Livingston principal resigns after investigation

COVINGTON -- Just three weeks before the new school year is to begin, Livingston Elementary School's principal has announced that she will resign following a state investigation that resulted in the suspension of her educational certificate.

On Thursday, Principal Wendy Hughes submitted a letter of resignation to the Newton County School System, effective July 31, which NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews accepted, according to a press release from NCSS.

"While I do not know Principal Hughes, as I am new, I do know that her colleagues in NCSS greatly respect her as a person and professional," Mathews said in the press release Friday afternoon. "I am sure that she will recover from this most unfortunate turn of events. I wish her all the best now and in the years ahead."

The investigation stems from incidents in 2006 and 2007 that resulted in an investigation that began in 2008.

The Office of the Attorney General of Georgia opened an investigation into the Georgia Department of Education's Academic Coach Program, for which Hughes served as the Director of Teacher Quality in 2006 and 2007.

According to a special report released in late July 2008 from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts, then State School Superintendent Kathy Cox requested the State Government Division of the GDAA conduct an independent investigation into the Academic Coach program after GaDOE officials noticed financial irregularities during Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007.

Then, in January 2009, the Georgia Department of Education instituted a lawsuit for reimbursement of official travel expenses from the wrong program funds, Hughes said.

After resigning as director from the program in June 2007, Hughes began serving as principal at Livingston Elementary in August 2007, when she first came to NCSS. Previously, she worked in Rockdale and DeKalb county schools as a teacher and an instructional coordinator from 1991 to 1999.

After the investigation was completed, GDAA reported that officials found evidence of fraud, waste and abuse during those fiscal years.

"In each fiscal year, the GDOE entered into a contractual arrangement with the Oconee Regional Educational Service Agency to assist in the implementation of the program," one section of the 38-page report reads. "During FY 2006 and 2007, we determined the Oconee RESA expended approximately $1.2 million in state funds received from the GDOE. However, no money was paid to academic coaches in the form of salary supplements or bonuses in exchange for mentoring other public school teachers."

According to the report, the investigation also found that Hughes didn't properly supervise or properly execute the contract with Oconee RESA.

"Based on the findings of this investigation, it appears that the GDOE's former Director of Teacher Quality (Hughes) did not exercise sufficient oversight of the Academic Coach Program to ensure that objectives were being met," one findings sections of the report reads. "Obvious risks that the Academic Coach Program would not comply with Senate Bill 34 were present, but were seemingly ignored."

Hughes said in the press release from NCSS that travel funds were repaid, but the DOE wanted further action.

She expects to have her certificate reinstated without further complications on May 1, 2011.

"At that time, if there might be a chance for me to return to NCSS, I would relish the opportunity," Hughes said in the press release. "Until that time, I would like to say thank you to those with whom I have worked for these past three years. This has been the perfect place for me to be even while I was wrestling with this difficult issue. Newton County and Livingston Elementary have supported me in ways I could never have anticipated. This has been a wonderful place to work."

NCSS has posted an opening for the position. Mathews said screening of applicants will take place on Thursday and interviews on Friday.

"Naturally, we are seeking the most qualified individual to serve as principal of Livingston Elementary whomever that may be," Mathews said.