Community Meeting Live Blog: SRT 1 and SRT 4 NW Cluster of Schools, March 12, 2012

Welcome to our live blog of superintendent Erroll Davis’ community meeting with SRT 1 and SRT 4 NW cluster of schools, March 12, 2012.

Refresh your browser often to keep up with our live posts from tonight’s meeting.

6:30pm Steve Smith, Asst Superintendent, introduces superintendent Davis and Board of Education members Amos, McDaniel and Burks.  “Our purpose tonight is to hear from you and take your feedback” says Smith.  The final recommendations will be voted on by the Board of Education at the April Board meeting.

6:38pm Smith explains to the very large crowd that the district wants to hear questions more so than statements.  SRT 1 and SRT 4 NW is the group the presenters will focus on tonight.  All other questions will have to wait until that SRT’s meeting.

6:40 Davis steps to the podium.  “This has been a very long and very complex process and we appreciate that you have questions and we want to come out and address those questions.”  My approach to this entire process has been to get as much feedback as possible. These recommendations are preliminary.  As I look at the last two months of comments that we’ve received.  It is very clear that people do not want their neighborhood school closed. (applause) Second, I hear do not change my child’s school, it will change his/her life.  I am a parent and grandparent and I respect the community’s viewpoint.  But I also want the community to hear and understand some other facts as well.  I have 47,000 children, not just one.  The city is changing and our schools have been affected by this change. We have a dozen schools at over 95% capacity.  We have 3 dozen schools that are under capacity, below 60% filled.  Some schools have been under capacity for over 5 years and there are instances where we have 70% of some buildings not being used.  They have lights and air conditioning but are not being used.

When I say we cannot afford to keep a school open everyone assumes I am talking about dollars and cents, and it is true we can save money by closing schools.  But also by keeping empty buildings open we are doing a disservice to children.  We are using money on buildings that we could use on social workers, special education, counselors and programs instead of heating, cooling and lighting empty seats.

6:45:  I have developed some preliminary recommendations.  I want to form 10 K-12 clusters.  Why is that important? What we’ve seen is where we’ve had track records of success we have had strong clusters.  Kids go from Kindergarten to middle to high school together.  It allows parents to take ownership of that entire process.  We have in this area elementary schools that go off to different middles and then off to other high schools and parents don’t take the same ownership.  We hope to take money that we get and put it back in the schools.  We want to make sure every school, not just a few have enriched curriculum and AP classes….that every school has a program that you would be proud to send your children to.  The proposal will free up money and resources.  Its easy to say we have a lot of waste downtown, I can assure you that we are working hard to free up resources from our central office but that won’t do the trick.

6:47  Note: Davis is now going school by school with his presentation.

There are simply a lot more schools than we have children in this area.  I have 450 teachers on the payroll for which we are not getting one penny from the state. If I combine Grove Park and Woodson we will get partial funding from the state for these teachers.  Is it difficult? Yes.  Scott will remain open.  Students zoned into CSK and BEST can still opt out and go to Harper.  The board began discussions today over whether academies like CSK and BEST can be open city wide for enrollment.  We slated Fain to be closed, Boyd to be closed…we simply have too many schools.  At Douglass, the enrollment here is not what we would like it to be. One of the things we agonize over is whether the cluster concept will make it worse.  We know there was a magnet program here at one time and we talked about alternative purposing.  Atlanta is the entertainment mecca and we don’t have a full fledged performing arts high school that we can operate in concert with the music, movie and television industry.  We talked today about those programs coupled with a sports management program for Douglass today.

While I am not suggesting that we close any high schools at this time, we are under enrolled at this level and we need to repurpose them or make some hard decisions.  Adamsville/Miles will also become a split school k2/3-5.  After these changes among others the Mays cluster will be stronger.  Therrell will now be fed only by Bunche middle school.  No major elementary school feeder patterns will be affected.

6:55  Bunche will be resized/renovated starting in July of next year. We will spend $25Million on this renovation.  All elementary schools in the Washington cluster will feed into Brown.  We are recommending Herndon be closed.  It’s a beautiful school, great principal but a low enrollment in a large school.  That school will not be boarded up.  Kennedy I’ve recommended for closure.  There are 300 plus students at Kennedy and a capacity for over 900.  We will use 2012-2013 to collaborate with PTA’s, City Council and other officials to plan for a career academy to be housed at Kennedy.  A career academy is where you will spend half your day where there are majors or vocational routes where you will have rigorous training in a field.  This is not “shop” as you once knew it, but it is a beneficial program that has been missing from our schools for a number of years.

