Nancy Meister introduced Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis Jr. at a July 21 meeting at Garden Hills Elementary School and gave him her full endorsement.
“I believe he is the right man at the right time and here for the right reasons,” the District 4 Atlanta Board of Education member told the packed house.
Davis was drenched in sweat and had removed his jacket by the end of the night after taking more than an hour’s worth of questions from parents, students and teachers. The crowd frequently applauded his answers.
Davis takes over at a perilous moment for Atlanta Public Schools. Former Superintendent Beverly Hall left with a cloud of suspicion hanging over her head after a cheating scandal hit the school system hard. The system also has been told by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting agency generally known as SACS, to solve governance problems on the school board or face the loss of accreditation for APS high schools.
Davis made clear his first priority is to the system and its students.
“I have decided my commitment and obligation to the children and the institution is greater than my obligation to an employee,” Davis said.
The next day, sitting at a Starbucks across the road from the elementary school, Meister laughed when asked if the job was what she expected when she was elected in 2009. “Over the past 18 months the system has been presented with challenges that I would have never expected: a GBI investigation, SACS probation etc.,” Meister said. “It has been very challenging and very fulfilling.”
Meister said under Hall’s administration, information about the cheating scandal was hard to come by. She said Davis has brought more transparency and open communication to Atlanta Public Schools.
As for her own actions as a school board member, Meister said she has no regrets.
“The majority of this board in February and March began asking hard questions and challenged the process that was being put in place with respect to transparency and open communication,” Meister said. “We all know the chain of events that occurred after that. It has been a challenging 18 months, but … I would have not done anything differently.”
Meister said every decision she’s made has been based on what she feels is best. She said meetings like the one the school board held on July 21 can help restore the system’s image to the wider community. She said her role in restoring the system’s image is to be visible and available at different public meetings.
She said the school system is already making strides toward improving its communication with the community.
“I think we always have to do a better job of getting our message out,” she said.
“We have fantastic teachers and fantastic principals and bright students that are achieving every day. Unfortunately, the sensational story of the cheating gets more exposure than the story of our successes.”
Davis did touch on the perceived conflict between the north Atlanta schools Meister represents and the schools in south Atlanta during his talk July 21, but only to say he doesn’t make a distinction between the two.
“We have one system. I intend to treat it as one system. I wasn’t given pieces,” Davis said. “I don’t recognize differences in parts of the system. … I believe that if you do things ethically, if you do things openly, if you do things transparently than issues of politics are minimized.”
Cynthia Briscoe Brown, co-president of North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools, said she is satisfied with both Meister’s and Davis’ leadership.
“I think that [Davis] is approaching all our challenges with the right amount of both decisiveness and thoughtfulness …,” she said. “I think the board is working together, both among themselves and with him, in ways that I have not seen them do in a very long time.”