The north field on the North Avenue side of the high school has been installed.

Apex Grade Inflation Chronology: What Really Happened with the New York State Investigation of New Rochelle High School?

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The last time the public heard from the City School District of New Rochelle on the Apex Grade-Fixing Scandal was December 2018. then-New Rochelle Board of Education President Jeffrey Hastie and then-Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey held a press conference on December 5th, the day after the Board had formally accepted what Hastie called the “complete and final” report into bad practices involving online credit recovery which highlighted the role of New Rochelle High School Apex Coordinator Shadia Alvarez.

The T&M Apex Report was anything but “complete and final”.

As Talk of the Sound noted at the time, the report effectively scapegoated a single person – New Rochelle High School Apex Coordinator Shadia Alvarez – by limiting the investigation to only the current year, shutting out investigators from accessing the Apex Learning system, not interviewing any of the other 6 Apex Coordinators or the two people who originally set up the program in 2014 — former Guidance Department Chair Mike Kenny and former Assistant Superintendent Diane Massimo.

Hastie announced that a copy of the report by T&M Protection Resources would be sent to the New York State Testing Security Unit along with a request for assistance in developing a credit recovery manual. Hastie said James Gratto, Jr. of Southern Westchester BOCES had been in contact with Parvey about the report and its findings, adding that the New York State Education Department intended to do a full investigation. Hastie promised full cooperation.

James Gratto, Jr. is the Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Southern Westchester BOCES and the NYSED Test Security Unit Integrity Officer for Westchester.

Ten months later, with no announced outcomes, Talk of the Sound reached out to new Board President Amy Moselhi to ask for a status update on the investigation by the New York State Education Department Testing Security Unit. In an email on September 19th, Moselhi stated she had no knowledge of any such investigation but added that the Board was expecting a report “within the month” on a “re-opened” Apex investigation. Asked why the investigation was re-opened, Moselhi would only say “someone came forward”

This was the first disclosure that the T&M Apex Report was not only not “complete and final” but back on as an active investigation.

Despite her feigned ignorance, Moselhi was well aware of the investigation by the New York State Testing Security Unit. As Vice President at the time, she was sitting next to Hastie at the Board meeting on December 4, 2018 when Hastie first disclosed the State investigation. She is copied on at least one email involving the state investigation. The referral to NYSED was widely reported and discussed.

After Talk of the Sound first reported on irregularities involving Apex Learning online credit recovery on May 7, 2018, school board members promised to take action in a transparent manner and release a full, unreacted version of the T&M Apex Report. The Board received the report in September 2018 but by December had failed to release the report. Talk of the Sound obtained a draft of the report and published it on December 3rd. The Board then released the report on December 4th.

Since then, the Board has re-opened the Apex investigation but failed to notify the public. Up until yesterday there have been no updates on either the new Apex investigation report or an explanation of what happened with the State investigation.

“The final report on the re-opened Apex investigation was delivered to the New Rochelle Board of Education today,” said President Amy Moselhi yesterday in an exclusive interview with Talk of the Sound. “The Board expects to discuss the Apex investigation in Executive Session on December 17th then make a decision on whether to release the report to the public.”

Moselhi did not rule out releasing the full report. She said that decision would need to be made by the full board after discussing the report.

District officials declined to say what information was brought forward, who brought it forward, when exactly it was brought forward or who has been conducting this second investigation into the since terminated high school credit recovery program administered through Apex Learning. Nor would they would address questions about the State investigation described by Hastie on December 4th and 5th, 2018.

Despite efforts to keep the public in the dark, Talk of the Sound has seen hundreds of pages of records that document both the State investigation and the re-opened Apex investigation.

A few of the highlights:

  • The active phase of the State investigation ran from December 2018 to April 2019 but state investigators were monitoring the situation in New Rochelle closely since May 2018 and had spoken with school officials soon after the Apex grade-fixing story broke.
  • The unidentified person who came forward appears to be Barbara Hassett, the former Registrar at New Rochelle High School, who retired at the end of January, 2019. (Hassett has DENIED “coming forward”)
  • The re-opened Apex investigation has been run by Regina Cafarella of Douglas A. Spencer who was hired through a vaguely worded Board Resolution on February 26, 2019 and who met with the Board in Executive Session on August 6, 2019.
  • Assistant District Attorney Brian F. Fitzgerald of the Westchester County’s Office of the District Attorney, Public Integrity Unit, requested information about the State investigation.
  • Talk of the Sound is repeatedly cited as a source by state investigators.

By piecing together a large number of records including emails, board resolutions, contracts, invoices, public reports and interviews, Talk of the Sound is now able to present a comprehensive picture of both Apex investigations and the State investigation which we present here.

