Atlanta Public Schools chief: ‘The meek are not going to inherit the earth’

The cheating scandal. Firing administrators and teachers. Disappointing student achievement. Redistricting. Financial issues.

Erroll Davis has been in the thick of controversy since being lured out of retirement and tapped as superintendent 15 months ago to turn around Atlanta Public Schools. But at 68 and with a number of leadership positions under his belt, he’s no stranger to tough jobs. He’s led the University System of Georgia and two large utility firms, and sits on the boards of General Motors and Union Pacific.

Erroll Davis

Erroll Davis

Still, Davis finds himself under the microscope now, waiting to hear whether his contract to lead APS will be extended beyond June. The decision by the APS board became more complicated after Davis created an uproar when he surprisingly removed six administrators at North Atlanta High School to the dismay of many students, parents and teachers. Davis talks about how his breadth of experiences have shaped his decisions.

Q: What did you learn about leading people from your service in the U.S. Army?

A: The one lesson I learned is that you’re accountable for everything that happens on your watch. Saying I didn’t know or I wasn’t involved is not acceptable. It’s your watch and you better risk manage everything that could possibly happen.

I try to do that today. We don’t always get it right, but it’s a mindset that says don’t make excuses. Don’t throw anybody who works for you under the bus, which I see far too much of in public life.

Good leaders step aside and give all the credit to their people when there’s success. When there’s failure, they take responsibility for it.

Q: How did running two utilities help prepare you for the controversy at APS?

A: As a CEO of a major corporation, I had to stand in front of thousands of shareowners and take questions. The hostility was a function of how well we did that year. I’ve been there before.

Also, the utility industry is highly regulated. You have to deal with the public, with legislators and regulators, particularly if you’re interested in raising rates.

Still, nothing matches the intensity of a K-12 experience, because you have parents and their children. They all want the same thing — the absolute best education for their child. I want that as well, but I want it for 50,000 children. Sometimes, what they believe to be in the best interest of their child may not be in the best interest of many of the other children.

One of my greatest frustrations is to try to get everyone to rally around one thing and make it strategically understandable. Our goal is to improve student achievement. To do that, it’s like an orchestra model. You have to get excellence out of every player and then you have to make that excellence work together.

Q: At North Atlanta High School, you made a decision that pulled people apart, the opposite of your stated goal. In hindsight, should you have handled the situation differently, possibly by better telegraphing your decision before removing the school’s administrators?

A: I don’t know that I would have. One of the things I found surprising, in retrospect, was the lack of awareness of the performance of the school. That is something we depend on the school’s leadership to convey.

I am surprised that someone was surprised that I said the school has not made AYP (adequate yearly progress) for five years running. They should have known that. And, in retrospect, I should not have assumed that they knew that.

The other thing I find challenging, in retrospect, is the loyalty to people because they are good people versus a loyalty to outcomes. There are certainly high-quality programs at the school, so there are some kids who are getting high-quality experiences there. But there are some students who are not, which is why they have not made AYP for five years. My view is that overall the school is not high-performing.

We were at a point in time where I could transfer people and have a completely new management team in place. I made a judgment and that’s what you get paid for. I am probably more vulnerable on how I did it than what I did. Why not leave [the previous administrators in place] longer?

Based on my experience, this is a community where change is very difficult and it’s going to take time. I don’t have the luxury of time. I want some changes made quickly.

Q: From your varied experiences, what’s your best advice for students and younger workers?

A: I tell young people to do two things. Prepare yourself with a broad-based education and make a personal commitment to do well, no matter what job you’re working in.

While working, you should seek candid feedback from your boss, and I do mean candid feedback. Often, you get pablum responses like “you’re doing fine.” Never accept pablum feedback.

Ask: “Does that mean that I’m ready for your job? What do I have to do to get your job?” Then you get a different answer. Then they tell you more specifically what you need to do. Then the choice is up to you to decide to make the sacrifices and the effort to do those things.

It’s a dangerous question to ask. If they tell you and you don’t do anything about it, they can say you’re not ambitious. You have to be relentlessly focused to do better.

Q: Do you have any other tips for advancing in a company or organization?

