In his explanation to nearly 900 parents and students at North Atlanta High on why he gutted the school’s leadership team in a blitzkrieg eight days ago, APS school chief Erroll Davis cited the school’s underperformance.
“This should be our premier school in this city,” he told the crowd. “It’s not a sin to be in the middle of the pack. But I don’t want that to be the standard for North Atlanta High School. With the kind of commitment, with the resources that are available in this community, this school should be at the head of the pack.”
Unflappable and polite, Davis faced tough questions from a community angry that the interim principal was dismissed and the beloved leaders of the school’s small learning communities reassigned. That startling action — carried out without any discussion with school board members or the North Atlanta High community — has provoked hundreds of angry emails, a student walkout and the heated meeting where Davis met his critics.
Despite the inquisition, Davis held fast that North Atlanta was not performing to its potential and graduating only six out 10 students. While Davis took nearly 60 questions, he left much unsaid.
For instance, he repeatedly cited North Atlanta’s failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress, a measure used under No Child Left Behind to rate schools. As of this year, Georgia is no longer bound to AYP because it won a waiver from the unpopular — and some say unfair — federal mandate.
AYP had escalating requirements for all sub-groups within a school so that high-performing schools could be deemed failing by the performance of a small cohort of students. Last year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warned that 82 percent of school could be failing to meet AYP by the end of the year. Because Congress failed to act to change the law, the White House is granting waivers from NCLB to states that offer alternative accountability systems. Georgia is among 32 states that have won waivers and renamed how they judge school performance.
New designations — priority schools and focus schools — replace the “needs improvement” label in Georgia. Priority schools are the lowest-performing 5 percent of public schools in the state; Focus schools represent the 10 percent of schools just above them. North Atlanta was not on either list, although there are a dozen Atlanta high schools in the priority category.
This leads to the obvious question: Why didn’t Atlanta transform its lowest performing schools first and then work its way up?
In yanking the North Atlanta leaders, Davis temporarily replaced them with eight Central Office administrators, including coordinators of both world languages and gifted and talented services. That means key central office jobs that presumably impact the other 47,500 students in APS are empty.
Davis’ explanation that the timing was right — a new principal starts next week and North Atlanta moves to a shiny new campus next year — raises even more questions. Davis stressed that he wanted new principal Gene Taylor to be unencumbered as he assembles his new team.
“I looked at performance and I’ve come to the conclusion that with a dynamic new principal coming that I want him to have every opportunity to succeed,” Davis said.
But wouldn’t Taylor want at least a few veteran administrators on hand to help him figure out the place or at least where the coffee filters and extra keys are kept?
Maynard Jackson High School also has a new principal, and parents clamoring for dramatic change after Davis promised them that he would transform the school into a “shining example” of academic success. Yet, there was no comparable shakeup.
According to the state Report Card, 84.7 percent of North Atlanta students are “meeting and exceeding standards,” compared t0 72.5 percent of Jackson students.
Despite Davis’ emphasis on AYP, he hired a principal from a school that also didn’t make AYP. Taylor is coming to North Atlanta High School from Lilburn Middle School, where he has been principal since 2008.
According to the state 2010-2011 Report Card, Lilburn Middle School did not AYP in 2010-2011 for academic performance. Lilburn Middle is also on the state’s Focus list this year.
But AYP doesn’t tell the whole story of Lilburn Middle, a 93 percent minority school where 92 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. Taylor has done remarkable work at Lilburn, and North Atlanta High ought to be thrilled to get him.
Lilburn’s CRCT performance reveals impressive growth, especially in reading. In fact, 68 percent of eighth graders at the school met the standard for reading and 26 percent exceeded, a remarkable accomplishment for a school where 22 percent of students have limited English proficiency, according to the state report card. The school achieved Title I distinguished School Status in 2009 and 2010.
But North Atlanta parents and students would argue that AYP also doesn’t tell the whole story of their school.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog