Mario M. Watkins – principal at Ralph J. Bunche Middle School

July 31, 2014

Mario M Watkins Bunch MS

Picture credit – APS

Talk Up APS is running a series of new principal profiles and published a profile on Mario M. Watkins, the principal at Ralph J. Bunche Middle School. The following is the article in full (republished with permission).

  New principal Mario M. Watkins announces open door policy at Ralph J. Bunche Middle School

Mario. M. Watkins was recently appointed principal of Bunche Middle School in southwest Atlanta. An innovative veteran educator with 20 years of public education experience, Principal Mario M. Watkins has served for over 10 years in K-12 administration.

During the past two years, Principal Watkins has served as the interim principal at Ralph J. Bunche Middle School and is excited to now make Bunche his permanent home. Watkins says that during his tenure, Bunche has made significant gains on their CCRPI (College and Career Readiness Performance Index) from a 48 to 71. Bunche has also greatly reduced the number of disciplinary infractions and tremendously improved their school-wide climate and culture. 

Watkins’ personal academic background includes a Bachelors of Science in Biology from Xavier University, Masters of Public Health, Policy and Management from Emory University, Broad Field Secondary Science Teacher Certification from Oglethorpe University, Educational Leadership Certification and an Education Specialist in Biology degree from Jacksonville State University. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Science Education at the University of Georgia and has taught science at the collegiate level at Atlanta Metropolitan College. 

Principal Watkins’ passion for education stems from his deep desire for all students attending Bunche to get a quality education. 

As a dedicated father and prideful member of the local Ralph J. Bunche community, Watkins continues to remind his staff to deliver instruction to their students in a way that they would like to see delivered to their own children. 

As he enters the 2014-2015 school year as the appointed principal, Watkins says the main goal for Bunche Middle School is student academic success. 

“As we enter year three under my leadership, we are making quality classroom instruction our number one priority,” says Watkins.  “The second overarching goal will be to implement a school-wide writing program that will be taught throughout all four core content areas.” 

In a letter to parents Principal Watkins lays out a list of upcoming changes and improvements for the 2014-2015 school year at Bunche Middle School. The changes are a part of an effort of moving the school towards becoming a GA School of Choice and national school of excellence. Some of the changes include better communication with parents, utilizing the school’s Facebook page, monthly newsletter and school website. The letter mentions an “open door” policy where parents are welcome to visit the school to provide continuous input for change. In the letter Principal Watkins states “As your facilitator for change, I look forward to meeting you and establishing a partnership for promoting student success.”

A complete list of changes and improvements for the 2014-2015 school year at Ralph J. Bunche Middle School is below:

  • Newly implemented Professional Learning Communities to give teachers the opportunity to effectively plan and implement the new GA Common Core Curriculum
  • Higher academic expectations for our teachers and scholars focusing on positive school culture and climate using Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies.
  • A concerted effort to improve the overall customer service experience among students, parents, community members, and other stakeholders
  • Better communication with parents using our new Facebook Page, monthly digital Parent Newsletter, and regular website updates
  • 150 newly purchased iPads for teachers’ classrooms to inspire a world-class, 21st century learning atmosphere
  • Two newly hired connections teachers to provide a foundational exposure student to the fine arts and to health and wellness
  • An “open door” policy where parents are welcomed and invited to visit the school to provide continuous input for change

Bunche Middle School is currently undergoing construction. The new Ralph J. Bunche Middle School is slated to open in July of 2015. 

Along with the construction of a new campus, Bunche was selected as the winner of the ASIS Foundation School Funding Competition, winning $20,000 worth of security equipment to support their efforts in providing a secure learning environment for their children. The award is presented to a school whose administration has clearly demonstrated the challenges they’ve faced to ensure the safety of their students, parents and staff. The security equipment will be installed by September 5, 2014, and the formal presentation of the award will take place on September 26, 2014.

Principal Watkins stated that the equipment would be moved and installed in the new Ralph Bunche Middle School campus once the renovation is complete.

Bunche students and staff will remain at their temporary relocation site during the 2014-2015 school year, the former Archer H.S. facility, until renovations and additions are completed in the summer of 2016. The Archer facility is located at 2250 Perry Blvd. N.W. Atlanta, GA 30318.

