Atlanta school board rejects North Atlanta principal’s promotion

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Read the letter Superintendent Erroll Davis sent out to announce that Howard “Gene” Taylor was staying with APS. It’s at our premium website for subscribers,

Atlanta’s school board Tuesday rejected a deal that would have promoted a principal who planned to resign over what supporters said were his frustrations with the city school system’s management.

North Atlanta High Principal Howard “Gene” Taylor was set to become a regional director overseeing about 20 schools, a position offered by Superintendent Erroll Davis to keep him from leaving. The promotion would have given Taylor the authority to fix some of the problems he saw.

But the Atlanta Board of Education scuttled the promotion in an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon, leaving parents unsure whether Taylor would stay at North Atlanta High or accept a job offer to become principal of Berkmar High in Gwinnett County. Taylor couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, and he didn’t detail his reasons for leaving in a video message to students last week.

Taylor announced his resignation last week, one month after North Atlanta High students moved into a new facility that’s the most expensive school in Georgia, costing $147 million.

Atlanta Public Schools needs to do a better job of supporting principals trying to improve their schools, board Chairman Reuben McDaniel said. But, he added, Taylor shouldn’t have been promoted without going through an application process.

“We want to make sure we have the best person in that position,” McDaniel said. “As a system, we need to provide all schools with the systems they need to do their jobs. Right now, we don’t have those systems in place.”

About 150 parents attended a community meeting with school system leaders Tuesday night, asking why they couldn’t keep a quality principal.

Sue Rodman, the parent of a sophomore at North Atlanta High, said Taylor wouldn’t have resigned unless he had to.

“The only reason he would ever do that is if he couldn’t get the support from the central office,” Rodman said. “What is the district doing to make sure those roadblocks are actually taken down?”

The chairman of North Atlanta High’s local school council, Mike Everly, said the administration of APS put Taylor in a difficult situation.

Taylor couldn’t choose the teachers he wanted to hire in some cases, and his superiors gave him endless tasks that had little to do with educating students, said Everly, who said he had spoken with Taylor several times in the past few days.

“There’s a high degree of frustration with the ability to get support and response from the central office,” Everly said. “The central office is badly broken, and you have principals like Dr. Taylor leaving.”

Associate Superintendent Steve Smith acknowledged the problems with the school system’s administration in response to parent questions.

Taylor discussed with school system leaders the difficulty in getting personnel approved and in getting responses from central office staff, Smith said.

“He was having difficulty getting things done at his school,” Smith said. “We continue to work with him trying to identify specifically what some of those things were.”

APS has asked Taylor to stay on as principal, McDaniel said, and he could apply along with others to seek the position of executive director for the North Region.

Before the board’s action Tuesday, Taylor was to take the job of North Region Executive Director Tony Burks, who was reassigned to become a principal mentor. The position is now vacant.

The school board met in closed-door executive session for 2 1/2 hours Monday and again Tuesday before voting on Taylor’s pending promotion.

Board member Nancy Meister made a motion to approve Taylor’s new position, but none of the other seven board members present seconded her motion, effectively killing it.

Taylor took over as principal of North Atlanta High last October after Davis removed the school’s former administrative team. Taylor had previously served as principal of Lilburn Middle School in Gwinnett County.