APS school chief: “Atlanta is poised to succeed.”

 Erroll B. Davis Jr.

Erroll B. Davis Jr.

Here is an essay by APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis, Jr., on the progress that the district has made in reforming and reinventing itself:

The theme of this year’s annual State of the Schools in Atlanta event was “Children expect the world of us.” It was an occasion for the community and APS educators and administrators to come together at The Carter Center to focus on the importance of education in the lives of our children. The feeling conveyed was equivalent to what we as parents and grandparents feel when we look into the eyes of our own children and grandchildren and commit to doing all in our power to provide them with more than we had.

As APS emerges from what some have described as ‘The Perfect Storm’ of issues, it is important that we maintain the focus on our students and do all that we can to nurture and educate them so that they can become viable 21st Century citizens of the world.

The challenges we have overcome during the past year have been numerous and major, including eliminating a threat to the accreditation of our high schools, fixing a major budget gap, managing the repercussions of what was arguably the worst test cheating scandal in the nation, a 10-year redistricting and effectively transitioning new leadership in most of our schools and in the district’s administration, especially within the Curriculum and Instruction Division.

Over the coming year, we will focus on the wide differentials in our student academic achievement based on the results of the 2012 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. For example, on the science test, our top three elementary schools averaged 97 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards, while the average of the lowest three schools was 36 percent meeting or exceeding standards. These results reveal a tale of two separate and distinct school systems within APS. Good organizations do not allow these kinds of variances to exist. Good organizations find isolated pockets of excellence unacceptable.

Looking ahead, we will be focusing on excellence, equity, ethics and engagement. Former basketball coach Pat Riley put it this way: “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to be better.” For APS to truly embrace excellence, we need to ensure that academic achievement is not dependent on where our students reside or what schools they attend. It must be infused throughout the system. The only true excellence is systemic excellence.

The redistricting process resulted in the closing of seven schools and redrawing attendance boundaries for approximately two-thirds of our schools. Over 70 percent of our schools were affected, either by closures or redrawn attendance lines. This effort was not about saving money; it focused on reallocating resources to fully staff and provide more support, opportunity and equity to the schools that remain open. This includes assistant principals in every school, along with guidance counselors, instructional coaches and nurses. It also includes art, band, chorus and orchestra in every middle and high school and accelerated math in every middle school.

Following the cheating scandal, APS now has a zero tolerance policy for unethical behavior. Of the approximately 170 employees named in the special state investigation report, 135 are no longer with the district. And only about two dozen employees still await dismissal hearings, and none remain on the district payroll. Mandatory annual ethics training is in place for all employees. And I have stressed that the consequences for unethical behavior will always be much more severe than those associated with failing to meet organizational goals and targets.

Lastly, we as an organization will never get to where we need to be on behalf of our students without the continued support of our parents and the larger community. This renewed engagement will be nurtured through more effective communications and community outreach. We are focusing on excellent customer service at all of our schools, as well as at the central office. We want our schools and facilities to be welcoming places for everyone.

APS is poised to succeed. The infrastructure for our success is being implemented. It remains only for effective leadership to execute the transformation necessary to make it happen. And, I believe we are slowly but surely putting that in place.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

74 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

August 25th, 2012
6:04 pm

@ Bernie

I’m sorry, did you have a specific point in there somewhere?
BETWEEN the SLOGANS and the PONTIFICATING I must have MISSED it.

Reality check

August 25th, 2012
6:15 pm

Being angry with Mr. Davis for the bus situation is misguided. If you truly want change, call hour state representative. The mile and mile and a half was in place when I started school in 1965. School systems are not reimbursed by the state for those students, but have been picking them up as a courtesy. Unfortunately, with budgets being cut year after year for the past 8 years and some systems can’t afford to fund schools for 180 days, systems have to cut somewhere. It does no good to be angry with Mr. Davis. He is not responsible for the funding formula. Call your state rep and demand a change or send a check to the school for the cost of picking up your child.

another comment

August 25th, 2012
6:19 pm

My Children went to a Catholic School in Buckhead while I had the fortune to afford it. The school did not have a bus or even a $2,000 to 2,500 option as some of the private schools now have found to make additional revenue from. Only 7th and 8th graders are allowed to ride the Marta bus which stops on Peachtree in front of the school with parental permission. To cut down on the number of people using the carpool and clogging it up they mandate that those who live within a 1 mile radious must walk to school or ride a bike, for which their is secure bike racks on the campus. Since it would be quicker to park at the Baptist church accross the street and have your child walk out the walker exit, you must prove you live within the 1 mile for K-6 and 1.5 for your child to walk to school. Every single day, you saw the residents of Peachtree Hills gladly walk their children back and forth to school Morning and Afternoon. Up and down East Wesley, Peachtree, Peachtree Way, West Wesley, ect…

If you were not going to be available, you had to arrange for another adult, an older child, a nanny, or your child to go to the after school program ( which you had to pay for).

By the way their were drugs being sold out of some old apartments along Peachtree way ( how do I know, the universal signal tennis shoes, thrown up over the electrica lines) The school has since found the money and bought these and torn them down for green space. The Children were also lockdown at school one day due to a schooting at this said apartment complex too.

Pride and Joy

August 25th, 2012
6:44 pm

Davis says “He says “Children expect the world of us”
That’s absolutely untrue.
What children expect is only what they know.
Their experiences are very limited. When all they have attended is a lousy public school, they expect all schools to be lousy.
I grew up in a home where the normal volume of my parents was consistently set to “scream” and the default attitude was hate. That’s what I came to expect from all parents. As a teenager, when I went on a sleepover, I observed how other family’s related to one another. They didn’t scream at one another and most were kind and loving to one another. I had no idea other people lived that way. I only knew what my own experience is.
Davis’ statement that “children expect the world from us” is a thinly-veiled attempt to try to convince the readers that the job of the school system is borderline impossible. It’s a way to give an excuse when the school system fails. You see, it’s not their fault, it’s just that kids expect too much.
Davis is better than Beverly Hall but everybody is better than Beverly Hall. He has made some changes or has claimed to make some positive changes. I hope he is right but the proof isn’t here yet. We just have to wait and see.

another comment

August 25th, 2012
6:49 pm

Prior to that when my child was in the Cobb County Elementary Schools, when they were flush with money. They had the policy that elementary students would be bused to .5 miles from the school bus stop. Well when my daughter was in second grade some brillant mind in bussing at Cobb County thought that could count at the front of a subdivision. I told them no, it could not, the roads to the subdivision ( that are not gated private roads) are deeded over to the county and are public roads, therefore, they must come into the subdivision if any student lives beyond .5 miles from the bus stop at the front of the subdivision. I told them that my house was clocking .679 miles on my odometer and there were several other houses with students now in my subdivision in Phase II that were well over 1 mile. At first they pulledy my house and tried to say I was very close to the front and the bus stop. They must have looked it up on Google earth. I said only problem is there is the community retention pond aka lake, which my house backs up to and the front street backs up to, but a second grader in not Jesus and can not walk on Water. The actual streets measure .679 miles. Then I listed out the addresses and the children that were in phase II. They agree to come out, they tried to come say the roads weren’t big enough for the school buses to turn around. I told them the fire trucks gome in and make the radius of the cul de sac all the time to check the fire hydrants. Also, Cobb County, would have never permitted the subdivision and accepted the roads if they did not meet DOD specs. They finally gave up and set up two additional spots inside the subdivision.

To me it was the County wanting to pick and choose the policy, and not enforce it correctly. This was also during flush times, and these were $350-450K + homes at the time, so plenty of tax base for them to stop the bus a couple of times. When they stop it every 100′ or less on Atlanta Rd. for 1 kid even now.

Pride and Joy

August 25th, 2012
6:51 pm

another comment, what is your point? Is your point that if parents really cared about their kids they would walk them to school or let the nanny do it?
I hope not.
Surely you realize that most Atlanta students are from single-family homes where mama already has to be at work before the kids get ready for school and there sure isn’t enough money for a nanny to do it.
Most parents want what’s best for their kids and often what is best for their kids is simply out of fnancial reach. I have a solid middle class income and I struggle just to afford the affordable tuition at my kids’ private school. I’m working class. My neighbors all work too. There isn’t a spare stay at mother to walk out kids and because I have to pay for private school tuition and pay exorbitant property taxes from which I don’t benefit, there is no more money for an after school babysitter/nanny.
When someone like me can’t afford the lifestyle you enjoy, just think how hard it is for the mom’s who don’t make my middle-class salary.

Bernie

August 25th, 2012
8:11 pm

Reality check @ 6:15 pm -
catlady 4:52 pm –

I hate doing this after reading comments:

Here is your reality check – Please READ SLOWLY! and try to keep up!

Many want to place the blame on the parents. as being a Bum, Lazy, Stupid or Not Caring. That is a LIE and far from the truth. These parents care deeply for all of their children. No less or more than any of you here. However when sudden changes are made with the care and safety of their children, it causes the parents whom most are single, other painful ripples, loss of a job, less payable hours, potential promotions, rise in expense they are not prepared for or unable to make. to them its LIFE Changing. for many here its just a slight adjustment like, do I want a coffee break or NOT? Those two decisions are World’s apart!

So when you make comments try to have a bit of compassion and empathy for those parents who are faced with such issues. I wish things were different, but this is the REAL REALITY of our current condition. Some of US are more Blessed than others.
realize that! but do not blame those who are not as lucky as you!

Mr. Davis in his actions, in this specific situation was done on Very SHORT NOTICE, without any prior notice or planning nor previous warning of a change in Bus Service. A service on which many and most Parents and children have come to rely upon for years without question. There in lies the crux of the real Problem.

Parents rely on the schools Leadership to Plan ahead and prepare for such changes
long term. This was not a normal process of decision making the Parents and the children of Atlanta have come to expect or become accustomed too even historically. So the failure of that decision, rests solely with Mr. Davis.

It seems it was Mr.Davis who was the only one with APS who was aware of this need and change in policy at that time.

I hope this further clarifies some stated misunderstandings about the argument raised. It had nothing to do with the parents willingness or un=willingness to insure about the children’s goings and comings to school from the parents.

This was about a New Administrator announcing a new policy of “NO” available school Bus transportation on short notice, no consultation or meeting with parents or anyone else, when this has never been an APS issue before!

My comments were about the handling and fallout of his DECISION.

I too am a citizen of Atlanta who attended Catholic and public schools around Atlanta. In the 60’s and 70’s Downtown Atlanta was my playground, Literally. I played and rode on the many elevators and offices of Atlanta’s oldest sky scrappers, buildings and hotels many times over the years coming up. I had to catch (2) two Buses one way each day to and from school each day and then walk a bit to and from home. ALL In every weather imaginable.

However, at no time did My parents or I or sisters worry or think about a sex offender, rapist or a bad guy doing something to me or my sisters. There were no speeding cars going 50mph on residential streets, there was no drug selling on every corner. There were no drug users loitering on or around every block, there were no high incidents of missing kids or the many murders or robberies in Atlanta during that time. there were not high numbers of vacant homes on every block like now. All of these things are different NOW for the children of Atlanta. To dismiss any of those…… is a Funeral in waiting!

verimax

August 25th, 2012
9:53 pm

more spin and BS from this overpaid “administrator” about how good the atlanta schools are. They are no better than the last 10 years and all the poor performance was covered up by massive cheating.

What About Inman?

August 25th, 2012
10:10 pm

Poised to succeed, huh? So we take the highest performing middle school in the district…and a very crowded one at that…and redistrict hundreds more into it. We take students from King and Coan…schools under-enrolled, and send them to Inman. Now Inman has a trailer park out front for 7th grade with students and desks cramped wall to wall. Sixth grade is bursting at the seams with 35-40 per class, and 8th grade is not far behind. All for what? Is this the new success? Looks to me like Inman was just redistricted to keep Title I funds and to hell with success.

MM

August 25th, 2012
10:18 pm

So Davis says “Atlanta is poised to succeed.” Sounds like the crap that used to ooze non-stop from Beverly Hall’s lips. The usual “Atlanta Speak” for business as usual. Meaningless drivel.

