NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Talk of the Sound has obtained a leaked copy of a long-awaited report by T&M Protection Resources on allegations of grade-fixing in connection with credit recovery programs at New Rochelle High School.
The 166-page report focused primarily on massive failures by the school and district administration and the use of the Apex Learning credit recovery system, but also cleared a guidance counselor of wrong-doing in response to allegations made by three teachers in the Art Department at New Rochelle High School.
T&M investigators describe a culture of complete indifference to how or whether the Apex Learning system worked, whether it was used correctly by staff or students, and a school where administrators and staff were completely unaware aware that for years students were inadvertently given a 100% score on all teacher-graded work that was rarely, if ever, reviewed for quality.
At one point New Rochelle High School refused to cooperate with T&M for several days, until Bond Schoeneck & King intervened. Apex cooperation slowed after their contract with the District ended on June 30th.
NRHS House Principal Shadia Alvarez comes across as evasive, incompetent and dishonest. When confronted by T&M investigators — in four separate interviews over 3 months — with data pulled from the Apex Learning system showing she had changed or manufactured 212 grades for quizzes, tests and exams during the 2017-18 school year she changed her story several times then, through her lawyer, denied making any but two of the changes. Her lawyer, Michael Starvaggi, is the Executive Director of the Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association and brother of Joseph Starvaggi, Alvarez’ supervisor at the time he was NRHS Vice Principal, President of the local ESSAA bargaining unit and currently the interim Principal at NRHS.
The Executive Summary runs 45 pages. The report primarily covers the 2017-18 school year. T&M requested, and was granted permission to look back further by Bond, Schoeneck & King, outside counsel for the New Rochelle Board of Education. While the report covers a lot of ground it is not comprehensive and no witnesses were placed under oath.
In short, the report shows rampant abuse of the Apex system by school officials most of whom either professed or demonstrated ignorance of how the Apex system worked.
The copy of the report obtained by Talk of the Sound is dated October 18, 2018 but is not marked as a draft copy. School Board Vice President Amy Moselhi announced at a Town Hall meeting on October 20th that the board had “just received” a “draft report” of the Apex investigation but could not release the report until it was marked “final”. Since then Moselhi and Board President Jeffrey Hastie have made several statements that the report would be released in “two weeks”, “mid-November” and “soon”. At last Tuesday’s board meeting the report was promised for “next week” (tomorrow night). There is an Apex-related agenda item for the board meeting on December 4th but no document linked to the agenda just the promise of an “investigation update”. The cover sheet of the report says it was prepared for Bond, Schoeneck & King by T&M Protection Resources.
The Executive Summary outlines the general findings of T&M’s investigation based on interviews and review of relevant documents, explains T&M’s investigative strategy, details the investigation into each of the two allegations, and offers conclusions and recommendations. It also lists the individuals interviewed by T&M and the dates on which those interviews took place. There is a 121-page appendix which includes material from 2015-16 such as student answer sheets and drawings sent to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne by NRHS teacher Anthony Stirpe (presumed to be the same packet sent to and reported on by the Journal News), a “spreadsheet” containing the 212 grades entered into the Apex system by Shadia Alvarez and various other exhibits none of which are necessary to follow along reading the Executive Summary. For that reason, and student confidentiality, we will not be publishing the exhibits.
Our report below is a mix of direct quotes from the report and our narrative summaries. The goal here was to strip down the report (we scanned it then used Adobe Acrobat’s Optical Character Recognition software to convert the paper photocopies we received into electronic text) and then organize the sections under sub-headings to group findings together and make the dots a bit easier to connect. We followed T&M’s use of “NRHS” as an abbreviation for New Rochelle High School.
T&M’s investigation revealed “numerous deficiencies in the method by which NRHS implemented the online learning platform which allowed for improper grading and violations of school practice regarding grade entries and proctoring. Moreover T&M discovered a lack of understanding in the use of the Independent Study Program in the Night School and a lack of communication between the Day School and Night School staff.”
As is to be expected, T&M found many students earned Apex credits during their final semester at NRHS.
