Erroll Davis knew he had a mess on his hands when he agreed to temporarily lead the beleaguered Atlanta Public Schools. How big of a mess, however, only became apparent last week with the release of a report implicating nearly 200 teachers and principals in a cheating scandal of national proportions.
After working in corporate America for more than 30 years, Davis was ready for the public service phase of his life. For the next year, he will rely on lessons he learned as a CEO and as chancellor of the University System of Georgia to clean up the district and guide it back to legitimacy.
It is a yeoman task, but even some of his sharpest critics say he could do it.
"Some heads have got to roll over this thing and while he won't like doing it, Erroll Davis won't hesitate to take those heads right off," said former state Sen. Seth Harp.
Harp, who described Davis as a person of integrity, sparred with Davis during hearings over budget cuts for the university system. While Davis was combative and the two strong-willed men disagreed, Harp trusted Davis to give him straight answers.
Davis has little sympathy for teachers who say they were pressured to cheat. He said he's faced extreme pressure to succeed and living ethically is part of his DNA. The educators implicated in widespread cheating on state tests have lost their right to work with children, he said.
"There is no place left in this organization for those who cheat," Davis said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.