Investigation finds flaws in principal hiring process for APS school

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

An Atlanta Public Schools director is leaving her job after an internal investigation found that she did not properly disclose concerns about a candidate’s work history during the process of hiring a principal to lead a new Midtown elementary school.

Director of Leadership Staffing Lenora Patterson “will no longer continue with APS,” Superintendent Lisa Herring said in an interview Tuesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Herring said she’s waiting to confirm whether Patterson has been terminated or will resign.

Patterson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Her departure is a result of an Office of Internal Compliance review, a summary of which the district released Monday evening. That investigation examined what led to Herring’s recommendation in September to choose Kari Schrock as principal of a new school slated to open next fall.

After Atlanta parents discovered Schrock had left her previous DeKalb County principal post amid concerns about her leadership there, Herring quickly withdrew the recommendation, which had been pending school board approval.

Patterson’s job included recruiting and screening principal candidates.

According to the internal review, Schrock disclosed to Patterson, and also in an interview with Chief of Schools Anita Williams, that she had been placed on administrative leave and subsequently resigned her DeKalb principal post.

Herring told the AJC that she didn’t know about past performance concerns when she selected Schrock, whom Herring’s team had recommended.

“I was aware that she was on leave, not the extent to which it was administrative leave,” Herring told the AJC.

The review found that Patterson did not tell the district’s chief human resources officer “about concerns around the principal selection process for Midtown, prior to the superintendent’s final selection.” Patterson also did not share details of what she knew about Schrock’s employment situation with an interview panel, according to the review.

Patterson “did share some of her concerns” with Williams and Associate Superintendent Paul Brown. Williams and Brown were placed on paid leave along with Patterson pending the results of the investigation. The review cleared Williams and Brown of wrongdoing. They did not respond to requests for comment.

Questions about Schrock’s candidacy emerged the same day she spoke to an APS interview panel. Following the interview on Aug. 24, a panel member emailed Brown and Patterson about Schrock’s status in DeKalb, according to the review. APS has not released the email. The AJC obtained an Aug. 24 email to Patterson and Brown through an open records request to the city of Atlanta because the mayor was copied on later correspondence.

In the Aug. 24 email provided by the city, a parent who served on the interview panel asked Brown and Patterson about Schrock leaving DeKalb: “This feels like an important piece of information about her employment to disclose to interviewers of someone who has a strong possibility of taking the helm at our school.”

The parent asked: “Can you explain the reasoning for withholding this information today?”

According to the APS review, after Patterson received an Aug. 24 email from a panel member, she said she told Williams and Brown “that she believed she had tainted the process” and that she didn’t think Schrock could be recommended.

Patterson said panel members did not receive Schrock’s updated resume, which led them to assume Schrock was still a DeKalb principal, the report stated. When panel members asked how Schrock was going to get out of her DeKalb contract to take an APS post, Patterson was vague in her response, saying it “won’t be an issue,” the report stated.

In response to panel members’ questions about Schrock’s employment status, Patterson said “she did not share what she knew because she was unsure if she would be disclosing a confidential personnel matter,” the report stated.

Brown and Williams acknowledged that Patterson told them about a panel member’s email and that Schrock’s resume was not current, the review states. But they denied being told there was a concern about moving forward.

The report states that Williams recommended Schrock to the superintendent after Patterson told Williams that “the candidate’s personnel record was clear and there were no issues to prevent the candidate from being eligible for employment.”

Williams said she “shared her concerns about the candidate being placed on administrative leave with the superintendent prior (to) the superintendent making the final decision to hire the principal,” the report states.

Herring, however, said it was not disclosed that the leave was based on performance, according to the report.

It states that because Williams advanced Schrock for consideration, that Herring “did not believe there was any reason to believe the candidate was not viable for consideration.”

Herring told the AJC that the district has a clearly defined process for hiring principals. She said APS will review the process and make changes as warranted.

“We know that there were issues with the selection,” Herring said. “We took swift action as soon as that was brought to our attention.”

The district’s human resources division experienced more recent turnover when the executive director of employee relations resigned amid complaints. Herring said the principal hiring matter is a separate issue.

Herring also stressed the need for “transparency and clarity.”

“We remain committed to that and the continued work that’s needed to build trust…,” she said.