Statement from North Atlanta High School principal

Principal Howard “Gene” Taylor has rescinded his resignation and is staying as the leader of North Atlanta High School after all. Read his statement below:

Dear Warrior Parents, Teachers and Community Members,

Thank you for your support, patience, and resilience during this situation. A principal could not be blessed with finer students or more supportive parents than I am with you at North Atlanta High School. This past year we saw each other through a very difficult situation, and we made significant progress while doing so. It is because of the bond we developed that my decision to leave North Atlanta was truly the most difficult and painful professional decision I have made in almost three decades in education.

In accepting my position approximately one year ago, it was made clear that, as Principal of North Atlanta High School, I was going to be held accountable for leading my staff to achieving significant increases in student learning. It is expected that North Atlanta High School will be a model urban Title I high school—a model desperately needed and a vision that can and will become a reality. This being the goal, a principal cannot be hired as and be held accountable for achieving the results of CEO but function as a micromanaged middle level manager.

The number one factor for increasing student learning over which we have control is teaching. Therefore, principals who are being held accountable for results must have direct involvement in who is working with our children. Principals must also receive minimal supports in order to accomplish the jobs they have been hired to and are accountable for accomplishing. Textbooks, laptops for teachers, buses that run on time, teacher compensation for work rendered, quality substitute teachers, scheduling that can be completed efficiently and effectively—these factors, and others, all have a profound effect on a principal’s performance to ensure all students receive a quality education. Yet, principals are often empowered to do little more than receive complaints and pass them along.

I simply could not continue business as usual. I could not keep hearing “Welcome to APS” and “That’s not the way we do it in APS.” I am a “can do” person and could not continue to work in a “You can’t” system. So, on Wednesday September 11, I stopped banging my head against the wall and asked Mr. Davis to accept my resignation.

I had not planned to discuss my concerns with our Superintendent because, at that time, I was not confident that it would do any good, but I also felt deep sorrow that I did not want our Superintendent to see. However, after sharing my announcement, Mr. Davis did something I did not expect—he refused to leave my office until he understood how I got to this point and why I felt it necessary to leave. This conversation continued for a week and eventually led to in-depth conversations with members of the Superintendent’s Cabinet. They made it clear that they were not going to try to convince me to stay, and I was convinced that I needed to leave to do the quality work I am called to do. It is most likely these reasons that allowed me to candidly share the concerns I have referenced.

Through their willingness to listen, ask hard questions, and receive hard to hear answers, I was and remain convinced that Mr. Davis, Ms. Waldon, Mr. Smith and others sincerely want to know principals’ concerns, the obstacles that keep us from doing our jobs and what supports we need to be effective leaders in our buildings. They did not seek me out because they value my opinion any more than any other principal’s. The situation simply availed itself and each of us was willing to have a “brutally honest” discussion about the role of principal specific to school reform and the current culture of Atlanta Public Schools.

I cannot tell you how much hope I began to feel. For the first time in almost a year, I felt like I was talking about the real work of schools and the principal. It was exhausting but also refreshing and paradoxically energizing. I also cannot adequately express how impressed I am by Mr. Davis’, Mr. Smith’s and Ms. Waldon’s character, deep concern for children, and courage to do this type of work with a principal who was on his way out the door.

It was only late last Friday and then over the weekend that I was asked if I would be interested in working with other principals to identify problems we are facing and help them develop with Ms. Waldon and the Executive Directors specific actions that could be taken to better support principals. Initially, I did not know a particular title and money has never been discussed. This situation was, and my professional decisions will always be, about one thing—how much good I will be able to do for all children.

Now that I had identified these problems and the Superintendent was providing me an opportunity to directly help address them, I believed the only honorable and responsible decision was to accept the offer to work with other principals to voice and address our concerns.

While I will not have the opportunity to work with principals in the capacity proposed by our Superintendent, much work was done last week that will advance and reform the culture of our district. First, a Principals’ Advisory Council made up of principal representatives from all four regions and at all three levels (Elementary, Middle and High) will meet regularly with Mr. Davis to provide him with our unfiltered input on the issues we face, support we need to accomplish our work and quality of service we receive. A service level index will be created with principal input to enable us to give Mr. Davis additional feedback on the quality of service we receive from the different departments in our organization. Mr. Davis will use both of these sources of principal input and feedback to work with his Cabinet and other district-level personnel to provide appropriate support for principals to achieve the results for which they are being held accountable. Finally, though I am convinced Mr. Davis welcomes continued ideas from principals and others, our Superintendent will develop teacher, student and parent advisory councils with which he will meet on a regular basis to receive input regarding the level of service they receive from schools and district level personnel.

From your responses to this situation, I was greatly relieved that you seemed to have easily come to the absolute truth without my needing to tell you. As it has been and always will be for Gene Taylor, the singular reason for each of the decisions I have made this past week was about the work and that work will also be about educating ALL children at high levels.The earnest and thoughtful work of Mr. Davis, Ms. Waldon, and Mr. Smith this past week has produced results that were a game changer for me and I believe will be for the culture of Atlanta Public Schools and ultimately our children. Therefore, moments ago, I asked Mr. Davis to consider rescinding my resignation, which he had not yet accepted. I am glad to share that Mr. Davis honored my request, and I will be remaining with Atlanta Public Schools as Principal of North Atlanta High School.

I will forever be thankful to you for your trust and belief in me and for the support you unselfishly gave to me and my staff at a very difficult time. You have my heart.

Your Principal, Gene

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