Months into job, Atlanta’s Howard Middle School principal leaves post

Janet McDowell, hired just two months ago as principal of Atlanta’s David T. Howard Middle School, is no longer the school’s leader.

Atlanta Public Schools’ Superintendent Lisa Herring notified parents of the leadership change in a Tuesday message, saying the day marked McDowell’s “final day” at the school. A district spokesman confirmed the departure to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“APS thanks Ms. McDowell for her hard work and dedication and wishes her well in her future endeavors,” Herring wrote.

The statement did not specify the reason for McDowell leaving the school. Herring told parents that she was “not at liberty to discuss confidential personnel matters at this time.”

In a brief response to an AJC email seeking comment, McDowell wrote: “I don’t think people really want to hear my side or the truth of what’s been going on.”

The former Howard principal had ruffled feathers at the middle school in her short time there.

As classes began in August, parents complained about the school’s dress code enforcement, particularly how girls were treated. Parents also expressed concern about how teacher vacancies were impacting instruction and how the school has grouped gifted students separately from other students.

ExploreParents meet with APS to address concerns about Howard Middle School

District officials and McDowell met with roughly 100 parents about two weeks ago to discuss those issues and others. An AJC reporter was prohibited by the school district from attending the meeting. The district later released a video recording of the meeting, in which McDowell pledged to provide parents with answers to their questions.

“What’s happening is real, how you guys are experiencing things are real, how everyone feels is real, but I can only have control over what I can have control over,” she said, according to the recording.

McDowell previously led a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Cleveland, Ohio, and is described on Howard’s website as a “school turnaround specialist.” And as a consultant, she’s coached other principals on leadership skills.

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More than 1,100 students attended Howard as of last October. The middle school feeds into Midtown High School, formerly known as Grady, which is one of Atlanta’s highest-performing high schools.

In her message to parents, Herring said that two interim principals will step in to lead Howard. Paula Snowden, who spent last year in temporary leadership roles at Atlanta’s Bunche Middle School and then at Howard, will serve as interim principal starting Wednesday. Barbara Shea, who most recently filled in as principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Atlanta, will begin work at Howard on Monday.

“They will serve as interim principals through May 30, 2023, as APS conducts our search and hiring process for a permanent school leader,” Herring wrote.

Howard’s parent-teacher organization is committed to supporting faculty, staff, students and the school community, the group’s co-president, Susanna Roberts, told the AJC.

“We will continue to work with administration, teachers and parents to help ensure all needs are met to the best of our ability. We look forward to continuing our support of our wonderful middle school and the entire community of David T. Howard,” Roberts said.