Mike Gray, APS Interim Chief of Human Resources, left, Superintendent Erroll Davis, center, and Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Reuben McDaniel, right, discuss the school system’s process for hiring principals during a Sept. 4, 2012 meeting at North Atlanta High School.

Routine background checks alerted Atlanta Public Schools officials about pending criminal charges against Eddie Echols before he interviewed for the principal’s job at North Atlanta High, Superintendent Erroll Davis said.

Davis on Sept. 4 told the Buckhead Reporter that a communications breakdown allowed Echols, the former principal of Riverwood International Charter School, to advance beyond background checks. Davis said he is not sure how it happened.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “That’s a problem. We have a lot of communications failures. We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

In this video: Superintendent Erroll Davis explains how a screening process designed to catch candidates who might have outstanding legal issues raised red flags about a candidate who faced criminal charges.

Echols resigned from Riverwood last fall and was subsequently charged with stealing nearly $25,000 in school funds.

Davis on Sept. 4 spoke at North Atlanta High and told parents he would select the best candidate for the job and use a process that will be more transparent. During a question and answer session about picking the right candidate, one of the parents shouted, “Not Eddie Echols.”

The superintendent said he would ultimately select the final candidate and the process will help him narrow his choices.

“The process is not going to select anybody. The process will provide candidates,” Davis said. “It will hopefully catch Eddie Echols.”

That remark got a laugh. They can laugh now, but parents didn’t see the humor in the debacle that unfolded over the summer regarding the principal’s job.

The Buckhead Reporter learned through an open records request that school officials considered the former Riverwood principal. APS initially offered the job Reginald Richardson, a candidate most parents hadn’t met. Richardson turned down the job after he received a better offer from his current employer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The confusion about the system’s hiring practices prompted parents to ask questions and demand more transparency from APS.

The school system decided in June to keep Principal Mark MyGrant as interim for a few months so it will have more time to find a replacement. Michael Gray, APS Interim Chief of Human Resources, told the Board of Education on Aug. 13 that he hopes the superintendent will receive recommendations by October.

The school system will do a background check and work history check before candidates move to the interview process, Gray said.

Gray explained the hiring process to parents during the meeting at North Atlanta High.

North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools, an alliance of parents in the cluster that includes Buckhead, said it plans be a part of selecting a new principal.

Davis said the school system could have done a better job of communicating with parents about how it fills principal vacancies.

“You’ve seen an outline of the process,” he said. “That in itself is probably greater transparency than the first process where we perhaps weren’t as deliberate or vocal about how the process is supposed to work.”

In this video: Superintendent Erroll Davis on Sept. 4 spoke to parents at North Atlanta High school about the process for selecting a new principal and said the process will hopefully exclude candidates like former Riverwood International Charter School Principal Eddie Echols, who faces criminal charges related to his tenure there.

The interview process will include a panel made up of “parents, community members, business partners to the school, a principal, the Regional Executive Director for the school and an HR representative” according to guidelines posted on the APS website.

North Atlanta representatives also participated in earlier interviews, but the makeup of the panel was not clear until APS provided parents more details about how it fills principal vacancies.

Parents set their expectations for filling the position during NAPPS kickoff held Aug. 29 at Sutton Middle School.

NAPPS Co-President Reide Onley listed parent input on the hiring of a new principal as a top priority.

“The administration understands and is committed to community involvement …,” Onley said. “I think that’s good and I think we can count on that.”

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011-2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com