Leadership changes coming to Atlanta schools
Now hiring: 17 principals to head Atlanta schools.
The city school system has begun accepting applications for leaders at about one-sixth of its schools, a move by Superintendent Erroll Davis that has drawn a passionate but mixed reaction from parents and students. At one school, Mays High in west Atlanta, hundreds of students staged a walkout in February in support of Principal Tyronne Smith.
Changes are coming because of academic and other reasons, although Davis and school board members have declined to go into detail.
Ten of the 17 positions to be filled are currently held by interim principals. Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said the state has told public school districts they need to find permanent “turnaround leaders” in schools that have received federal School Improvement Grants, which are generally given to the state’s lowest achieving schools serving disadvantaged students.
Explanations for the removal of the remaining principals haven’t been forthcoming.
In one case, Young Middle School Principal Kelvin Griffin resigned after an internal school system investigation accused him of having an affair with a teacher and failing to look into rumors of marijuana sales on campus. Griffin has denied the allegations.
At Grady High School, the school system recently concluded that at least 14 football players were fraudulently enrolled, but Davis said that finding wasn’t the reason for Principal Vincent Murray’s job coming open.
“These kinds of changes are not easy,” Davis said at a school board meeting this month. “It is necessary for improvement, especially as we seek to escalate the achievement of all of our students.”
Davis, who plans to retire this summer, said the transition in school leadership came as the result of a regular review process. He removed about 40 principals in the wake of Atlanta’s cheating scandal shortly after taking the superintendent’s job in July 2011, and he’s replaced 27 more principals since then in the system, which has about 100 schools.
“These changes are necessary to improve the academic achievement of all kids,” school board Chairman Courtney English said. “There comes a time when change is necessary. Change is tough and we’ve got to move forward.”
Robin Carey, the mother of a sophomore at Therrell High in southwest Atlanta and a member of the local school council, said she didn’t like that Principal Tyree Andrews, who headed the School of Technology, Engineering, Math & Science, was being replaced. She said Andrews maintained discipline and taught students to take pride in learning.
“If you’re all about education, why disrupt the education of the children by removing the principal? It’s caused so much chaos,” Carey said. “I can see what this man has done for the children. He hasn’t done anything except educate them.”
At Grady High, Michael Dines, the parent of a sophomore, said he was pleased Murray’s tenure will come to an end. Murray has led the Midtown school since 1991.
“I felt that he was kind of stale and unresponsive,” said Dines, who criticized the principal for not supporting the music program more strongly when his older daughter attended the school. “Sometimes it takes new blood to get excitement and things happening in the school.”
The interim principals will have the opportunity to apply for their jobs permanently, and Davis said many of them are doing “a bang-up job.” It’s less clear what will happen to the permanent principals being removed. Some could retire or be reassigned.
Most of the principals whose jobs are in doubt will keep their leadership positions until the end of this school year.
By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution