Former Newton admin among those indicted in Atlanta schools cheating scandal

ATLANTA -- A former Newton County school administrator is among the 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators who were indicted Friday by a grand jury.

Christopher Waller, who was principal at Parks Middle School in Atlanta Public Schools and is a major focus of the cheating scandal, worked as an assistant principal at Cousins Middle School in Covington from 2001 to 2004 before heading to Atlanta.

His personnel file for the Newton County School System shows no disciplinary issues.

On Friday, a grand jury indicted Waller, as well as former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall and other Atlanta educators, for allegedly conspiring to cheat on standardized test scores to obtain cash bonuses. Hall was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009, the same year prosecutors contend widespread cheating took place. She also received a $78,000 bonus that year for improving the school system's test scores, prosecutors said.

"The money she received, we are alleging, was ill gotten and it was theft," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said at a news conference.

Those indicted include administrators, principals and teachers. The 65-count indictment said "test answer sheets were altered, fabricated and falsely certified."

Hall was charged with racketeering, making false statements, theft by taking and false swearing. She and others could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted, Howard said.

A state investigation of test results in 2009 found cheating in 44 of the 56 Atlanta public schools examined. The cheating was prompted primarily by pressure to meet targets in a data-driven environment, according to a investigation conducted by Gov. Nathan Deal's office.

The 2009 cheating was said to include teachers erasing incorrect answers on state standardized tests.

The 2011 state report concluded that there was a "major failure of leadership throughout Atlanta Public Schools with regard to the ethical administration" of the 2009 standardized exams known as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Amid the investigation, Hall stepped down after nearly 12 years as superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools. Her successor, Erroll Davis, said on Friday the school system now has extensive training and other safeguards to prevent cheating.

He said 95 percent of the school system's staff was not implicated in the scandal.

Reuters contributed to this article.