GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – One teacher and two administrators at George County High School were promoted after a state investigation found they “work[ed] in concert” to help at least one student cheat to graduate. All three were recommended to be terminated months before their promotions.
In a statement to WKRG, the George County School District (GCSD) said: “MDE along with other agencies, investigated those allegations and have cleared all staff members who were alleged to have been involved.”
However, findings from state investigative reports filed in November 2020, and recently obtained by WKRG through a records request, show at least one staff member was formally disciplined by the state.
Meeting minutes show school board members declined to act on the superintendent’s recommendation to suspend or terminate staff members named in the cheating investigation.
Timeline of investigation
May 17, 2019: A high school student reported to Pam Touchard, then the George County Schools Superintendent, that they were unwittingly led to take a credit recovery test for another student earlier in the day to help them graduate.
June 4, 2019: An email from April McDonald, then the school board attorney for GCSD, indicates Touchard told school board members in a June 4 meeting that her investigation into the cheating with district Police Chief Al Hillman had concluded.
She recommended credit recovery teacher Kristin Davis, high school assistant principal Jennifer Mathis and principal Wade Whitney be terminated. “The school board tells Pam Touchard that that will not be happening and all employees will be kept,” the email states.
Minutes from the board meeting, inspected by WKRG, only say the board entered executive session and no action was taken.
June 6, 2019: Touchard filed an educator misconduct report with MDE naming Davis.
July 9, 2019: Wade Whitney hired by the school board as superintendent, beginning January 1, 2020. At his recommendation, Kristin Davis is promoted to assistant director of career and technical education at the high school.
July 22, 2019: MDE notifies Touchard it has opened an investigative audit into the district.
August 15, 2019: During a special-called meeting, the school board voted to hire Ocean Springs attorney and former Chancery Court Judge Chuck Bordis as a “third party investigator for the board”. It was the only action taken during the meeting by board members Derrick Gentry, Chris Hilburn and Mike Steede.
No subsequent mention of the investigation by Bordis was found in all future board minutes inspected by WKRG.
January 1, 2020: Wade Whitney begins as superintendent.
January 2, 2020: Kristin Davis is promoted from assistant CTE director to assistant high school principal. Jennifer Mathis is promoted from assistant high school principal to director of secondary curriculum and academics. In all, 15 staff changes were made across the district during the school board meeting.
May 8, 2020: At the recommendation of the District Attorney’s office, a report is filed with the George County Sheriff’s Office by parents of the student that reported the cheating. The sheriff and DA investigators determine no state law was broken. MDE investigation continues.
November 20, 2020: MDE Commission on Teacher and Administrator Licensure places Kristin Davis’ teaching license on probation for one year.
June 24, 2021: Results of investigative audit sent to GCSD, finding it in violation of 24 out of 32 state standards.
Davis disciplinary hearing
Security camera footage submitted as evidence during a state hearing shows a previous student working with the test-taker before leaving Davis’ credit recovery classroom. Later testimony indicated the initial student could not score high enough for the test-taker to pass.
In the hearing, the tutoring student that reported the cheating told the commission they were paged by assistant principal Jennifer Mathis to help tutor a student in math. Mathis told Davis, proctoring the test, the reporting student was “Plan B.”
The tutoring student said they did not realize it was a test. They tried helping the credit recovery student work through problems but she was uninterested and scrolled through her phone- never touching the computer.
The tutoring student said Davis told them multiple times in a demanding tone the test-taker needed a 65% to pass and the tutoring student did not have to know every answer as Davis could void incorrect responses.
Video shows the tutoring student completing the test as Davis, the test proctor, left the room for 28 minutes.
Davis testified that she never explicitly instructed the students to cheat. She also said she did not verify who was doing the work before she signed off on the completion of the test and credit recovery course.
Dr. Mathis said she asked the student to help with tutoring as part of her job to “identify at-risk seniors and do whatever is needed to help them graduate,” according to hearing minutes. She also said she did not ask the students to cheat.
After the tutoring student realized it was a test, she testified that she told her parents and the family reported it to Touchard. After that, the student said they felt intimidated by Davis, Mathis and Whitney while in the high school. They enrolled in the collegiate academy to take dual-credit college courses and spend most of the school day off-site of the high school.
MDE investigators concluded Davis violated state standards by misusing test materials, failing to provide appropriate supervision, failing to exemplify honesty and integrity in professional practice and:
”Engaging in unethical conduct relating to the educator/student relationship in failing to maintain a professional relationship with all students, both in and outside the classroom…by knowingly permitting a student or students to complete an Algebra II credit recovery course test on behalf of a separate student to ensure a passing grade.”
Although state investigators say Davis “work[ed] in concert with other school district employees to have one or more students complete an Algebra II credit recovery course test for a senior student to allow said student to graduate to aid in maintaining the school and district graduation rate,” no state disciplinary records for Mathis or Whitney were found.
The state audit found GCHS allowed 116 students, out of the 270 total in the Class of 2019, to participate in commencement without documentation to support that the students had met the state’s minimum graduation requirements.
Records for at least seven students indicated administrators should not have approved their graduation. Three did not pass end-of-course subject area tests or meet alternative requirements.
District administrators expressed concerns that more seniors may have graduated only because other students took credit recovery exams for them.
Wade Whitney was the high school principal when the audit began. The school’s graduation rate ballooned from 82.3% for the class of 2015, the year before he was hired, to the fourth-highest rate in the state at 95.3% for the class of 2020, the year he transitioned to the district office as the current superintendent.
The district’s 208-page Corrective Action Plan said GCHS administration and counselors reviewed each graduating student’s record for the class of 2021 to ensure they met requirements.
State records, however, indicate the district has not yet submitted proper evidence to clear the violation.