The 800-page-report on the Atlanta Public School System that emerged in July 2011 explained what happened in that city with testing. Scores were good; kids couldnâ€™t read. A culture of numbers (test scores mattered â€“ learning did not), a culture of pressure (teachers and principals who did not meet their numbers were fired (90% of the principals were removed)), an iconic leader (Beverly Hall won awards for those scores (superintendent of the year, twice), she had a chauffeur, security, and a large and deferential staff), fear (teachers had to sit under tables during meetings if they had not met their numbers), and silence (questions at meetings had to be submitted in advance for approval and Dr. Hall sat behind her closed door, â€œsequesteredâ€).
The report is a textbook case study on The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse.
But, if what happened is a case study in how organizational collapse ethically, then Erroll Davisâ€™s leadership in taking over the role of superintendent is yet another study in how to do things right to bring an organization back from the brink. Here are just a few things the former chancellor of the University of Georgia system has done to help those APS children learn:
â€¢ APS is no longer driven by test scores, to wit, â€œIf you create the right kind of system, run by the right kind of people, test scores will take care of themselves.â€
â€¢ He fired the 178 principals and teachers who were named in the 800-page report as being involved in the inflation of test scores, through numerous strategies.
â€¢ When he hears an allegation of cheating. If the facts bear out the allegation, then the teacher is gone. Enforcement is to organizations what integrity is to individuals â€“ you give an organization its integrity through enforcement.
â€¢ Mr. Davis makes 10 unplanned, unscheduled visits to schools within the system.
â€¢ He took the charts of the test scores off the walls of the system office and replaced them with photos of students.
â€¢ He calls people to talk with them and find out their concerns.
All of these are the antidotes for the seven signs. Mr. Davis knows how to nurture a culture of ethics. In addition, he knows that big problems often manifest themselves initially in discreet ways. When he is visiting those schools he looks for those little broken things â€“ seemingly inconsequential things that make a difference for an organizationâ€™s culture. The devil is in the details, or the devil often begins his work there â€“ in those details. On one elementary school visit, he found a toilet that was plugged and had the janitor fix it. Fixing the toilet is not the issue. That you have a superintendent who cares enough to worry about the spit and polish at school is, however, the message. Note to parents â€“ whistles in toilets will do that.
The Barometer has served with Superintendent Davis on a board and was impressed with his intelligence, his humility, and the attention he gave to all presenters. This man is one decent human being. He has proven himself to be one outstanding manager, a recovery specialist extraordinaire. All good wishes to him and the students at APS.