Despite community backlash, Board signs off on principal turnover


Archie Kinnane

At the APS Board meeting on March 3, dozens spoke during the community input session. A vast majority asked the Board to not allow the large-scale principal changes proposed by Superintendent Erroll Davis. Two of the more than 30 speakers, both affiliated with Washington High School, spoke in favor of Davis’s decisions, applauding his removal of Washington’s principal.

After the Board heard the speakers and deliberated in executive session, District 8 Representative Cynthia Briscoe Brown reported that the Board would not limit Davis’s power to remove principals, and that principal Vincent Murray would be leaving Grady at the end of June.

Many members of the Grady community advocated for Murray, and for changes to be made on an individual basis, as opposed to a widespread changing of the guard.

There were several common arguments asserted by speakers throughout the night. Many said that as widespread a change as the one set forth by Davis seemed arbitrary and unnecessary, and based on no grounded reason. Several also said it didn’t make sense for Davis, who will not be superintendent much longer, to make this decision, and that the new superintendent should make the final call.

Dealing specifically with Grady, many spoke positively of Murray’s leadership, some telling personal stories of interactions with him. Also, many worried that a change in leadership a year before SACS’ review of Grady would put the school at risk of losing accreditation.

Speech and debate teacher Mario Herrera was one of several teachers who spoke.

“We can’t understand, as a group of teachers, why when something needs to be worked on, everything needs to be worked on,” Herrera said. “When a doctor determines the symptoms that someone needs an operation on, they don’t do it simply because an arm is numb, and they don’t go and amputate the head.”

Government teacher James Campbell highlighted statistics showing that Grady has the highest graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students of any school in APS. He attributes much of Grady’s success to Murray.

“This achievement is not an accident,” he said. “It is a top-down leadership culture that exists at our school, a culture that is led by a leader at our school.”

Campbell said that, by advising a homeroom of students who were held back a grade, Murray  personally inspired him and sent the staff two messages.

“First, every student in our school is important,” Campbell said. “Second, we should not be afraid to be innovative with students who are [in danger of] falling through the cracks.”

Senior Zoe Schneider, one of several Grady student speakers, argued that the proposed changes were an overreaction.

“These vast, sweeping changes aren’t the solution to this,” Schneider said. “The solution to that is meeting with principals on an individual level and perhaps changing out one or two principals if you really deem that necessary, not replacing seven principals at once.”

Grady alumnus Kenny Cochran defended Murray, and said a change in leadership should not be made solely for change’s sake.

“Why Dr. Murray?” he said. “Your answer: tabula rasa, blank slate. But what are you wiping clean? Are you forgetting about the other details that matter on the slate? … Is new better than the impeccable experience and track record of a true leader?”

Former Board member and Grady parent Cecily Harsch-Kinnane said that it should not be Davis, but the new Superintendent—who will be chosen shortly—who makes the decision about whether to retain schools’ principals. She compared the decision to how the previous Board did not choose a new Superintendent to allow the new Board to make that decision.

Eighth-grader Elizabeth Lansing asked to the Board to retain Murray, saying she has lacked stability in her education due to the constant interchange of principals.

After listing the principals she has had, she said, “That’s six principals for me, and seven for my friends who went to [Springdale Park]. Remember, we’re only in eighth grade … Let our class start ninth grade with Dr. Murray, someone our community knows, values, trusts and respects. The class of 2018 needs stability. Grady needs stability.”

Lansing also suggested the new superintendent choose whether to retain the principals, a proposal which drew raucous cheers from the crowded room.

Grady parent Duggan Lansing said that this issue was a chance for the Board to earn trust from the members’ constituents.

“We need to be able to trust you,” she said. “I trust that you will recognize the danger of removing a large number of principals as Superintendent Davis has initiated.”