When word circulated recently that two principals of Buckhead schools were leaving their posts at the end of this school year, some parents expressed dismay, partly because they’ve been there before.
On April 17 the public became aware that both North Atlanta High School Principal Dr. Howard “Gene” Taylor and Sutton Middle School Principal Audrey Sofianos had announced that they would not return next school year.
This is the second time since September that Taylor has quit, though he returned to his position just days after that announcement. Sofianos indicated in a letter to Sutton families she was leaving to focus on health and family, and could not continue in a full-time job.
Additonally, Morris Brandon Elementary Principal Karen Evans was one of seven APS principals reportedly told in March by the system that they would not be returning to their jobs next year.
Soon after the announcements on April 17, North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools (NAPPS) called on the Atlanta Board of Education “to act now.” NAPPS is a nonprofit parent group that works to provide an informational forum, and to help support student and school needs in Buckhead.
Saying that the school system has 19 principal vacancies district-wide, NAPPS wrote to the school board, “This shows there is a bigger theme than just our cluster. We need our district to alter their model and we need the new BOE to act now.”
Sidney Baker, APS’ interim executive director for the north region, said 253 candidates had expressed interest in the Morris Brandon position, 144 in the Sutton post and 82 in the North Atlanta job.
Patricia Israel, a board member of NAPPS who has two sons entering ninth grade next year, said she was surprised that Taylor tendered his resignation. “I was hopeful he would give the new board and new superintendent a try,” she said.
She was referring to new superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen, whom the board chose on April 14 for its new superintendent to replace the retiring Erroll Davis, who took the place of former Superintendent Beverly Hall following the school system’s cheating scandal.
Going forward, Israel added that she hopes the school board will use these changes to look at how it operates. “Really, what we would like to see is the board members showcase all the platforms they ran on – giving more dollars to the school house and providing principals already on solid footing with more autonomy,” she said.
In the letter to the board, NAPPS echoed those sentiments.
“We are experiencing significant changes,” the letter stated. “Specifically, we are in need of three principal positions: Morris Brandon, Sutton Middle School and North Atlanta High School… While we will continue to reassure our community we have great teachers and programs in place while candidates are being sourced, we want to stress to you that our middle school and high school positions require a different caliber of individual.
“Within our own cluster and throughout all clusters, please listen to the ongoing themes voiced by our principals: increased funding to meet our demographics, ability to allocate as needed within the school, and more autonomy, including the ability to hire and fire staff,” the letter continued.
When Taylor first planned to resign, he had complained of micromanaging and lack of authority.
During a school community meeting hosted by District 4 school board member Nancy Meister on April 21, a crowd of cluster parents expressed concerns over the principal vacancies. About 40 parents gathered at Garden Hills Elementary School to hear Meister and others address those concerns.
“We don’t ever seem to solve the root cause,” said Gail Morales, who has two children at North Atlanta. She said students at the school have no desire to go to school amidst the turmoil. “What are we doing to address what the root issue is?”
APS administrators at the meeting expressed faith in the district’s new superintendent. “This is a difficult time because we’re filling three principals in your cluster,” said Ron Price, chief human resource officer for APS.
He said Carstarphen would be hands-on during the hiring process. “She’s going to do some awesome things,” he said.
Price said he expected all three positions to be filled by June 1.