Petition calls for replacement of superintendent, administrators


Lily Rachwalski

Concerned community members have signed a petition to address shortcomings in APS regarding academic achievement and operations by calling for new leadership.

Aran Sonnad-Joshi

An online petition with more than 800 signatures is calling for the replacement of Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring and the APS senior cabinet. 

The petition highlights academic performance on Georgia Milestones testing, referencing an August 2022 APS press release stating, “Scores indicate 31.2% of APS students in grades 3-8 scored proficient or above in English Language Arts (ELA) and 26% scored proficient or above in Math.” It also cites issues such as SAT scores, high faculty turnover and the number of schools identified for Comprehensive Support Improvement or Targeted Support and Improvement by the Georgia Department of Education.

APS parent Wykeshia Howe, who ran for the District 1 Board of Education seat in November of 2021, signed the petition because of academic progress and other concerns.

“Our babies are still behind,” Howe said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable and our children cannot wait. We can’t risk another child being murdered in Atlanta streets. We can’t risk a child going to jail. We can’t risk someone being severely injured; we [have] to get people into roles that are going to do the job now.” 

Akiem Williams, a 2019 graduate of Maynard Jackson High School, has two sisters who are still students at Maynard Jackson. He signed the petition because he wants to see “a culture shift within APS.”

“I would hope that we get a new superintendent or new administration that sees where we are and meets us there, but [we must] be aggressive about closing the achievement gap because that is a detriment to our communities right now,” Williams said.

According to Howe, the recent push for leadership change is due to increased unity within the APS community.

“We’re coming together,” Howe said. “We’re talking to each other, and we’re going to support each other to make sure that all of our babies have what they need. The school district will hear from all of us, like a united front, and we’re trying to push very hard for change.”

A statement from APS responded to the petition, stating that the “points mentioned offer an incomplete interpretation of our student data.”

“While Atlanta Public Schools is aware of the petition, the undeniable fact is that many of the points mentioned offer an incomplete interpretation of our student data,” the statement said. “We acknowledge that many of these post-pandemic baseline data can be sobering, but they also don’t paint a complete picture of our students, their successes and their academic trajectory. We are keenly aware of the many learning and social-emotional impacts caused by the pandemic and are also evaluating some existing challenges prior to the pandemic while creating and honing solution-based approaches to meet the needs of our current and future students at APS.”

APS claimed many of the issues highlighted by the petition are a result of the pandemic.

“We cannot and will not ignore the pandemic’s impacts on learning,” the district said. “APS is not immune. Georgia is not immune. We have been working diligently to triage any hindrances to our student’s academic success, even as the pandemic began. This proactive academic assessment and achievement approach creates a gold standard method to addressing student needs from a multitude of angles, following the height of the pandemic.”

Williams acknowledges the impact of the pandemic but believes APS leadership took the wrong approach in its response.

“I understand Covid is an issue, but when you oversee a $4.4 billion budget over your tenure as a superintendent, we should see a little bit more, especially in the public sector,” Williams said. “You should already know that in certain areas, you’re going to struggle with implementing some of your strategies. You should know that Covid is going to hit certain communities harder than others. I feel like Covid was an escape hole for a lot of these leaders.”

The district’s statement also said, “We always welcome meaningful and constructive dialogue with our families as we prepare to graduate scholars ready for college, career, and life,” but some stakeholders said APS has not engaged with community members enough.

“There’s zero engagement; they have zero,” Midtown parent Meredith Bass said. “They make zero effort to truly engage communities as a whole. There’s no conversation. It’s all one-sided talking with zero conversation coming from the stakeholders. We don’t need community consultants or outside consultants, such as Sizemore to tell us that the Midtown cluster has grown.”

Duwon Robinson, a Maynard Jackson parent and APS volunteer, is friends with Deerica Charles, the mother of Zyion Charles, a KIPP student who was killed in Atlantic Station in December 2022 According to Robinson, Deerica Charles asked APS for disciplinary intervention. Robinson believes a lack of communication from APS contributed to the situation.

“She reached out for help for years, and she’s not the only mom [who] reached out for help,”
Robinson said. “Both Zyion and Cameron [Jackson] would have been here today had APS and the City of Atlanta, and APD stepped in and helped the mother.” 

Stakeholders like former teacher Jennifer Grant* also said the APS administration does not communicate well with teachers and faculty.

“I will say repeatedly under Dr. Herring when things by myself or my colleagues were questioned, those questions were not answered, they were shut down,” Grant said. “I had a colleague who asked a lot of questions in a meeting, and then immediately, within a week, had a visit from a former central office employee – the former chief of schools – who called him out as a complainer because he just asked questions.”

Grant left her teaching position because of issues she saw in APS, a common theme reflected in the APS petition.

“I left because I saw the struggles of my own children and needed to help them,” Grant said. “I just felt that I was no longer aligned with what the district was doing. It was really hard to be complicit in that. I just no longer felt like we were doing the right work. And I just couldn’t, couldn’t be part of it anymore.”

*Jennifer Grant is a pseudonym to protect the identity of a former teacher in APS