BTW, where’s Beverly now? In jail as she deserves? No, the District Attorney is still avoiding doing his job. Business as usual in Atlanta GA. Two kinds of justice: one for the powerful elites and one for everybody else. Beverly is just another mugger and should be treated like one. Not in Atlanta.

What’s that? She destroyed the educational possibilities for several generations of black kids. No mugger ever caused that much destruction. You people got some nerve.

Meet Errol B. Davis Jr., the new boss. Same as the old boss. (Thanks Pete!)

N. GA Teacher

August 25th, 2012
10:41 pm

Any good leader provides a strong, understandable, sensible direction for his system, with a plan for achieving it. Has Davis done this? If so, he has done well so far. It will be his responsibility to support his employees. Hopefully his plan includes strong discipline and school safety, legitimizing academics (students EARN grades instead of being promoted to look good), encouraging student’s academic and extracurricular interests, communicating with parents/guardians, and treating teachers professionally. I would guess that the “top 3″ schools mentioned earlier in the blog have these qualities.

AlreadySheared

August 25th, 2012
11:56 pm

‘Good organizations find isolated pockets of excellence unacceptable.’

Ya – I would sleep easier if things were uniformly lousy.

Seriously, I am hard-pressed to think of another sentence where ‘unacceptable” could be switched with “praiseworthy” or “inspiring” to good effect.

20/20

August 26th, 2012
12:55 am

It is time for Mr. Davis to hit the road jack and take Karen Waith him.There is no strategic plan. He also lies and is out of touch with reaility. Ethics is still on leave at APS.

Reality Check

August 26th, 2012
2:39 pm

@ Bernie…read slowly, keep up, ha ha ha. Truth is Bernie, I am a single mother. Bernie is normally a male name, so I am assuming you are male, possibly a single father. I have only one inome, no child support,don’t earn as much as my male counterparts, and no time to waste. If something needs to be changed, put your energy into finding out where to go and who to speak to. Plans change all the time and I had to change with them. Life has taught me to be the Queen of Plan B. I have a great deal of compassion, empathy and always stand up for those with no voice. My family jokes about this, calls it “fighting windmills.”
I give myself a 24 hour rule when something upsets me. 24 hours gives you time to see it wasn’t as important as you initially thought or gives you time to collect your thoughts and how you want to present them. I see you are still extremely upset more than 24 hours after the fact so spend your energy speaking with the group that can change this…your state representatives.

AlreadySheared

August 27th, 2012
12:29 am

@What About Inman?

Reread Mr. Davis’ comments – pockets of excellence are unacceptable. It’s all about equity. Feel the equity at Inman now?

Ed Johnson

August 27th, 2012
8:14 am

Davis said: “Good organizations find isolated pockets of excellence unacceptable.”

Indeed they do, or should.

With this statement, Davis touches on the idea of moving APS to become a system rather than allowing it to remain a collection of disassociated schools where excellence simply equates to top rank.

His is a much needed move and step toward learning to improve the whole of APS for everybody involved. Key to doing this necessarily must include a willingness to learn from those “isolated pockets of excellence,” not to disrupt or drag them down for the sake of achieving “equity.”

It should be obvious that APS today is not one system, at all. If anything, APS today is at least two systems, as Davis mentions. However, APS today is in the process of becoming at least three systems, as NAEP TUDA results show. It will likely take one heck of a paradigm shift on the part of some folks to help reverse this and get APS to become one system. It isn’t a trivial challenge.

Still, recognizing that “[g]ood organizations find isolated pockets of excellence unacceptable” is good start worth standing up for, although pursuits of “organizational [numerical] goals and targets” can quickly undermine having stood up.

AlreadySheared

August 27th, 2012
8:45 am

@Ed,

“Key to doing this necessarily must include a willingness to learn from those “isolated pockets of excellence,” not to disrupt or drag them down for the sake of achieving “equity.” ”

And yet the superintendent is cramming new King and Coan students into an already crowded Inman in the sincere hope that they will be sprinkled with magic Inman dust and thus have their scores raised.

This shows a blithe and willful ignorance of the fact that the students make the school, and not vice versa. The super has identified a pocket of kids who come to school from $500k houses purchased by married, college-educated moms and dads, and is mixing in groups of kids who are otherwise in the hope of….In hope of just WHAT, exactly?

bu2

August 27th, 2012
8:46 am

How about “Good organziations find large swaths of failure unacceptable”? This was not an off-the-cuff comment but an editorial for the AJC. His choice of words shows what he is thinking, even if he doesn’t realize it himself. Hammer down the loose nail so it doesn’t make the rest of us look bad. So now we have this attitude at the top of the school system, not just something outstanding individual students have to deal with.

If APS is two or three systems, its not because of the money spent. The poorest schools get the most money.

AlreadySheared

August 27th, 2012
9:31 am

@bu2,
Agreed. The intended meaning of his statement is as you paraphrased, but his maladroit turn of phrase is inadvertently telling.

Pride and Joy

August 27th, 2012
10:02 am

BU2, you are right as rain when you say “How about “Good organziations find large swaths of failure unacceptable”?
That’s the way it should be. A good organization is not satisfied to have a few pockets of acceptable schools. ALL schools should be decent and acceptable.

Pride and Joy

August 27th, 2012
10:09 am

Already Sheared, you have a great sense of humor. I laughed out loud at “yet the superintendent is cramming new King and Coan students into an already crowded Inman in the sincere hope that they will be sprinkled with magic Inman dust and thus have their scores raised.”
Touche’
I also suspect something more sinister. When Davis sends new King and Coan students to the severely overcrowded successful Inman school, he hides the problem. It’s easy to bury some failing kids under the 95% of successful students.
So if 100% of Inman kids are passing or exceeding the CRCT scores and he sneaks some failing COAN kids in there, the COAN kids might fail again but…if the 100% success rate drops to 95% success rate because of those failing students, no alarms go off because Inman, with a 95% success rate would still be considered successful even if the kids from COAN were still not learning.
This is also why Davis does not want Drew charter to have a high school. Davis wants those successful Drew kids to transfer to his overpriced and overspent Jackson High School to raise the aggregate or average scores of that school.
Transferring students back and forth to make teh average scores go up is not solving a problem. It is only hiding the problem.
Good post.
Thanks for the good points and the good laugh.
P and J

Who will be left to teach our kids?

August 27th, 2012
8:24 pm

If one takes a look at the high crime rates and the high populatoni of sex offenders in the APS district, then anyone could understand the absurdity in expecting students to walk 1.5 miles to and from school in gang infested, combat zone neighborhoods. If children expected the world of APS, then they would expect that the district would put their safety ahead of budgets. High school students would expect the district to allow them to take 4 courses per semester instead pursuing cost costing measures and dumping them with all 8 courses at once which almost guarantees that GPAs will fall dramatically. But look at the money that’s saved by almost doubling the work load of teachers who go from instructing 90 students at a time to 180 students at a time. Students would expect that security in APS schools would be adequate and that students who are violent toward other students would get more than a 1 day suspension. While Mr. Davis’ slogan “children expect the world of us” is catchy it’s sheer rhetoric and nothing more.

What About Inman?

August 27th, 2012
9:55 pm

@ AlreadySheared

Yeah, so pockets of excellence are unacceptable…so he’s going to make sure no middle school is excellent. Brilliant! These great minds at APS have it all figured out. Ridiculous comment. He should be saying that failing schools are unacceptable. He should be working to make the failing schools better, not working to destroy the successful schools.

Ray

August 28th, 2012
4:38 pm

I feel for Erroll Davis reading some of the comments here. Some on here clearly will never be happy with anyone who is in charge of running public schools — particularly urban school districts. I have met Mr. Davis and he is a wonderful, decent man, who strikes me as truly and genuinely trying to do the right thing, and do what is best for Atlanta Public Schools.

There is so much I could say in response some of the posters here, and just don’t have the time and energy to even start. I will limit myself to responding to What About Inman, Already Sheared, Pride and Joy, that no students, zero, were transferred from Coan to Inman. It’s hard to take any of your rants seriously when you don’t even get basic facts straight. Lord help Erroll Davis in trying to satisfy people like you.