As expected, APS board Chair Khaatim Sherrer El agreed to give up his chairmanship Monday in the name of board unity and in an effort to appease the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which put the district on probation because of board bickering and in-fighting. No formal vote was taken to seal the deal.
El will retain his school board seat, as will Vice Chairwoman Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, who said she is also willing to step down. They will be replaced by Brenda Muhammad and Reuben McDaniel, although it’s unresolved which of the pair will be chair.
The censure of APS by SACS surprised some people, who felt that the accreditation agency overstepped its bounds in calling for more unity and less divided votes by the Atlanta board.
SACS did not intervene when a state audit suggested widespread cheating on state exams by some Atlanta schools, but acted when the board coalesced into two factions, one of which successfully unseated chair LaChandra Butler Burks last year and replaced her with El.
Some people thought the takeover was democracy in action, messy as it was. Others, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, saw the board’s actions as reckless and detrimental to the system.
It’s not clear that replacing El is the solution for a fractious board where there are two camps with fundamentally different views of their roles.
I also wonder if the state investigation of APS for possible CRCT cheating will wrap up before Superintendent Beverly Hall retires in a few weeks.
“OK, you win,” said El, who has been blasted by Reed, business leaders and even some board members after controversially taking the chairmanship last year. One of his strongest allies on the board, member Yolanda Johnson, said the board had no choice but to make a change, adding that “people have been bullied and coerced.”
“This is not a voluntary decision,” Johnson said.
In their place, members Brenda Muhammad and Reuben McDaniel will assume leadership, although it remains up to other members to decide who will be chairman and vice chairman. Both talked Monday about how they could complement each other’s strengths and work to rebuild trust among members. McDaniel, who took office last year, is viewed as a consensus builder. Muhammad, one of the board’s longest-serving members, previously held the chairmanship, bringing experience that appealed to some members.
A switch last year from a supermajority for key decisions — six of nine votes — led to a series of conflicts last year that ended with the board on probation. This year, the board has gathered every week since SACS penalized it and demanded that it improve its governance.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog