A year after taking over as principal at North Atlanta, Howard Taylor says he’s leading a school that has challenges unique within the Atlanta Public Schools system.
Taylor spoke to the Buckhead Business Association at its regular breakfast meeting on Nov. 7. He told BBA members about his vision for Buckhead’s public high school. He 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,” Taylor told the BBA.
Taylor was named principal in October 2012. He came to North Atlanta shortly after Atlanta Public Schools officials removed former principal Mark MyGrant, who was days away from retirement. APS officials said the leadership changes were about school performance.
Taylor almost didn’t stay at the high school long enough to make his one-year anniversary mark. In September, he said he would resign in December. Then he agreed to take a promotion within APS to oversee the entire North Atlanta cluster, but the Board of Education would not approve the promotion. Taylor decided to stick around anyway.
Taylor avoided recounting the woes of the last year, addressing it indirectly during his presentation.
“Last year was quite a year,” Taylor said. “All is well that ends well.”
Leigh Darby, a parent at North Atlanta and member of the Parent Teacher Student Association, said in a phone interview that Taylor has been well received by parents at the school. He’s added more advanced classes for ninth and 10th grade students and implemented a stricter dress code, Darby said.
“It’s just a different feel of the school,” Darby said. “I think the kids respect him and I think they respect the new building.”
Taylor told the BBA that he wants to make North Atlanta work for students who may not be college-bound but still need highly-specialized technical training. He said students at the school alternate subjects on different days.
That’s fine for students who have support at home to help them pass their classes. But North Atlanta is a Title 1 school, meaning it has a large number of students who receive lunch for free or at a reduced price, a common measure of the poverty level of a student body. Every student doesn’t benefit from a schedule that caters to college-bound students, Taylor said.
“If you’re a struggling student who misses school, that schedule is ruinous,” Taylor said. “We‘re trying to work out where we can build in for those students math every day, reading every day.”
Taylor said he also wants to make sure the school is a welcoming environment for all students. Last year, Atlanta Public Schools officials launched an investigation into allegations of institutional racism at North Atlanta. Investigators found no evidence to substantiate the claims, but Taylor is sensitive to the concerns of parents at the school.
He said if students feel excluded, they are less likely to be successful in class.
“My job is to have the world in the school, not segregate out the poor, segregate out minorities,” Taylor said. “We make them all feel welcome, feel good about their heritage, and then get the job done.”