APS superintendent rescinds Midtown elementary principal recommendation

Quick reversal comes just after replacement at another Midtown school

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Just one day after Atlanta Public Schools introduced parents to the prospective principal of a new elementary school, the superintendent abruptly withdrew the recommendation.

Superintendent Lisa Herring chose Kari Schrock to be the principal of a new Midtown elementary school, slated to open next fall, according to a notification parents received Wednesday. The appointment was to be finalized as part of a routine human resources personnel report at an October school board meeting.

Almost immediately, some parents began to question the decision. And on Thursday, Schrock told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the district’s chief of schools had told her APS would not move forward with her hiring. Schrock declined to comment further.

The Atlanta school system confirmed the reversal in a statement to the AJC.

“Atlanta Public Schools has rescinded the recommendation of a candidate for the position of principal at the new elementary school for the Midtown Cluster, which will open in August 2023. The decision was made in the spirit of the district’s mutual goal with the community to maintain a focus on establishing a successful school. APS will move with great intentionality to vet a new finalist focusing closely on school design and community engagement,” the statement read, in full.

Asked why the district changed course, a spokesman said it was a personnel issue and declined to comment further.

The decision marks the second sudden leadership change for Midtown-area schools in about nine days. Last week, APS announced the departure of Howard Middle School’s principal, who during her two months on the job had overseen changes that generated numerous parent complaints.

That principal, Janet McDowell, received an initial dismissal letter from Herring on Sept. 13 notifying her “of the termination of your employment” during her probationary period, according to documents obtained Friday by the AJC through an open records request. The next day, McDowell resigned her post in a two-sentence letter. On Sept. 16, the district approved her separation request and told her she would be fully released from her contract, which paid her $104,859 a year.

Meanwhile, the district has pushed to promptly hire a principal for the new elementary campus, to be located at the former Inman Middle School, so the leader has time to plan for the school’s launch.

In a letter announcing Schrock’s selection, APS Associate Superintendent Paul Brown said her “appointment will be effective immediately.” Brown touted her work as a DeKalb County elementary principal and elsewhere.

“Her core leadership values are grounded in collaboration, and she is passionate about opportunities to work with stakeholders to build a solid foundation for students, staff and families of the learning community,” Brown wrote.

The announcement made some parents uneasy as they learned more about her work history.

During Schrock’s recent tenure as principal of Laurel Ridge Elementary School in DeKalb, some Laurel Ridge parents expressed concerns about her leadership. Whitney McGinniss, now an incoming DeKalb school board member, sent an email in January to district leaders about the “deteriorating school climate” at Laurel Ridge.

In that email, McGinniss noted concerns about Schrock’s leadership style, including how she communicated with parents and “unilateral decision making.”

In February, the DeKalb district notified Laurel Ridge parents that it had named a substitute principal while “Ms. Schrock is away from the building.” A DeKalb spokesman on Thursday did not answer AJC questions about Schrock’s departure from the school.

In 2017, the Cobb County school board voted to close the charter school where Schrock was principal. Cobb officials cited the International Academy of Smyrna’s academic results as a main reason for not renewing the school’s charter. Schrock, at the time, faulted a lack of proper funding for the school’s subpar performance.

In a Thursday message to parents about the rescinded recommendation, Herring said: “While we have not withheld any information throughout the principal selection process, we appreciate the community bringing new information to us for consideration.”

Some Midtown parents were already upset by the decision to open the new elementary school, which will result in the rezoning of hundreds of Morningside and Springdale Park elementary students. APS has said the new school is needed to relieve overcrowding.