A cheating scandal at Madison School in Davenport is prompting potentially career-ending charges against its former principal.
Sara Gott faces three counts in connection with standardized test violations. She’s accused of providing misleading information and attempting to blame others for erase marks and other irregularities.
Gott, who now serves as principal at Davenport’s Hayes School, will appear before the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners in Des Moines on January 2, 2014.
While these are not criminal charges, she could still lose her administrator’s license.
“It’s disgusting,” said Madison School parent Jennifer Wader. “Nobody should have to go through that.”
Wader, whose son, Patrick, 10, attends Madison, started a page for Sara Gott on Facebook, titled “You Are Not Alone.” It had nearly 150 participants as of Tuesday afternoon.
There are dozens of messages on the page that are filled with support for their former principal.
“Sara was very supportive of her students,” Wader said. “She was there for them. Not only teaching them education, she taught them that school was fun.”
In 2012 under Gott’s guidance, Madison School was one of five Iowa schools to receive an award for breaking the barriers to teaching and learning.
“It’s truly a community feel here at Madison,” Gott said in November 2012.
Madison moved from being one of the worst performing schools in Iowa to one of the best in the state. Test scores were turning heads, and kids were concentrating.
“Our students work hard,” Gott said at the time. “The expectation and the bar is there. But we have a lot of people helping them along the way.”
But did the help lead to misrepresentation, falsification and unethical practice? Those serious allegations are linked to that school achievement.
Former students, like Wader, can only watch and wonder.
“I was mad because I believe she didn’t do it,” he said.
Gott’s attorney, Cathy Cartee, puts it simply and says that her client didn’t do anything wrong. Cartee says Gott has taken and passed a lie detector test and that the current issue concerns using previous tests to help students prepare for upcoming exams. Using previous tests is not allowed, but Cartee says that protocol was not well defined and was recently changed by the state.
Cartee says Gott did not have control of the students’ test answer sheets, and that the district kept them for more than six weeks before submitting them to the state for scoring.
“During this time, the school district ‘cleans up’ the answer sheets,” Cartee’s said in a statement on behalf of Gott.
Cartee said Gott shared concerns with district administrators before she became principal at Madison, over big differences between test scores at Madison Elementary compared to other elementary schools in the district.
Supporters plan to line a path from the Davenport school administration building on Brady Street to nearby Madison School on January 2, the date of Gott’s hearing.
“She’s supported, and she’s loved,” Jennifer Wader concluded. “We all stand behind her and know that she did not do what they’re accusing her of doing.”