Accused to Redeemed: How a Teacher Fought Back Cheating Allegations
was a time when 30-year-old Rebecca Ballantine was shy about saying
she wanted to be a teacher. It was not until she was at the University
of Pennsylvania that she seriously thought about teaching. One
moment of clarity convinced her.
Ballantine recalled seeing two young kids being dragged out of
a huge academic building at Penn by a policeman. “I wondered,
‘Did they have a teacher this morning who was happy to see them?”
Ballantine said. “I wanted to show kids that I was happy to be
there with them.”
But after securing her first teaching job in 1994 and becoming
settled in a school she loved, Ballantine never thought she would
be forced out of IS450 at East Side Community High School when
New York City investigators accused her of helping students cheat
on standardized tests in 1999.
At East Side, Ballantine had developed a reputation as someone
like an older sister with whom students could get along. “I just
wanted the kids to know that the school wanted them, it was real-
ly a place for them,” she said.
Her principal, Jill Herman, said Ballantine was very close to
her students and good at engaging them in work. Fourteen-year-old
Antoine Nimmons agreed. “She was friends with everybody.”
But during her fifth year at the school, city investigators accused
Ballantine of helping her students cheat on their 1999 reading
tests in order to raise the SURR school’s scores. Special Commissioner
Edward Stancik released a report in December 1999 called “Cheating
the Children,” which named Ballantine as one of the 52 educators
accused of cheating.
was a dramatic increase in the school’s scores,” said Stancik.
“Sometimes it’s a natural improvement where you have a good teacher,”
he added, saying that being on the SURR list has been motivation
to cheat. Ballantine denied helping the students cheat, but when
the Board of Education revoked her license, she said that was
the “death of hope.”
In the summer, she was considering a job teaching fifth and six
graders at Calhoun, a private prep school. “That night, I dreamt
of having a classroom” Ballantine said.
Thirty minutes after accepting the position, she learned the Board
had reached a settlement in her grievance case: she would get
back her teaching license. The Board’s settlement offered Ballantine
partial back pay and a reversal of her unsatisfactory rating in
her file. It removed Ballantine from the ineligible list, allowing
her to teach in a public school again.
Regardless, Ballantine decided to stay with her job at Calhoun.
The Headmaster of Calhoun, Steven J. Nelson, said “Ballantine
was a sensitive teacher in a system she thought was running amok.
It’s hideous that a career could be ruined because of allegations
by a public administrator run wild,” Nelson added. “The Board
is doing itself a disservice when they force a teacher out of
the system. It’s their loss and our gain.”
Yet her students from East Side hope she’ll return. “I miss her,”
said 15-year-old Bernard Phillips. “I wouldn’t consider her a
regular teacher, you know? She’s like a friend you get along with.
When she left, I felt like we weren’t gonna have another teacher
like that.” #
is the second in a series of articles about Ballantine. Ms. Patil
recently graduated from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.
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