A: One of the things I learned in a corporation is that your boss can’t promote you. Your boss can keep you from getting promoted. Others will promote you — others who have seen you, have observed your performance and want you on their team.

If you really want to move up, it’s those outside of your immediate area that you have to impress that you’re flexible, quick and have a willingness to do more. That means working on broader, interdisciplinary projects. There are sometimes hard things to do and they ask for volunteers. Volunteer. Tell them why you think you can be successful. Then go do the work and do it well. Add value.

The meek are not going to inherit the earth. It’s not going to happen. The aggressive are.

Each week, Sunday Business Editor Henry Unger has a candid conversation, called “5 Questions for the Boss,” with a top executive in Georgia. Some remarks are edited for length and style.

34 comments Add your comment

jay

October 27th, 2012
4:21 pm

No comments…? Shows how lame yall are in Ga.

Jm

October 27th, 2012
5:22 pm

Erroll Davis is doing a great job for APS

If the school board drops Davis, is will be a disaster for APS

Change has to be made and people are naturally resistant to change

But we can’t afford to wait 10 more years for APS to improve, the students today deserve better and they’re finally getting it from Davis

another comment

October 27th, 2012
5:31 pm

Errol Davis, does nothing but shows us that he is a case of Affirmative Action gone wrong. He has just shown us all that he has let the Black Maffia of Trinity Street and the School Board take over.

atlmom

October 27th, 2012
6:01 pm

if APS doesn’t renew his contract, who do they think will take his place? Whoever is worth their salt probably won’t take the job. One could hope that there would be someone out there willing to deal with the board in order to make a difference in children’s lives, but well, that would be a special someone.

William R Nicholson

October 27th, 2012
6:02 pm

This is a sad story here. This head is truly clueless about his lack of communication to the people he is responsible to ; namely the parents of the students. That he is surprised the parents knew little about the lack of academic progress only shows that his report card on the schools overall lack of achievement was kept from those parents. Now 5 years of a dismal performance record is left to parents to correct since this administrator has clearly not laid out a path ahead for the students . If he has a plan , he seems to be the only person whom knows what it is.

Gail

October 27th, 2012
6:02 pm

It doe not mean the timid, weak or afraid. The Bible verse means those who know they need God, and that others are just as important as themselves.

Man, that last sentence is scary, rude and so wrong.

Wow

October 27th, 2012
7:01 pm

Wow. I don’t know what to do with that other than apply to private after 5th grade.

Top School

October 27th, 2012
7:26 pm

The history of Northside APS …
OUR SCHOOLS DESERVE top rank and special privileges because WE ARE THE TAX BASE.
Decreasing the minority population of students has been accomplished by the prime northside APS elementary schools in the neighborhood BUT mastering this manipulation has been more difficult at the middle and high school level. ( Sutton and NAHS )

This community expects SUCCESS by any means…just because of their affluence and who they know. Anyone that gets in their way…including DAVIS…will be kicked aside. They want an unethical leader that will help them to lie, cheat and steal their way to the TOP.

That was Beverly Hall…she was the Business Communities minion…and accomplished the illusion of SUCCESS that created $$$$$$$$$$ for the Atlanta Buckhead community. NOW, THEY PROTECT HER…TO SILENCE THE BUCKHEAD SECRET.

If Davis has ethics…he will not survive.
Buckhead wins by any means possible. They are the TAX BASE…and deserving by default.
Social welfare they demand for having to lower themselves to attend public schools. WORTHY OF fudged scores and entitlement programs OF SEGREGATION since their children did not make it into the neighborhood private schools.

http://www.youtube.com/user/TopSchoolAtlanta?v=n9mBrrgQOpU&lr=1

atljan

October 27th, 2012
7:37 pm

Gail, You are so right. I knew I was completely unsettled by Davis’ last statement and you nailed why. Yes, the Bible’s reference is to those with humility. Erroll Davis knows nothing of the concept–and states it outright here. And I recall his arrogance in the interview that went viral–the one about redistricting…Very scary.

Meli

October 27th, 2012
8:04 pm

Maybe Mr. Davis is surprised that people are surprised North Atlanta High has failed to make AYP five years in a row because it sounds like a complete lie cooked up as a CYA move because they replaced adminstrators in the middle of the school year and thought nobody would be watching. Now they’re cooking up another story about possible grade-fixing because nobody bought the first story. I don’t even have kids going to North Atlanta High and even *I* think the story is shady, so you can imagine what parents and students who go there must think. This interview is starting to show Mr. Davis’ profound arrogance, a sort of ‘getting too big for your britches’ attitude that led to Beverly Hall’s downfall, and maybe–just maybe–he needs to tone it down if he wishes to remain superintendent.

Top School

October 27th, 2012
8:16 pm

@Meli
The grade changing investigation is dated prior to October 19th.
It has not just “recently” appeared out of nowhere.

Do your research…APS Northside has a history long before this day.
Beverly Hall is exactly the leadership the NORTHSIDE wants.
They could manipulate her to do whatever they wanted…and they did manipulate her according to my records from 2001 until they paid her to throw her under the bus.

Buckhead now protects her. She knows too much about the REAL issues behind CHEATING in APS.
The Buckhead Business Community was LEADER behind the CHEATING.

Beverly Hall served as the scapegoat. She’s been PAID too keep her mouth shut.

Tara

October 28th, 2012
2:30 am

Please do not be fooled by all of this, this is just another smoke screen and diversion put into place so that he can later announce his departure from APS. Davis’ sole purpose was to come in rezone and redistrict APS district, no more or less. He was not to come and fix anything just to make it seem to the state that APS was actually doing something about CRCT cheating and rezoning. Once this has been done and the state is off of APS back, Davis is going to depart either by the end of this school year or the beginning of next. The funny part is that these are the very same people that was singing his praises when he was shutting down schools in SE and SW neighborhoods for not making AYP but now that he has shined the light on their school, it is not acceptable. WOW!!! Talking about the rooster coming home to roost.

Whirled Peas

October 28th, 2012
9:07 am

A black man leading Atlanta Schools. Who could have seen that one coming. Atlanta is the real home of racists.

26belly

October 28th, 2012
9:33 am

“The meek are not going to inherit the earth. It’s not going to happen. The aggressive are.”

Errol Davis you will soon know the precursor…”Pride goes before destruction, and arrogance before failure!”

Dixie

October 28th, 2012
10:16 am

Fire this affirmative action idiot!! Atlanta has become a black rap reverse racist city. Game soon over! My next white flight move is to the white sandy beaches of Florida for good. Let Atlanta become the next Detriot! Who cares…………………………..

Interesting Observation

October 28th, 2012
10:19 am

@Whirled Peas

October 28th, 2012
9:07 am

“at 68 and with a number of leadership positions under his belt, he’s no stranger to tough jobs. He’s led the University System of Georgia and two large utility firms, and sits on the boards of General Motors and Union
Pacific.”

Whirled, you read the peice and missed that because you are too focused on the amount of melanin he has in his biological makeup. Astounding.

love

October 28th, 2012
10:39 am

What people should understand is thatpo ‘AYP’ is a fallacy. Under the ‘No Child Left Behind’ act most high performing schools were going to get to the point where they couldn’t make AYP. For instance if you’re a school at 98% one year & the next year, you didn’t show progress, your school would not make AYP. I think we should be discussing how we’re defining student achievement, which seems to be a catch all phrase that can mean absolutely nothing. People should pay attention to Mr. Davis’ last comment. It seems down right scary…if this is the leadership stance for Atlanta Public Schools we should all be afraid. If you live, work, visit, or have anything to do with Atlanta, GA I implore you to you to pay attention & be a voice of reason to support the voiceless & the ‘meek’, I.e. the children of Atlanta Public Schools-who have been the one’s that have been most devastated by what’s going on.. I know that its easier to cut & run, but good public schools attract companies, people, better neighborhoods, etc. This is a major challenge for all in the metropolitan area. (Please excuse thes typos, I’m typing this from my phone)

DW

October 28th, 2012
10:40 am

NAHS’ website touts 99% of its graduates go to a 4-year institution. Why doesn’t it tout the school’s actual graduation rate? The graduation rate should’ve been addressed by the administration and the PTSA, since they’re the ones most directly involved with the school. Why wasn’t this done?

