If you want to fully understand why bad school leadership is damaging to our children, just consider the lawsuit filed yesterday by a young woman in Indianapolis against the Circle City’s traditional district over her abuse at the hands of a school leader now-convicted of child seduction. When school leaders tolerate — and engage in — educational malpractice, they are putting the academic, emotional, and even physical wellbeing of young men and women at risk.

transformersThe young woman, named A.S. in the complaint, alleges in the suit that Indianapolis Public Schools had allowed Corey Greenwood, a former dean and principal at several of its high schools, to continually prey on female students (as well as have affairs with teachers under his charge) at the schools in which he worked over an eight-year period. Even after the district’s police department and human resources department uncovered evidence that he engaged in numerous acts of “inappropriate sexual conduct” with a student on the grounds of Emmerich Manual High School, the district’s human resources chief and other executives allowed Greenwood to keep his job and even allowed him to progress in leadership (including a stint as vice principal) at two other high schools. Only after Indianapolis Metropolitan police officers were informed about one of his man incidents of criminal abuse of A.S. — did IPS finally toss him out of the district. [Greenwood would later plead guilty to child seduction, serving a mere 14 days in prison.]

How did Greenwood manage to stay in school leadership for long? The lawsuit blames his mother, former IPS principal and central office bureaucrat Jacqueline Greenwood, for intervening on his behalf. During those eight years, even as she failed upwards as principal of notorious failure mill Arlington High and as overlord of the district’s middle and high schools, Mother Greenwood would help Corey avoid trouble by helping him gain transfers and promotions. That she was his boss during the last five years of his time working at IPS all but ensured he would be protected from questions about actions such as asking one of the children in his care to send him nude pictures of herself. Mother Greenwood herself was finally kicked out of IPS last year, two years after her son’s criminal abuse of children came to light.

As with any lawsuit, of course, the defendants will have their own side to the story. Indianapolis Public Schools, distancing itself from past leadership, issued a statement declaring that it would “co-operate with the proceedings”.[So far, neither Corey Greenwood nor his mother have anything to say.] But none of the allegations in A.S.’ suit are shocking. Why? Because IPS has long been the epitome of failed school leadership.

Much of Greenwood’s misdeeds took place under Eugene White, whose regime as superintendent was notorious for tolerating nepotism. During his tenure, White himself managed to put two of his own children onto the district’s payroll; this included his son, Reginald, taking a job as dean and coach at Arsenal Tech High School. When White wasn’t hiring relatives (and tolerating the nepotism of his bureaucrats), he was firing more-competent school leaders. Among the ousted: Jeffery White, whose effort to turn around what is now John Marshall Community High School ended abruptly after he ran afoul of the superintendent and his mandarins.

White was also infamous for tolerating educational malpractice by school leaders under his watch. This included Jackie Greenwood, whose 25-year reign as principal of Arlington High was marked by graduation rates of as low as 12.5 percent (according to a 2005 analysis by The Indianapolis Star), as well as a failure to send many of those who did graduate to success in higher education and life. It was White who kicked her upstairs back in 2007 to serve as director of the district’s secondary schools, giving her numerous opportunities to protect her son from his alleged criminal abuse of children. Little wonder why Corey Greenwood could convince a teacher, Melissa L. Jones, to assist him in an attempt to cover up his criminal abuse of A.S. once cops learned of the misdeeds; he learned well from his bosses.

But White couldn’t have fostered this culture of failed school leadership on his own. The district’s own board, long renowned for its incompetence, enabled White’s mismanagement and corruption. When White the Elder wanted to bring his son into the district in 2009, the board amended the district’s anti-nepotism policy so that the Younger would report not to him, but to one of the district’s assistant superintendents. The fact that the executive ultimately reported to White made the entire exercise in fig-leafing both laughable and shameful. [The good news is that most of the school board members who helped White continue IPS’ culture of abuse are now out to pasture.]

White would eventually be forced out as IPS’ chief executive in 2013. But not before his reign of terror damaged the lives of far too many of the district’s children. It includes the 1,632 high school graduates (or 22 percent of the 7,420 young adults who graduated from the district) during White’s tenure allowed to collect counterfeit sheepskins in spite of failing at least one of Indiana’s battery of standardized tests. This includes the thousands of other children who never graduated at all — and have been condemned by White’s malpractice and that of other adults on his watch to poverty and prison. It includes the 6,326 third-through-eighth-graders who didn’t pass the Hoosier State’s reading and math tests during White’s last year overseeing IPS because of his years of incompetence. And as documented by A.S.’ lawsuit, this allegedly includes young women who were preyed upon by Cory Greenwood during his own reign of terror as a school leader.

Certainly IPS is no exception when it comes to criminally-abusive school leaders and teachers running amok. Halfway across the country in California, Los Angeles Unified is still dealing with the consequences of school leaders tolerating criminal abuse by former teachers such as Miramonte Elementary’s Mark Berndt. Last month, a Golden State superior court ordered L.A. Unified to pay $6 million to two young men who suffered at the hands of Paul Chapel III, a former teacher at Telfair Elementary who was eventually convicted of criminally abusing 13 children. The district has paid out another $139 million to the families of 70 children abused by the aforementioned Berndt.

But the IPS lawsuit offers this important lesson: When school leaders tolerate educational abuse and neglect of children, they will also accept the kind of corruption that eventually leads to criminal abuse. In such cultures, adults within them will do anything to protect the perpetrators as well as the reputations of the districts in which they work instead of doing the right thing by the youth in their care. And the consequences of the shoddy leadership lingers years after those who oversaw academic and operational failure have moved on.

There’s a lot to be learned from what has happened in Indianapolis — and even more to be done to help all children succeed. Ridding districts and other school operators of failed school leadership is critical to building cultures of genius in which youth can be safe as well as can learn.