Principal Mark MyGrant says leading a school is a special experience.
"I would highly recommend being a principal to everyone," MyGrant says. "It is a blast; it is so much fun. But it isn't without its stresses as well. I've recently begun to learn how to exhale."
MyGrant, after five years as North Atlanta's principal and 10 leading , is retiring. As he looks ahead to the next chapter in his life after 33 years in public education, mostly with APS, he takes pride in Sutton's shift into a highly popular neighborhood school and leading North Atlanta into the future with the planning of its new campus now under construction on Northside Parkway.
"I'm proud of our work," he says. "And I say our work because it's the work of the communty. ... And all along, we've had a good time doing it. "
With Sutton now bursting with students, a situation that led to the need for North Atlanta's new campus so that the high school's present site could be used to ease middle school overcrowding, MyGrant looks back to when he took charge at Sutton. In those days, many parents moved their children to private schools after they graduated from APS elementary schools.
"It was a much different Sutton than it is now," MyGrant says. "Part of the problem that we had was retention and recruiting from our feeder pattern, our six elementary schools. There was a significant dropout from public schools at the fifth grade level.”
At the time, the school had more than 350 students from outside of its zone. Beginning with efforts he led to reach out to public schools, Sutton’s students now all come from within the Buckhead community, with temporary buildings needed to accommodate them all. That's been the situation for many years, he says.
Along with visiting homes and neighborhood meetings and reaching out to the six elementary schools’ principals, parents, teachers and students — a campaign involving many people, he says — MyGrant led a major renovation project at Sutton and brought about such innovations as a sixth grade academy within the school to separate younger students from seventh and eighth graders.
“We’ve been able to build a really state of the art school both physically and academically, and made really a lot of really positive changes,” he says.
Asked by former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall to come to North Atlanta, a school hurt by frequent principal turnover, MyGrant has brought stability to the school and increased its community connections. (Full disclosure: MyGrant was the principal at Sutton for two of my children. All three of my children graduated from North Atlanta, before MyGrant was principal there.)
“I really feel proud about making the community a better place,” he said. “We’ve developed this relationship with the community, bringing us together for a common cause.”
His driving philosophy, he said, is that “the community is only as strong as its weakest public school.” Even those with children in private schools have a stake in public education, he says. “It really makes a lot of sense for your community schools to succeed for whatever reason you have.”
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In honor of his accomplishments at North Atlanta, including a major renovation there, MyGrant was named the honorary chairman for the school’s annual Black, Silver and Red Hot Jazz fund-raiser, at the Cobb Galleria April 20.
The school’s new campus, to open in the fall of 2013, “is going to be remarkable,” he said. The school will move from its present 19-acre site to one of 65 acres,” including woods and the lakes and the whole works,” he says. The 11-story lakeside building that will be retained on the former IBM site offers "spectacular views" of the city and Stone Mountain, he said.
MyGrant disclosed that he will remain active in the Buckhead community. After three months of travel, MyGrant in October will take a new job outside of education that will allow him to develop new skills. He said his business agreement with the new venture is being completed and that he will soon make an announcement.
“I’m happy and excited to be doing something different and new, but at the same time I’ll be able to continue to be part of the Buckhead community, which I’ve grown to really love.”
He also promises to remain involved with North Atlanta in his new role and through the North Atlanta Foundation.
Before coming to North Atlanta, he says, he had never thought about being a high school principal. He said he decided to come to the high school to renew the relationships he had made with families at Sutton. He says coming to the high school “has been personally and professionally probably the best move of my life just because its been so powerful me and rewarding to see students I met when they were 10 or 11 graduating from high school and going to college. …You can really see the fruits of your labor. That’s been huge for me.”
While MyGrant has played a major role in improving buildings and strengthening community ties, his proudest accomplishment, he says, is his students.
“We really raised holistic people, who have turned into young adults,” he says. The APS’ heterogeneous schools have well-prepared their students for college and the employment market, he said. “It makes me proud that it some small way I was part of that.”