An East St. Louis native who was implicated in a test cheating scandal in East St. Louis District 189 has been hired as the new superintendent of Brooklyn District 188.
Starting in July, Ronald Ferrell will replace current Superintendent Henrietta Young, who is retiring at the end of the school year.
Ferrell, 41, started his career in education as a teacher in nearby East St. Louis District 189. He also served as principal at Officer Elementary School in District 189 before taking his current position as principal at Confluence Elite Academy in St. Louis.
He resigned from his role at Officer Elementary in 2012 after an internal investigation into allegations that Ferrell and other employees helped students cheat on a state test. He has denied the allegation.
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Ferrell said the investigation was prompted by the allegations of a “disgruntled employee.”
Among the allegations, the former principal showed teachers how to look inside test booklets before they were administered and that he told students to review their answers multiple times.
Ferrell said the tests were not properly locked away but that the rest of the allegations were “fabricated and overblown.”
“Me being relatively young, there’s just some things that I didn’t catch,” he said. “... After the fact, we found that the lock on the door didn’t lock as it should have.”
“Somebody could have had access, and I take full responsibility for that lock not working,” Ferrell added.
Ferrell said that at the time, he was inexperienced “in the aspect of dealing with conflict and dealing with personalities” of employees. He said the allegations stemmed from a teacher with whom he had several disagreements.
“I think I could have handled that relationship with that teacher differently,” he said.
The test scores for Officer Elementary were not reported to the state in 2012 “as a result of action taken by the school staff during the administration of the assessment,” Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said in an email to the News-Democrat.
District 189 spokeswoman Sydney Stigge-Kaufman said the district does not comment on personnel matters. The Brooklyn District 188 School Board is aware of the past investigation, according to Superintendent Young.
“I accepted complete responsibility,” Ferrell said. “... I stepped down peacefully.”
Ferrell said resigning was his lawyer’s recommendation. “At the advice of my counsel, I moved on,” he said.
I know that there’s going to be a myriad of challenges — challenges that I’m looking forward to.
Ronald Ferrell, Brooklyn District 188’s incoming superintendent
Ferrell plans to “hit the ground running” when he returns to the area by holding open forums and inviting parents to visit Brooklyn District 188.
“I know that there’s going to be a myriad of challenges — challenges that I’m looking forward to,” Ferrell said.
Among the issues he said he wants to address are student attendance, mobility and dropout rates in Brooklyn.
Last year, the percentage of students who transferred in and out of schools, or the mobility rate, was more than three times the state average at 46 percent, according to state data. The percentage of students considered chronically truant — 29 percent — was more than twice the state average.
District 188’s dropout rate in 2016 was 8 percent, compared to the 2 percent state average.
“I believe that Brooklyn 188 has made some strides in the past,” Ferrell said. Specifically, he noted that the district made changes to move off the state’s financial watch list, which is part of a process to determine which school districts are in or are moving toward financial difficulty.
Ferrell said he wants to continue “the progress that Dr. Young started.”
Young is retiring after 42 years in education.
She has served as both the superintendent and principal in Brooklyn District 188 for the last three years. Ferrell will be filling both roles when he takes over in the summer.
Young previously taught in East St. Louis and has worked as an administrator in Alton, among other positions across the state.
Even in retirement, Young said she has plans to continue teaching.
“I would like to teach a class at a college or university and pursue some hobbies,” she said. “I’d like to take piano lessons and just do some things that I haven’t had a chance to do.”