How To Reverse the Seven Signs: Erroll Davis and APS

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 couldn’t read. A culture of numbers (test scores mattered – 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, “sequestered”).
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 Davis’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:

• APS is no longer driven by test scores, to wit, “If you create the right kind of system, run by the right kind of people, test scores will take care of themselves.”
• 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.
• 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 – you give an organization its integrity through enforcement.
• Mr. Davis makes 10 unplanned, unscheduled visits to schools within the system.
• He took the charts of the test scores off the walls of the system office and replaced them with photos of students.
• 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 – seemingly inconsequential things that make a difference for an organization’s culture. The devil is in the details, or the devil often begins his work there – 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 – 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.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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