Superintendent Erroll Davis did something he and other school administrators did not do when he removed North Atlanta High School’s leadership on a late Friday afternoon.
He gave the community an explanation.
Davis met with the North Atlanta High community on Oct. 9, facing an audience so large it filled the school’s gymnasium. He said the school’s academic record, and not accusations of racism or any other misconduct, led to his decision to remove academy leaders and tell Principal Mark MyGrant to leave immediately.
Davis said the school faced a takeover by the state if scores did not improve. North Atlanta received a reprieve only because the state obtained a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
“We are moving into a $100 million dollar facility next year and I want our performance as a system and as a school to be on that level as well,” Davis said.
It was a more concrete explanation than Davis offered when the school system first announced the changes. A letter he posted to the APS website on Oct. 5 didn’t mention low test scores or the school’s 62 percent graduation rate.
The additional information did little to quell the seething anger at the way APS officials handled the changes. It was a long summer for the North Atlanta community. MyGrant announced his retirement months before APS began interviewing candidates for his replacement. After the first top candidate turned down the job, APS asked MyGrant to stay as interim.
On Oct. 1, APS offered the job to Howard Taylor, a principal in the Gwinnett County school system. He will start in a few weeks. Days later MyGrant was gone. Davis says it was a personnel issue that prompted officials to push MyGrant out the door early.
MyGrant alleges it was a political move, a decision APS made because of allegations he hired two racist employees.
MyGrant strolled into the gymnasium during Davis’ question and answer session, looking triumphant as he waved to students, teachers and parents giving him a standing ovation. He then left the room. Davis called it “Kabuki Theater.”
North Atlanta parents and students held events throughout the day ahead of Davis’ meeting. Parents held a press conference in the early afternoon, distributing shirts that said, “APS CUSTOMER SATISFACTION 0%”. An hour before Davis spoke, a crowd of students gathered in front of the gym, chanting and holding signs.
Those students asked some of the most pointed questions during the meeting, challenging the data Davis presented and demanding more information. He faced an hour of blistering criticism that he kept parents out of the loop, upended college application plans and jeopardized the school’s celebrated International Baccalaureate program.
When Davis told one questioner that the system will make counselors available to students who have anxiety about the changes, the room erupted in laughter.
Another questioner asked how Davis’ decision to remove school leadership would improve the school’s academic performance. “Honestly, how is losing our school to any other entity possibly worse than you?”
Davis said it was never his intent to humiliate any of the academy leaders, who were reassigned to “meaningful jobs” with the same pay.
“There is no debate about the decency of these people and again if I thought they weren’t quality people, they would not have been reassigned,” he said.
The superintendent did not say he would reinstate the leaders as parents asked.
He said he didn’t think the same leaders who didn’t meet the academic standards in the last five years will be able to deliver better results in the future.
North Atlanta should be the flagship high school for the system and is falling short of those expectations, Davis said.
He said a 62 percent graduation rate means the school fails four out of every 10 students.
“This is not what I want for North Atlanta,” Davis said. “This is not what I want it to be.”