Regardless of what some may think about Supt. Davis’ interpretation of the Bible verse, the meek DON’T inherit the earth. If you want something major in life (a college degree, a good job, a promotion, your own business), you have to be aggressive and work for it. You don’t head a university system or sit on corporate boards by being timid. You work hard and step outside your comfort zone in order to grow and succeed.

I applaud Supt. Davis for taking decisive action (action meek or complacent parents and former administrators failed to take), and I FULLY support him.

Fact Check

October 28th, 2012
11:14 am

Strange that Davis did not mention his years as Head of the Safety at BP Oil and he resigned 5 days before the the spill disaster….he currently is in litigation…check out this link? http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2010/06/21/story1.html?page=all

North Atlanta Did Make AYP last year 2011-2012 as they were Not on the RTT sanction list…but most APS HIgh Schools were on list…why doesn’t the Superintendent doesn’t know this data?

North Atlanta has a steady increase with the SAT and ACT scores over the past 5 years…why doesn’t’ Superintendent know this data?

New APS value-added data shows North Atlanta above all other comprehensive high schools in growth with highest gains by free and reduced lunch and student with disabilities…why doesn’t the Superintendent doesn’t know this data?

Why did Davis bring MyGrant out of retirement if he was questioning his previous years performance only to humiliate him and his team by bringing in security and over 20 Central Office Staff members 15 minutes before the end of the school day over a long weekend break??? Bloody Friday was strategically planned.

Why was one NAHS Academy Leader tipped off about Bloody Friday in advance? It is well known that she was critical of MyGrant, because he attempted to have her replaced last year. What was her role leading up to Bloody Friday (ask Waldon)

And now we are suppose to believe the anonymous grade change investigation? Sounds like throwing stuff up to see what sticks.

All of this at a time when MyGrant was pushing back on alleged anonymous racial allegations, which lead to one candidate not being processed and another teacher who worked for over 9 weeks not being approved by the school board who finally resigned.

Let’s don’t forget that during this time:
-Rubin McDaniel was discussing with community members his displeasure of recommend candidates, Durham and Day in July
-Rubin McDaniel was claiming “Institutional Racism” at North Atlanta
-Botched attempt to hire Principal Richardson from NYC..left sore feelings, is Mayor involved?
-Waldon allegations
-Rubin McDaniel pushing for Superintendent extension without going through the Board approved process , side-stepping Brenda Muhammad’s Supt committee
-Documents show that in August, Davis, Waldon and McDaniel were in conversation about how to best frame the Durham allegations. Is this not a SACS violation with the Board Chair involved with the local school hiring practices?

And now Erroll Davis is rewriting scripture…so is he now God Davis??

Rick Moore

October 28th, 2012
12:55 pm

So now Erroll Davis is wiser than Jesus Christ. I hope that he intended to convey a different meaning and just chose his words poorly. Otherwise, that is pride/hubris and you can ask Bobby Petrino about “pride goes before the fall.”

Tim

October 28th, 2012
1:16 pm

wow, lots of angry white trolls here today.

Cephas

October 28th, 2012
1:44 pm

To paraphrase a line in “Camelot:” It’s not the Earth the meek will inherit, it’s the dirt.

pb

October 28th, 2012
2:02 pm

The Bible quote, “The meek will inherit the earth” is what Jesus and his followers hoped and prayed would happen. It means those with humility, not arrogance will eventually succeed. The most ruthless and agressive are usually the most successful in our world. Unfortunately, Errol Davis is right; too bad it is true.

pb

October 28th, 2012
2:08 pm

And don’t see how Errol Davis, is “rewriting scripture”. He is just applying it to the world we live in, which is not as nice or kind as the one hoped for in the Bible. But the main point rermains, that he maybe is overstepping his power as head of APS, and maybe should not keep his job? I think he is doing a pretty good job, considering the situation he came into.

Rick Moore

October 28th, 2012
2:37 pm

@pb….guess it depends on your definition of “success” and you obviously don’t believe Jesus’ definition of success. I hope you are blessed to discover THE TRUTH before it is too late for you. I don’t have a problem with the way Mr.Davis is running APS. As a matter of fact, I think he is performing admirably given the incompetence in the system. My sympathy is with him if he sincerely believes he knows better than Jesus about how LIFE works. God bless you, PB.

bubba

October 28th, 2012
3:31 pm

Davis makes the clearest statement possible about why there should be many, many, many more charter schools:
“I want that as well, but I want it for 50,000 children. Sometimes, what they believe to be in the best interest of their child may not be in the best interest of many of the other children.”

Former APS student

October 28th, 2012
4:05 pm

Thank you DW for your post…..

These people believe as long as their little darlings are getting what they need screw the others. Well Someone have to care and be accountable for the process of the other students 40% that are losing their way at north atlanta. I applaud Dr. Davis for having to the guts to call them out on their nonsense. And it is nonsense because I can remember a time when kids was bussed in from all over atlanta to attend the old Northside high and even North atlanta when Harper Archer high school closed and they were still meeting AYP and Graduating their students at a high rate. What happened under Mygrant watch, happened because he was looking out for a certain set of student.

And for those who wants to talk about the quote from the bible. Dr. Davis simply means that that the submissive, the complacent will accomplish but those who are agressive and go for theirs will accomplish more.

Goooo Dr. Davis….. APS have been needing this for a long. A change gonna come and the change is happening right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just let this man do his job.

atlmom

October 28th, 2012
5:19 pm

bubba: but there *should* be many more charter schools. Because – APS has ONE way to do things, and if your child doesn’t fit in that way, then, well, they aren’t going to be able to teach your child. But the parents need to get together in order to do that, and that takes time and energy and commitment.

Top School

October 28th, 2012
6:41 pm

@ Former APS Student …Only the insider would know. MOST are mesmerized by the illusion of SUCCESS…a facade of mansions lining the streets in this neighborhood.

Even with their inflated scores, falsified awards and POWER…those that have been outcast by the PRIVATE SCHOOLS in the neighborhood are in MISERY.

Let’s hope the next administrator assigned to APS NORTHSIDE High School is not sucked in to the PTA VORTEX of greed and becomes just another SELL OUT.

iF SO…he will eventually receive his standing ovation ( like MyGrant ) and southern sh-t faced grin ( like Beverly Hall ) as they throw him under the bus after they sopped him up and wrung him out to meet their reprehensible needs.

The BUCKHEAD WAY… like Wall Street… success by any means possible. What a fine example they make for their children. AND BELIEVE ME …ask their children…they know what’s been going on in these fine unethical NORTHSIDE SCHOOLS.

RenewContract? really?

October 28th, 2012
6:48 pm

Thank you Fact Check – keep the facts coming. Let’s get to the truth; The truth will set us free.

jimmie

October 28th, 2012
7:03 pm

He’s just a bid d—

The Responsible Conversant

October 29th, 2012
10:34 am

Erroll Davis is to be applauded for his work in APS. Has he gotten some things wrong? Probably.
More importantly, he took over at a time when a strong, well-respected leader was needed. As a result, SACS backed off, the CRCT cases were being handled, and a long overdue redistricting is done. The best thing about redistricting is that it cleaned up the feeder patterns and uncovered the inequities that had persisted in the system. Because of his leadership, and the courage and expertise of many around him, programs like foreign language, the arts and advanced math are more equalized across the city. Running APS or any school system is tough business. He’s not meek, and he’s getting it done. Thank you very much.