6:58pm  Davis: We want parents to take ownership of their schools from K – high school.  The most important factor in school excellence is a set of parents who will tolerate nothing less than excellence.

Q & A now beginning

Q:  With the school closing, how many students and teachers will be in the classroom.  Some of the schools have 35-38 students in a class.

A:  Davis:  The number of students and teachers in the classroom will now be dictated by need.  We have ratios dictated by the state, and we will not exceed that.  In classes where there are exceptional needs, more resources will be given.  There should never be 38 students in a class.  Class size does in fact matter, but the thing that matters most is the teacher.

Q: I’m at a school due to be merged, will this become one school and renamed? Same principals?

A:  The issue of what model to follow has not been fully concluded as we work thru the issues.  We do not have those details yet.

Q:  Which approach did you take in developing your feeder? Financial? Systematic?

A:  We did not take a primary financial approach at all.  What should the feeder be, the first goal is to set up stable clusters so we can get the kind of ownership (from parents) that we want. Next was how many schools do we need based on enrollment.  I’m not closing schools to simply save money, I’m closing schools to give students a better academic future.  We can’t do that now under the present system.

Question about classroom safety.

A:  I’m not comfortable with part time officers in our schools, I want 5 days a week full time.  Parents want to send their children to a place where there they can get a great education but is safe as well.

Q:  Did all of you go out into the community as you developed your plan?  You could expand the north side and contract the south side.

A:  I think that is a great point which is why we called this preliminary.  I encourage you to put your comments in writing.  That is important.  I have visited most of the schools in the district.

Davis: Let me say to you, those school in the north are bursting at the seams. What we need is a stable cluster.  What I am trying to put in place is what they have there (north).  What they don’t have are empty classrooms taking up resources.

No one gets up in the morning at says I want to be mediocre today.  But things get in the way.  We district them and make them be a counselor and social worker when they should be teaching.  We need to make the investment also in professional development.  We need the processes and the will to take teachers who are inadequate out of the classroom.  We have to be more direct about what we want out of our workforce.

Q:  Walter White parent says they have sent in over 300 surveys.  When White was built in 1966 it was built for K-7.  We had an apartment complex moved to Usher a few years ago.  Did they take that into account?

A:  We are not basing decisions solely on enrollment.

Davis:  Charter schools are not a panacea.  They are an alternative and certainly if parents want an alternative they should seek it.  The data is compelling that you are not getting a much better education in a charter as opposed to a non-charter.

Q:  Beecher Hills representative – I’ve heard a lot of conversation about dollars sent to other schools and Beecher has not been mentioned.

A:  It is not on the SPLOST list right now but we have a note on Beecher for the next board meeting.

Q:  Fain Elementary representative – The school closures recommended are on the south side.  Can you explain in layman’s terms why our school is being closed.

A:  There are too many schools and too few children.  Yes, you have 400 kids but we are looking at clusters not individual schools.  If we look at schools in a cluster one of the things we want to do is to have as little geographic impact as possible.  A centrally located school may trump a school that is higher performing.  The north side does not have empty schools.  Those schools are filled, these schools are not.

Q:  Will there be programs set up to help the children adjust to their new school?

A:  We will take into account the social and emotional needs of children during this transition.

Statement:  Student from Fain ES – 1st Grade – “I am asking you to save my school from closing.  This school year I have learned a lot.”  Has anyone thought about the negative impact this will have on the students? We have not had a voice throughout this entire process.  (huge applause)

Q:  What will you give the parents to help their schools?  Will you put all the programs from the north into the south.

A:  That is the sole purpose and the point I’ve been trying to make.  The more resources we have the more programs we can put into the school.  I can’t give you these services with the current enrollment.  We will put rigorous quality programs in every school taught by quality people.

Parent speaks about the dangerous intersection at Hollowell near the school.  Her children are being zoned from White ES to the new split Grove Park/Woodson.  “People speed down it like 285.”

