North Atlanta High principal won’t resign

The principal who got so fed up with Atlanta’s school system bureaucracy that he resigned changed his mind Thursday, retaining leadership of the city’s crown-jewel school.

North Atlanta High Principal Howard “Gene” Taylor rescinded his resignation, ending a week in which he first quit, then was offered his boss’ job and later had that promotion taken away by the school board.

Taylor wrote in a letter to the community that he decided to stay rather than accept another job offer after Superintendent Erroll Davis listened to his concerns.

Taylor told Davis about his frustrations over “micromanagement” and inability to decide which teachers work with students in his school, Taylor wrote.

“For the first time in almost a year, I felt like I was talking about the real work of schools and the principal,” Taylor wrote. “It was exhausting but also refreshing.”

Principals who are being held accountable for student achievement need more control over the teachers they hire and need to have more support for school functions including textbooks, on-time bus schedules and quality substitute teachers, Taylor wrote.

As a result of the back-and-forth over Taylor’s job, Davis announced Thursday he will immediately begin quarterly meetings with principals and parents from each cluster, giving them a direct line of communication to the top.

Davis also said he’s creating a system allowing principals to provide feedback about the quality of services from Atlanta Public Schools’ central office.

“We will remove the barriers so that principals and teachers can focus on the real work of educating our children,” Davis said in a statement.

The 1,600-student North Atlanta High is Georgia’s most expensive school, with a $147 million cost for new facilities that opened last month.

Taylor took control of the school 11 months ago when Davis removed the school’s previous administrative team, citing the school’s academic performance.

Parents said they were overjoyed when they heard the news that Taylor would stay. They described him as a hard-working leader who improved advanced placement offerings and addressed their problems.

“We’re all thrilled and relieved,” said Alison Jones, whose son is a freshman at North Atlanta High. “It’s a real shame that his bosses weren’t able to remove the roadblocks that kept him from doing his job. Why did he have to resign to call attention to all of this?”

A member of North Atlanta High’s Local School Council, Andrea Shelton, said Taylor is a “visionary” who does what it takes to improve students’ education.

“The first priority in Atlanta Public Schools has to be the needs of our kids, not creating more bureaucracy,” Shelton said. “If they hold up their end of the bargain and allow him to have the latitude to do what he needs to do, this could be the best thing that could happen.”

Taylor’s sudden resignation, announced last Friday, pushed parents into action as they asked Davis and school board members to find a way to prevent Taylor from leaving. The Gwinnett Board of Education approved Taylor as the principal of Berkmar High hours after Taylor’s resignation was made public.

“I am a ‘can do’ person and could not continue to work in a ‘you can’t’ system,” Taylor wrote in his letter.

Then on Monday, Davis said Taylor would become executive director the Atlanta’s North Region, overseeing about 20 schools. He would have replaced Tony Burks, who became a principal mentor.

The Atlanta Board of Education called an emergency meeting on Tuesday to vote on Taylor’s promotion. Board member Nancy Meister made a motion to approve Taylor to the job, but none of the other seven board members present seconded the motion, effectively killing it. Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel said the board wanted an open application process for the regional director job rather than sign off on Davis’ appointment of Taylor.

McDaniel said Thursday he’s pleased to hear Taylor will stay as principal, saying he’s done an “excellent job.”

“There are systems and structural issues that need to be addressed to give principals the tools they need to be successful,” McDaniel said.

Taylor’s resignation never came before the Board of Education for a vote and there will be no further board action as a result of his withdrawing his resignation, McDaniel said.

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