Two Atlanta Board of Education members attended the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting Thursday night at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, sharing their opinions on the search for a new Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and providing updates on recent actions of the board affecting the Buckhead community.
To replace Superintendent Errol Davis, whose contract expires in December 2014, District 4 board member Nancy Meister said the school board voted Monday to a select a second search firm after receiving results from one executive search firm. At the meeting, the board voted to have two search firms, Boardwalk Consultants and Diversified Search, work together to find more worthy candidates.
“I think we really feel strongly that we’ll find a world-class leader,” Meister, who represents Buckhead, said.
Both Meister and Seat 7 at-large board member Courtney English shared their wishes for qualities in a new superintendent. Meister said she would like to see someone focused on transparency, de-centralizing district operations and who sees that the district is not “one size fits all” in terms of educating students.
English said he would value a superintendent focused on providing different learning opportunities and “push[ing] decisions down to the schoolhouse level.”
“I think the people… who are closest to our kids every day should have the ability to make the decisions to drive student achievement,” he said.
Meister also said the opening of the new North Atlanta High School campus last week was “flawless,” adding she visited during its first week and operations were running smoothly.
As for its much-publicized $147 million cost, Meister said the school is 30 percent larger than any other district high school with the best value per square footage.
“You have to look at the size of the facility,” she said. “It was an 11-story office building. …It may cost a little bit more than the others, but it’s quite larger.”
Meister did question North Atlanta’s rifle range making news headlines, as the former North Atlanta campus also had a shooting range since 2009.
“That’s something that most APS high schools have,” she said. “It is a Georgia high school sport and it also enhances our JROTC, so that news was really kind of no news but it became news, all the way to the London [Free] Press I heard.”
Both Meister and English agreed that during next year’s budget discussions, administration expenses should be examined as the district reportedly has one of the highest costs for central office staff in metro Atlanta.
Meister said her hope is the board in the future puts more money into schools in an effort to reduce class sizes rather than put so much money into the central office.
“I think in the future, we really need to start this process earlier and it truly needs to be more transparent,” Meister said.
English added that before the district can reduce its “top-heavy” central office, it must ensure school-level administrators are capable of autonomy by investing in training other employees.
“One of the things we did this year during this budget cycle was we made an unprecedented investment in professional development,” he said. “We’re training our leaders, we’re training our teachers, we’re training our administrators who are not housed in the central office to be handed that new level of flexibility and responsibility.”
In other news, the council heard from David Fitzgibbon, chief appraiser with Fulton County Board of Assessors, who said for the first time this year, homeowners can appeal appraisals online.
He said his office has actively worked to improve services and streamline the appeals process, reducing the number of appeals from about 38,000 in 2011 to about 20,000 this year, despite budget cuts leaving the department with only 129 appraisers.