As to Allegation 1, the report reads:
“T&M found no credible evidence to support a finding that NRHS Guidance Counselor Maria Nunez improperly instructed an art student in an Independent Study course using materials that were taken from art teachers without their permission. The investigation revealed that Maureen Maire, Director of Continuing Education in charge of the Night School, properly instructed the student using appropriately obtained course materials.”
“T&M found that NRHS kept no records regarding whether students were taking Independent Study courses in the Night School nor the status of those students in the Independent Study Program. Maureen Maire, Director of Continuing Education in charge of the Night School, explained that she was not required to fill out any forms at NRHS to enroll a student in an Independent Study course in the Night School.”
Talk of the Sound reported on the Art Department allegations in May.
The report contains several remarks critical of two of the art teachers, Alexi Brock and Kerry Sharkey;
“Schneider described Brock as being aggressive, using protanity and acting in a confrontational manner. Assistant Principal Starvaggi described Brock and Sharkey as “confrontational”.
As to Allegation 2, the report reads:
“T&M found credible evidence to support a finding that during the 2017-2018 academic year, NRHS Apex Coordinator/House Principal Shadia Alvarez entered new student grades and changed existing student grades in violation of NRHS grade change practice and without any consistent, comprehensible or valid explanation. T&M’s investigation determined that Alvarez entered more than 200 students’ grades into the Apex online computer system without apparent associated student work and changed multiple students’ grades from one numerical score to another. She made these entries and changes both for students who had graduated and for those who were slated to graduate in June 2018.”
“T&M found that two students slated to graduate in June 2018 would not have received passing grades in their Apex online courses without the numerical grade changes made by Alvarez.”
“T&M also found that NRHS Principal Reginald Richardson directed a correction be made to one student’s grade after the student had graduated and without appropriate supporting documentation.”
“T&M also determined that prior to the 2017-2018 academic year, it was the widespread practice at NRHS to inadvertently grant full credit for students in certain units of Apex online coursework without regard to, or review of, the quality of the work. This granting of full credit was the result of entries made in the Apex system by NRHS staff with Apex access.”
“In June 2017 NRHS staff with Apex access complained that making these entries was simply too time consuming and Richardson eliminated the requirement before the start of the 2017-2018 academic year. Interviews revealed that NRHS only became aware that these entries had conferred full credit to students when the instant allegations surfaced in May 2018.”
“T&M’s investigation revealed a lack of procedures and general understanding regarding the use of the Apex online learning system and an absence of supervision of the teachers and administrators who were responsible for enrolling, assisting and grading students taking Apex online courses. This lack of procedure and supervision resulted in students taking exams without being proctored, some off campus, in violation of generally accepted NRHS practice.”
Make a note of this as we well revisit this at the end of this article in our Lord Voldemort discussion.
T&M’s investigation focused on the use of Apex in the NRHS Credit Recovery Program; it did not look into “non-credit recovery courses” and “students not physically available for traditional classroom instruction”.
HOW APEX COURSES FUNCTIONED
“Apex courses were broken down into units, each covering a different content area of a course. A review of Apex Course Activity Scores Reports, an Apex-generated document which listed all of the units, in order, in a particular course, revealed that different courses contained different numbers of units and that there were routinely in excess of 30 units to be completed in a course. Each of those units consisted of one or more learning lessons which required activities to be completed by students.”
Prior to the 2017-2018 academic year, these activities consisted of either computer-scored assessments or teacher-scored progressive work such as “journals,” “discussions,” “diagrams” or “logs.”. NRHS staff with Apex access, while providing perfunctory reviews of the teacher-scored work made entries into the Apex system that resulted in a score of 100% being assigned on Apex “Course Activity Scores Reports” regardless of the quality of the coursework.
Unlike the computer-scored assessments such as quizzes, computer-scored tests and exams, which were graded automatically in Apex, these non-computer-generated activities required grade-related input from NRHS staff with Apex access. When students presented logs, discussions or journals to an NRHS staff member with Apex access, that staff member had to engage in a three-step process: log onto the Apex system using his/her unique identification and password, access the record of the particular student and indicate that the work had been presented. Until this process was completed, the Apex system would not allow the students to move forward in the course.
Shadia Alvarez, the Apex Coordinator, did not understand that this three-step process, which Alvarez referred to as “checking the box,” resulted in full credit being assigned to a particular unit of students’ courses and the use of this full credit by the Apex system “in calculating the overall numerical weighted grade for students taking those courses. As NRHS had no procedures for reviewing Apex activity engaged in by NRHS staff members with Apex access, this activity remained undetected.
“NRHS staff were first alerted to the fact that this three step process resulted in grades of 100% being automatically entered into students’ “Course Activity Scores Reports” in May 2018 after newspaper articles, which included copies of certain Apex and NRHS documents, were published. By that time, however, as noted above, Richardson had eliminated the non-computer-generated activities that required this three-step process, as NRHS staff members with Apex access had complained that this three-step process was too time consuming.”
NRHS staff members with Apex access did not actually evaluate or grade these logs, discussions, journals and other non-computer generated activities, they merely indicated that the students had completed them. This explains why the records published in the Journal News indicated students received a 100% score for work that did not appear to be high-level work. Every student was being given 100% for teacher-scored work. The report says NRHS administrators did not realize this until the Journal News story was published because they did not know how Apex worked and inadvertently gave every student 100% on teacher-scored work.
Without records to review, investigators could not retain subject matter experts to evaluate the students’s work to determine if the grades were warranted.
After teachers complained teacher-scored assessment was too much work, Richardson eliminated this requirement for the 2017-2018 school year so all assessment was done automatically by the Apex system through online quizzes, tests and exams.
Starvaggi and Alvarez both acknowledged that after reviewing the documents in the Journal News they realized that this could have impacted student grade point averages. Alvarez and the other administrators explained that they neither printed nor preserved the type of course documents, including “Course Activity Scores Reports,” journals and discussions sent to the School District office and that without these documents, an historical review was not possible. Richardson stated it would be too difficult to conduct an historical review of all students records to determine the impact, if any, of these entries on individual students grades or ultimate grade point averages and class standing. As the Apex Coordinator, House Principal Alvarez asserted that a lookback would be difficult considering the number of student records involved, although she could not identify that number. After consultation with Bond Schoeneck & King, T&M did not pursue the reweighing of all 2016 graduates’ grade.
Administrators all told T&M that Apex work was stored electronicaly on the Apex system and none of them could explain the mechanism by which the Apex-generated documents that Anthony Stirpe sent to the School District in May 2018 could have been gathered.
“Based on the lack of record retention for student coursework and the lack of procedures at NRHS regarding grade entries, T&M is unable to ascertain the appropriate grades for students who received 100% scores for these non-computer-generated activities, such as journals, logs and discussions and thus, or identify issues relating to grade point averages and class standings.”
HOW APEX COURSES WERE GRADED
“After students completed a course successfully, earning a score of at least 65%, an NRHS staff member with Apex access was required to perform the ministerial task of entering the students’ final grade in the Apex system. If students did not complete a course successfully, they could simply begin again without the failure being recorded on their transcripts. A final passing grade entry caused the Apex system to generate an “End of Course Grade Report.” This Apex-generated “End of Course Grade Report provided an overall percentage grade and “recommended” final grade. After receiving the “End of Course Grade Report.” a “Virtual School Final Grade Report” was created by NRHS staff. This second report, containing the recommended grade, which should have been a P for pass for each Apex course, and the amount of credit earned for the course, was signed by the Principal and appropriate Department Chair. Both reports were then submitted to the Registrar’s Office where the grade and the credit would be officialy added to the students’ transcripts.”
WHO WAS IN CHARGE AND WHEN?
“During the 2014-2015 academic year. Apex was administered by the Director of Guidance, Michael Kenney. When Kenney retired during the 2015-2016 academic year, Richardson reassigned the administration of Apex among the four House Principals who were collectively responsible for enrolling students and assisting them in advancing through their individual Apex courses. The four House Principals maintained this responsibility during the 2016-2017 academic year. However, during the 2017-2018 academic year, Richardson centralized these responsibilities and selected Alvarez to administer the Apex program at NRHS under the title of Apex Coordinator.”
Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne said he did not have any direct knowledge of how to sign in to an online Apex course nor had he ever actually done so. His only familiarity with Apex was a decade earlier in New Jersey. Osborne directed investigators to Alvarez as the designated point of contact for the investigation.
Richardson said he was Shadia Alvarez’s supervisor regarding Apex but never reviewed her work in Apex. Richardson said he met periodically throughout the school year and discussed but only in general terms how Apex was being used effectively. Richardson stated that he believed that Alvarez was doing a good job administering the program and making it more organized than it was in the past. Richardson did not recall any complaints made by Alvarez about the program.
Alvarez admitted that in her role as Apex Coordinator, she did not review the work of other NRHS staff members with Apex access. Richardson stated he was responsible for the use of Apex at NRHS, but that he “relied on subordinates to administer the Apex program in an ethical manner.”
Richardson did not explain why he would rely on Kavita Gupta to develop a credit program and assign Shadia Alvarez to run it when both had clearly demonstrated highly unethical behavior the recent past:
TRAINING (OR LACK THEREOF)
NRHS and School District staff had limited knowledge of how to use the Apex online system and how Apex was used by NRHS students. NRHS staff were not required to participate in any Apex online training. NRHS provided minimal training for NRHS staff with Apex access regarding the proper navigation and use of the Apex system.
Alvarez recalled only two training sessions, one in 2014 during a faculty meeting, and another in 2016 where department chairs were trained on how to customize a course. It is unclear how Alvarez could recall a training session during a 2014 NRHS faculty meeting when she was still working for the New York City Department of Education and was devoting a good amount of her time dealing with two separate investigations of her for fraud by the Special Commissioner of Investigation.
PROCEDURES (OR LACK THEREOF)
Osborne, Richardson and Alvarez said NRHS had no guidelines or procedures for administering Apex courses.
Pre-enrollment in Apex courses:
- No guidelines regarding eligibility or enrollment criteria for students.
- Any NRHS staff member with Apex access could unilaterally enroll a student in an Apex course.
- NRHS staff members without Apex access could simply ask a staff member with access to enroll a student in Apex for them.
- No rules governing the management of courses resulting in credits for students.
Post-enrollment in Apex courses:
- No guidelines concerning the supervision of students once they were enrolled in an Apex course.
- No procedures regarding the review of students’ ongoing Apex course activity.
- No assessment of the quality of the coursework they submitted.
- No procedures regarding the supervision or review of daily work by NRHS staff in Apex.
- No procedures to ensure students had navigated and used the system correctly and in accordance with NRHS practice.
- No procedures regarding the proctoring of those students.
TEST-TAKING AND PROCTORING (OR LACK THEREOF)
At NRHS, Apex courses could be taken by students wherever they had connectivity to the internet. Therefore, students could take courses from the school laptop or their own laptops, tablets or smartphones. Students could work on Apex courses both on and off the school campus.
Osborne. Richardson and NRHS staff revealed that they believed that Apex computer-generated quizzes, computer-scored tests and exams were proctored on the school campus for all students that were not in a home-bound learning environment. Alvarez initially stated to T&M that students usually took quizzes, computer-scored tests and exams at the offices of their respective House Principals while proctored by school personnel. Alvarez later admitted to T&M that many students did not take quizzes, computer-scored tests and exams on the school campus and thus were not proctorcd or supervised in any way. Alvarez then recalled that during the 2017-2018 academic year, she personally approved the requests of approximately 10-15 seniors to take their Apex final exams outside of the school campus. These students were not in a home-bound learning environment, nor did they meet other exceptions for off campus exams generally understood at NRHS, including incarceration or medical leave.
The T&M investigation revealed that contrary to popular belief at NRHS, students were not always proctored while taking Apex quizzes, computer-scored tests and exams and there were no proctoring procedures of guidelines in effect at NRHS.
NRHS had “a generally understood yet unwritten practice” requiring that Apex online assessments be proctored by NRHS staff. The investigation revealed that this practice was neither followed nor enforced at NRHS.
Jeffrey Hastie, President of the New Rochele Board of Education, requested that T&M speak to a source the identity of which is known to T&M regarding a specific allegation that a student was paid to take an Apex course exam for another student off campus. T&M spoke to the source who repeated the allegation, in T&M’s presence the source called the parents of the student who allegedly took the exam for another student and sought permission for engagement. The parent refused. T&M did not pursue the allegation further.
