Board of Education meeting gives way for goodbyes and brings forth beginnings

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Board of Education meeting gives way for goodbyes and brings forth beginnings

The Southerner

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Erroll Davis’s position as Atlanta’s interim superintendent, and later superintendent, was not the first job after which he retired. Starting on July 7, Davis will begin his third attempt at retirement. (photo by Mary Claire Morris)

By Jenni Rogan and Mary Claire Morris

Superintendent Erroll Davis attended his last meeting APS Board of Education on June 2. Although this meeting marked an end for Davis, many new beginnings were sparked from the legislation passed during the meeting.

At the legislative meeting, the members of the board approved 10 new principals for Atlanta schools, including Grady’s new principal, Timothy Guiney.

“Turnover in principal’s is not unusual,” Erroll Davis said after the meeting. “We’ve been averaging a bit 13 a year since I’ve been here and this year we’ve had 19, which is higher but it’s not that much higher… we’ve put in new principals for a lot of different reasons again its unique to each school but our expectations are the same: to take those schools to another level of performance and excellence.”

Guiney has worked as an educator in Clayton County for 12 years. He is currently the principal at Adamson Middle School and has worked in the past as an assistant principal at Adamson and a language arts teacher at Morrow High School.

The selection process that led to Guiney’s selection began with an application pool of more than 200. It was then narrowed down through qualification and background checks and interviews. Once this number was dwindled down to six, a selection committee consisting of students, teachers and administrators, and parents who were able to weigh in on the decision.

“I got to voice out my own opinions about what I think Grady needs,” Uzuki Kakinuma, a rising junior at Grady who was chosen to participate in the selection process, said. “And after seeing all the candidates, I got to talk about what I liked and disliked about each candidate. I really [liked how] the students played a vital role in the process as our opinions were not silenced, and most of our comments were recorded for reference.”

Each person in the selection committee was given a score sheet in which they scored the candidates from one to five based on their answers to the same five questions. The committee was also given the opportunity to voice their opinions on each candidate that was recorded for APS’s new superintendent,  Meria Carstarphen, who made the final choice.

“[Carstarphen] was involved in the leadership selection process and this will be her team going forward,” Davis said. “I have not been in the past… they were recommended to me, and I have no reason to say no to those recs.”

Mario Herrera, an english teacher and debate coach at Grady, who was also on the selection committee, was impressed by Guiney.

“I liked his approach to this idea of ‘team and school culture’ I thought he was very forthcoming with his answers,” Herrera said. “He had thought about things, and prepared for the interview, he knew about Grady, he spoke very respectfully of Dr. Murray… I think he’s going to create his own [legacy], based upon what we have now.”

Unlike Herrera, Kakinuma says that Guiney was not her first choice.

“Just from my first impression of him, he just did not seem to be like he would be ready for what goes on at ‘GK, GK we all we got,’” Kakinuma said. “Compared to the other candidates, I think some seemed like they could take leadership and responsibility as a principal, in my opinion, but when the panel had a meeting, most members just did not favor uptightness. Personally, I thought Grady needed someone that could get things done quickly, and I didn’t really think Mr. Guiney to be like that. On the other hand, he had a very organized plan to make Grady better, in terms of curriculum, and fitting in with the students after Dr. Murray’s long tenure. He seemed to honor Dr Murray’s legacy, if you will.”

During the board meeting, members also approved a number of other reports, including but not limited to a report regarding the budget for the fiscal year of 2015, the denial of a petition to create five new charter schools and a clarification that Atlanta Public Schools will not allow visitors or faculty into the school if they are carrying a weapon. To celebrate Davis’s final board meeting, select members of the board also gave short speeches to commemorate his tenure.

“Erroll B. Davis championed public education and recognized the importance of achievement, scholarship, and leadership,” Board Executive Director Howard Grant said.

The board gave Davis two parting gifts: a plaque of honor and embroidered pajamas.

“At [Davis’s] first meeting with us on Jan. 10,” District 3 board member Matt Westmoreland said during the meeting. “He mentioned that so much work had gone into the strategic plan and the 4 ‘Es’—excellence, equity, ethics and engagement—that he had it embroidered on his pajamas…so we thought we’d send you home with a pair of embroidered pajamas.”

After four years of being superintendent, Erroll Davis’s biggest piece of advice to Carstarphen is to remember that this profession is not for the faint of heart.

“I’ve worked long and all around the world and this is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” Davis said. “Education of children is very important to parents and the community and a lot of people have a lot of ideas about how to get it right.”

In his time in the position, however, Davis has overseen a number of positive changes for APS. In 2013, the dropout rate for the school system decreased from 11.1 percent in 2012 to 8.5 percent. During his four years in Atlanta, the graduation rate moved up eight points from 51 percent to 59 percent and test scores rose faster than in any other major city. Davis and the board recognize the progress the school system has experienced, but are still looking to see more improvement as Carstarphen moves to her new position.

Carstarphen will have a luxury that I didn’t which was to put a lot more focus on the schools,” Davis said. “I had to deal with a lot of adult issues and she can deal with children’s issues….she comes in under different conditions, I think if she focuses on children’s issues and student’s issues instead of adult’s issues the system will benefit.”

Carstarphen’s first public board meeting will be held on July 7; however, she has already been working steadily behind the scenes.

“[Carstarphen] was the one who ultimately picked each of these principals in the vacancies that we had,” Westmoreland said. “I think it’s great that she had the opportunity to do that—to pick the people that were going to be on her team.”

Westmoreland, like Kakinuma, has confidence that Guiney, Grady’s contribution to Carstarphen’s new team, will continue Vincent Murray’s legacy from his 23 years at Grady.

“I hope he brings a commitment to ensure that every kid that walks the halls at Grady receives the excellent education that will open up real opportunity and choice in life,” Westmoreland said. “Grady is an amazing school that provides a really awesome experience for the kids that go there. It is filled with passionate, dedicated faculty members and I think it’s a school with a number of opportunities and significant challenges. I think, and hope, that he will approach those head on and provide many good solutions after getting to know the kids, the teachers and the parents. I really appreciate all that Dr. Murray has done for Grady and I am hopeful and confident that the new principal will be able to build on those successes in the future.”

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