Parent to Parent

October 29th, 2012
12:01 pm

APS Parents, this is your chance to actually produce results. Grass Roots anyone? While everyone else is busy debating religious prowess, skin color, and the socio-economic status of certain neighborhoods, YOU have a couple of days to organize into a cohesive unit and present your ideas for providing your children with a quality education. If you aren’t going the private school/home school route after all of this APS turmoil, then I certainly hope you’ve been thinking about what to do for your kids and not waiting for the board to do it for you. This window of opportunity will close soon, so don’t get caught-up in the drama that is this article and almost every subsequent comment. For those who need some dramatic closure before you can shift your attention, consider this: (1) with the exception of religious scholars, most people who quote one verse out of the tens of thousands in the Bible get it wrong in context or application. (2) if the APS Sptd is really just another talking head, does his skin color even matter? and (3) socio-economic division will always exist in America – good or bad, it is The American Way and probably will be for the rest of your life. Back-burner your gripes for now and focus on something you might actually be able to change in the near future…. like say… your child’s ability to read and write effectively.

Benevolus

October 29th, 2012
12:45 pm

“One of the things I found surprising, in retrospect, was the lack of awareness of the performance of the school. That is something we depend on the school’s leadership to convey. … I am surprised that someone was surprised that I said the school has not made AYP (adequate yearly progress) for five years running. They should have known that.”

Really? The NAHS community is not surprised by these facts, but rather that Superintendent Davis would latch on and cling to them, to justify his own disastrous judgment. Anyone who’s paid attention at NAHS functions and public forums over the last seven years would know that Mark MyGrant, and his predecessor before him, were equally frank about the school’s standing on both AYP and graduation rates, the measures that so alarm Mr. Davis. Not only has the community know of them, but it has understood and worked to address these realities, which Mr. Davis has only come to lately, imperfectly and after the fact. Mr. MyGrant and the former administrative team readily conveyed both an intimate understanding of what went into these measures, and credibly demonstrated that they were — and would continue — addressing them. The Superintendent can pay lip service to similar attributes, but he apparently can’t hope to deliver. Until October 9, the Superintendent NOT ONCE suggested publicly that he either knew or cared about these measures — until he needed to justify bad policy and decisions gone horribly wrong.

“The other thing I find challenging, in retrospect, is the loyalty to people because they are good people versus a loyalty to outcomes.”

Once again, the Superintendent has neither perspective nor care for where NAHS was seven — or even five — years ago; what priorities and deep investment in this school APS’ faculty, staff and administration, together with its families, students, community and business partners, have made during that time; or to preserve and build on the school’s recent efforts, legacies and progress. NAHS did not just have “good people” prior to the Superintendent’s self-inflicted disaster, but it has made extraordinary advances and enjoyed tremendously successful outcomes during the very time-frame he questions, working together to positively impact real lives of students across the board, not any select few. THAT’S what the NAHS community is loyal to, and THAT’S what Mr. Davis casually and callously discarded on October 5.

“The meek are not going to inherit the earth”? And I suppose the poor — or, in this case, “students who do not get high-quality experiences” — will not always be with us? What so helpful about the commentors here, who offer so freely their (anonymous) anger, venom, bitterness and resentment over personal disappointments — “Top School” and “Former APS Student”? Great, constructive community leaders they are to be sure (not)! Let’s be very clear: for good or ill, neither NAHS nor Buckhead (nor Pine Hills, nor Lindbergh, nor DeFoor/Collier, nor Bolton Road) are either the cause of all their woes or their salvation. Their folly, ignorance, and destructive tendencies are fully displayed, yet it seems they have this Superintendent’s ear more than any reason or insight can hope to do.

Mr. Davis: APS and NAHS aren’t utility monopolies, and they’re not multi-national corporate conglomerates churning out widgets. APS and NAHS are parts of our community — our families, friends, neighbors, kids, and homes. Yes, good leaders take responsibility; but they also inform themselves, act with reasonable care and prudence, and call others to a shared vision. They are ethical, honorable and humble; and they’re willing to take on the hard, slow work of incremental progress instead of rushing, headlong and foolhardy, to catastrophe.

Mr. Davis: PLEASE do your homework, make an effort, and at least try to understand what you’re dealing with before you destroy what Rev. Joseph Lowery calls us to celebrate: the good of APS. Then, come to the table with an open mind, build cooperatively on that good, and help us be stewards — not squander — the resources you claim to be so impressed by.

Anything less is inadequate performance on your part, and warrants — no, demands — your own summary “reassignment.” Are you maybe also surprised to hear that?