The school leader and his No. 2 at SciTech Academy, a charter school housed in the old Laurel Elementary School building in the Irish Channel, resigned last week after officials with the school’s charter management organization found out that they had allowed cheating on an internal diagnostic exam, according to the group’s CEO.
Gary Robichaux, the head of ReNew Schools, which has six different campuses, said School Leader Tim Hearin and Principal Alex Perez resigned late last month, a development first reported by The Lens, a local online news website.
Robichaux said the tests involved had nothing to do with Louisiana’s standardized exams, which are used to rate school performance and have major consequences for both schools and teachers.
But he said the infractions that were allowed to happen at SciTech under the watch of Hearin and Perez still were unacceptable. Robichaux said some students were allowed to take the tests over; others had fellow students take the tests for them.
“That was too much,” Robichaux said, adding that Hearin apparently “didn’t feel like this test was something to be taken seriously.”
Robichaux said he has invited the state Department of Education to investigate the school, but that he doesn’t expect state officials to take any action, given that the tests involved were unofficial. He said he does not believe the school’s leadership would have allowed cheating on the state’s LEAP or iLEAP exams.
Disha Jain, who has been coaching new school leaders for ReNew, is stepping in to head SciTech. Robichaux said the transition has already led five or six teachers who had left the school over differences with Hearin to return.
SciTech, which has almost 800 students enrolled from prekindergarten to eighth grade, earned a school performance score of 81.6 on a 150-point scale last school year, giving the school a C letter grade. Like a lot of schools in the Recovery School District, SciTech has gradually improved its scores over the past few years. It had a performance score of 75 the previous year.
Any sign that administrators allowed cheating to go on — even on unofficial tests — is likely to draw scrutiny. Since the state seized control of most New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina, there has been intense, ongoing debate about the performance of independent charter schools, the state’s main vehicle for improving academic results.