While North Atlanta High sits in one of the most affluent parts of the city, administrators were abruptly reassigned because the school was, at one point, in danger of being taken over by the state, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis told a rowdy meeting with parents and students Tuesday.
“This school needs to be a lot more than it is,” Davis calmly told a stunned audience. “If we didn’t do anything here, the state would have seized this school and fired all the leadership in the process.”
School officials removed interim principal Mark MyGrant, assistant principal Melissa Gautreaux and three of the school’s academy leaders Friday.
Howard Taylor of Gwinnett County Public Schools has been hired as North Atlanta High’s principal and will start Oct. 29. Sid Baker, former principal of Sarah Smith Elementary, will serve in the interim. Eight central office administrators will also help with the transition.
Since the shake-up, students have started an online petition and several Facebook pages. They are planning a walkout Wednesday at noon.
North Atlanta High is known for its International Baccaleureate program, one of the oldest in the southeast. In 2011, its graduating seniors received more than $20 million in scholarships.
Fifty-two percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch, below the system average of 76 percent. In 2010-11, the most current year available, SAT scores were 1,439 — higher than the system average of 1,312, according to state data.
But Davis described a much different situation where test scores lagged at the school and administrators became apathetic. The school’s graduation rate stands at 62 percent. He also pointed to structural flaws in the school, although he wouldn’t be specific.
“This school has a lot of potential,” he said. “But its performance data says it needs to be turned around.”
He said similar actions won’t necessarily be taken at other failing schools in the district.
“Each school is at a different point in its evolution,” he said, mentioning he is in the process of hiring 20 other principals. “We also have differences in expectations based on resources and parental engagement we have at other schools.”
In the middle of Davis answering a parent’s question, removed principal MyGrant, who has vowed to clear his name, walked through the gym to screaming and thunderous applause from students and parents.
Davis said MyGrant’s removal, shortly before his retirement, dealt with personnel issues, which he couldn’t specify.
But MyGrant said the removal dealt with charges of racism against two staff members he hired last year. He delivered 25 pages of documents to the central office Tuesday that he said would exonerate him and the other administrators.
After Davis gave a 15-minute speech detailing the school’s troubles, he took questions for an hour. Several students expressed confusion about the near future. Parents complained that they weren’t involved in the decision-making at the school.
“I feel taken advantage of. Your credibility level is at an all-time low for any speaker I have ever seen in my whole life,” said Cristi Roe, who has a son in 11th grade at the school.
Davis used the opportunity to dispel rumors that the administrators were escorted off campus by security and that there were any accusations of racism from his administration toward the school’s administration.
“The way I talk about performance has nothing to do with race,” the superintendent said.
Before the meeting, a group of 50 students carried signs and walked in a circle chanting “Save our schools.” Meanwhile, a group of parents passed out red shirts that read “APS Customer Satisfaction: 0 percent.
“If they think we’re going to fold our arms, cross our legs and just accept it, they’re wrong,” said Theresa Temples, whose 11th-grade daughter attends North High. “We pay their salary.”
Parents and students described a school in transition, much of which MyGrant oversaw. The IB program is set for reaccreditation soon. And the school is set to move to a new multimillion-dollar facility next year.
Davis said there will be counselors at the North Atlanta High for students Wednesday as they head into their homecoming week.
“This should be our premier school in this city,” he said.