To the editor:
In its finest moments, the life of a professional educator offers deeply gratifying opportunities to share knowledge, witness growth, and resolve conflict between individuals espousing different viewpoints. In over 30 years in education, I have learned that children and teenagers respond well to sincere and positive overtures. They instinctively know honest dialogue leads to knowledge, growth and conflict resolution. Adults, not so much.
When asked by Superintendent Erroll Davis to return to Atlanta Public Schools for a temporary assignment following my retirement last summer, of course I agreed to support the high school and middle school community I called home for 15 years. This was to be a three-month transitional period while APS found a permanent North Atlanta High School principal. Instead, it became a political playground and personal nightmare. Shortly after I began my brief tenure, Atlanta School Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel presented allegations of “institutional racism” at North Atlanta High and announced an investigation.
I provided documents addressing the concerns about a teacher candidate and a graduation coach candidate who were accused of racially discriminatory conduct. For two months, I pushed for answers about these vague, anonymous and unsubstantiated charges. I attempted to initiate honest dialogue and to resolve this conflict. Neither candidate was hired. In response, I told APS “this smells like reverse racism.” Within weeks, the entire administrative team was removed in a sweeping Friday afternoon takeover.
It is important to know that I spent my entire professional career in inner-city public schools. Both in the classroom and as an administrator, my greatest passion was to teach and lead in ways that would benefit at-risk students, especially those from challenging family or economic circumstances. The prospect of a school where students of a certain race or ethnicity receive preferential treatment, or where opportunities for minority students are limited in any way, is anathema to me. Such an environment is also at odds with my 30-year record of service to Atlanta’s students.
Prior to these traumatic events at North Atlanta High, I had concerns about the lack of cooperation from APS’ top leadership as officials attempted to unravel the now-infamous “cheating scandal.” My concerns also included actions of the APS board, the Blue Ribbon Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, and AdvancED. I was offered GBI immunity, not because of inappropriate or illegal actions on my part, but rather because I feared retaliation from APS and others involved in the cover up.
The wide-ranging, one-sided, internal investigation of my former high school faculty and staff spanned months. Students were summoned out of core curriculum class periods and asked targeted questions about specific personnel. An atmosphere of intimidation and confusion was reported by many of the students involved in this rambling process.
To the best of my knowledge, at no point were any of the “accused” ever given the opportunity to hear charges, face their accusers, or present information in their defense. A fundamental premise of any fair administrative or judicial process is the right to respond to allegations of wrongdoing. To this day, I have never been contacted or interviewed about the alleged activities that are purported to have taken place at North Atlanta during my time there.
After a year-long process, costing untold taxpayer dollars, and featuring a contrived and carefully timed pre-election release to the public, it seems quite likely this piece of investigative work will be slanted by APS to reveal exactly what Superintendent Davis, Chair McDaniel, Associate Superintendent Smith, and Deputy Superintendent Waldon need to justify their attack on an entire community, and especially the students, they were hired or elected to support.
In light of this and recent events…is this the way you want to run a business…especially as one as important as one that teaches our kids?
I wish continued success for Principal Taylor, and was glad to hear that he plans to fulfill his contract as principal of North Atlanta High School.