UNLIMITED DO-OVERS OF TESTS
Students had three chances to pass Apex online quizzes, tests or exams. If a student was unsuccessful after three attempts, the Apex system would “lock” the course. A person with an administrative login was required to log onto the Apex system, access the student’s records and reset the course so the student could continue.
Alvarez told T&M that she made a change in Apex for the 2017-2018 academic year. She stated that she added time limits for students to complete courses. Prior to this change, students had unlimited time in which to complete the courses including, in some cases, years. However, a review of Apex documents revealed that the time limits were not always enforced.
RICHARDSON MAKES 3 CHANGES TO APEX
Reggie Richardson customized the Apex system to eliminate some Apex course requirements.
- Richardson changed the course requirements for Physical Education courses through Apex before the start of the 2017-18 school year by eliminating the requirement for students to take a final exam and reducing the number of units in those courses.
- Richardson eliminated the activities that required an NRHS staff member with Apex access to engage in the three-step process to indicate that a student had completed a non-computer-generated assessment.
- Richardson moved the date by which students had to complete their Apex courses to obtain credit for the 2017-2018 academic year from June 18, 2018 to the very end of July 2018.
WHO SENT APEX DOCS TO LOHUD?
T&M attempted to identify the source of the documents sent to the School District. However, due to the lack of record retention procedures at NRHS and the inability of the Apex system to identify users who print certain records from the Apex system, T&M was unable to identify the source of the documents.
T&M was unable to authenticate whether the assorted non-computer generated work and notes ostensibly belonging to a former NRHS student were drafts never submitted for review, drafts submitted to an NRHS staff member for initial review, or the final copies of those assignments submitted for review and indication of completion in the Apex system by an NRHS staff member with Apex access.
NRHS failed to establish any procedures for entering and/or changing student scores.
RICHARDSON MAKES IMPROPER GRADE CHANGE
T&M concluded that Richardson directed a grade change be made to the record of one of the students referenced in the Journal News article. Richardson stated that he had not considered notifying the student, nor anyone else of the grade change. Osborne told T&M that he did not ever recall a school transcript being changed for any reason after the graduation of a student. He explained that if it were to happen, the Director of Guidance, the Assistant Superintendent, the teacher as well as the department head would all have to be involved. Richardson told T&M that Starvaggi could provide T&M with copies and printouts of the documents authorizing this change. Starvaggi later reported to T&M that he searched both the paper and computer files at NRHS and was unable to locate any of the forms relating to this grade change.
Starvaggi noted the date on the student’s transcript, 7/1/2016. appeared have been added after, in his words the original “was whited out.” T&M compared the font and type size of the date on the transcript to other NRHS student transcripts which revealed that the font and size type on the transcript did not match the font and size type found on other NRHS student transcripts. Neither Starvaggi (nor T&M) could ascertain why the transcript date was altered.
ALVAREZ ENTERS GRADES INTO APEX
The audit trail revealed that between August 14, 2017 and June 19, 2018, Alvarez had made 212 entries to students’ grades, including 149 related to quizzes, 59 related to computer scored tests and 4 related to exams. All of them should have been completed by students online through the Apex system and graded automatically by Apex. In these 212 cases, the Apex system did not capture any student input.
The Apex offsite server recorded every keystroke made in the Apex system, including the unique credentials entered by an individual to log onto the system and all subsequent actions taken by that individual while in the system, including entering or changing grades these entries affected the scores for 32 students who had completed 40 Apex courses. In several cases, Alvarez had changed a score from one number to another. In most, she had simply filled-in a score for the quiz, computer-scored test or exam where the student did not complete the unit and would not have otherwise received a score.
An authorized user with appropriate access must complete a three-step process to fill-in a score where a student had not performed a computer scored activity, such as a quiz, computer-scored test or exam:
First, the NRHS staff member with Apex access must log in using their unique identification and password and select the student’s record in Apex.
Second, they must fill-in the score for the student in the appropriate place.
