North Atlanta High was not in danger of landing under state control when six of the school’s administrators — including the principal — were abruptly removed last week, sparking an outcry from parents and a walkout Wednesday by hundreds of students, a state official said.
“We don’t take over schools in Georgia,” said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.
At a community meeting Tuesday night attended by hundreds, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis told North Atlanta High parents that under the state’s old accountability system the Buckhead school could have been “seized” by officials because of failure to meet academic goals. That system was ditched this year in favor of a new system of evaluating schools, which shows North Atlanta High is in good standing.
Davis discussed the school’s low performance in connection to recent leadership changes at the school, but said they did not play a role in the timing of the abrupt dismissal of interim principal Mark MyGrant and five of the school’s top administrators. MyGrant was retired and scheduled to leave at the end of this month; an assistant principal and three academy leaders were reassigned, while another academy leader retired.
The leadership team was disbanded so interim educators could come in and assess the school before a new principal, Howard (Gene) Taylor, takes over Oct. 29.
But Davis said he stands by his assertion that the state would have essentially taken over the school by playing a larger role in the day-to-day functions. He said no matter how takeover is defined, it is indisputable that the school for years had trouble meeting state academic requirements.
“The issue here is not semantics of what takeover means,” he said. “The issue to me is why on earth is a school like North Atlanta in this status to begin with.”
Davis said the school, which is located in one of Atlanta’s most affluent communities, is underperforming. He cited a sluggish graduation rate and new student growth data, which shows the school is slightly above average in terms of how much students are learning in a year.
MyGrant said the removal dealt with charges of racism against two staff members he hired last year. Davis said he could not address personnel issues.
In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Wednesday, MyGrant said “it is time for us to move on.”
“Superintendent Davis has made his decision,” MyGrant said. “Some will agree, others won’t. But continued discussion around this matter will lead to no good. I wish much success for the new principal, Dr. Taylor. His resume and work experience is very impressive.”
But it is unclear whether parents and students are willing to move on without clear answers about the mass dismissal.
Wednesday, about 200 students walked out during lunch in protest, some of them taking their lunch break, others leaving classes in session. One of the student organizers, Cameron Halter, left Spanish class to join the protest. Halter said Davis’ comments at the Tuesday meeting raised other questions.
“I’m not worried about APS and what they’ll do to me. I think it’s more important that they show us some respect,” he said. “The way they handled this shows me they don’t respect us.”
Trenise Brunson, whose son Dashaun is an 11th-grader at North Atlanta, said the lower level administrators who were reassigned are great and have gone above and beyond for her son. She said she gets that Davis may need to institute change, but she said he needs to be more open about his rationale.
“I think if that happens, he’ll find a lot less outrage and a lot more love,” she said. “I definitely think there was a situation that happened, something that happened, but no one is talking.”
House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta), who graduated from North Atlanta when it was Northside High School, said: “I’m not in a position to say that what happened was right or wrong. I am in a position to say how it was done has raised more fears than answers for the parents. And parent buy-in at North Atlanta is critical to its future success.”
Board member Nancy Meister, who represents North Atlanta High, said staffing decisions are up to the superintendent, but she thinks the execution could have been better. Meister said she’s never heard of an interim team being brought in to assess the school before a new principal takes over.
“I’ve never heard of that happening with transition of leadership in other schools. That’s new to me,” she said. “I would think part of assessment would include the leadership team so they can answer questions others may not be able to answer.”
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