T&M Protection Resources was hired by the law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King in May 2018, but not directly by the District in an apparent effort to keep the resulting report on Apex confidential and therefore out of the public eye.

T&M began interviewing District employees and others on May 29, 2018 and continued until August 2, 2018. T&M also spoke to “numerous additional individuals who worked at New Rochelle High School, the New Rochelle School District and Apex Learning, who provided T&M with background information and technical assistance. T&M also conferred, on a regular basis, with Bond Schoeneck & King.”

T&M started their interviews with eleven school district employees on May 29 and May 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), Tina McCullough (Secretary, Performing and Visual Arts Education Office) and NRHS Art Teachers Larene DelGuercio, Alexandra Brock, Moira McCaul, and Kerry Sharkey.

On May 31 2018, Professional Conduct Investigator Roy Tario of the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability Test Security Unit flagged a Journal News story for the attention of BOCES Assistant Superintendent Gratto.

“This may not be news to you,” said Tario.

New Rochelle district denies going after leakers in grade inflation probe

In the article, then-Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Joseph Williams said. “The firm has not been asked to seek out the person or persons who disclosed information about the program and students’ individual performances to the media.”

The article noted this contradicted a letter sent to staff by then-New Rochelle High School Principal Reginald Richardson:

The district has launched an independent investigation to determine if there was any misuse of the online credit recovery system and to address the theft and unauthorized distribution of student records.

The T&M Apex Report released by the Board on December 4, 2018 stated that T&M did seek to identify the person or persons involved in the theft and unauthorized distribution of student records:

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.

The Journal News ran a story on the stolen records on May 23, 2018 after first obtaining the records, reviewing them and interviewing Principal Richardson in the days before the story ran.

On May 22, 2018, the day before the story ran, the District was shutting down access to Apex and effectively hiding records from investigators. Celia Smith of Apex Learning confirmed to Shadia Alvarez that Apex Learning was acting on the District’s request to close the District’s Apex Learning Account before June 30, 2018.

On May 31, 2018, Gratto sent an introductory email to Reggie Richardson and Joe Williams.

Hello Dr. Richardson and Dr. Williams,

I am the Westchester Integrity Officer of the the New York State Testing Security Unit, and want to be sure that you know that Professional Conduct Investigator Roy Tario and I are available to assist you in your Investigation into possible grade inflation at New Rochelle High School.

I’ll send you a calendar invitation for a phone conversation sometime early next week.

On June 5, 2018, Gratto spoke with Reggie Richardson by telephone about the investigation into alleged grade inflation at New Rochelle High School.

After the June 5th call with Richardson, Gratto contacted Roy Tario for a “New Rochelle: Status Update”:

I spoke with Dr. Richardson, the principal at New Rochelle High School, this morning. He informed me that an outside legal firm (Bond, Schoeneck & King) is conducting the investigation, and they’re in progress now. Dr. Richardson said that he’ll let us know as soon as he has information to report.

On June 6, 2018, T&M interviewed Joseph Starvaggi (Assistant Principal/Union Representative NRHS), Camille Edwards-Thomas (House Principal/Union Representative, NRHS) and, for a second time, Shadia Alvarez.

On June 13, 2018, T&M again interviewed Starvaggi and, for a third time, Alvarez.

On June 18, 2018, Daren Khairule, Customer Service Coordinator for Instructional Technology at the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center (LHRIC), advised Richardson, Alvarez and then-New Rochelle Information Technology Director Michael Tromblee that he had been in communications with Celia Smith of Apex Learning about New Rochelle High School beginning the “year end/close out process” which included “issuing final grades, downloading student reports (grades, assessments, and any available coursework), and archiving students and classes.”

Khairule closed his email by asking about a curriculum cabinet meeting to discuss “Closing out Apex and getting data.”

There is no evidence these records were obtained or retained and when an effort was made to obtain them in September 2018, they were no longer available to the District because the Apex Learning account had been closed, in the middle of the T&M investigation.

On June 22, 2018, T&M interviewed Marcus Siotkas (Guidance Counselor, NRHS) and Barbara Hassett (Registrar). Hassett would come forward a second time, on her own, in 2019. (Hassett has DENIED ever being interviewed by T&M)

On June 26, 2018, T&M interviewed Starvaggi, for a second time, and a parent of a former NRHS student and a former NRHS student.

On June 27, 2018, T&M interviewed a parent of a current NRHS student and, for the fourth time, Shadia Alvarez.

On June 30 2018, the District’s Apex Learning account was terminated, blocking access to investigators from T&M and NYSED.

