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UPDATED: William Fleming High School principal releases statement

June 17, 2009
  • Willis has hired an attorney and a PR firm.
Willis has hired an attorney and a PR firm.

UPDATED 10:43 p.m.

Why hasn't school board taken action? Is she still the principal and what does Susan Willis have to say?

These are all questions many are asking about the S-O-L scandal at William Fleming High School.

We have some answers to those questions.

As News 7 was first to report, a Virginia Department of Education investigation found five administrators at the Roanoke School changed some student course schedules to mainpulate to the overall pass rate of the school.

The report says principal Susan Willis directed the manipulation.

Willis has hired an attorney and a P-R firm.

It's an indication that Willis may be planning to fight the accusations and if that's the case it's a process that could take awhile.

Susan Willis had plenty to say during our tour of the new William Fleming High School back in April.

But since the Standards of Learning scandal came to light, she's been silent-- until now.

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She's hired a Public Relations team to send a message to the public.

"I think she wants them to know she spent many years in the Roanoke Valley educating students working with parents and she's looking forward to a fair and opened process at this point, an unbiased process," says Ernest Delbuono with Neathawk Dubuque & Packett.

The school board met in closed session for two hours on Monday to discuss the Department of Education's report but members took no action against Willis.

It's left some to ask what's taking so long?

A posting on wdbj7.com says the principal needs to be replaced immediately. She works at the discretion of the school board.

"People want to say things people want to hear things right away, but you have to let the process work," says Delbuono.

It's a process that probably won't happen in just a few days.

We're told Superintendent Rita Bishop can recommend to the school board that an employee be fired, but the board has to approve it.

If Bishop wants to fire Willis, the superintendent would first have to inform the principal in writing.

Willis then has fifteen days to respond.

She can then decide to accept the recommendation or fight it.

If that's the case, she can chose to present her case to the school board or an independent panel.

That could take months and that's why Willis felt the need to hire a Public Relations firm.

"You have television like yourself, you have newspapers, you have blogs, there's so much information and so many people that want information, it's not uncommon to hire a public relations firm to assist in that effort," says Delbuono.

Willis' PR person and the Superintendent still won't say what the principal's status is with the school system.

Normally, it wouldn't matter because school is out for the summer but keep in mind William Fleming is getting ready to move into a brand new school.

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The principal of William Fleming High School made her first public statement since a state investigation implicated her in an SOL testing scheme.

In an email issued Wednesday afternoon, Susan Willis said "I have dedicated the last 12 years of my career educating students in the Roanoke Valley and I am looking forward to a fair and impartial process to resolve this matter."  The email was issued by a firm hired to provide public relations assistance to Willis.  We're told her attorney out of Richmond suggested it.  

News7 was the first to uncover the Virginia Department of Education investigation June 9th.  A few days later, a report issued to Roanoke school superintendent Rita Bishop detailed how the schedules of special education and other students were manipulated to prevent them from taking certain end-of-course Standards of Learning tests.  The goal, according to the report, was to raise Fleming's overall SOL scores. 

Willis is the only Fleming administrator named in the report and it charges that she "directed this course of action."  Four other assistant principals and administrators at Fleming also took part in the scheme, according to the report's findings.

Willis and the four others were noticeably absent from Fleming's graduation ceremony last Friday.  The Roanoke City School Board met in closed session Monday afternoon.  The board's attorney said the ramifications of the report and possible ways to proceed were discussed, though the board did not discuss any individual school employees.

Is Willis still the principal at William Fleming?  Her PR person would not comment on her status with the school system.  He referred us to Superintendent Rita Bishop.

Through a spokesperson, the superintendent says she can't comment.

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Here's the original report:

News 7 has confirmed the Virginia Department of Education is investigating William Fleming High School and its SOL testing practices.

A team from the state was in Roanoke looking into the allegations.

This all started in May when the Department of Education got two anonymous tips that students had been kept out of a SOL Alegbra test this spring and a Geometry SOL test last year.

A preliminary investigation found some of the students had disabilities, and others did not.

At this point, no one is saying whether the motive was to raise the school's overall SOL scores.

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