Good things happening at APS – great people & hard workers

May 1, 2014

Maureen Downey, who writes at the Get Schooled Blog at the AJC, focuses her piece today on some things that are going well in APS.

Too often we focus on the negatives and then say “fix it”. However, if you will remember during the Board of Education campaign last year, I asked a simple question of the candidates – what does APS do really well (see here)? In many cases, the question stumped the candidates because the focus is always on what is wrong. Why is this important? As I noted last year,

Ultimately, one of the major functions of the BOE is to determine how to allocate scarce resources. If you know what is working, then additional resources do not have to be driven to that area and resources can be directed to areas of greater need. Additionally, if APS is performing a function very well, then the organization can begin considering how to leverage the strength and extend it into others areas of the organization.

Let’s enjoy a few extracts from Maureen’s piece and delight in the things that are going well (and please read the whole thing).

Here’s another illustration. I was on a panel at Emory last weekend with two APS board members,… both former Teach for America teachers. A graduate of Atlanta Public Schools, Westmoreland went onto Princeton. He returned to Atlanta and taught high school. Raised in Columbus and the son of an Army veteran, Esteves taught middle school in Houston before going to Emory Law School.

Both Westmoreland and Esteves are bright young men making a mark on the Atlanta school board.

Stephanie S. Johnson, principal of Maynard Jackson High School. A turnaround specialist with an impressive record of leaving schools better than she found them, …Calling herself the Cruella de Vil of APS, she talked about firing 47 teachers, sitting down with gang members and getting kids on track. Many APS parents have told me that Johnson is remarkable, and they’re right. Johnson has persuaded many parents to keep their teens at Maynard Jackson. I don’t think their trust in her is misplaced.

 If you could have been at that panel, two observations would have heartened you: Great leaders are working 15-hour days to change the culture at APS. And smart young people are doing whatever it takes to help their students succeed.

Included in the piece is a “must watch” video of North Atlanta High School Teacher of the year Danielle Costarides (see here at the bottom of the article).

All great examples of what is going right in APS – hard working intelligent people making a difference in our children’s lives. Applaud them and, most importantly, learn their methods and apply them to the system.

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APS announces school principal changes – former BOE candidate Tom Tidwell issues open letter to the Board of Education

March 2, 2014

This past week the administration announced that a number of APS school principals would not return to those positions next year. While the administration would not confirm who the individuals were, based on a several sources, the list of schools whose principals will not return in FY15 are as follows:

  • Morris Brandon Elementary
  • Miles Elementary
  • Grady High School
  • Mays High School
  • South Atlanta Computer Animation & Design High School
  • Carver – Science & Technology High School
  • Washington – Banking & Finance High School
  • Washington – Early College High School
  • Washington – Health, Sciences & Nutrition High School

The following letter was written to the Board of Education by Tom Tidwell who ran for a seat on the Board in the past election. In addition, Mr. Tidwell serves as President of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.

Dear Board Members,

I am very disturbed with the wholesale removal of principals, including Karen Evans at Brandon and Vincent Murray at Grady. These are two of the highest performing schools in the district, and you can attribute these schools’ exceptional performance more to the principals than to Erroll Davis or Karen Waldon. I don’t know who the other principals are, so it may be that some of the removals are justified for cause or legally required due to state and federal funding. However, it clearly is not justified in the case of Brandon or Grady, and I suspect the same is true for others.

This move begs the question – where should our focus be?  Should we spend our time, money and energy on shaking up schools that are doing well or should we focus on schools that are underperforming? What are we doing for schools that have been failing for years with a revolving door in the principal’s office? To follow-up on the line of questioning that was oft-repeated at yesterday’s budget committee meeting – how does removing Karen Evans improved the educational outcome for Brandon children? Since APS has limited resources, don’t we want the greatest bang for our buck?  Even if we can obtain some marginal improvement by removing Karen Evans, couldn’t we get even greater improvement by replacing a principal at one of our failing schools?

Why is a lame duck superintendent making this decision? This is very similar to the NAHS debacle when they hired Mygrant out of retirement only to fire him 3 months later. If he was such a bad principal, why did APS re-hire him to begin with. If the principals at Brandon and Grady were so bad, why have they been allowed to stay around for so long? I have been a parent at Brandon for 7 years. I am not a huge Karen Evans supporter, but she does a good job, and as far as I can tell, as an involved parent and member of the school council, nothing has changed in the way she operates the school over the past 5 years. If she is doing something that justifies replacement, then she has been doing it for long time and should have been replaced long ago. If that is the case (which I am certain it isn’t), why did APS allow my children to suffer all these years instead of replacing her with a good principal?

There are two courses you can pursue. One is do nothing and lose an incredible amount of talent, intelligence, experience and institutional knowledge. If you choose this route, you better be absolutely sure it’s the right decision because once the principals are terminated/removed/retired, that move is essentially irreversible.  

The other course is to put this on hold and let the new superintendent make the decision. If I was coming into this job as superintendent, I would not want my most experienced leaders at my highest performing schools to be removed just before I start. Instead, I would want them as resources so I could turn to them for guidance as I worked to improve the underperforming schools.

The Board is not supposed to micro-manage the day-to-day operations of APS.  But this is not a situation where a board member is demanding to get his college roommate hired as a principal – that is what got the DeKalb board in trouble.  This is, or at least should be a policy level decision on how to transition from one superintendent to another. It seems to me the Board should be involved in creating a policy for ensuring a smooth transition. To do otherwise could allow a lame-duck superintendent to sabotage the work of the new superintendent (I am not suggesting that Davis would do this, but there is no reason the Board should not take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen).

This is a time for leadership. I know most of you are new, but please don’t let the tail wag the dog. This whole situation smells like internal politics as usual. Please step up and do what is right, and more importantly, what is best for our children.

Thanks,

Tom

For more on this, see the following stories at the links below:

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NAHS Dr. Howard Taylor speaks out after controversies

November 8, 2013

Reporter Newspapers reported that North Atlanta High School principal Dr. Howard “Gene” Taylor addressed the Buckhead Business Association. In his remarks, Taylor said,

…he wants a school that works with the challenges presented by North Atlanta’s diverse student population, which is 30 percent white, 44 percent black and 22 percent Hispanic.

“My job is to make our school a model urban public high school so that you can choose to go there and I’m excited about that work,” …

His comments are a follow-up after the recent controversies at NAHS that included his initial resignation, subsequent promotion – which was not approved by the Board of Education – and subsequent rescission of his resignation. Taylor said,

 “Last year was quite a year,” Taylor said. “All is well that ends well.”

Taylor also addressed some of the initiatives under way at the school,

… he wants to make North Atlanta work for students who may not be college-bound but still need highly specialized technical training…. Every student doesn’t benefit from a schedule that caters to college-bound students… Taylor said, “We‘re trying to work out where we can build in for those students math every day, reading every day.”

He also addressed the alleged institutional racism charges at the school that a subsequent internal APS investigation found was without merit.

Taylor said he also wants to make sure the school is a welcoming environment for all students… [and he] is sensitive to the concerns of parents at the school … if students feel excluded, they are less likely to be successful in class. “My job is to … make them all feel welcome, feel good about their heritage and then get the job done.”

Read the whole article for more information.

 

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