Lake Worth High School’s former principal asked teachers to do math assignments for his son, pressured teachers to change students’ grades and charged students $1 to attend pep rallies, a school district investigation found.
During George Lockhart’s time as principal, Lake Worth High also suspended students without reporting the suspensions to the district and submitted erroneous fundraising reports that concealed the fact that students were being charged to attend events during the regular school day, the investigation uncovered.
As the probe ended this spring, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa concluded that Lockhart “misused (his) position and authority” and “compromised the integrity of the district.”
But after initially moving to fire Lockhart, records show that Avossa reversed course in May and allowed Lockhart to remain on staff. He has been reassigned to a management position at the school district’s charter school office, with his pay cut by $21,000.
“Mr. Lockhart made some real mistakes in decision-making and lapses of judgment with his leadership on campus,” Avossa said. “But I always have to take the totality of the matter and press the bad decisions against a 27-year run where he was contributing in a very positive way.”
Lockhart, 52, a veteran administrator who had led Lake Worth High since 2011, declined to comment. His attorney called Avossa’s handling of the case “very fair” and said Lockhart’s missteps happened “without any improper intent.”
The investigation, which The Palm Beach Post obtained through a public-records request, brought an end to a probe that began in December after an assistant principal, upset over how Lockhart disciplined a student who got into a physical altercation with him, raised concerns about a wide range of practices on campus.
Lockhart and the assistant principal, Terence Hart, were both removed from campus in December, and the school remained in turmoil for months afterward as investigators sorted out the allegations. Lockhart’s attorney, Fred Schwartz, told investigators that the school suffered from a deep “division” between staffers loyal to Lockhart and those loyal to Hart, a rift that played out in the investigation.
Teachers asked to do son’s math assignments
The probe revealed that Lockhart had asked three teachers at his school to complete math assignments for his son during the 2014-15 school year. His son, a middle school student at the time, was taking an online algebra course.
Lockhart initially denied giving the teachers his son’s online username and password, but the teachers admitted to receiving login information from him in order to access his son’s assigned work and complete it themselves.
In at least one case, a teacher completed a quiz for Lockhart’s son, investigative records show.
Lockhart insisted that he asked his teachers to do the assignments so he would have a better idea of how to tutor his son at home.
But the investigation showed that in some cases the completed assignments were submitted online within minutes of the teachers emailing them to Lockhart.
“When I completed the assignment I would email them to Dr. Lockhart via district email,” math teacher Richard Gomersall told investigators. “I have known Dr. Lockhart for a very long time so, out of respect, I didn’t want to tell him no. I wish I was never put into this situation.”
‘Consistent pressure’ over grades
Investigators also concluded that Lockhart created “an intimidating environment” at the school, one in which teachers “experienced consistent pressure regarding their grading practices.”
Several teachers told investigators that Lockhart had summoned them into his office at various points to ask why certain students had received low grades.
In some cases, they said, he was concerned about students receiving D’s and F’s. In other cases, he wondered why students with straight A’s were earning just a B in a particular teacher’s class.
“He handed me, along with other teachers present in his office, particular students’ grades and requested grade changes,” science teacher Gary Habib told investigators.
Frederick Harlowe, a social studies teacher, said he was told that a B he had given a student was the only one on an all-A report card.
“I was told to go into the principal’s office, where the report card was on the table,” he told investigators. “I changed the grade to an A.”
Scott Anosier, a math teacher, said Lockhart questioned him about a handful of students who had B’s in his class.
“I recalled that I changed two out of four or five because the B’s were in the upper 88 percentiles,” he said.
Social studies teacher Brian Crouch said he had been summoned to Lockhart’s office twice regarding grades and once received an email from him about a student’s grades.
“He stated that the students had A’s in all their other classes and I should take some steps to assist the student in achieving all A’s,” he told investigators. “He also attached a grade-edit sheet to the email.”
“While this email was not a direct threat or push to change the grade,” he said, “I did feel this email was passively aggressively pressuring me to change the grades.”
Lockhart said that it was part of his job as principal to make sure teachers were grading fairly and giving students opportunities to succeed.
“This principal does not change grades or encourage the practice,” he told investigators. “Rather, offer guidelines for overall grades.”
Avossa called Lockhart’s actions troubling.
“The principal has a right to ask what’s going on,” he said. “Are you providing remediation? Have you called the parent?”
But, he added, “telling teachers that they have an opportunity to change a grade, and any appearance of pressure, is just not right.”
Students had to pay to attend rallies
Investigators also discovered that in the fall of 2016, Lockhart approved four school-day events that students could leave class to attend — but only if they forked out a dollar each. The events included two pep rallies, a fashion show and a wrestling match.
School district rules prohibit schools for charging admission to events taking place during school hours.
But in reporting the fund-raising events to the school district, the school mischaracterized the events in ways that made it appear that students were selling things rather than being required to purchase them in order to attend.
In this way, the school’s reports “appeared to conceal the actual reason for the financial transaction occurring between the student and the school,” investigators found.
Investigators said they were unable to confirm the assistant principal’s charge that Lockhart often gave violent or misbehaving students off-the-books suspensions in an effort to keep the school’s official disciplinary numbers down.
But investigators did find four cases in which students discipline records were inaccurate, including two cases of “significantly inaccurate” records.
In one case, a student’s file at the school showed he had received 11 referrals for misbehavior, but the school logged only one of them into the district’s official records. In another case, a student was suspended but the suspension was never recorded.
The investigation did not appear to delve into the incident that triggered the meltdown: Hart’s complaint that the school mishandled a physical altercation between him and a student in November.
Hart and his wife, who wrote an email about the case to the county school board, argued that the physical altercation should have prompted the student to be considered for a transfer to another school under the school district’s student code of conduct.
In December both Lockhart and Hart were removed from campus. Hart was reassigned to a position at Turning Points Academy, an alternative school for at-risk students.
Lockhart, who earned $96,000 last year, was assigned temporarily to the school district’s charter school office. He has since been made a manager in that department.