On July 24, 2018, T&M interviewed Brian Osborne (Superintendent of Schools, New Rochelle School District) and, for a fifth time, Shadia Alvarez.

On July 31, 2018, having heard nothing from Richardson since June 5th, Roy Tario reached out to Gratto:

I know we have a few old dogs laying around and the one that caught my eye today was New Rochelle HS. You may recall that Principal Richardson advised us that an outside legal firm was conducting the investigation and that he would keep us advised.

Well our last correspondence with him is nearly two months old and I haven’t seen anything from them.

Gratto alerted Tario to Richardson’s resignation then take-back of his resignation letter in July by sending him a link to a Journal News article on the subject:

New Rochelle H.S. Principal Reginald Richardson seeks to rescind resignation, wants to stay

Gratto added, “I haven’t heard anything from Principal Richardson”.

Gratto then followed up with Richardson that same day on their June 5th phone call.

I’m following up on our June 5, 2018 conversation about the investigation Into alleged grade Inflation at New Rochelle High School.

The following day, on August 1st, Richardson responded to Gratto saying “The investigation is still in process and has not yet concluded.”

On August 2, 2018, Richardson was interviewed by T&M investigators.

On August 8th, Gratto alerted Roy Tario that Richardson was no longer employed by the District by sending him a link to a Journal News story.

New Rochelle high school principal Reginald Richardson ls out; Starvaggi named interim

On Friday September 14, 2018, Tario asked Gratto to reach out to the New Rochelle School District to “try and determine what measures the school has taken to address these allegations.”

Gratto reached out on Monday, September 17, 2017 to then-Chief Academic Officer Dr. Magda Parvey and the newly-appointed interim-Principal at New Rochelle High School, Jospeh Starvaggi, to introduce himself and ask about the status of the T&M investigation into alleged grade inflation at New Rochelle High School:

In my role as the NYSED Test Security Unit Integrity Officer for Westchester, I am following up on the outside investigation into alleged grade inflation at New Rochelle High School. Reggie Richardson let me know on August 1, 2018 that the investigation had not yet been completed.

Parvey notified Gratto the same day that the investigation into alleged grade inflation at New Rochelle High School had been concluded but the administration had not yet received the findings by T&M so she had no new or additional information to share at this time. This because the completed report was sent by T&M to Bond, Schoeneck & King, the District’s outside counsel, at the time but not made available to the District administration nor disclosed to the public as promised by the Board.

On October 29, 2018, Tario alerted Gratto to a Journal News article about a Town Hall meeting with members of the administration and school board shortly after former Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne accepted a buy-out and was replaced by Dr. Magda Parvey who added interim-Superintendent to her job as Chief Academic Officer.

New Rochelle HS: Findings of grading investigation coming soon

“They state that they’re working with the BOCES and going to create a handbook,” wrote Tario.

In the article, Interim Principal Starvaggi is quoted saying “What we’re working on with BOCES is — before we implement anything — we’re putting together a handbook with all the protocols and then we’re going to present that, after we’ve completed it, to Dr. Parvey and then the board.”

The article noted that Osborne said in September (2018) “the board would receive T&M’s report before the October board meeting, but that did not happen.”

Amy Moselhi, then-Vice President of the Board is quoted saying “Jeffrey (Hastie) and I got a draft version of that report either today or yesterday…which we will share with them (the board) in the next executive session, and it’s the board’s intention that that be public.”

Note that in 2018, Moselhi announced the day or the day after receiving the Apex report that it would be made public before the Board discussed the report in Executive Session. This stands in contrast to her statement yesterday that she could not say whether the new Apex report would be made public until after the Board had reviewed the report in Executive Session on December 17, 2019.

Then-Board President Hastie is quoted in a statement saying “the Board is reviewing the draft document, which is not yet finalized. It is expected to be (publicly) released in its final form in mid-November.”

The T&M Apex Report was not released in September or October or November nor was the report that was ultimately released in December the “final” report as the Apex investigation was secretly re-opened months later.

On December 3rd, Talk of the Sound published a leaked copy of the T&M Apex Report, which left the Board no choice but to release the report.

Later that same morning, at 9:59 a.m., Roy Tario sent a link to the Talk of the Sound article with the leaked report to Gratto and his boss, Investigative Specialist Lynn Gretschel, Supervising Professional Conduct Investigator at Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability Test Security Unit.

Leaked Apex Report Obtained by Talk of the Sound Depicts Rampant Grade-Fixing at New Rochelle High School

State investigators were relying on the leaked copy of the report published by Talk of the Sound not the copy withheld by the Board for three months.

