Hastie Lied About Apex Investigation in 2019 State of the District Speech
Written By: Robert Cox
NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Jeffrey Hastie is a documented liar and fraud. Here is another example.
In the course of working on two recent stories we were reviewing both Jeffrey Hastie’s emails pertaining to the SED investigation into Apex grade inflation at New Rochelle High School, his 2019 State of the District speech on January 29th, and our notes from our Apex whistleblower interview.
In his State of the District address he claimed he and the Board were committed to transparency, noting the T&M investigation report ￼on Apex was provided to New York State Education Department then adds a line that basically says if they decide to investigate further.
“We were all upset to hear last year that there were problems with the grading of our online courses. The integrity of our grading systems is the backbone of our academic reputation, and when we learned that that was in question on these specific courses, we reacted immediately. We hired a firm to conduct a rigorous and thorough investigation to show us where the problem was so that we could make sure it does not happen again. With our continued commitment to transparency, the complete, unredacted report was released to the community and provided to New York State Education Department for further investigation should they deem it appropriate.”
Hastie made it sound as if the SED had not yet deemed an investigation appropriate as of January 29, 2019 – and might not.
This prepared statement in a formal written speech delivered as a so-called “State of the District” speech was a deliberate lie. School officials like Magda Parvey, Joe Williams, Joe Starvaggi, Michael Hilderbrand, Gustavo Barbosa, and others knew it was a lie because they were all part of the State Investigation. No one on the Board or in the Administration contradicted Hastie’s barefaced lie.
At a press conference the month before Hastie had denied being in communication with State investigators. On December 5, 2018, Hastie was asked if he had been in contact with the State Education Department about the Apex Investigation.
He lied to the Journal News reporter — and every other reporter in the room.
“They haven’t been in touch with us we haven’t contacted them,” said Hastie.
By the time of the December 5th press conference there were numerous contacts between State investigators and New Rochelle School officials. 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.
By the time of the January 29, 2019 State of the District speech, Hastie had not only been directly notified that SED was conducting an investigation but had repeatedly, inappropriately, injected himself into the SED investigation. Gratto had notified Parvey and Starvaggi that the NYSED Commissioner Elia 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. Gratto had visited the District with BOCES Superintendent Dr. Harold Coles who was running the then-ongoing Superintendent Search which later resulted in the hiring of Dr. Laura Feijóo. Gretschel had 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” to which Parvey had responded with a list of processes and procedures the District intended to implement. Hastie had forwarded a letter from Associate Superintendent Diane Massimo to the Board of Education to rebut many of the statements made by Hastie and Parvey at their press conference. Gratto had notified Hastie and Parvey he would be the point person for all communication with State investigators as two investigators from the NYSED Testing Security Unit (Tario, Gretschel) conducted an investigation in the district sometime in January or February. Parvey was securing all documentation related to the investigation. Gratto had formally requested digital submission of data from the District and listed paper documents he had already received. He had told Parvey and Hastie the records would be provided to the NYSED Testing Security Unit Investigators as part of their investigation. The investigators had visited New Rochelle High School. Parvey had notified Gratto that she had directed Starvaggi to gather records for SED Investigators. Gratto had asked Parvey to arrange for the NYSED investigators to have access to the New Rochelle Apex records. Hastie had sent three emails to state investigators providing them documents, contact information for interview subjects and, on January 27th, the name and contact information for a whistleblower.
On May 31, 2018, Professional Conduct Investigator Roy Tario of the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability Test Security Unit discussed the New Rochelle Apex Investigation by T&M Protection Resources with James Gratto, Jr., the Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Southern Westchester BOCES and the NYSED Test Security Unit Integrity Officer for Westchester. Gratto then 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 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:
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.￼
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Gustavo Barbosa – now Social Studies Chair
Michael Hilderbrand – now Trinity Elementary School Principal
Sharon Alexander – administered and enrolled students when Apex was first rolled out
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 copying 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.”
Hastie lied about SED’s interest in the T&M Apex Report before it was released on December 4, 2019 and he lied about the SED Investigation in his speech on January 29, 2019.
”New Rochelle Board of Education President Jeffrey Hastie and Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey delivered the first ever State of the District Address, really a pair of poorly delivered speeches loaded down with generic platitudes and claptrap under the heading of “State of the District Address” to a mostly apathetic audience in a mostly empty room.
We will spare you any further suspense by revealing that despite all evidence to the contrary — murders and stabbings, a grade-fixing scandal, phony diplomas, almost every senior position in the district empty of filled with “interims”, a defeated budget, a non-renewed Superintendent, no one working on next year’s budget — Hastie declared ’The State of the District is strong.’l