School board member Nancy Meister, who represents the North Atlanta High School community, clashed with board chair Reuben McDaniel over allegations of institutional racism at North Atlanta High, as revealed in emails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
APS school chief Erroll Davis replaced the leadership team of the Buckhead high school 12 days ago, angering hundreds of parents who packed a meeting last week to demand an explanation.
At the meeting, Davis was in the unusual role of attempting to convince 900 parents and students that their beloved school was not nearly as good as they thought. Many parents remain dissatisfied with Davis’ explanation of why he purged the school leaders and believe there is a political subtext at work.
Their suspicions have been fueled in part by a series of emails.
In the emails, board chair McDaniel asked APS Associate Superintendent Steve Smith to collect data from North Atlanta that breaks down the school’s graduation rates, and other performance metrics, by race. He asked for an ethnic breakdown of teachers and staff who were recommended for positions by interim principal Mark MyGrant.
“I think it is critical that we understand these issues as we go through the principal selection process so that we can factor in some of the skills required to address the racial issues at North Atlanta in our new leadership,” McDaniel wrote in an email.
Meister responded in an email 35 minutes later that the analytical search for evidence of racism shouldn’t be focused just on North Atlanta, which is in her district. “We should have this conducted for all high schools across the district. This will allow us to have an equitable and fair analysis across all schools,” Meister wrote.
McDaniel wrote back that he agreed gathering data across the district “would be interesting,” but not practical. He wrote: “My purpose for requesting the data is to begin to understand statistically the evidence I have received from parents at North Atlanta indicating that we have a problem there that is based in an institutional racism mentality.”
Now, Meister is taking her concerns public. Here is a note she sent out to her District 4 constituents:
I have received hundreds of emails and telephone calls over the past week. In response to your concerns, and in an effort to answer your questions about my position, I am copying you on a note that I have sent to the Board Chair, Reuben McDaniel.
As many of you may or may not know, I have been a parent in this system for 16 years and my sons graduated from North Atlanta. There are so many of great families, amazing teachers and incredible students at this school. Although this past week has been extremely painful, I have confidence that this community will remain committed and engaged. Decades of work has gone into this cluster and I know we have a committed community here to make our schools the best they can be.
And here is the note that Meister sent APS school board chair Reuben McDaniel:
I understand from your email that there is a possibility of a legislative meeting next week, the purpose of which is to consider an extension of Mr. Davis’ contract. This letter is to inform you, the entire board, as well as my constituents who have been inquiring about this topic, and the state of North Atlanta, of my grave concerns about scheduling such a vote at this time.
First, I believe any consideration of extending Mr. Davis’ employment should be delayed until a complete and thorough investigation of the controversial firing and reassignment at North Atlanta High School has been initiated and completed.
While I fully understand and respect that it is in realm of the Superintendent to hire, fire and re-assign employees, the way in which the termination of Mr. MyGrant was executed and academy leaders reassigned, is cause for concern. The complete reassignment of an entire administrative team, a new Principal taking over at the end of the month, without any consideration to the repercussions, remains a mystery. At the very least, I believe that the district representative and not just the Board Chair should have been apprised of the situation and asked for opinions with regard to their constituency, prior to its execution.
Additionally, I firmly believe the entire Board should have been made privy to an unprecedented decision of this magnitude. While the Superintendent claims this to be a simple personnel issue, I can tell you my/our constituents have lost all trust in Mr. Davis, given his changing explanations and abrupt actions.
On Friday, Mr. Davis gave no reason other than he wanted to give the new principal an opportunity to put his permanent leadership team in place. That explanation failed to clarify why Mr. MyGrant was abruptly terminated two weeks before his long-scheduled departure. Subsequent, Mr. Davis’ explanation to a meeting of nearly 1000 parents and students became one in which he acted to save North Atlanta from being taken over by the State of Georgia as a “failing” school.
When the State DOE unequivocally denied that it ever contemplated such an action the explanation changed again, claiming that North Atlanta was woefully underperforming academically. I believe this to be factually inaccurate. If I am incorrect, I question whether it was ever communicated to the interim principal, prior to coming out of retirement that this situation existed. It is my hope that the Superintendent’s team would initiate a plan with any school in this situation.
In addition to the reconstitution of North Atlanta, I believe the Board should, before voting on Mr. Davis’ contract, investigate the anonymous allegations of alleged racism at North Atlanta, an issue you raised in a series of e-mails with me and mentioned in response to a question from a TV reporter on Friday.
I believe you and I should agree to publicly release those e-mails so the public can make a determination as to the delicate nature of the libelous allegations. We need to clear the air on this issue once and for all, given the nature of the accusations, the anonymous nature and the lack of any factual support.
Finally, I believe we should postpone any decision on an extension until the Board concludes its Superintendent visioning work for APS. When a contract extension was first brought up, the Superintendent’s Visioning Committee had preliminary discussion about a visioning session. While we have done some work as a full board, it is not complete. Through our diligent SACS work we agreed that oversight and accountability, a topic we addressed in the past, was one we committed to focus on in the future. Given the State of the Schools speech in August, this Board needs to govern and set administrative expectations with an immediate sense of urgency so that the parents of the children attending one of the failing APS schools identified by the Superintendent have some hope of improvement.
Remember, Mr. Davis said 80% of APS’ schools were failing, that we’re operating a dual system of schools, and that none of the over 220 education reform models and initiatives tried by APS over the years, had worked.
We owe it to the students, parents and taxpayers of Atlanta to make sure we have the answers to all of these questions before extending a contract for an additional year. However, should this Board decide that a vote is in order, it is my desire that through our lessons learned and our SACS agreement, we adhere to our previous endeavors.
As a reminder in our SACS work required action #5 suggested that a final selection of the Superintendent should be determined by more than a simple majority vote of approval by the Board. We, as a Board then made a decision to require a 7 to 2 vote of the seated Board members, for hiring of a Superintendent or Interim Superintendent. It is my hope that we come to a consensus around this.
I hope you can appreciate and understand my concerns and those of the community that I serve.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog