3 Atlanta Public Schools administrators on leave amid internal review

Last week, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring (shown in a file photo) withdrew her recommendation for the principal of a new Midtown elementary school, slated to open next fall. (Miguel Martinez/AJC file photo)

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Last week, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring (shown in a file photo) withdrew her recommendation for the principal of a new Midtown elementary school, slated to open next fall. (Miguel Martinez/AJC file photo)

Atlanta Public Schools placed three senior administrators on paid leave after a principal hiring process for a new school went awry.

The district on Wednesday confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Chief of Schools Anita Williams, Associate Superintendent Paul Brown and Director of Leadership Staffing Lenora Patterson are on paid leave. The action was taken “pending the results of a comprehensive administrative review regarding adherence to established district protocols,” APS said in a statement.

The three administrators did not respond to emails requesting comment. The district’s Office of Internal Compliance is conducting the review.

“Atlanta Public Schools will continue to maintain high operational standards for all of its full-time, part-time and contracted staff,” the district’s statement said.

The actions are fallout from last week’s abrupt reversal in the hiring of a principal for a new Midtown elementary school, slated to open next fall at the former Inman Middle School building.

Parents flooded school board members’ email inboxes after learning that Superintendent Lisa Herring had chosen a former DeKalb County School District principal, Kari Schrock, as the principal.

In those emails, obtained by the AJC on Wednesday through an open records request, parents questioned how APS vets candidates or if the district had hidden information.

Parents expressed concerns about Schrock’s work history. During her tenure as principal of Laurel Ridge Elementary School, the DeKalb district received complaints about her leadership style and decision making.

In February, DeKalb told Laurel Ridge parents that it had named a substitute principal while “Ms. Schrock is away from the building.” A DeKalb spokesman repeatedly declined to answer AJC questions about the reason for Schrock’s departure.

Prior to her work in DeKalb, Schrock led a Cobb County charter school, which the Cobb school board attempted to shutter because of its academic performance and other issues.

One Atlanta parent, who served on the committee that interviewed Schrock for the APS post, wrote to board members that the committee’s “voting process was flawed,” according to an email provided in response to the records request.

The parent also wrote that two members of the interview panel asked someone, whose name APS redacted from the email, about the logistics of Schrock “getting out of her contract if she is hired.”

“This would have been the perfect opportunity to disclose and explain Ms. Schrock’s current position, but nothing was explained. To be honest, the omission of the truth feels like a lie,” the parent wrote.

Schrock’s appointment was to be finalized next week as part of a routine human resource report to the school board. But on Sept. 22, the day after announcing Schrock’s selection, Herring withdrew the recommendation.

“The current situation is not a case where vetting was less than thorough. In fact, the candidate disclosed the allegations that have been raised by parents at the candidate’s previous school,” Herring said in an email to board members.

Herring added that the human resources department at Schrock’s former school district “expressed no concerns regarding her performance.”

The district started to search for a principal to lead the new Midtown elementary after the board in August voted to open the campus. The school is intended to ease overcrowding at nearby schools. It will result in the contentious rezoning of hundreds of student from Springdale Park and Morningside elementary schools.

As the internal review unfolds, some parents are calling on the board to step in.

“Many of us are still wondering what this means for transparency and accountability at APS,” said parent Amy Harward. “The APS board needs to exercise their audit and oversight powers.”

Williams is the lone cabinet member among the three administrators placed on leave. She worked with Herring when Herring was the superintendent of the Birmingham, Alabama, school system. When APS hired Herring in 2020, Williams was among her first cabinet-level hires. Williams provides coaching and supervision to schools and oversees the associate superintendents.

Brown was promoted to an associate superintendent position last year after serving as a middle school principal for about nine years. He oversees Midtown schools, including the new elementary campus.

Patterson was hired last September to work in a human resources role that focuses on identifying and helping to select candidates for principal and other administrative positions.

The internal APS review comes amid upheaval at another Midtown-area school. Earlier this month, Janet McDowell suddenly left the principal post at Howard Middle School. In her two months on the job, some parents had complained about various changes implemented under her leadership.