Later that day, the Board released their copy of the report. The following day, on December 5th, Hastie and Parvey held a press conference to take questions about the report.

On December 11, 2018, Gretschel sent Gratto and Tario a note betraying annoyance with Hastie with a link to a Talk of the Sound article which included a video and transcript of the entire press conference held on December 5th:

The BOE President and Interim Superintendent had a press conference. they noted that SED has not reached out for the report but they will be providing it to us and also seeking SEDs assistance in putting a more comprehensive credit recovery program in place.

The link to the report is below.

New Rochelle Board of Education Press Conference on T&M Report on Apex Credit Recovery Investigation

Gretschel appears to have been annoyed with an exchange during the press conference between Colleen Wilson of the Journal News and Hastie, documented by Talk of the Sound.

“One other thing you mentioned last night that you plan to or have already sent the report to the State Education Department. Have you done that?” asked Wilson. “And have you been in contact with them, have they been in touch with you at all to this point?”

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Hastie replied:

They haven’t been in touch with us we haven’t contacted them.

Roy Tario, the Professional Conduct Investigator for the New York State Education Department Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability Test Security Unit and James A. Gratto, Jr., the NYSED Test Security Unit Integrity Officer for Westchester flagged reporting on the allegations of what they refer to as “grade inflation” at New Rochelle High School in May 2008, more than 6 months earlier; Gratto called Reggie Richardson about the status of the investigation and report on June 5, 2018 and then followed up repeatedly with Richardson, Parvey and Starvaggi until the Fall of 2018; NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia made repeated inquiries as to the status of the outside investigation by T&M throughout 2018.

No wonder Gretschel sounded annoyed.

With no report provided by Hastie as promised, Tario advised Gratto on December 7th that Commissioner Elia was asking about the report. Gratto then notified Parvey and Starvaggi that the NYSED Commissioner’s Office had requested an update from the Office of Testing Security on the the status of the allegations of grade inflation at New Rochelle High School.

Having not received a reply from the District, Tario followed up later that day to let Gratto know that NYSED had obtained a copy of the report on their own; that Gretschel went onto the New Rochelle Board of Education Home Page, found the report and printed out the report and the exhibits.

On December 10, 2018, Gratto visited the District with BOCES Superintendent Dr. Harold Coles, the same person hired by Hastie to run the then-ongoing Superintendent Search which later resulted in the hiring of Dr. Laura Feijóo.

On December 11th, Gretschel notified Parvey that NYSED wanted additional information regarding the “findings reported to New Rochelle by T&M Protection Resources, specific to actions that the district will be taking.”

Parvey responded on December 12th with a list of processes and procedures the District intended to implement which Gratto then shared with Tario and Gretschel later that day.

Process for Online Courses and Independent Study at NRHS

As a result of the T&M Investigation, the following processes and procedures will be implemented at NRHS:

  1. A handbook/manual for the credit recovery program and independent study has been created. It is in draft form.

  2. The handbook details guidelines for all online credit bearing courses and independent study courses including when an online course may be taken and when it must end, where assessments must be administered and proctored.

  3. Roles and responsibilities for the Online Coordinator are clearly defined.

  4. Multiple adults will be responsible for the student approval process for an online course.

  5. The Director of Extended Day/ Continuing Education will meet with NRHS Administrative Cabinet monthly to discuss students and independent study course work.

  6. Extensive training will be provided for all active users in the new online platform. Booster trainings will be provided to ensure understanding of the program as well as when any changes to the program are made.Board policy will be written to reinforce the process for online credit recovery courses and independent study.

On December 11, 2018 Tario noted that Shadia Alvarez was no longer employed by New Rochelle so there would be no need for a 3020-a hearing, a process to remove a tenured teacher or administrator (except a superintendent) in New York State.

Tario provided a link to a New York Post article by Susan Edelman based on reporting by Talk of the Sound:

‘Prom killer’ principal ran up $114K deficit at school

Alvarez whose New Rochelle salary was $147,000 received 30 days notice of termination – and immediate erased any mention of New Rochelle from her Linked-in page. She did not return messages.

On December 12, Tario told Gratto he had skimmed the T&M Apex Report and that Gretschel had read it in deeper depth.

On December 17th, former Associate Superintendent Diane Massimo wrote to the Board of Education to rebut many of the statements made by Hastie and Parvey at their press conference on December 5th. Hastie forwarded Massimo’s letter to Gratto on December 18th.

Dear President Hastie, Vice President Moselhi, and Honorable Members of the Board of Education:

I have reviewed the T&M report and the comments made at the December 5, 2018 press conference. From my perspective, as former Associate Superintendent, the report was not comprehensive or complete. As a result, unsubstantiated and inaccurate blame was placed at the feet of administrators who supervised this program including those who are no longer working in the district. I am now asking the Board to correct the public record based on the information below.

