It’s ironic that APS Superindendent Errol Davis would surreptitiously remove North Atlanta High School’s principal just as he and other public school officials are organize against the expansion of charter schools. Parents were quoted as feeling “ambushed”, reflecting a key aspect in the charter debate—that schools should not only be more autonomous, but possibly reflect individual communities. One of the precepts of installing charter schools is more control by parents and community in setting the direction of “their” school.
When Lakeside High’s principal, Wayne Chelf was first escorted out of the school building in 2007 without warning (he was later temporarily restored and later still “offered” another assignment), questions were raised by some parents as to whether becoming a charter school would prevent interventions of that sort—and whether they could choose their own principal. Such a charter would be a “system charter” of course, like Chamblee High—not managed by a private company.
Like in the instance of North Atlanta High, where Davis said emergency action was necessary because the school was to be “taken over” by state officials (later repudiated by DOE), now disgraced DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis’ only immediate explanation was he was “under the impression” that students’ safety was at risk. That rationale was swept aside and forgotten within two weeks when under pressure from the community, Lewis held an assembly in the school cafeteria (as Davis did in North Atlanta’s gymnasium) with the benefit of time, delivered a much more nuanced position devoid of any need for the security forces storming the school. Incredibly, in what then became a policy review, reflecting on school academic performance, the essence was to frame the school as “excellent” (avoiding insulting notoriously proud parents), but “not exemplary”—a “next step” that Chelf was not capable of delivering. The metrics that would be used to measure “exemplary” were left to the imagination of the audience—and probably left with Dr. Lewis after first being implicated by the GBI in November, 2008.
Eerily, Davis’ rationale was identical. Incredibly, North Atlanta (once Northside High School) is the “flagship” school of Atlanta Public Schools, the term Lewis used for Lakeside. Similarly, North Atlanta enjoys the backing of an affluent, highly educated community, mostly white, with a growing minority population, where the so-called “achievement gap” was replacing overall average performance indicators as paramount.
Another similarity between the two schools’ principal firings was the political environment in 2006, 2007. A growing list of public scandals was accumulating in DeKalb, including what has since been forgotten—test cheating at a few elementary grade schools, the few that were looked at before the subject was dropped. Where each DeKalb scandal was replaced by another, serving a “distract and forget” effect, one wonders whether we will see the same litany unfold with APS on the heels of the testing scandal there. The only real difference between these cases is the level of attention given by the media, but I suppose that’s to be expected because we are all “Atlanta” in name. Oh—one other difference is that APS leadership may have a bit of a problem with potential political changes that may be emerging as the city becomes a magnet for mainstream (read: affluent) residents once more—and growth returns to the city.
Regardless, if I was a North Atlanta community resident and I saw my school invaded without reasonable explanation; I would wonder whether “we” had a school at all. Whereas I might have not voted for what will amount to an expansion of the charter school system in Georgia—I might be having second thoughts. Regarding the Lakeside community, I wonder what the average stakeholder thinks might be accomplished here with one or more charter schools, whether privately run or “system charters”, whether primary school or high school.