Lying, Cheating, And Stealing At Key Middle School, Investigators Say

During the sixth and seventh periods, students at Key Middle School could go to in-school dances, that's if they had enough cash to get in to the festivities which occurred every week, two weeks or month according to different witness accounts.

Even though Houston ISD policy forbids graduation ceremonies for anyone other than graduating high school seniors, Key Middle School held annual eighth-grade graduation ceremonies, complete with a high mark-up on the cap and gown the kids had to rent or later buy for the ceremony. There's no account of where the money went or why the district let the ceremonies continue.

Teaching assistants sold food to students during the lunch hour out of a Home-Ec room and there's absolutely no accounting of where all that money went or how much was taken in.

Teachers who wanted to teach summer school at Key were approached and asked to make financial contributions to the principal.

School uniforms were sold at a profit even after Principal Mable Caleb asked for and got the uniforms paid for by a donor.

More than $200,000 of Key equipment vanished but was never reported missing, lost or stolen.
School personnel used Title I funds (designed for low income students) to buy "MP3 players, boom boxes, skateboards, etc." in violation of HISD and federal guidelines.

Oh, and there apparently was massive cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test -- at the same school that was investigated for its 2004 results and involving the same principal and teacher who'd been investigated before: "Key teachers had a copy of the 6th and 7th grade math TAKS test prior to the TAKS test date."

The just-released investigation into Key Middle School is the biggest argument against so-called "site-based management" anyone could ever see. In fact the allegations of wrongdoing are so massive, it's hard to get a handle on it all.

Unless the investigators from the Martin, Disiere, Jefferson & Wisdom law firm are wrong, this was a school operating as the personal fiefdom of Principal Mable Caleb, now principal of Kashmere High School (except that she's on extended leave pending the outcome of her case. She and her lawyer, Chris Tritico, have until March 22 to reply).

Caleb hired, supervised and overpaid her son and a niece in violation of all sorts of HISD policies, not the least of which is the one involving nepotism. Elgie Wade, Caleb's niece, earned "an additional 75 percent of her base pay in the 2008-2009 school year through overtime, extended pay and summer school work." And her pay reportedly had no relation to the actual hours worked. Her son, Donald Caleb, worked as a teacher's aide and according to the report "During the approximately six to seven months in which Don Caleb worked at Key, he was paid more overtime than he had previously been paid in the prior three full school years at Williams Middle School."

Although HISD did undertake this investigation at the direction of Superintendent Terry Grier, it can't cover itself in honorable glory. HISD, at least under past administrations, has done a lousy job of following up on complaints. For years, people have been telling it directly that something corrupt and rotten was going on at Key, but instead of following up on the complaints, the district repeatedly ignored them, as the report makes clear. Even when the TAKS scores took a huge jump in 2007, after two years of the school being judged "academically unacceptable" by the state, HISD didn't think to investigate.

Nothing was done until KTRK followed up on a tip and requested records from HISD about the transfer of property from Key to Kashmere. And the October 31 videotape shows boxes of material being removed from Key. Some of it has been recovered at Kashmere -- including several computers -- and some of them lie in unopened boxes months later.

Even when the district under former superintendent Abe Saveedra did something -- demoted Caleb back in May 2005 for the TAKS cheating at Key -- the then-school board reinstated her.

Teacher Richard Adebayo was fired in the matter, but won reinstatement on appeal. According to the report, the hearing examiner who heard Adebayo's appeal in the 2005 case, "found persuasive Dr. Adebayo's' argument that an individual with his 'credentials' would not risk his reputation to help students cheat on a standardized test (even though the examiner found that cheating did take place and a person or persons likely were involved.)" As it turns out, that was a lie. Adebayo does not have a Ph.D. in physics from Rice University as he claimed.

In the just-completed investigation, witnesses identified Adebayo as the person who solicited "donations" from prospective summer-school teachers, and provided copies of the live TAKS test ahead of time to teachers. Even when his solicitation activities were discovered, he was never even reprimanded for them.

Witnesses to the investigation talked of being "fearful" of Caleb. "When asked what they were fearful of, witnesses stated that Ms. Caleb was vindictive, powerful (and connected to people like Carol Mims-Galloway and Sheila Jackson Lee) and would use that power to intimidate them and make their lives miserable, including telling people they were not wanted at Key or threatening them with their jobs."

One teacher said that in fall 2008 during a staff meeting "Caleb announced that board member Ms. Galloway had a deficit in her budget and that all teachers were strongly encouraged to contribute $20 in cash."

According to the investigation: "It was also reported that Key paraprofessionals were employed to work at a gathering at HISD board member Carol Mims-Galloway's home and that the hours worked were paid out of Key's payroll." Lee stood up for Caleb in her 2004 appeal.

On one of its concluding pages, the law firm's report takes the district to task. There was a memo in 2006 raises concerns similar to the disclosures that are coming out now, the report says. "It raises questions why the issues in 2006 were not examined and addressed by the District more closely. In addition, it is apparent that one or more individuals have been trying to reach out to get the district's attention on activities at Key... Witnesses alluded to frustration with the district claiming that reports of some of the activities being examined in this investigation had been previously raised to the District with no action taken."

We have calls in to Tritico and to Mims-Galloway but haven't heard back. We'll update when we do.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing