Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Birmingham News staff writer Joe Solomon, in a column today:
Academic impropriety in athletics is hardly new. What's changed is that across the country - and lately at Hoover - high school teachers trying to teach prominent athletes, not enable them, are facing more pressure than ever before.

At some high schools, teachers - especially those without tenure - face mounting pressure to not just pass athletes, but give them high grades to offset a low test score.

College coaches can use charm to subtly apply pressure on teachers. What high school teacher or administrator doesn't feel a little flushed when a multi-millionaire coach shakes his or her hand?

There are some teachers and administrators who believe that a player will become a success in life only through athletics. It's this type of enabling that ensures the player will become a janitor in five years after he blows out a knee.

Who wants to be known as the person who prevented Joe Star from playing at State U? It's easier - check that, it's safer - to do what you're told and move on with your life.

It's not entirely clear what's been happening at Hoover.
Oh, I don't know about that. Reading between the lines, I'd say Solomon has a very good idea of what's been happening at Hoover, and of which college's coaches and boosters may have been applying pressure to get grades changed.
A math teacher said a final grade was changed for one of his students, a football player, without his consent so the player could be eligible in college. Another teacher went to the school system's assistant superintendent concerned she would lose her job - which she did - because she resisted pressure to boost another player's grade.
This is still the Bamaham--uh, I mean, Birmingham News, though, and I really don't expect that particular college to be named first in its pages, no matter how many stories about Hoover High make it to press. You have to tip your hat to the already-developing spin; I wonder whose bright idea it was to try and deflect the blame to the NCAA?

Speaking of spin and what information makes it to the public, there's also this out of Hoover today:
A retired federal judge investigating possible academic impropriety involving athletes at Hoover High said Monday he will report his findings to the Hoover Board of Education, which will then decide whether to make the findings public.

Sam C. Pointer Jr., who met Monday with Superintendent Andy Craig to discuss the investigation, said he cannot promise anonymity to sources he interviews.

"I don't know whether the board will say, `Let's let it all hang out,' or if the board will say, `Let's at least protect names of people,'" Pointer said.

A.W. Bolt, a member of the school board, said his understanding is Pointer will examine allegations of grade fixing or changing for athletes and efforts to pressure teachers. Bolt said he supports making the report public, but will initially treat it as a confidential attorney-client communication.

"I'll have to read it and see if there are things in it that I think should not or could not be made public," Bolt said. "My hope is this particular attorney-client communication will be made public."
Secret investigations? A board determining whether or not to release results to the public? Why, it's almost... machine-like, isn't it?

UPDATE: I completely missed Kevin Scarbinsky's Sunday column, which meant I also missed this reference to the Ghost of Violations Past:
[Hoover principal Richard] Bishop has been a high school football coach himself. He's been an assistant at Emma Sansom in Gadsden when Gene Jelks played there and a head coach at Gaston and Cherokee County.

The principal likes football so much that when Alabama's new head coach visited Hoover during the spring evaluation period, Bishop had a sign posted in the front office.

The sign said, "Welcome, Coach Saban."
Yeah, I'd say Scarbinsky knows the score, too.

Friday, June 22, 2007


From today's Birmingham News, the real story that's been lurking behind the scenes for months finally sees the light of day:
A math teacher at Hoover said Thursday a final grade was changed for one of his students, a senior football player, without his consent. And an assistant superintendent for Hoover schools confirmed that a teacher came to her this year concerned about losing a job over another senior football player's grade.

A Hoover teacher in February met with Assistant Superintendent Jan Dennis and said she felt pressure over an athlete's grades and was concerned about losing her job, according to Dennis, who is on sick leave until the end of June after the school board fired her in May. Dennis has said the reason she was given for her firing was her friendship with former Superintendent Connie Williams.

The teacher told Dennis an athlete had been transferred into her class and it didn't appear he would make a grade needed to be eligible to play college football, according to Dennis. She would not identify the teacher but said she taught a core academic class. She would also not identify the student.

To be eligible for an athletic college scholarship, athletes must have a certain grade-point average in core classes - English, math, physical/natural science and social science - that corresponds to an SAT or ACT score on a sliding scale.

The teacher, who would have earned tenure if she were renewed this year, was not renewed by the school board, Dennis said.

The teacher said she understood the expectation was that the athlete had to make a B, but she thought that was unlikely even with the extra help she was giving him, Dennis said.

Dennis said the teacher told her she asked for an administrative meeting to talk about expectations and how the student was doing. At the meeting, an administrator said the student needed to make a B in her class, but no plan was offered for how to achieve that, Dennis said she was told.

"My advice to her at that point was, `Help him like you help all your other students. Keep documentation about what you're doing. Don't do anything unethical to compromise your professional judgment,'" Dennis said. "`But do everything you can to help him achieve the best grade he can achieve in your class.'"

According to Dennis, the teacher later told her that another of the player's instructors informed her in March that the new plan was for the student to get a C, but again without offering a means for that to happen.

"Instead of having to come to the board (central office) to talk with the assistant superintendent about this, ideally she would have been able to go to the principal of the school, but the teacher did not feel comfortable doing this," Dennis said.

The teacher believes she lost her job because she resisted the pressure to give a certain grade, according to Dennis.

Dennis said she is speaking publicly because she believes what happened is wrong, and described the teacher as an "excellent educator."

Bishop said the school system does not have to give a reason for not renewing a teacher who does not have tenure, and said "that's merely speculation on the employee who was not renewed."
Hoover superintendent Andy Craig has hired former federal judge Sam C. Pointer, Jr., an Alabama Law School alumnus, to investigate the matter. Based on information that hasn't gone public yet, there's at least one conflict of interest in Pointer's "independent" investigation, but we'll see where things go from here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


In today's Birmingham News:
Hoover High School's principal said Wednesday he investigated concerns from his athletics director that athletes were receiving preferential academic treatment, but said they were "unfounded" and based on rumor.

Athletics Director Jerry Browning, though, said his concerns came from several teachers and coaches who approached him this year questioning how some athletes acquired grades and whether they deserved what they were given.

Principal Richard Bishop said Browning raised issues to him about the college eligibility of athletes before meeting with Superintendent Andy Craig. Craig confirmed Tuesday he is investigating Browning's concerns but would not elaborate on the specifics.
The phrase "fox guarding the henhouse" springs to mind here. A suggestion for our friends in the press: have a look into the backgrounds and recent actions of the people involved here (and not just the ones mentioned in the News articles). You'll learn some interesting things. Continuing:
Donna Frazier, president of the Hoover school board, said she is concerned that Browning is leaving Hoover, a national powerhouse, for Saint James, a much smaller Class 4A school.

"If there's something that's going on, I do want to get to the bottom of it," said Frazier, adding she hopes to speak with Craig and Browning.
As noted previously, you will be hearing a lot more about this story in the future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Something To Keep An Eye On

It might be a good idea to read and remember this story from Tuesday, June 19th's Birmingham News:
Jerry Browning resigned Monday as Hoover High School athletics director and accepted the same position at Saint James School in Montgomery.

Browning said he is leaving after three years because of "philosophical differences" with the current Hoover administration and the chance to spend more time with his family.

"There have been some changes this year that differ from my philosophical approach to education," said Browning, who declined to discuss specifics.

"My entire career, one thing that's very important to me is honesty, integrity, character development. Those are things that I cherish, and I think it's very important those things have to be maintained."

Attempts to reach Hoover Principal Richard Bishop for comment were unsuccessful.
First glance, this is a who-cares, especially if you don't live in Alabama... but a veritable flock of little birds are telling me that this won't be the last time you see the words "Hoover High," "athletics," "education" and "integrity" in the same newspaper article this summer.

Like I said, one to keep an eye on.

UPDATE: From Wednesday's News:
The superintendent for Hoover City Schools said Tuesday he is investigating concerns raised by Hoover High School's athletics director, who resigned Monday and took a job with a private school in Montgomery.

Superintendent Andy Craig said Jerry Browning, Hoover's athletics director for three years, came to him with concerns about the school's athletic programs before he resigned and took a job as athletics director at Saint James School.

Craig would not elaborate on the concerns, saying he did not want to speculate on anything that has not been confirmed.

"It's just too vague. There's nothing decisive," Craig said, adding that he is taking the concerns seriously.

When asked if the concerns related to the football program at Hoover, Craig paused and said: "It's not just football."
Not just football. Perhaps not just one recently-recruited football player, either.