Third, they must press “save changes” to save the newly entered fill-in score.
There were no recognizable patterns in the scores that Alvarez filled-in for students. In some students courses, Alvarez filled-in the scores only a few lines while in others she filled-in many. Since most of the changes were fill-ins, there was no student work for T&M’s subject matter experts to assess in determining whether the score was reflective of the quality of the work. Moreover, due to the lack of NRHS procedures for entering fill-ins into students’ records, there was no method to accurately ascertain if the scores filled-in by Alvarez were unwarranted.
Starvaggi provided T&M with a list of 21 students, currently enrolled in Apex online courses during the Spring 2018 semester, who needed their Apex credits to graduate. T&M obtained the transcripts for those 21 students and compared them to the audit trail of entries and changes made by Alvarez. T&M reviewed the entries and changes made in each of the students’ records and recalculated the students’ scores to determine what grade the students would have received absent the alterations made by Alvarez.
T&M identified only two students whose scores in their respective Apex online courses would have averaged below 65% had it not been for the many fill-ins by Alvarez. Those average scores would not have resulted in those students receiving NRHS credit for those courses. However, since there were no copies of the students’ work for T&M’s subject matter experts to assess, T&M was unable to determine whether the scores for these two students, filled-in by Alvarez, was reflective of the quality of their work. Additionally, due to the lack of NRHS procedures for entering fill-ins into students’ records, coupled with Alvarez’s wholesale denial that she made the changes, T&M was unable to ascertain if the scores filled-in by Alvarez were unauthorized or unwarranted. Finally, since Richardson extended the deadline to complete Apex online courses and still be part of the 2018 graduating class, T&M is not aware whether these two students ultimately graduated using credits earned in those particular Apex courses, assisted by the fill-ins made by Alvarez, or if they simply restarted the courses to earn new scores in Apex.
ALVAREZ CONFRONTED WITH AUDIT TRAIL
T&M confronted Alvarez with the audit trail information. Alvarez admitted that the audit data and information provided by Apex “must be correct.” When asked about specific students, she could not explain changing their scores in any way.
Alvarez ultimately admitted to altering 3 of the 32 student records and provided very limited explanations, as follows: one student was a special education student for a teacher who she could not identity and who had printed out the coursework; one student had to re-do work on the system; another teacher who she could not identify oversaw one student with an Individualized Education Plan. Alvarez claimed that yet another teacher who she could not identify was involved in the Apex courses taken by two of the students and thus, had something to do with the changes she made to those students’ records, though she could not articulate any reasons that would explain the changes. Additionally, further questions regarding the changes made to another student’s record and the remaining 28 students’ records represented in the audit trail materials, and for which she offered just a simple denial, did not result in more detailed answers.
ALVAREZ RECANTS PRIOR TESTIMONY
Until her final interview with T&M, Alvarez had agreed that the Apex audit data was correct but could not explain the entries and changes made in the Apex system using her unique identification and password. In her final interview however, and the only one to which she brought Counsel (Michael Starvaggi) she first denied making that initial statement to T&M and then provided T&M with a succession of different explanations as to how the Apex audit data was in fact, incorrect.
Alvarez first explained that she had performed many resets for the large volume of students she administered in Apex and that these resets were not properly captured in the audit report, causing the report to be inaccurate. As noted above, an NRHS staff member with Apex access needed to reset a course after a student had failed a quiz, computer-scored test or exam after three attempts.
According to Alvarez (and Camille Edwards-Thomas another house principal during the 2017-18 school year, now interim NRHS Vice Principal) it was common for students to fail these activities multiple times, requiring numerous resets.
Apex records clearly revealed numerous instances of these resets along with the identification and password information of the NRHS staff member with Apex access who logged onto the system to complete them. If there was a reset, the Apex system would remove the previous score from being visible to the student. That initial score, however, was still saved to the Apex system, along with the credentials of the specific NRHS staff member with Apex access who was involved in the reset.
Alvarez next claimed the audit report was inaccurate because individual course requirements changed over time. Alvarez mentioned Richardson’s elimination of non-computer-generated coursework as well as the recycling of courses year after year as possible explanations for why the audit data was inaccurate.
T&M’s interviews with Apex staff revealed that none of the changed course requirements described by Alvarez would have had any effect on the Apex audit data relating to quizzes, computer-scored tests or exams. In fact, the Apex system saved every question accessed by a student and every answer. This double-save system was designed to bookmark a students’ place in case the student lost connectivity while taking a quiz, computer-scored test or exam, and allowed the student to be brought back to where they left off once connectivity was reestablished. After a student completed an answer, that data was sent to the server and when the student finished all the questions in that module, the score was calculated. The quiz, computer-scored test and exam scores were maintained by Apex on its server. Thus, changes in course requirements had no effect on Apex data and thus, the explanation by Alvarez was not supported.
To reconcile the information presented to her with her prior denials. Alvarez offered that she must have inadvertently caused changes to students’ records because she was overworked throughout the year administering all of the students in Apex. She stated that in September 2017 she started to administratively clean-up prior academic years’ records and this must have caused the changes seen in the audit trail. A review of the audit data was conducted to see if there was any pattern in the changed records before or after September 2017. No such pattern was detected. In fact, approximately 100 of the changed scores were fill-ins, indicating that the students had not completed the work and Alvarez had simply filled-in a score for the students’ activities. Additionally, according to Apex, there is a three-step process to fill-in a score where a student had not performed a computer-scored activity: log in using a unique identification and password and select the student’s record in Apex: fill-in a scored number for the student in the appropriate place and press “save changes” to save the newly entered filled-in score. Thus, it is unlikely that 100 fill-ins could have been made inadvertently or could have been caused by Alvarez’ clean-up in September 2017.
Alvarez also attempted to downplay her role as Apex Coordinator and her ability and skills in the use of Apex. As noted above, Alvarez stated that administrators and teachers received little training in Apex and that she asked Richardson, her Apex supervisor, for more training. Richardson’s statements did not support this claim.
ALVAREZ THROWS COLLEAGUES UNDER THE BUS
Alvarez told T&M they should interview other people within the school and insinuated the possibility that other House Principals changed scores. Despite repeated requests, Alvarez provided no details or evidence to support these statements. T&M requested that Apex provide audit trail reports tor the other three House Principals but did not receive them before the end of the Apex contract period. Cooperation from Apex after the contract period expired was minimal.
STARVAGGI BROTHERS FAIL TO FOLLOW UP WITH T&M AS PROMISED
At the end ot the interview, Alvarez’ union representative Joseph Starvaggi and her Counsel (Michael Starvaggi) promised to conduct their own review of the Apex documentation and told T&M they planned to submit further material to T&M. In an email to T&M dated July 24, 2018, Counsel asserted that Alvarez denied making any grade changes in Apex except for the instances relating to two students. Joseph Starvaggi claimed “some technical anomaly” was to blame and stated that he was “conducting our own inquiry into the APEX system.” He ended the email by stating that he will inform T&M “if we reach any further conclusions.” No further communications or correspondence has been received by T&M.
Based on its investigation, including interviews and document review, T&M has concluded that Alvarez made entries and changes to students’ records in violation of NRHS grade change practice and without any consistent, comprehensible or valid explanation.
T&M also determined that prior to the 2017-2018 academic year, it was the widespread practice at NRHS to inadvertently grant full credit for students in certain units of Apex online coursework Based on these findings and in consultation with Bond Schoeneck & King, T&M expanded the scope of its investigation.
T&M found there was not too much to be done about evaluating the impact of their findings for teacher-graded work because NRHS did not retain any of the students’ work making it impossible to quantify the genuine grade students would have received if their work had actually been evaluated by a member of the NRHS staff with Apex access.
The report goes into great detail to show how the packet sent by Stirpe to Osborne was analyzed but to no great effect. It appears to be an effort to show the report was meticulous when, in fact, it leaves a great many questions unanswered. The biggest being the role (or lack thereof) of Dr. Magda Parvey in Apex abuse.
Dr. Parvey, elevated in October to Interim Superintendent, has been, since 2016, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction but also goes by the corporate-sounding title of Chief Academic Officer for the City School District of New Rochelle.
