Former principal says director wanted her to write 'go to hell' memo to GBI

by: Richard Elliot Updated:

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ATLANTA - A former Atlanta Public Schools interim principal testified that her area director wanted her and others to write the Georgia Bureau of Investigation a "Go to Hell" memo.

Former APS Area Director Tamara Cotman is on trial for witness influencing during the GBI's investigation into the CRCT cheating scandal.

Jimmye Hawkins took over as interim principal at Scott Elementary in 2010, one of the schools flagged during the investigation. She was there after the scandal but during the GBI investigation.

She said Cotman never came out and said not to cooperate with the GBI, but did let it be known.

"I did not feel that she had respect for the GBI," Hawkins testified. "I never got the impression that she really wanted us to cooperate with them. It was quite evident from the phone calls and statements that Ms. Cotman did not care for the GBI, and there was this undertone that you better not cooperate."

Hawkins said Cotman warned her and other principals that the agents were tricky, rude and would bang on doors and windows to pull teachers out of classrooms for interviews, but when the agents arrived at Scott Elementary, she said she found them to be kind, cooperative and professional.

So when Hawkins said she got the "Go to Hell" memo at a principals' meeting, she was shocked, though she realized the memo was a kind of joke.

"All I could think of was this is wrong," Hawkins said. "You're asking me to write a 'Go to Hell' memo to the GBI, and I just didn't have a bad experience with them. In my heart of hearts, I just can't do that. How could I have taught students for 29-and-a-half years and tell children that they have to stand up for what they believe in and then write a note 'go to hell' to the GBI which would be something totally different than what I believe in? How could I lay my head down?"

Hawkins also testified that Cotman wanted principals at all the flagged schools to get failing students' math and language arts skills up in just 12 weeks, even though some of those students' skills were three and four grade levels behind. She wanted the skills up by the time of the next CRCT so the GBI could not point to low scores as proof of cheating on earlier tests.

If principals voiced their concerns, Hawkins said Cotman would call them nothing but excuses.

"Ms. Cotman never, ever made you not know you always have this threat over your head, kind of like, what Ms. Cotman giveth, Ms. Cotman can taketh away," said Hawkins. "You always had this threat over you that she could remove you at any time."

Testimony will continue Thursday morning.