Last night Board of Education member Nancy Meister (D-4) hosted a community meeting for the parents of the North Atlanta High School to review a series of events regarding the resignation, subsequent promotion and then the BOE rejection of the promotion of principal Dr. Howard “Gene” Taylor. Also in attendance were Steve Smith, Associate Superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools, Chairman of the Board of Education Reuben McDaniel (At Large 8) and Board member Courtney English (At Large 7). For more background on the events leading up to last night and video of the event, see here, AJC here, Reporter Newspapers here and Patch here.
Meister opened the meeting and said that she had stood with Dr. Taylor when he was originally hired and had strongly supported him throughout the last week.
From then on, a number of parents asked very pointed questions and then directed a series of very angry and skeptical statements towards Mr. Smith indicating that the entire process had been mismanaged by the APS administration. My sense is that there were four core questions to which parents wanted answers.
The first is – what structural issues did Dr. Taylor face in dealing with the APS administration that led to his initial resignation?
Per Mr. Smith, Dr. Taylor had voiced that he was having difficulty in getting the personnel he wanted approved by the central office, that when approvals were forthcoming they were not timely and that he had to constantly overcome a series of bureaucratic roadblocks set up by the central office. In essence, Dr. Taylor believes that he did not have the autonomy he needed at the school level to make the decisions he thought were appropriate and required for him to successfully perform his job. It is important to note that Mr. Smith conceded that the problems encountered by Dr. Taylor are systemic to all of APS and that the administration has been aware of them for some period of time.
The second question was – given Dr. Taylor’s concerns and issues with the APS bureaucracy, what specific actions was the administration taking to correct the problems encountered by Dr. Taylor?
Mr. Smith indicated that a “Principal’s Counsel” was being established that would have access to senior administration officials and that would give the principals a direct line of communication into the central office. What Mr. Smith did not say was what direct steps were being taken to correct the bureaucratic inefficiencies and roadblocks that admittedly exist in APS and that led to Dr. Taylor submitting his resignation in the first place. My sense was that the parents considered this move as just adding an additional layer of “committees” and “bureaucracy” instead of addressing the fundamental problem of administration inertia and failure to perform.
The third question was – what was the process followed by the administration that ultimately led to the Board calling an emergency meeting yesterday to consider the Dr. Taylor promotion and which then failed to get sufficient support on the Board to even get a recorded vote?
It is important to understand in advance that the Board did not see Superintendent Davis’ letter announcing the promotion of Dr. Taylor until they were already in executive session late Monday afternoon. Additionally, when the news came out it was also clear that several key senior members of APS were not even aware that the decision had been made by Superintendent Davis. And from the Board’s reaction and failure to even hold an up or down vote yesterday, it was also clear that Superintendent Davis had not consulted with the Board to ensure that he had the support for such a key decision amidst the ongoing controversy. Effectively, the entire process was one misstep after another in which Davis did not build the necessary consensus to get to a near term solution.
And the final question is – what happens now?
The answer to this question was limited. Essentially, Dr. Taylor has been offered the opportunity to stay as principal at NAHS and submit his credentials for consideration in the search for a new North Cluster Executive Director. However, Dr. Taylor has already indicated that his resignation is effective December 1. Both Chairman McDaniel and BOE member Courtney English indicated that, by not holding the vote on Dr. Taylor’s promotion yesterday, the Board maintained its ability to reconsider the item at a later date.
So what is the bottom line on this matter after four days of drama? The structural flaws that exist in how the central office supports the schoolhouse leaders are on full display. The process is bureaucratic and not driven to provide the resources and support the principals need. And the end result is the potential loss of some great talent in the schoolhouse. Further, the steps necessary to fix the problems do not appear to even be under consideration. Additionally, it is also clear that there is a disconnect between the administration and the Board of Education and again, there does not appear to be a solution in sight on this either.
There are systemic problems in how the APS bureaucracy operates and there is a lack of consensus driven leadership displayed by the superintendent and the Board of Education. And this is why the upcoming Board of Education election is so critical to Atlanta and its education system.
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