Mr. Watkins – we look forward to your continued success at Bunch Middle School.

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Number of fraudulent enrollments by Grady High School football players is now at 14 – more possibly to come

March 6, 2014

The investigation into the fraudulent enrollment by 14 Grady High School football players is reaching an end and the picture is not pretty. According to a number of reports, parents used “document mills” to create fraudulent residency information and it is reported that one student played football, but never attended a single class at Grady.

The following are the news reports issued yesterday with some of the key information contained in each report. You can read the entire report issued by APS here and the anonymous letter that prompted the investigation here.

Grady High football players fraudulently enrolled – Mark Niesse, AJC

At least one-fourth of Grady High School’s football team was fraudulently enrolled at the school by parents who faked their addresses and forged documents…

Fourteen students who played on the team don’t live in the Midtown Atlanta school’s enrollment area, and they are being withdrawn from the school, said Superintendent Erroll Davis…

Civil and criminal charges are being considered, and the school system has sent tuition bills to families of students who should have been attending other schools.

The investigatory report also concluded that head coach Ronnie Millen and Jeff Beggs, the Atlanta school system’s athletic director, interfered with the investigation.

Davis also said at least one of the fraudulent addresses was provided by an Atlanta Public Schools employee, and another fake address was given by the spouse of a school system employee.

During a Wednesday evening community meeting at the school, parents and students said it wasn’t fair to investigate the football team based on an anonymous complaint. [emphasis added]

Investigation: 14 Grady football players ineligible to play – WSBTV with video

“We expect our parents to set examples of integrity for their children. We do not expect elaborate falsified documents, or for them to make sworn affidavits that are patently incorrect,” said Atlanta Public School Superintendent Erroll Davis.

The investigation was launched after the district received an anonymous complaint alleging address fraud and recruitment of football players at Grady High School.

“We had one player on the team that never set foot in a classroom (at Grady),” Davis said.

The report also found that Head Coach Ronnie Millen, “hindered the investigation by speaking with parents and providing advance notice of pending actions.”

Davis said personnel action and consequences will be coming in two weeks. He also said parents could face civil or criminal consequences.

APS superintendent: 1/4 of football team had fraudulent addresses at Grady HS – CBS46

“We had one parent with two signed affidavits with two different addresses for two different students,” Davis said. “We had a player on the team who never set foot in the classroom. He played three years at another school, came here as a senior and never saw the inside of a classroom.”

“The thing that just stunned me was we learned there is a cottage industry in falsified documents such as this, and you can go online and get these things, but we are also disappointed when our own employees and spouses of our employees use those types of documents. That is particularly galling,” Davis said.

Wow. Atlanta reveals 14 football players at Grady used false addresses – AJC Get Schooled

Questions remain about who knew and who should have known. Grady has 1,500 students so 14 fake enrollees might have been hard to catch, but the fact they were all on the football team should have made discovery more likely.

Was it an open secret or did parents conceal the truth with great skill and effort?

“The stunning lengths some parents went to were disconcerting,” Davis said. Parents forged names, falsely swore they were telling the truth and lied when confronted by the school district, he said.

Many of the football players accused of being fraudulently enrolled at the school have voluntarily withdrawn, while others are being asked to withdraw.

Please note that I have not included any of the quotes from either parents or athletes found in some of the articles above. In my opinion, most of these quotes are, at best, self-serving rationalizations for fraudulent behavior.

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Ethics complaint against APS Chair Reuben McDaniel dropped for lack of evidence

December 10, 2013

The AJC reports that,

The Atlanta school board Ethics Commission decided Monday not to open an investigation into a complaint against Board of Education Chairman Reuben McDaniel … [as the] the commission lacked facts to support claims that McDaniel received an improper benefit, and the ethics complaint was filed too long after the alleged violations occurred.

Molly Read Woo, a supporter of McDaniel’s opponent in the school Board race, originally reported the ethics complaint this past May and followed up with APS in September. In her complaint, Woo

…questioned whether the school board hired a marketing agency to promote controversial policies, violated state law by privately discussing budget issues, or compromised the superintendent search process by including an associate of Mayor Kasim Reed in executive sessions.

Woo had also raised the matter in a public meeting and directly confronted McDaniel with the allegations, to which McDaniel denied any wrongdoing. In November, the Ethics Commission deferred ruling on the matter and requested more information. It would appear that any additional information received by the Ethics Commission was insufficiently persuasive and the Commission has now concluded the matter.

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Alleged football player recruiting at Grady High School – investigation underway

December 9, 2013

Per the AJC, the Atlanta Public School system

 …is investigating allegations that Grady High School’s football team recruited about 20 athletes who faked their home addresses so they could play at the Midtown school.

The team’s head coach, Ronnie Millen Sr., has been transferred because of the investigation, and parents who signed affidavits swearing they were telling the truth about their children’s home addresses could potentially face criminal charges, said Superintendent Erroll Davis.

“We depend on the integrity of parents who have an ethical obligation to the district to provide accurate addresses to the district,” Davis said Monday as he announced the investigation. “However, our commitment to ethics is higher than any individual program.”

Read the whole thing here and Maureen Downey’s take at the Get Schooled blog here.


Board of Education candidate Tom Tidwell (At Large 8) issues statement on the internal investigation report on alleged racial discrimination at NAHS

September 23, 2013

Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education candidate and attorney Tom Tidwell (At Large 8 seat) has issued a statement on the investigative report issued by the Atlanta Public School Internal Compliance department regarding allegations of racial discrimination and grading improprieties at the North Atlanta High School. As reported here, here and here, the investigation found no evidence supporting the allegations.

Tidwell’s statement in full is as follows,

Last year’s debacle at NAHS, which culminated in the recently released report finding no systemic discrimination, confirms that Reuben McDaniel completely overreacted and as a result caused a huge disruption to the very students that he supposedly cares about.

It is very disappointing in its own right, but particularly so coming on the heels of the in-fighting which caused APS to be put on probation and almost lose its accreditation.

This highlights the desperate need we have for change, for a fresh start, to elect board members who will put their egos and personal agendas aside and actually work for the children.

Tidwell, along with attorney Cynthia Briscoe Brown, real estate developer Mark Riley and concerned citizen Dave Walker are challenging the current incumbent and Chairman of the Board Reuben McDaniel, III for the At Large 8 seat.

In addition, the Atlanta Public Schools issued a statement after the Report was released last Friday. The statement as reported here, is as follows,

Atlanta Public Schools has received the independent auditor’s investigative summary report on allegations of racial discrimination and grading improprieties at North Atlanta High School.  The nature of the complaints substantiated the need to initiate this investigation. The report indicates that no laws were broken. However, it raised issues that should have been addressed. Now in place is a new principal, who has already begun to work on the issues, and we are confident that we can all return to the business of educating children.

The full internal investigation report can be found here.

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Atlanta Public School internal report on alleged racial discrimination and cheating at NAHS released – alleged racial discrimination NOT found

September 20, 2013

As reported first by Dan Whisenhunt at the Reporter Newspapers (link), the Atlanta Public Schools has released the internal report on the alleged racial discrimination and possible cheating last year at North Atlanta High School. He reports,

…there’s nothing to the allegations the report says…. While the report found compelling evidence of “late grading” by teachers, it did not find evidence they discriminated against students based on race or changed their grades.

Additionally,

The report clears teachers and administrators of the two most serious allegations. The report says, “The preponderance of evidence did not substantiate a finding of race discrimination by way of comments or actions of teachers or administrators at NAHS.”

Please read the whole article as the report will likely become a key issue in the upcoming Board of Education race.

Updates as I receive them.

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Richard Quartarone – leader of SEACS – quoted in WSJ

September 8, 2013

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal quoted Richard Quartarone, president of Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools (SEACS) as part of their story on the acquittal of Tamara Cottman in the Atlanta cheating scandal case.

Richard Quartarone, president of an education-policy group called Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools and a parent with two children in the city’s public schools, said Friday, “I hope the prosecution is able to shore up their cases as everything moves forward. If there are no guilty verdicts, that is just horrible.”

While Ms. Cottman was not charged with actual cheating, she was charged and acquitted of influencing a witness. However, during Ms. Cottman’s trial, a number of witnesses admitted to widespread “wrong to right” error corrections.

I share Mr. Quartarone’s sentiments.


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