video on student-based budgeting.

Here, Kingsbury High School principal Terry Ross is featured in a district video on student-based budgeting.

Shelby County Schools

Kingsbury High teacher accuses Memphis principal of improper grade changing

A Kingsbury High School math teacher has taken her allegations over improper grade changing public.

Alesia Harris said the principal directed that 17 students’ exam grades be changed from failing to 100 percent against her wishes, according to a partial screenshot of the school’s computerized grading system provided by Harris. She said an initial district investigation reported the changes were an accident, but she has not been told if those grades were ever changed back.

A Shelby County Schools spokesman confirmed there was an investigation and said “appropriate actions were taken,” but did not elaborate on the results of the probe.

Chalkbeat reached Kingsbury’s principal, Terry Ross, by phone, but he said he would have to get permission from the district to respond to the allegations.

Harris spoke Tuesday evening during a school board meeting outlining her allegations. She acknowledged mistakes could happen with grade changes, but since two algebra exam grades were changed for 17 students, mostly juniors, it was unlikely.

“Repeating the process for filling in one hundreds 17 more times is as intentional as it can be,” she told board members.

Kingsbury High School is the third school in Memphis publicly accused of passing students who haven’t earned the grade. A records secretary and football coach were fired from Trezevant High School, where investigators found a “pervasive” culture of changing grades to increase the number of graduates. The principal of Hamilton High School was demoted in January after her login credentials were used to change grades. An accounting firm is wrapping up its deeper look into whether grade changes in seven schools were inappropriate, but Kingsbury was not one of them.

Tennessee has been applauded in national reports for outpacing other states in increasing the number of students who graduate. But possible grade changes in the state’s largest district could throw into question some of those numbers.

Since the controversy started last year, the district has restricted the number of employees authorized to make changes to a student’s report card or transcript, and also requires a monthly report from principals detailing any grade changes. Such changes can be legitimate if a student completes makeup assignments or course recovery, a more involved process for making up grades.

Alesia Harris at the Shelby County Schools board meeting.

Alesia Harris at the Shelby County Schools board meeting.

Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Last school year was Harris’ first year in Shelby County Schools, she said. She spent the fall semester at Manassas High School and then transferred to Kingsbury High after a student at the previous school assaulted her, she said. Harris has been represented by Memphis Shelby County Education Association, a teachers union.

In an email provided by Harris, Ross accused her of making “an example out of” a student with disabilities by giving him a failing grade for the semester without taking into consideration the accommodations outlined for the student. As a result, Ross filed a complaint against Harris with the district, but she denied the allegations and said she did not receive the student’s plan until April.

Harris has not been the only one to publicly accuse Ross of wrongdoing. A retired teacher said her name was used to give out student grades months after she left the district, according to local TV station WHBQ.

Before Ross became the principal at Kingsbury in 2014, a survey of teachers at a high school he led in Buffalo, New York, said he created an “environment of confrontation and intimidation,” as reported in a five-minute segment on TV station WIVB.

“People are tired of being forced to pass kids,” Harris told Chalkbeat after she spoke to board members.

Keith Williams, the union’s president, said other teachers have approached his organization about improper grade changes as the school year wrapped up, but that the district has not gone far enough in correcting them.

“You’re not protected as a whistleblower,” said Williams. “They leave you out for your own ruin.”

Harris said the experience had her considering leaving the teaching profession.

“It was clear these practices are routine in Shelby County Schools,” she told board members. “Stop trying to sweep these behaviors under the rug.”