‘We have work to do’: Atlanta’s interim superintendent talks to the AJC

Atlanta Public Schools interim Superintendent Danielle Battle has officially been on the job for about a month. The school board tapped Battle to lead the district after deciding this summer not to extend former Superintendent Lisa Herring’s contract. The board last week chose HYA & Associates to lead the search for a new leader.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sat down with Battle for an interview. Much of the conversation focused on the district’s literacy efforts. According to state data, 56.5% of APS third graders were reading on grade level last year, compared with 66% of all third graders in the state. Eight APS schools are piloting a program led by the Atlanta Speech School in an attempt to improve reading scores.

Battle’s responses were edited for length and clarity.

Q: Would you like this job permanently?(The room full of people reacted as they anticipated her response.)

A: I’m honored that the board selected me to be the interim superintendent because I love APS, but right now, I’m just going to concentrate on my contract ... and go forward with that to stay focused on that work.

(Battle clarified that she has not applied to be superintendent.)

Q: What are your plans for the (remainder of the school year)?

A: To make sure we have a solid foundation for whoever becomes superintendent. Of course, literacy is always No. 1. We have eight pilot schools (working) with the Rollins Center (at the Atlanta Speech School) ... that will focus on literacy, early literacy.

Q: How do you see shaping the literacy instruction this year in the amount of time that you’ll be here? What does that look like?

A: We’re assessing all of our schools ... we’re monitoring what’s in place. (We’re reviewing test) scores and (conducting) observations and (giving) feedback. (We’re) going back and reteaching ... if we see that we have some deficiencies ... (and) then we’re checking to see ... what they’ve been taught.

Q: At (a recent school) board meeting, the board chair referred to a literacy crisis. Do you think there’s a literacy crisis in APS?

A: We have a lot of work to do in literacy. And not just literacy, but that’s connected to all the other subjects. We have work to do, but it’s not a crisis.

Q: There has been some criticism around the idea of teaching literacy through programs like Orton-Gillingham or LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling). Will your approach to literacy be different than just sticking to one program?

A: I would say, teachers teach children. The program is just a supplement to the teachers. So we will have programs, but we’ll have teachers teaching the children. A lot of times, people just want to follow a program, but you have to pivot when you need to pivot.

Q: During your swearing-in (ceremony), you talked about making the district more transparent. Do you have a plan in place (for that)?

A: It starts with being honest with people. To tell people the truth the first time. (I’ve been) expressing to the leadership team and the whole district that we will be transparent. So you hear the good, the bad and the ugly. I think it’s important that people trust us and that they know what’s going on. We are going to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. You shouldn’t have to do an open records request to find out what’s going on in schools.

Town hall meetings

Battle has scheduled two town hall/information sessions on school safety. The first, for families in the Maynard Jackson and Midtown clusters, will take place at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at the district’s central office at 130 Trinity Ave. SW. The second will be held 6 p.m. Oct. 26 at Benjamin E. Mays High School, 3450 Benjamin E. Mays Drive SW, for families in the Mays cluster. She will eventually schedule meetings for the remaining APS school clusters.

About Danielle Battle

Battle graduated from North Carolina Central University in Durham with a degree in elementary education in 1990, according to her personnel file.

She taught middle and elementary school for about 5 1/2 years before graduating from NC Central with a master’s degree in education administration in 1995.

She worked as an assistant principal and principal in North Carolina before moving to Atlanta in the fall of 2001.

She was hired as the principal of Parkside Elementary in APS in early 2002.

Battle earned her doctorate of education from Clark Atlanta University in 2009 and shortly afterward was hired as principal of King Middle School in APS.

In 2015, Battle moved into administration and worked as the district’s associate superintendent of schools. She later became the regional K-12 executive director.

She worked for the Georgia Department of Education for one year before retiring in the fall of 2022. She came out of retirement to become Atlanta’s interim superintendent.