Apex Whistleblower Comes Forward, Details New Allegations in Grade Inflation Scandal

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — A former employee of the City School District of New Rochelle has told Talk of the Sound they are the whistleblower who came forward with new allegations in the Apex grade inflation in January 2019, seven weeks after the T&M Apex investigation was released by the School Board as “complete and final”.

The allegations include: parents and coach of a student-athlete were given administrative access to the Apex system; students who took a course like Physical Education were credited with having taken Algebra II; more grade-fixing by Shadia Alvarez; student who should not have graduated was allowed to do so, Regents Exam results credited to different courses, or credit given for exams never taken, and more.

The whistleblower agreed to talk with Talk of the Sound on the condition we not use their name.

This person also matches the description of the whistleblower described by then-School Board President Jeffrey Hastie in his January 27, 2019 email sent to State investigators. The whistleblower says Hastie asked them to come forward on January 25th.

In our recent article on the chronology of the Apex grade inflation investigation, Talk of the Sound incorrectly said former New Rochelle High School Registrar Barbara Hassett was the only person who fit the description of the unidentified person who Hastie said came forward at the end of January, 2019 causing the District to re-open the Apex investigation. In an exclusive interview, Hassett denied coming forward and we have since corrected that reporting. Hassett said although she did not “come forward” she did cooperate with the investigation, speaking with Regina Cafarella, special counsel for the District, an attorney at the Richard A. Spencer Law Firm, the person hired by the Board in February 2019 to run the re-opened Apex investigation.

Our reporting was based on Board resolutions, an email exchange and subsequent telephone conversation with New Rochelle Board of Education President Amy Moselhi on September 19, 2019 and an email dated January 27, 2019 sent by then-Board President Jeffrey Hastie to Investigative Specialist Lynn Gretschel, Supervising Professional Conduct Investigator at Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability Test Security Unit and copied to Professional Conduct Investigator Roy Tario of the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability Test Security Unit, James Gratto, Jr. Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Southern Westchester BOCES and the NYSED Test Security Unit Integrity Officer for Westchester, Interim Superintendent of New Rochelle Schools Dr. Magda Parvey and the New Rochelle Board of Education’s Outside Counsel John Gross, Senior Managing Partner of Ingerman Smith.

In his email to Lynn Gretschel, Hastie wrote “Another person has come forward. (Redacted) worked in the registrars office at the high school. No longer works for the district.”

The whistleblower says the email refers to them, that they had agreed with Hastie’s request to come forward and talk to investigators on January 25th, that they subsequently met with Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey, State investigators and the District’s special counsel, Regina Cafarella.

They told Talk of the Sound they provided several investigative leads to investigators which included the following allegations:

Allegation 1

Apex Learning “locks” course units so that a student taking an Apex course must first successfully complete required pre-tests, quizzes and unit assessments before a teacher assigned to the student “unlocks” the next course unit. According to a letter to the Board in December 2018 from former Associate Superintendent Diane Massimo, a teaching assistant monitored the computer lab where pre-tests, quizzes and unit assessments were taken. The TA would only accepted students into the lab with the approved Apex digital learning enrollment form.

A former student-athlete who played on an amateur sports team not affiliated with New Rochelle High School needed to be in good academic standing to play on the amateur team. The student-athlete took 3 courses a day at the high school and 6 courses online via Apex.

The player’s parents and coach met with then-Director of Guidance Gregg Sloane. He agreed to allow both the parents and the coach administrative access to the Apex system which Shadia Alvarez then granted.

Gregg Sloane, a 26-year veteran of the City School District of New Rochelle, was appointed the district’s director of guidance and counseling in the summer of 2016, succeeding Michael Kenny who retired over the summer. It was Kenny who set up the Apex program during the 2014-15 school year, according to Massimo.

Massimo was no longer involved with Apex by summer 2016; supervision was transferred to Chief Academic Officer Dr. Magda Parvey.

With administrative access to the Apex system, the parents and coach could unlock units in Apex courses. With no teacher or teaching assistant proctoring pre-tests, quizzes and unit assessments or unlocking new units there was no way to know who was taking the tests, opening up the possibility that the student-athlete was not doing the work or completing the pre-tests, quizzes and unit assessments on their own.

Allegation 2

New Rochelle High School Night School Administrator Maureen Maire sent an email with an attached Excel spreadsheet in 2018 which listed course credit “swaps” for regular courses and Regents courses she was entering into the eSchools system where students who took a course at night school or summer school were credited with having taken a different course. A similar list was sent out annually. Francis Curley, the Director of Guidance at New Rochelle High School, and former IT Director Shanit Halprin were aware of Maire’s 2018 course credit-swap email.

Examples of course credit swaps in Maire’s spreadsheet include;

Physical Education to Algebra II

Art to Algebra I

Algebra I to Algebra II

Algebra I to Trigonometry

During the summer of 2018, Reggie Richardson was still Principal, Curley ran the Guidance Department (and still does) and the math department chairperson was (and is) Xiomara Gonzalez.

Gonzalez was hired by Reggie Richardson as the Chairperson of the Math Department on June 6, 2017.

Xiomara Gonzalez was as an Assistant Principal at Collegiate Institute for Math and Science in the Bronx from December 9, 2013 to August 30, 2015. Gonzalez worked under Shadia Alvarez at a time when Collegiate was under two separate investigations for financial fraud, one by OSI and another by SCI. In August 2015 Alvarez was fired as a result of the sustained charges in the OSI Investigation and hired as a House Principal at New Rochelle High School then named Apex Coordinator by Richardson. In July 2016, Alvarez was banned for life from working for the DOE as a result of the sustained charges in the SCI Investigation.

Allegation 3

Former Apex Coordinator Shadia Alvarez changed grades in Apex (beyond the grade changes cited in the T&M Apex report).

Allegation 4

A student who should not have graduated was allowed to do so. When asked about it Shadia Alvarez said to leave it alone. On graduation day, Reggie Richardson called NRHS Guidance Counselor Laura Foster to say he was going to let the student walk in the graduation ceremony despite not earning a diploma.

Allegation 5

Regents Exams taken twice (not on the same day) but student was given course credit for another class based on the second exam .

Allegation 6

Credit was given for Regents Exams that were never taken.

Allegation 7

No one at the high school understood how to operate Apex beyond granting administrative access.

Additional Allegation, by Former Registrar

In her interview with Talk of the Sound, Barbara Hassett made one another allegation we did not report previously, that a certain person she declined to name would repeatedly submit the same document seeking to get a student additional course credit for physical education. Hassett said this person would submit identical documents two or three or four or five times and was denied each time.

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