Atlanta Public Schools and the Buckhead community are at odds over the system’s controversial decision to remove leadership at North Atlanta High School and the fight is far from over, parents say.
The decision that came in the late afternoon of Oct. 5, a Friday, set off a flurry of activity culminating in a showdown between Superintendent Erroll Davis and North Atlanta High parents and students on Oct. 9. Davis said his decision to remove the school’s academy leaders was about academic performance, not politics, a claim that has weakened under scrutiny.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained emails that show board Chairman Reuben McDaniel probed allegations of “institutional racism” at the school, prior to the removal of the school’s leadership. District 4 Board of Education member Nancy Meister sent a letter to McDaniel, calling for the school board to delay Davis’ contract extension until all questions about North Atlanta High are resolved and to agree to release all emails exchanged between herself and McDaniel.
APS officials removed Principal Mark MyGrant, who had returned as interim principal after APS botched finding his replacement. MyGrant has claimed publicly he was fired because of allegations he hired two racist employees. APS declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding his departure.
School officials told MyGrant to leave the school premises days after offering the principal’s job to Howard Taylor, a principal in the Gwinnett County school system. Taylor will start in a few weeks.
MyGrant drew support from students. He received a standing ovation when he made an appearance at the Oct. 9 meeting. Students protested prior to Davis’ arrival and staged a walkout the next day.
Davis said during the meeting that the state had threatened to take the school over because it failed to meet standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Davis told the North Atlanta High community that it was fortunate the state obtained the waiver from the federal law, because if the school was rated at a “Needs Improvement” status on its NCLB report card for a fifth year, that would mean dire consequences.
“If we went to an NI5 status, the state would’ve seized this school and we would’ve fired all the leadership in the process,” Davis said. “That’s where we are.”
Department of Education Spokeswoman Dorie Turner Nolt told the Buckhead Reporter that under the law the state cannot “take over” or “seize” struggling schools. She said when a school reaches “NI5,” the school receives a state monitor.
“A state monitor does not mean a takeover,” she said. “There is nothing in the statute that allows for a state takeover.”
The superintendent did not respond to a request for comment from the Buckhead Reporter, but told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the discrepancy between his claims and the Department of Education’s response was “semantics.”
Prior to his meeting with North Atlanta parents, Davis had not offered an explanation about the changes. The school’s unsatisfactory academic record and the subsequent staff changes caught many off guard.
The North Atlanta Parent Teacher Student Association said it had received no prior notice about the dismissals and asked APS to reinstate the employees, but Davis has given no indication he will.
“We are appalled and disappointed with the unprofessional and disrespectful manner in which our administrators were treated,” the PTSA said in a statement. “We expect APS officials to model respectful treatment of employees, students and parents, and we do not believe this standard was upheld.”
The issue appears unlikely to die down once Taylor takes over. Few parents accept Davis’ official explanation.