The Apex program was instituted in 2014-15, when I had oversight for New Rochelle High School. Beginning in July 2016, the high school was no longer my responsibility as the supervision was transferred to the Chief Academic Officer.

While the day to day responsibility and accountability for grade reporting, student programming and the awarding of credit resides with the building leadership, Michael Kenny, the Coordinator of Guidance, was appointed the first Apex administrator for the 2014-15 school-year by Principal Richardson, without a stipend.

By way of context, Apex is an evidenced based digital learning program which was available through BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services.) BOCES was established to provide shared educational services to school districts in New York State. Apex offers an opportunity to augment the curriculum and supplement other credit recovery programs like Extended Day, summer school and Grad Point at Campus School.

The report states that NRHS had no guidelines or procedures for administering Apex courses. That statement is categorically false because under Mr. Kenny’s conscientious oversight in 2014-2015 Apex was anchored in written procedures and requirements, with sufficient checks and balances.

Enrollment criteria were developed and registration was prompted by the school counselors, approved by several administrators, and agreed to by the parent and the student. This procedure ensured that make-up courses were offered only to those students who qualified and were in need of this program. (This process is similar to registration procedures for all alternative learning programs, such as summer school, extended day, etc.)

A teaching assistant (TA) monitored the computer lab where pre-tests, quizzes and unit assessments were taken. The TA would only accept students into the lab with the approved Apex digital learning enrollment form.

At the end of the course, an Apex final grade report was generated and signed by the appropriate department chairman, the Coordinator of Guidance and the HS Principal, to verify the final grade and to ensure the integrity for the credit earned. In addition, multiple opportunities for training were provided by Apex staff commuting from BOCES and from Albany for those involved.

While the prolonged experience implementing and monitoring Apex over the past four or five years should have led to the refinement of protocols, the strengthening of practices and the crystallization of requirements, the T&M report concluded that there never were procedures. It appears, instead, that established requirements were neglected over time, when supervision shifted among administrators. The procedures that were just adopted mirror those that were implemented when the program began.

It has been very disheartening to read about the negative incidents in the district over the past couple of years which have led to community distrust, negative media coverage and a lack of confidence in the schools.

I want to reassure the school community that Apex was launched in 2014-2015 with optimism and integrity, the monitoring of assessments, structure and procedures, and with multiple opportunities for training from Apex staff.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Diane C. Massimo

Retired Associate Superintendent

On December 18th, Tario provided Gratto with a list of material he and Gretschel would need to conduct their investigation into grade inflation at New Rochelle High School.

  1. 2017 and 2018 New Rochelle graduation lists.

  2. Transcripts for each of these students.

  3. APEX Digital Learning Enrollment Form for each of these students.

  4. APEX credits awarded for each of these students.

  5. Latest report cards for each of these students.

  6. Administrative access to New Rochelle’s APEX database.

  7. APEX training documents that were provided to New Rochelle, and any documentation of who received this training.

  8. List of staff who accessed APEX and their level of APEX access.

  9. New Rochelle’s written Credit Recovery policy.

  10. New Rochelle’s attendance policy.

Tario said they were not planning to look at individual student attendance records initially but might need to do so in the future.

Gratto then notified Hastie and Parvey the same day that he would be the point person for all communication between NYSED and New Rochelle.

Gratto explained that in his role as the Testing Security Unit Integrity Officer for Southern Westchester he assists districts with internal investigations when needed but since the investigation report by T&M has been submitted two investigators from the NYSED Testing Security Unit (Tario, Gretschel) would conduct an investigation in the district sometime in January or February and that they understood from Parvey that she was securing all documentation related to the investigation, and would have it available for the investigators when they visited the district.

That same day Samuel J. Finnessey, the Director of the New York State Education Department’s Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability and Test Security Unit sent an email with a link to a Talk of the Sound article to Tario and Gretschel along with John D’Agati New York State Education Department’s Senior Deputy Commissioner for Education Policy for P-12 and Higher Education.

This came across the SED news feed today.

New Rochelle Board of Education Sends Grade-Fixing Report to NYSED Test Security Unit

Talk of the Sound was offered the documents sent to Osborne and the Journal News a week before and at that point the documents had already been delivered to Osborne. In fact, school board members were aware of the only sustained allegations investigations in the T&M Report when the May 7th article ran, those involving Shadia Alvarez and the control failures with the Apex Learning service published in Talk of the Sound.

