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Mayor Recognizes Achievements Of Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Amid Grade-Fixing Allegations

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- On Tuesday morning, with local and state leaders present, Mayor Brandon Scott surprised another city leader by recognizing their work in Baltimore: CEO of public schools Dr. Sonja Santelises.

"On behalf of the people of Baltimore, I commend you for your continuing commitment to the education and development of our young people," Scott said.

The mayoral salute to Santelises comes six years into her tenure as the leader of Baltimore City Public Schools. But the recognition also comes at a time when the school district is under a microscope.

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan said he wants the Maryland State Prosecutor and the Maryland U.S Attorney's Office to conduct a criminal investigation after an audit found that more than 12,500 grades in high schools were changed from failing to passing between 2016 and 2020.

"I think there's been an ongoing awareness of the problem and different people with the responsibility— looking into it—but it took persistence and it took this [inspector general] which we had to fight hard to get on board to gather the information," Hogan said.

The school system said the report about grade changing was "perplexing" and it happened more than three years ago before any of its seniors were in high school.

After the audit revealed thousands of failing grades were changed to passing, parents and community activists protested outside the North Avenue school headquarters buildings. 

Among the questions some people had is how are students who received erroneous passing grades doing now—a few years after they graduated.

"It makes me worry about when they get to the next level are they going to be ready," Baltimore resident Malcolm Lizzappi said.

On Tuesday, Santelises acknowledged that the school system faced challenges, many of which existed long before her tenure. 

Santelises also defended the positive work that is being done within the school district.

Scott touted six new schools that have opened in the last year. 

Santelises said she remains optimistic about the future.

"There are challenges ahead, but there are frankly 10 different challenges from the day I walked into this position, so I don't see this as any different in that we press forward," Santelises said. "We continue with the plan. We dig deeply. We correct along the way. This is about continuous improvement. And that does not change based on everything else going around us."

Although Santelises has the support of the mayor, her contract extension will require the approval of the city's school board. Santelises' contract began on July 1, 2020, and lasts until June 30, 2024.

That contract extension also hinges on whether Santelises wants to retain her role as CEO.

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