Superintendent Steve Green talks with sixth-grade students in teacher Paul Johnson’s social studies class in Chapel Hill Middle School on the first day of classes in August 2015. Green’s decision to replace nine elementary principals last week drew some criticism and support at Monday’s DeKalb County school board meeting. KENT D. JOHNSON /KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

DeKalb principals’ removal draws fire at school board meeting

Parents and teachers and at least one school board member blasted the decision to replace nine DeKalb County elementary school principals as being either hastily done or discounting progress made under a reassigned principal’s leadership.

Their comments during Monday’s monthly school board meeting followed the notice the principals were given last week. Superintendent Steve Green said he hoped the leadership changes would boost student progress.

District officials said letters were sent home last week with students from Dresden, Rock Chapel, Panola Way, Oak View, International Student Center, Shadow Rock, Stoneview, Flat Rock and Snapfinger elementary schools.

“There’s an accountability element here that we’re not shying away from,” Green said. “We developed a rubric that we would need to see certain evidence of progress in areas and if we saw that, we would continue with the leadership at that school. If we didn’t, we would be honest … that perhaps it’s better to give the school a chance to reboot and also reassign the leadership in that area.”

Bree Sharper, a teacher at Flat Rock Elementary School, said during public comments that she was surprised by the move to remove Zack Phillips as principal since the school was removed from the state’s Focus Schools list of low performers during his time there.

“It’s a tough environment to work in, but he’s been the type to get down and dirty … and hold us accountable,” she said.

Forcing principals to apply for district jobs in May leaves them with few options outside what they’ve been guaranteed. The reassigned principals are guaranteed jobs in their last tenured role with the district. For many of them, that was a teaching position.

“Those people were not prepared,” said board member Joyce Morley, saying she felt the principals were blindsided by last week’s actions. “They did not have a performance development plan. It’s very disconcerting to see the things (district leaders) continue to do.”

Green said the decisions were not hastily done, and another board member supported him.

Conversations began as early as last summer with principals about their schools’ achievement, Green said. “We tried as much as we could to look at where progress was being made,” he said. “In one way or another, notice was given if you’re not making progress, it’s imminent that something’s going to happen. “There was a clear communication that there be growth or progress in some way or another.”

In the letter sent home with students, signed by Green, parents were told the current principal would serve through the end of the school year. Teachers and parents have said some principals were removed from their buildings last week.

At Dresden Elementary School, for example, a retired principal is filling in for Dominique Terrell, last seen by her staff on Wednesday.

The move comes near the end of Green’s second year leading the district. In that time he’s established himself as an advocate of local districts leading the way in school turnaround efforts, often voicing his discontent as Gov. Nathan Deal sought an independent school district for the state’s failing schools.

But test scores across the district have largely been stagnant, with few success stories among the mix as schools work their way off lists of low-performing schools.

The measures are mostly data-driven, using as benchmarks scores on the College and Career Ready Performance Index, a type of report card that grades schools on several factors, including student performance on standardized state tests.

Green said the plan included principals who came to their school before the 2013-2014 school year. To avoid restructuring, a principal’s school had to:

• Average at least a 60 on the CCRPI over the three previous reporting years

• Be above the 2014 score, which reflected 2013 testing

• Outperform its “Beating the Odds” score, which takes school demographics, student ethnicity and other factors into account

• Be removed from the state’s Focus Schools or Priority Schools lists, which consist of the bottom 5 or 10 percent of Title I schools when comparing achievement gap data.

The district already has advertised for new school administrators on its website, Green said. The district also will be looking at candidates coming from a leadership program it runs, with participants from across the district.

Board member Vickie Turner said while the decision has caused much discussion, the moves should have been expected when Green was hired to lead the district two years ago.

“You’re sitting across from a superintendent who says ‘That’s it,’ and … it’s the most difficult decision any of us would have to make,” she said. “But we all know we’re in business for children, and we’re held to a standard of accountability. We knew when Dr. Green came in that we had some broken components to our systems. I read somewhere that to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result is insanity. We must rise our children up to a level of success.

“If it’s broke, we must try to fix it.”

In other DeKalb education news:

Fourteen Southwest DeKalb High School seniors were surprised with the news that they would receive full-ride scholarships to attend two-year programs at Georgia State University’s Decatur campus.

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