On December 19th, Gratto formally requested digital submission of data from the District and listed paper documents he had already received. He told Parvey and Hastie the records would be provided to the NYSED Testing Security Unit Investigators.

Digital Records

  1. 2017 and 2018 New Rochelle graduation lists.

  2. Transcripts for each of these students.

  3. APEX Digital Learning Enrollment Form for each of these students.

  4. APEX credits awarded for each of these students.

  5. Latest report cards for each of these students.

  6. Administrative access to New Rochelle’s APEX database.

  7. APEX training documents that were provided to New Rochelle, and any documentation of who received this training.

  8. List of staff who accessed APEX and their level of APEX access.

  9. New Rochelle’s written Credit Recovery policy.

  10. New Rochelle’s attendance policy.

Paper Records (already received)

  1. December 12, 2018 letter to Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia

  2. Process for Online Courses and Independent Study at NRHS

  3. Copy of December 3, 2018 memo to Sara Richmond, Esq. from Meryl Lutsky, Esq.

  4. Investigative Report from T&M Protection Resources, dated December 3, 2018

  5. Exhibit A

  6. Exhibit H: Apex Audit Trail

By January, the state investigators were ramping up their investigation.

On January 7, 2019, Tario advised Gratto that he and Gretschel would be in Westchester during January Regents Testing Week (January 22-25, 2019).

We’ve attached our tentative monitoring schedule for your review. Please don’t forward this to anyone as we wish our visits to remain unannounced…You will note that we scheduled New Rochelle HS on the afternoon of January 22, 2019. They of course do not need to know of our monitoring plans.

On January 9th, Parvey notified Gratto that she had shared the list of items requested by investigators with Starvaggi before the Christmas Break and that Starvaggi had assured her he could pull together the majority of the requested items in a short time frame. This did not happen.

The next day Parvey wrote again to say that she had confirmed with Starvaggi that she and Starvaggi would share the materials with Gratto on January 14th.

Gratto notified Tario and Gretschel that he had spoken to Parvey directly and was promised the requested documentation electronically by the middle of next week but noted the District no longer had a contract with Apex.

On January 10, 2019, Tario advised Gratto that his office had been contacted by law enforcement:

Yesterday we received a written request from Assistant District Attorney Brian F. Fitzgerald of the Westchester County’s Office of the District Attorney, Public Integrity Unit, requesting information about this investigation.

We left him a voice mail this morning.

The Westchester District Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment earlier today by Talk of the Sound.

On January 10th, Gratto sent Tario and Gretschel a link to a Journal News article:

New Rochelle High School administrator fired after grade-fixing scandal

On January 15th, Gratto confirmed to Tario and Gretschel that New Rochelle has shared the requested documentation but had done so through Google so he could not forward the material to them.

On January 17, 2019, Gratto asked Parvey to arrange for the NYSED investigators to have access to the New Rochelle Apex records since the District had terminated their contract with Apex Learning in June 2018. Gratto had tried to access records through the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center (LHRIC) but learned the cross-contract with Apex Learning was with Ulster BOCES so LHRIC did not have any of the information from Apex.

Gratto than restated a slightly modified data submission request:

  1. The 2017 and 2018 graduation lists for June and August of those years, to include the type of diploma conferred.

  2. APEX Digital Learning Enrollment Form (signed) for each of the graduated 2017-2018 students.

  3. APEX Credits for each of the graduated 2017-2018 students.

  4. Transcripts for the 2018 graduated students.

  5. Latest Report Cards for the graduated 2017-2018 students.

  6. If available, access to the historical New Rochelle APEX database.

  7. APEX training documents for the New Rochelle Staff, (As mentioned by former Associate Superintendent Diane Massimo in her letter.)

  8. List of staff who had access to APEX and their level of access.

  9. New Rochelle’s written Credit Recovery Policy.

  10. The T&M Exhibit H Audit trail as provided by Southern Westchester BOCES with student names and student ID’s

On January 17th, Tario notified Gratto that although he and Gretschel had received several documents from the District and begun their analysis, most of the items promised by Parvey and Starvaggi were not provided and are still required. Tario listed the missing records:

  1. The 2017 and 2018 graduation lists for June and August of those years, to include the type of diploma conferred.

  2. APEX Digital Learning Enrollment Forms (signed) for each of the graduated 2017-2018 students.

  3. APEX Credits foreach of the graduated 2017-2018 students.

  4. Transcripts for the 2018 graduated students.

  5. Latest Report Cards for the graduated 2017-2018 students.

  6. If available, access to the historical New Rochelle APEX database.

  7. APEX training documents for the New Rochelle Staff. (As mentioned by former Associate Superintendent Diane Massimo in her letter.)

