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From the Archives: “Our Sons Have Something To Say”
Comments () | Published October 1, 2003

Bradley is a headmaster out of central casting. Born in the Boston region, he has a round face and a close-cropped, white beard, blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. After graduating from Boston University and getting advanced degrees from Yale and Syracuse, he taught at private schools in Europe, the Middle East, and on the West Coast. Before coming to Landon, he was headmaster from 1979 to 1990 of the Elliott-Pope Preparatory School near Palm Springs, a 60-year-old institution that failed for financial reasons six months after he left. Bradley's wife teaches at Holton-Arms. Landon's 2001 tax statement puts his salary at $202,000.

Bradley took over from Malcolm Coates, a headmaster for many years whose trademark was cultivating a sense of family among the students and faculty. The school was in debt because of cost overruns on an art building. The board of directors was looking for a "change agent," says Larry Lamade. "There was a lack of crispness in the physical plant and the way finances were managed," he says. "We needed more of a taskmaster."

Bradley showed little interest in Landon's sporting tradition and rarely attended games. He set about changing the academics and demographics. He added a humanities series and made music and art full-credit courses that students were required to take. "We've got music coming out of our ears," Bradley says. He encouraged minorities to apply and hired faculty members of color.

Washington, he discovered, was not California. "Washington has its own special pressures," he says. "The parents are very successful, and they expect the same from their children. They see their schools as entrée to fine colleges. That stress exists."

BRADLEY LAUNCHED A CAMPAIGN TO refresh Landon's image among colleges. It included recalculating grades so college applicants would have higher grade-point averages.

"Damon brought a different style than Malcolm," says a former teacher. "He didn't seem to be aware of the everyday plight of the faculty members in the trenches." The old-line faculty resisted changing the grades. "He was changing the soul of Landon. The board was so pleased with the way things were going financially, they didn't see the festering dissatisfaction in the faculty."

Landon's headmasters were known for establishing bonds with the boys; Bradley needed nametags to identify them, according to some graduates. He once greeted a senior-class president by reading the name on his athletic jacket--but the jacket belonged to a friend.

Little things bothered the boys. There is a small NO PARKING sign on the drive in front of the administration building. Though Bradley lives on campus an easy walk from the building, he would often drive over and leave his car in front of the NO PARKING sign.

"So much for playing by the rules," says an alumnus.

Big things got to them, too. Landon seniors pull a senior prank every year, the goal being to make it more outrageous than the last. This year the boys built a huge fish tank in one of the school buildings by bringing in sandbags at night, making a tank out of heavy plastic, then filling it with water and fish. Teachers came to school to find the hallway turned into an aquarium. Bradley's response was to fire the security guard who let the boys in after dark.

"We called the administration building Baghdad," says a senior. "Bradley went in and we never saw him--like Saddam."

It didn't help Bradley's image when veteran teachers started to leave and Lowell Davis, the longtime athletic director, was forced out. Many in the Landon community were beginning to believe that Damon Bradley was turning a brotherly institution into a bureaucracy.

TWO WEEKS AFTER THE SAT, THE RESULTS came back to the students and the school. Bradley looked over the scores: A few had spiked by more than 100 points, some by 200. Scores usually go up no more than 50 points.

"It was our first hard evidence," he says.

The headmaster started a confidential investigation with the help of three faculty members: upper-school senior master William Crittenberger; Jamie Kirkpatrick, director of college counseling and a baseball coach; and Maggie Raines, assistant director of college counseling.

Bradley contacted ETS to get a seating chart and seek help in the investigation. He found there was no chart. ETS offered "little cooperation," he says.

At the same time, Holton-Arms was hearing more rumors of cheating during the October 12 test. On November 4 the school's test supervisor contacted ETS. "That phone call initiated an investigation," Holton-Arms headmaster Diana Beebe wrote in an internal memo. ETS investigators came to the school to interview students. They also spoke to students at other schools.

Bradley is adamant that word of his private investigation never leaked to students or parents. In the senior lounge, the obsession at the time was the culmination of the football season. Landon was 3-4 and had lost to Georgetown Prep 28-0. No one seemed worried about the SAT.

"We thought it would blow over," says Will Anderson.

LARRY LAMADE SAYS HE WAS NOT AWARE of Damon Bradley's investigation of the cheating. Even though he was counsel to Bradley and the board, he says, he had been "sitting on" the rumors for weeks. As he tells it, his son Peter--a football, hockey, and lacrosse player--came to him one evening in mid-November, perhaps Wednesday the 13th. He recalls the conversation this way:

Peter: "I hear that some of the seniors cheated on the SAT test. What should I do?"

Lamade: "What does the honor code say?"

Landon's honor code says that a student who finds that a fellow student has violated the honor code--by cheating, for example--must inform two of his friends and the three should confront the alleged violators.

"What will happen if they turn themselves in?" Peter asked.

"My experience is that cheaters get caught," Lamade says he told his son. "You have a duty to talk to these kids. And if they turn themselves in, they will probably do better."

The Landon honor code says, "If the accused student subsequently turns himself in to the Student Council President, this will be viewed by the Council in a favorable light."

Peter Lamade enlisted two of his friends, both lacrosse players. On Thursday and Friday, the three confronted the "notorious eight." On Friday night, the eight gathered at the Chevy Chase home of Will DeFrancis, honor-council head, and decided to confess.

"Basically," Larry Lamade says, "I stepped away."

DAMON BRADLEY WAS AT HIS OFFICE EARLY Saturday morning to prepare for an open house for prospective students. It was pouring rain. He heard a knock on his door at 7:30 AM. He opened it to a group of students and parents.

"Our sons have something to say," the first parent said.

Bradley had expected them. One father had called him late Friday afternoon and said his son wanted to confess. A student called him Friday night and asked in a quaking voice if he could come in Saturday morning. Another father called to say the group would show up in the morning. Bradley had called Bill Crittenberger to join him in hearing the confessions.

One by one, some with parents and some alone, the boys sat on the love seat in Bradley's office and admitted that they had cheated. They cried. They stammered. They looked down at their shoes. Each student sat in the office for about half an hour. "I had to give them credit for coming to me before I got to them," Bradley says. "But I was concerned for what it all meant." Bradley urged each boy to tell any others involved in the cheating to turn themselves in.

When it was over, Bradley and Crittenberger checked the students against the list of probable cheaters that had turned up in their investigation. Some they had expected; some were not on their radar. His investigation had turned up more suspicious scores.

"There are others out there," Bradley told Crittenberger.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 10/01/2003 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles