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Posted by on October 16, 2012.

Buckhead: Nancy Meister asks to delay vote on contract extension for superintendent

Nancy Meister, District 4 school board member

Nancy Meister, District 4 Atlanta Board of Education member

District 4 Board of  Education member Nancy Meister is calling on her colleagues to delay a vote on extending Superintendent Erroll Davis’ contract in order to further investigate leadership changes at North Atlanta High.

Meister’s letter, addressed board Chairman Reuben McDaniel, was forwarded to the Buckhead Reporter after the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that McDaniel investigated claims of institutional racism at the school. The AJC obtained emails documenting McDaniel’s concerns about allegations of racism, sparked by the alleged actions of a teacher. That teacher recently resigned.

To read the full AJC story, click here. Both Meister and McDaniel told the paper the allegations didn’t factor into Atlanta Public School’s Oct. 5 decision to reassign the school’s academy leaders and remove Principal Mark MyGrant. MyGrant had been scheduled to retire, but returned on an interim basis at the request of APS until school officials named his replacement.

Meister called on McDaniel to mutually agree with her to release all emails pertaining to North Atlanta High to clear up any questions parents might have.

Atlanta School Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel

“I believe you and I should agree to publicly release those emails so the public can make a determination as to the delicate nature of the libelous allegations,” Meister wrote. “We need to clear the air on this issue once and for all, given the nature of the accusations, the anonymous nature and the lack of any factual support.”

Here is the full text of Meister’s letter:

Reuben,

I understand from your email that there is a possibility of a legislative meeting next week, the purpose of which is to consider an extension of Mr. Davis’ contract. This letter is to inform you, the entire board, as well as my constituents who have been inquiring about this topic, and the state of North Atlanta, of my grave concerns about scheduling such a vote at this time.

First, I believe any consideration of extending Mr. Davis’ employment should be delayed until a complete and thorough investigation of the controversial firing and reassignment at North Atlanta High School has been initiated and completed. While I fully understand and respect that it is in realm of the Superintendent to hire, fire and re-assign employees, the way in which the termination of Mr. MyGrant was executed and academy leaders reassigned, is cause for concern. The complete reassignment of an entire administrative team, a new Principal taking over at the end of the month, without any consideration to the repercussions, remains a mystery. At the very least, I believe that the district representative and not just the Board Chair should have been apprised of the situation and asked for opinions with regard to their constituency, prior to its execution. Additionally, I firmly believe the entire Board should have been made privy to an unprecedented decision of this magnitude. While the Superintendent claims this to be a simple personnel issue, I can tell you my/our constituents have lost all trust in Mr. Davis, given his changing explanations and abrupt actions.

On Friday, Mr. Davis gave no reason other than he wanted to give the new principal an opportunity to put his permanent leadership team in place. That explanation failed to clarify why Mr. MyGrant was abruptly terminated two weeks before his long-scheduled departure. Subsequent, Mr. Davis’ explanation to a meeting of nearly 1000 parents and students became one in which he acted to save North Atlanta from being taken over by the State of Georgia as a “failing” school. When the State DOE unequivocally denied that it ever contemplated such an action the explanation changed again, claiming that North Atlanta was woefully underperforming academically. I believe this to be factually inaccurate. If I am incorrect, I question whether it was ever communicated to the interim principal, prior to coming out of retirement that this situation existed. It is my hope that the Superintendent’s team would initiate a plan with any school in this situation.

In addition to the reconstitution of North Atlanta, I believe the Board should, before voting on Mr. Davis’ contract, investigate the anonymous allegations of alleged racism at North Atlanta, an issue you raised in a series of e-mails with me and mentioned in response to a question from a TV reporter on Friday. I believe you and I should agree to publicly release those e-mails so the public can make a determination as to the delicate nature of the libelous allegations. We need to clear the air on this issue once and for all, given the nature of the accusations, the anonymous nature and the lack of any factual support.

Finally, I believe we should postpone any decision on an extension until the Board concludes its Superintendent visioning work for APS. When a contract extension was first brought up, the Superintendent’s Visioning Committee had preliminary discussion about a visioning session. While we have done some work as a full board, it is not complete. Through our diligent SACS work we agreed that oversight and accountability, a topic we addressed in the past, was one we committed to focus on in the future. Given the State of the Schools speech in August, this Board needs to govern and set administrative expectations with an immediate sense of urgency so that the parents of the children attending one of the failing APS schools identified by the Superintendent have some hope of improvement. Remember, Mr. Davis said 80% of APS’ schools were failing, that we’re operating a dual system of schools, and that none of the over 220 education reform models and initiatives tried by APS over the years, had worked.

We owe it to the students, parents and taxpayers of Atlanta to make sure we have the answers to all of these questions before extending a contract for an additional year. However, should this Board decide that a vote is in order, it is my desire that through our lessons learned and our SACS agreement, we adhere to our previous endeavors. As a reminder in our SACS work required action #5 suggested that a final selection of the Superintendent should be determined by more than a simple majority vote of approval by the Board. We, as a Board then made a decision to require a 7 to 2 vote of the seated Board members, for hiring of a Superintendent or Interim Superintendent. It is my hope that we come to a consensus around this.

I hope you can appreciate and understand my concerns and those of the community that I serve.

Nancy

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