Op-Ed: Ode to Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll B. Davis

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Erroll B. Davis. Credit: APS
Erroll B. Davis. Credit: APS
By Shawnna Hayes-Tavares

“There was a boldness in his walk, a comfort in his honesty and trust in his abilities…”

He Dared to Be Great…To Care about Children First!

As Mr. Erroll B. Davis said goodbye as the Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools yesterday at two ceremonies, APS said goodbye to a great leader!  Let us go back a little to get the entire picture of his greatness.  July 1, 2011, the first day of work for Mr. Davis, 3 days later the governor’s investigation in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal was released.  This 800+ page document unveiled a criminal element as to be charged on the RICO statue.  This crime was not against adults making bad decisions or against country, this crime was against children.  Children had been cheated out of their constitutional right to receive a free an appropriate education. 

Now imagine if you will a broken board of nine, the business community’s pressure, local elected officials butting in, the interest groups outcry, parents angry, community is confused, teachers are ridiculed, children victimized in an environment meant to facilitate education, growth and development. 

In the rise of confusion also laid at APS’s feet were threats of SACS accreditation, declining graduation rates, more accurate and yet more dismal CRCT test scores, school closings and Charter Schools expanding, all of this with the governor, the mayor, the district attorney, community and the world not just watching, but glaring at APS.  And this man, standing no more than 5’6”, walks in after retiring and having no personal training or background in education, was charged to save APS from itself.  Some thought of him as an outsider, appointed by the power structure, or some favor from an elected official.  All of us were not clear of what he would bring to APS or even where he came from.  

But, prior to him being appointed board members reached out to find out if I assume parent leaders would be okay with his appointment.  I said that I was not happy with the two choices that were presented and that I would not be upset if we chose an interim and took our time to find the best fit.  But it did not take long before I knew he was the best fit at the right time. 

There was boldness in his walk, a comfort in his honesty and trust in his abilities. He was a breath of fresh air.  Finally no more politics as usual with our children’s lives!  But what I don’t think he knew was the degree of politics in Atlanta.  The demographics study coupled with the closing of schools, told a story of how politics work in Atlanta. The accreditation and rezoning/school closings awakened a city that fell asleep on Hall’s watch and now was paying for the long sleep, by awakening to a nightmare, in which Erroll B. Davis had to fix.   Now, the North Atlanta community was fighting for an 11-story building promised to them by the Hall administration.  Not only did politics play a part, the evil side of Atlanta came out and reared its dirty laundry with race and class.  Underserved populations did not want the only hope left to be closed down, and the “haves” did not want to merge with “those children and parents”.  So a proposed 17 schools goes down to 7 and even in these politics Erroll took the hits.

 I watched him be ridiculed by the worst of what Atlanta had to offer, he was being called an uncle Tom, a race traitor and even was pictured as a Klux Klux Klansmen, what a low.  Although, I remember embracing him after the flyer surfaced at Maynard Jackson HS and let him know everyone did not feel that way.  He stayed for a four hour meeting in which the automatic lights went out and we had to use cell phone lights, he stayed to answer every question. Or while at Douglass HS being called every race traitor one can think of, walked right into the audience without security escort and faced those who had accused him of being a traitor.  I watched him in the North Atlanta gymnasium after he had the guts to break up another ring of mafia, “the elite”.  After releasing the believed racist and classist staff, he stood amongst that community to be shouted at by adults and children.  The Drew Charter School expansion he resisted against, and although the previous mayor Shirley Franklin, and the elites of Atlanta came and urged his support, he did not waiver, he was simply outvoted by the board.  He has challenged the city of Atlanta to pay monies owed to children and although some feel “the nerve of him”, he did not waiver.  He had the audacity to make bold statements about disparities in APS no matter the audience, to commission the equity audit and to make hard choices about long-term “so-called beloved” principals, had to take courage. And in a city too busy to hate we have become a city too busy to love, particularly if you do not agree with the status quo.

This man walked in his authority and whether you agreed with him or not, liked him or not, was able to convince him of your opinion or not, approved of him or not, he had the courage to say “what about the children?”  His legacy will always be his courage to speak up for children, no matter the cost.  He listened, he learned and he acted.  We thank him for listening to all stakeholders, learning more to be better and acting on making a difference for our children!

For those of you who do not attend board meetings, this author, to bid my final farewell used words to guess as to what the “B” stands for in Erroll B. Davis. He are some:

Bewildered by the injustices of children

Beacon of light for the voiceless

Beloved by your supporters

Brave in your decision making

Benevolent in your spirit

Blatant in your approach

Bold in your stance against disparities

And A Bad M#@@&!

Walk in Greatness, for you have set us on a course that I am sure you cannot imagine.  As a product of APS, a parent of four children in APS, a parent leader/advocate in APS, I will do my best to not let your legacy be in vain.

Thank You Erroll B. Davis

By Shawnna Hayes-Tavares



These are my claims to his fame…

ü   fired all the cheating staff and waited for those others to be cleared

ü   helped and supported the past board with making it through SACS accreditation and stabilizing the system

ü   put systems of ethics and honor in place

ü  Demanded excellence and fidelity

ü  Improved leadership accountability and training

ü   helped to break up silos and create a more streamlined vertical alignment

ü   addressed and cleaned up budget disparities

ü   equalized programming through the arts and Foreign Languages

ü  Reorganized departments implicated in the perpetuation of intimidation and fear

ü   closed schools to ensure that resources were re-directed to schools needing support

ü  enhanced social media/communications

ü  enhanced parental involvement

ü  was not bullied by the business community, elite of Atlanta or entitled parents

ü  was not afraid to admit shortcomings or challenges  

ü  made it possible to have input and be heard


Greatness cannot be talked, it must be walked.  Thank you for walking in greatness!

Eritus Rivers June 30, 2014 at 09:04 PM
Is this a joke? If this is how the supporters of APS write, that should be evidence against the public school system in itself. It would be hilarious if it weren't so pitifully sad.
Molly Read Woo July 01, 2014 at 12:54 AM
O Eritus! You're so erudite - If only we could like you, write - Then you might not seem- so pitifully sad - but like us, almost - be happily glad! But us APS grads - must just settle for slivers - of the prosaic pride - of Eritus Rivers! And forgive me, E. Rivers - I know it's not pretty - But this comment was really - meant as a ditty - but Patch won't allow - a new paragraph - So these dashes must cut - each sentence in half!
Molly Read Woo July 01, 2014 at 12:57 AM
And in case that last comment - Left you with a buzz - asking, "Is this a joke?" Well … of course! Yes! It was!


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