Tech exec to lead city schools group

By Maria Saporta
Friday, December 11, 2009

The Atlanta Education Fund, or AEF, a private-sector group established to support reform of Atlanta’s public schools, has named a new president and CEO.

Bill McCargo spent a 31-year career with Scientific Atlanta and its parent, Cisco Systems Inc., running community relations and serving as vice president of the Scientific Atlanta Foundation, which focused on education. He also is the immediate past chairman of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

McCargo, who retired in September, will be the second president of the three-year-old organization. Hosanna Mahaley Johnson, who was the founding president of the fund, left Atlanta in July to become executive director of social justice and district innovation for New York-based Wireless Generation.

“I had a very, very good run at Scientific Atlanta and Cisco,” McCargo said. “The plan was to retire and look for that last meaningful job.”

The Atlanta Education Fund is an ideal fit for McCargo, 60. Back when he was a sophomore in high school in Anniston, Ala., McCargo remembers when the first African-American student attended his high school. He saw that student get beat up on the front doorsteps of the school.

“That seared my mind,” McCargo said. “Why did he deserve that kind of treatment? That lit a fire under me.”

Now McCargo is thrilled that he’ll be able to be directly involved in helping institute reform at Atlanta Public Schools. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” McCargo said. “I have to pinch myself.”

John Rice, chairman of the Atlanta Education Fund and a vice chairman of General Electric Co., said McCargo’s appointment will open a new chapter for the organization.

“The transition from Hosanna to Bill was an opportunity for us to reflect on where we are headed and make sure this is what we want to be doing,” Rice said.

The fund’s board members and partners are committed to sticking with the reform of APS. Beverly Hall, who has been the city of Atlanta’s superintendent since 1999, was named 2009 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. She has instituted a host of reforms of the public school system in the past decade.

“I don’t think we could have done what we have without the Atlanta Education Fund,” Hall said. “We have to make sure this group stays together in a formal way. It allows for everyone to come together — the civic, philanthropic, faith-based and corporate communities — staying engaged, finding the resources, and overall, really being a resource to the system.”

But Hall said the fund also holds the public school system accountable by tracking and monitoring the progress of the city’s schools.

Earlier this year, there was question about whether cheating was a factor in the improvement of some of APS’ test scores. Hall contacted Rice and asked if the fund could conduct an independent review of what happened.

The fund contracted with two independent professionals — Douglas Reeves and Andrew Porter — to do the investigation, which could cost as much as $100,000. They should present their findings at the end of January 2010.

“I applaud her for that,” said Rice, who said the fund operates as an independent and critical friend of APS. “Sometimes that means we might not always agree, but in the end, there’s no mistaking that we are on the same page. We have to have a measure of independence.”

Hall said that when AEF comes out with an analysis or a report, it has more credibility because of AEF’s independence.

“Because AEF exists, it gives national funders some security that their dollars will be protected,” Hall said. “National foundations were not funding APS when I got here.”

The Atlanta Education Fund is in the middle of a $19.7 million fundraising campaign, and it already has raised $10.8 million. Rice hopes the campaign will be completed within a year.

“We are so close to being one of the first urban school systems to actually reform itself,” said Curley Dossman, vice president of community affairs and president of the Georgia-Pacific Foundation.

Dossman said reform is expected to take about 15 years. “So far, we’ve been at it for 10-11 years,” he said. “I would love to see us complete this in the next four years, to put the practices in place. Continued execution is always the challenge.”

Part of AEF’s concern is how to make sure APS reforms continue after Hall decides to step down as superintendent. Her contract ends in 2011, and she already is one of the longest-serving superintendents in the country.

“The Atlanta Education Fund can help provide continuity,” Hall said. “For the long-term sustainability and continued progress for the district, the Atlanta Education Fund is an integral part of bringing the community together. As goes the public schools, so goes the city.”

Rice said that the fund is trying to prepare for the day Hall retires from APS.

“Whenever it comes time for Dr. Hall to move on, it’s important that we have a successful and orderly transition,” he said. “We are blessed by the fact that she’s been willing to stay on as long as she has.”

AEF board member Reuben McDaniel, president and CEO of Jackson Securities, recently was elected to serve on the board of the Atlanta Public Schools. He is looking forward to being involved in education reform as an insider. He will remain on the AEF board because he said the fund’s signature programs — public engagement, Project Grad and the Mayor’s Youth Program — are key elements of these reforms.

McDaniel said he is particularly excited by McCargo’s management experience and leadership skills, attributes that will help the Atlanta Education Fund fulfill its mission.

As Rice said: “It took us decades to create the problems that Beverly Hall walked into, and it will take us one or two decades to fix.”

The board of the Atlanta Education Fund

Executive committee: GE’s John Rice, chairman; Georgia-Pacific Corp.’s Curley Dossman; Jackson Securities’ Reuben McDaniel; and The Coca-Cola Co.’s Ingrid Saunders Jones.

Other board members include: Sylvia Russell, Kathy Augustine, LaChandra Butler Burks, the Rev. Samuel Candler, Bobbi Cleveland, Evern Cooper-Epps, Charles Cornelius, Mayor Shirley Franklin, Linda Hassan Anderson, Michael Garrett, Beverly Hall, Lisa Hamilton, Gary Lee, Thelma Malone, Walter Massey, Penny McPhee, Katy Pattillo, Zawadaski Robinson, Donata Russell Major, Larry Schall, Quenon J. Smith, Beverly Tatum and Jerome Byers.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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