Three years ago, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis began work as the school district’s interim superintendent on what was supposed to be a short-term gig.
Davis soon led a district at the center of the nation’s largest cheating scandal, with a board that faced the possibility of removal by the governor.
He retires today – his most recent attempt to quit the workforce after previously serving as an energy company executive and chancellor of the University System of Georgia.
Here’s the short read on what Davis accomplished as superintendent and where he fell short. Or visit MyAJC.com to read our in-depth coverage of Davis’ tenure as Atlanta Public Schools superintendent.
Davis brought order to a district that could have slipped into chaos after the scandal in which nearly 200 educators and staff, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall, were accused of participating in cheating on state standardized tests. Within his first month, Davis issued an ultimatum to all educators implicated: resign or be fired. Under his administration, the district instituted new test-security measures.
But Davis backed away from his early promise to identify children affected by the cheating and give them extra help. Instead, the district launched tutoring programs for all children. To date, APS has not studied whether that extra support actually helped students.
In Davis’ first month on the job, the entire Atlanta school board faced potential removal by the governor. The cheating scandal and the board’s infighting had given state officials serious concerns about its ability to run the district. Davis and the board began working together to try to be more productive. By November 2011, the district was no longer at risk of losing accreditation, though the school board often remained divided.
Under Davis’ leadership, more APS students passed high-stakes state tests in reading and math this year than in 2011, roughly paralleling the trend statewide. And the district’s graduation rate improved for the Class of 2013.
But APS state test results and graduation rates still lag far behind the state in most subjects and grades. And just 59 percent of members of Class of 2013 graduated on time, compared to 72 percent statewide.
Davis tried to bring order to the district’s patchwork of education reform initiatives, cutting many programs that provided mentors, volunteers or other extra help to students. And his administration began efforts to improve APS’ administrative functions, including human resources and finance.
Cuts eliminated some programs that gave students help they couldn’t get elsewhere, some parents say. And APS continues to experience administrative and payroll problems.
Davis’ recommendation that the board close 13 schools at a savings of about $6.5 million a year in redistricting brought hundreds of parents and students to plead before the board to save their schools. Davis, who is African-American, was depicted on one anti-redistricting flyer wearing a Klan robe and threatening to “erase” black schools. The board eventually voted to close seven schools and later closed one more.
Under Davis’ leadership, Atlanta Public Schools hired dozens of new principals. And in fall 2012, Davis removed the interim principal and administrative staff of North Atlanta High School weeks before the principal was scheduled to be replaced by a permanent one. Davis believed the school’s academic performance fell short and an internal report described a “climate of racial tension” at the school. Parents and students packed meetings to protest the removals.