  8. List of staff who had access to APEX and their level of access.

  9. New Rochelle’s written Credit Recovery Policy.

  10. The T&M Exhibit H Audit trail as provided by Southern Westchester BOCES WITH Student names and student ID’s.

Despite Gratto having informed Jeffrey Hastie in December that he would be the point of contact between the state investigators and the District, Hastie sent an email directly to state investigator Roy Tario on January 17th, telling him “Going forward, our law firm will be playing point on this. John Gross from lngerman Smith will be your contact. He’s copied on this and is aware of Tuesday meeting.”

Tario quickly slammed the door on contact with Hastie or anyone else from or connected to the City School District of New Rochelle.

Dear Board President Hastie,

We will be working directly with Integrity Officer James Gratto Jr. of the Southern Westchester BOCES and Dr. Parvey and/or Principal Starvaggi.

Despite two separate warnings, Hastie sent another email directly to Tario on January 19th.

In addition to the people interviewed by T&M, the following were not interviewed…I’ve separated the list by current and retired employees.

CURRENT

House Principals

Gustavo Barbosa – now Social Studies Chair

Michael Hilderbrand – now Trinity Elementary School Principal

Staff

Sharon Alexander – administered and enrolled students when Apex was first rolled out

RETIRED

Diane Massimo – Associate Superintendent (you have her letter)

Michael Kinney (sic) – Guidance Director

On Sunday January 27th, Hastie sent yet another email directly to the state investigators but this time the email was sent to Gretschel with a cc to Tario and Gratto.

The email was sent to notify investigators that another (unnamed) person had come forward. Hastie described the person as “worked in the registrars office at the high school. No longer works for the district.”

There is only one person that matches that description.

Barbara Hassett had previously been interviewed by T&M on June 22, 2018 (Hassett DENIES this interview took place). She is listed in the 2018 T&M Apex Report as “Registrar”. Hassett retired from the position of Senior Typist after 31 years where she served as Registrar at New Rochelle High School. Her retirement became effective on Monday January 28, 2019.

It is not clear why Hassett would “come forward” to talk with investigators after she had retired from the District when she had been interviewed seven months earlier as part of the T&M investigation (Hassett DENIES she “came forward” and denies she was interviewed by T&M).

On February 13, 2019 Gratto updated Parvey and the State investigators that he was having trouble making contact with Apex Learning to get access to New Rochelle records. He said he had been playing phone tag with a person at Ulster BOCES. By day’s end he connected with the person in Ulster County and received a point of contact at Apex Learning who he then contacted.

Gratto sent an introductory email to Tameka Lampkin at Apex Learning in which he told her the New York State Education Department Testing Security Unit was conducting an investigation into alleged grading misadministration at New Rochelle High School during the 2016-2017 arid 2017-2018 school years so NYSED investigators need administrative access to all New Rochelle data in the APEX system for those two school years.

Although Starvaggi had assured Parvey before Christmas that he could have the majority of records sought by the NYSED investigators ready in a short time frame it was not until February 26, 2019 that Starvaggi sent the bulk of the records including the 2017 and 2018 graduation lists with student ID’s with type of diploma, Report Cards for 2017 and 20l8 Graduates, APEX Credits awarded to students (he said he could not get the data into Excel so he sent each individual student report card; he also noted that failures were not indicated on report cards or transcripts at the high school), APEX training documents (T&M stated in their report that there were no training documents, a point Massimo objected to her in her letter of December 17, 2018). and hard copies of APEX enrollment forms (Starvaggi says many were believed to have been destroyed after graduation which, for the 2018 records, is after the Apex investigation began).

Starvaggi told investigators he reviewed an Apex binder and identified several emails where Celia Smith of Apex Learning had notified Shadia Alvarez and Daren Khairule of LHRIC about closing the Apex account and reserving data housed there. Starvaggi added that there were documents in the binder indicating that Alvarez said she requested APEX end-of-year reports but that Apex informed her that such a request would have to be made in writing and approved by Apex Legal. There was no such request. Starvaggi says he made his own request in the Fall of 2018 after the account was closed but did not receive a response from Apex.

Later that same day, February 26th the New Rochelle Board of Education held a Special Meeting and approved Resolution No. 19-277: “APPOINTING THE LAW FIRM OF DOUGLAS A. SPENCER, PLLC AS SPECIAL COUNSEL TO CONDUCT A CERTAIN INVESTIGATION”.

Despite past promises, the school board did not publicly disclose that the “certain investigation” referred to re-opening the “Complete” and “Final” Apex Investigation. No explanation has been offered as to why T&M was not retained to expand on the work they had already completed in 2018.

On February 27, 2018, Parvey asked about the state investigators reviewing the high school Alternative Credit Manual that the District had drafted after the grade inflation allegations surfaced in May 2018. A few days later, Gretschel confirmed that she has reviewed the New Rochelle High School Alternative Credit Manual.

Between March 1st and March 11th, 2019, there were a series of e-mails, phone calls and teleconferences to get State investigators access to the Apex Database; participants included Rebecca Saunders, Director of Client Support for Apex Learning, the two state investigators, Roy Tario and Lynn Gretschel, Daren Khairule of LHRIC, New Rochelle Interim-Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey and James Gratto of Southern Westchester BOCES.

On March 11, 2018, Bernee Kamana’o of Apex Learning, sent Gratto, Gretschel and Tario a File Share link to access and transfer files from the Apex Learning FTP server.

Saunders informed Gratto, Gretschel, and Tario that they now had access to the Consolidated Activities Report and the Grade Book Audit Report for the period “8/1-7/31” without an indication of a year but based on other records likely the years 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. The Consolidated Activities Report included all activities that exist for that enrollment “regardless of if the student completed the activity or not” and Enrollment Status (Active, Complete, Withdrawn).

On March 22 2019, Hastie made an email introduction between Gratto and Regina Cafarella of Spencer Law.

I’m introducing you our special counsel Regina Cafarella. She’s doing an investigation for the board regarding Apex. She’s looking to get access to their data and I know you’ve been working with Ulster(?) BOCES since they have the contract.

Gratto responded to Hastie on March 25th, telling him that any access to Apex Learning for Cafarella would have to come from Apex Learning directly following authorization by Dr. Parvey. Gratto copied Rebecca Saunders of Apex Learning on the email.

On April 12, 2019, Gratto had a final teleconference with Tario and Gretschel about New Rochelle.

Talk of the Sound has been asking BOCES officials since October 2019 whether the investigation into allegations of grade inflation at New Rochelle High School undertaken by the New York State Education Department’s Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability/Test Security Unit was completed, if there was a report, whether the report was provided to the New Rochelle Board of Education and/or the City School District of New Rochelle and whether Talk of the Sound can obtain a copy of the report.

There are no further communications regarding the investigation by the New York State Education Department Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability Test Security Unit. The active phase of the investigation appears to have ended at this point.

On August 6, 2019, the New Rochelle Board of Education met in Executive Session with outside counsel Gus Mountanos of Ingerman Smith and special counsel Regina Cafarella of Douglas A. Spencer who was hired to run the re-opened Apex Investigation. There is no record of what was discussed but it is likely Cafarella provided an updated on her Apex investigation.

As noted above, when Talk of the Sound asked for an update on the Test Security Unit investigation, Board President Amy Moselhi responded on September 19th by denying any knowledge of an investigation involving investigators from the New York State Education Department’s Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability/Test Security Unit coordinated by the Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Southern Westchester BOCES and the NYSED Test Security Unit Integrity Officer for Westchester.

“I was not aware that (the T&M Report) was sent to the state test unit/BOCES,” wrote Moselhi.

Moselhi forwarded her reply to Dr. Parvey asking her to confirm that T&M’s Apex Learning investigation report was sent to “the state test unit/BOCES”. Parvey later responded to say that she was aware that the state investigation had been completed but was unaware of any outcome.

In her September 19th email, Moselhi disclosed publicly for the first time that the Apex investigation has been re-opened. Moselhi said the report was expected “within the month”. Moselhi said “someone came forward” (Hassett DENIES coming forward).

On October 16th, Talk of the Sound published an article on the re-opening of the Apex investigation and Moselhi’s denial of any knowledge of a state investigation.

On October 17, 2019, Gratto sent Tario and Gretschel a link to the Talk of the Sound article

The article below was posted on the local New Rochelle blog today.

New Rochelle Board of Education Has Secretly Re-Opened Apex Learning Investigation; Inexplicably Denies Knowledge of Publicly Announced State Investigation

After repeated follow-up inquiries, all of which were ignored, Moselhi told Talk of the Sound yesterday that the re-opened Apex investigation had been received by the board on December 4, 2019 and would be discussed by the Board in Executive Session on December 17th.

Asked if the full, un-redacted Apex report by Regina Cafarella of Douglas A. Spencer would be made public, Moselhi said that it would be up to the board to decide after the discussion on December 17th. This response stands in contrast to Moselhi’s statement at the October 2018 Town Hall where she stated the first Apex report would be made public prior to an Executive Session at an upcoming board meeting.

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