The Apex credit recovery is part of the instructional program at New Rochelle High School. In her role as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction she is the supervisor of the instructional program. And yet she is the Lord Voldemort of the Apex abuse investigation.
The report states that Reggie Richardson changed the requirements for all Apex courses by eliminating all teacher-graded work. That is a decision that would be made by the supervisor of the instructional program at the high school which is Magda Parvey. The report states that Richardson changed the requirements for Physical Education including the elimination of a final exam. Again, something that would be decided by the supervisor of the instructional program at the high school. We know from past reporting that Richardson arranged to pay Alvarez a $5,000 stipend, spending that would need to be approved by Parvey as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. Maureen Maire, the Director of Continuing Education in charge of the Night School was not required to fill out any forms at NRHS to enroll a student in an Independent Study course in the Night School. Again, that would be Dr. Parvey’s responsibility.
Parvey is, however, obliquely referenced in the report but like Lord Voldemort, she is the school administrator who shall not be named. On page 5, in summarizing T&M’s findings confirming abuse of the APEX online learning system.
“T&M’s investigation revealed a lack of procedures and general understanding regarding the use of the Apex online learning system and an ABSENCE OF SUPERVISION OF THE TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS who were responsible for enrolling, assisting and grading students taking Apex online courses.”
The only person in the District who is responsible for all of that — supervising the teachers, supervising the NRHS administrators, and supervising the NRHS teachers who were responsible for enrolling, assisting and grading students is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and that would be Magda Parvey. Given this, it is more than passing strange that everyone around her in the organization chart was interviewed by T&M but she was not.
Parvey is also obliquely referenced in a statement by Osborne in regard to Richardson improperly changing the grade of a student who graduated.
“Osborne told T&M that he did not ever recall a school transcript being changed for any reason after the graduation of a student. He explained that if it were to happen, the Director of Guidance, THE ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, the teacher as well as the department head would all have to be involved.” The Assistant Superintendent Osborne is talking about is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction which is Magda Parvey. The entire report is centered on various issues related to curriculum requirements, assessments by teachers, grades given by teachers and administrators, test-taking, proctoring, record-creation and record-keeping and not just for Apex but the Day School, the Night School, the Art Department, the Physical Education Department, the Independent Study Program and every other Department, program, teacher and administrator who had any involvement with any of those Departments or programs all of which are the responsibility of Magda Parvey.
List of Interviews Conducted
May 29 and 31, 2018
- Anthony Stirpe – English/Media Arts Teacher, NRHS
- Maria Nunez – Guidance Counselor, NRHS
- Maureen Maire – Director of Continuing Education in Charge of the Extended Day/Evening School, NRHS
- Gregg Sloane – Director of Guidance
- Marc Schneider – Supervisor, Music and Art
- Shadia Alvarez – Apex Coordinator/House Principal, NRHS
- Larene DelGuercio – An Teacher, NRHS
- Alexandra Brock – Art Teacher, NRHS
- Moira McCaul – Art Teacher, NRHS
- Kerry Sharkey – Art Teacher, NRHS
- Tina McCullough – Secretary, Performing and Visual Arts Education Office
June 6, 2018
- Joseph Starvaggi – Assistant Principal/Union Representative, NRHS
- Shadia Alvarez – Apex Coordinator/House Principal. NRHS
- Camille Edwards-Thomas – House Principal/Union Representative, NRHS
June 13, 2018
- Joseph Starvaggi – Assistant Principal/Union Representative, NRHS
- Shadia Alvarez – Apex Coordinator/House Principal, NRHS
June 22, 2018
- Marcus Siotkas – Guidance Counselor. NRHS
- Barbara Hassett – Registrar
June 26, 2018
- Joseph Starvaggi – Assistant Principal/Union Representative, NRUS
- Parent of former NRHS student
- Former NRHS student
June 27, 2018
- Parent of current NRHS student
- Shadia Alvarez – Apex Coordinator/House Principal, NRHS
July 24, 2018
- Shadia Alvarez – Apex Coordinator/House Principal, NRHS
- Brian Osborne – Superintendent of Schools, New Rochelle School District
August 2, 2018
- Reginald Richardson – Principal, NRHS