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Beverly Hall and ‘The Art of War’ at Atlanta Public Schools

The book that lay on Beverly Hall’s desk through years of acclaim and reproach at the Atlanta Public Schools contained neither business-school bromides nor educational platitudes.

It was “The Art of War.”

The millennia-old, pre-Machiavellian classic, by the Chinese general Sun-Tzu, lays out strategies for prevailing in any conflict through ruthless efficiency. Its eternal presence on her desk underscores Hall’s approach to her dozen years as Atlanta’s school superintendent: Schools were a battlefield. Test scores were weapons. Defeat was not an option.

An indictment issued Friday charging Hall and 34 other Atlanta educators with racketeering and other crimes sends the former superintendent into a new battle — this one in a courtroom. The case asks the court to render judgment not just on Hall and the other defendants, but also on the aggressive, sometimes-intimidating management style that she, her top advisers and their subordinates propagated for years.

A Fulton County grand jury accused Hall, other administrators, teachers and even a school secretary of participating in a criminal conspiracy to juice the district’s standardized-test scores for financial gain and professional recognition. By pushing subordinates to meet unrealistic performance targets, the grand jury alleged, Hall and a few of her most trusted advisers transformed a public school district, albeit one with a history of poor performance, into a criminal enterprise in which the primary victims were children.

Hall, 66, the national superintendent of the year in 2009, could face 45 years in prison.

Even setting aside criminal culpability, the indictment portrays a workplace with a toxic culture in which leaders routinely sacrificed their integrity to preserve the district’s image, not to mention Hall’s. Desired results, no matter how unlikely, drew little skepticism, grand jurors found. Truth-telling, on the other hand, could result in severe punishment. Employees who reported cheating put their jobs in jeopardy, and the indictment recounts an episode in which Hall lightly punished a cheating teacher but fired the whistleblower.

Through her lawyers, Hall denied the charges, as did other defendants, and the indictment provides no direct evidence that Hall ordered district employees to cheat on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT. But it states that Hall did little or nothing to ferret out cheaters, and it alleges the superintendent and others took extreme actions to cover up wrongdoing.

“All warfare is based on deception,” Sun Tzu wrote.

If the indictment is accurate, Beverly Hall took his words to heart.

Read more: AJC

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