Months into the job, Atlanta’s Howard Middle School principal leaves post

Howard Middle School in Old Fourth Ward. (File)

Janet McDowell, hired just two months ago as principal of Atlanta’s David T. Howard Middle School, is no longer the school’s leader.

Atlanta Public Schools’ Superintendent Lisa Herring notified parents of the leadership change in a Sept. 13 message, saying the day marked McDowell’s “final day” at the school. A district spokesperson confirmed the departure to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“APS thanks Ms. McDowell for her hard work and dedication and wishes her well in her future endeavors,” Herring wrote.

The statement did not specify the reason for McDowell leaving the school. Herring told parents that she was “not at liberty to discuss confidential personnel matters at this time.”

In a brief response to an AJC email seeking comment, McDowell wrote: “I don’t think people really want to hear my side or the truth of what’s been going on.”

Janet McDowell was named principal of David T. Howard Middle School in Atlanta earlier this year, but is leaving amid concerns about class sizes, dress code enforcement and other issues. (Courtesy Atlanta Public Schools)

The former Howard principal had ruffled feathers at the middle school in her short time there.

As classes began in August, parents complained about the school’s dress code enforcement, particularly how girls were treated. Parents also expressed concern about how teacher vacancies were impacting instruction and how the school has grouped gifted students separately from other students.

District officials and McDowell met with roughly 100 parents about two weeks ago to discuss those issues and others. An AJC reporter was prohibited by the school district from attending the meeting. The district later released a video recording of the meeting, in which McDowell pledged to provide parents with answers to their questions.

“What’s happening is real, how you guys are experiencing things are real, how everyone feels is real, but I can only have control over what I can have control over,” she said, according to the recording.

McDowell previously led a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Cleveland, Ohio, and is described on Howard’s website as a “school turnaround specialist.” And as a consultant, she’s coached other principals on leadership skills.

More than 1,100 students attended Howard as of last October. The middle school feeds into Midtown High School, formerly known as Grady, which is one of Atlanta’s highest-performing high schools.

In her message to parents, Herring said that two interim principals will step in to lead Howard. Paula Snowden, who spent last year in temporary leadership roles at Atlanta’s Bunche Middle School and then at Howard, will serve as interim principal starting Wednesday. Barbara Shea, who most recently filled in as principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Atlanta, will begin work at Howard on Monday.

“They will serve as interim principals through May 30, 2023, as APS conducts our search and hiring process for a permanent school leader,” Herring wrote.

Howard’s parent-teacher organization is committed to supporting faculty, staff, students and the school community, the group’s co-president, Susanna Roberts, told the AJC.

“We will continue to work with administration, teachers and parents to help ensure all needs are met to the best of our ability. We look forward to continuing our support of our wonderful middle school and the entire community of David T. Howard,” Roberts said.


Here’s the full text from the message APS Superintendent Lisa Herring sent about the departure of David T. Howard Middle School Principal Janet McDowell:

Dear David T. Howard Middle School Parents/Caregivers: I’m writing to inform you that Principal Janet McDowell’s final day at David T. Howard Middle School will be today, Tuesday, September 13, 2022. APS thanks Ms. McDowell for her hard work and dedication and wishes her well in her future endeavours.

Due to the timing of this leadership transition, we will provide the school community with additional support in the form of two interim principals, as well as a program administrator to address day-to-day school operational concerns such as scheduling.

Dr. Paula Snowden will begin serving as interim principal tomorrow, Wednesday, September 14, and Ms. Barbara Shea will begin serving as interim principal on Monday, September 19.

Dr. Snowden has served as a teacher, an assistant principal, and a principal at high school and middle school levels, most recently as an interim principal at Howard Middle School, and has 40+ years of experience in APS. Mrs. Shea has served as an award-winning special education teacher, a behavior specialist, a middle school assistant principal, and an interim principal, and has 40+ years of experience with the majority spent in APS.

Dr. Snowden and Ms. Shea are true champions for all students and staff. They will serve as interim principals through May 30, 2023, as APS conducts our search and hiring process for a permanent school leader. We will hold a meet and greet at 6 pm on Tuesday, September 20 in the Howard Auditorium for parents and community members to meet Dr. Snowden and Ms. Shea.

I want to assure you that Atlanta Public Schools is committed to ensuring the success of David T. Howard Middle School, our scholars, and our staff. We will begin a thorough search for a new school leader. The principal position will be posted immediately. Our Human Resources Department will work closely with the Go Team to begin the process of selecting Howard Middle School’s permanent principal.

I know that you may have questions relative to the reason for a leadership transition at the beginning of the school year. I am not at liberty to discuss confidential personnel matters at this time. However, if you have any other questions or concerns, I welcome you to contact my office.

Thank you for your continued support of David T. Howard Middle School.

Yours at service, Dr. Lisa Herring, Superintendent

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