Q:  Boyd Partner – Can you tell me the formula you used to decide to close Boyd Elementary?

A:  People make bad assumptions.  They think this is focused on one particular school instead of looking at a group of schools together. You have an excellent staff at Boyd.  I don’t want people to view this as winners and losers.  We are trying to take the best of all (programs, teachers, etc), into the buildings that we choose to utilize.

Q:  What will you do about the current drop out rate

A:  The drop out rate is seen in high school, the decision to drop out is usually made in middle school.  Every student in every APS middle school now meets with an advisor once a week help curb that.  We are also dealing with truancy.

Q:  What are you doing to make schools more parent friendly?

A:  I welcome parent involvement as I mentioned earlier.  Good schools have parents who are relentless about what they will tolerate and I want all parents to be like that.  We are investing in our parent liaisons at this time.

Note: Davis states to a parent that when a school closes, your child may very well see their teacher from their old school at the new school.

Q:  Will there be transportation for the kids going to Brown next year?

A:  Yes, there will be bus transportation if they live more than 1.5 miles from their middle school (1 mile for elementary).

Q:  Have you decided which of the k2 – 3/5 schools will hold which grade?

A:  We do not know at this time.

Comment: “Boyd Elementary is a little school with a big heart.”

VERY vocal crowd tonight.

Q:  Why are we splitting elementary schools?

A:  It allows us to focus more on 0-5 in the primary grades.  It allows us to give more focus to individual students during their early learning years.  We want to get to them very early.  That is the genesis of the split model.

Davis digs deeper into the Boyd closing.  Explaining that with Boyd it came down to geographic location.  It’s between Scott and Grove Park/Woodson.

The word “slave” and “big house” is now being bantered by a speaker.

Q:  What are some the plans for some of the community service agencies currently housed at Kennedy?

A:  Excellent question.  As we look at repurposing Kennedy we understand there are a lot of good community programs based there.  We have options and we are certainly aware of the valuable work being done by those agencies.  We will take the appropriate time to make sure they are treated appropriately.

Q:  If you all can close my school, why can’t I have the choice to put my child where I want them to go?

A:  Some laws today provide choice and what we’re trying to do with clusters is build ownership within communities.  One of the things we are going to get poignant about is going to school in your own cluster.  We want parents to stay and make those schools better in their communities.  We will have fewer out of district students moving forward.  Your cluster will become a cluster of choice if we do the job we are supposed to do on a daily basis.

Davis speaks about the ineffectiveness of using AYP to measure schools.

Parent: If you close Kennedy and close Bethune that shuts my life down.

Q:  I realize the traditional feeder pattern doesn’t fit our school because BEST Academy and CSK are non traditional school.  The original plan was to put them on the same campus.  We have 2 schools that exist but are not equitable.  Will this be addressed?

A:  Reallocation of resources – we won’t be able to reallocate what we don’t have.  we are committed to rigorous programs at all schools including BEST and CSK.  I’ve visited BEST and spoken with the principals and it is clear that we are not keeping the promise that we said we would when we built those schools.

Davis:  I appreciate all of the comments this evening.  We share the same goals for your children.  You want the best, I want the best and we’re not getting that now.  You should have every program that a large school should have but we can’t afford to put them there.  I mentioned earlier, Boyd is a good school, it’s a very good school, but I believe our allegiance must be to children, not to buildings.

Note:  March 26th is the last day for feedback on the recommendations you heard this evening.

~End of Live Blog~

2 thoughts on “Community Meeting Live Blog: SRT 1 and SRT 4 NW Cluster of Schools, March 12, 2012

Add yours

  1. My name is Sherri F. Walthall. I am a native Atlantan and a proud product of Atlanta Public Schools. I have several great experiences in the Boyd Community as a child and as well as an adult. My family lives in this community and they are property owners.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! It is not my wish for William M. Boyd Elementary School to close!! However, I wish for Boyd to remain open to continue to be a safe haven for our students, parents and the community at large. It will be a wrongful decision to close Boyd Elementary School.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! In time of need Boyd has been the source of stability. The faculty of Boyd has been the rock that stabilizes the family and community.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! Boyd has continued to raise their test scores and a successful AYP status.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! This community at large has suffered enough. The closing of several schools in our area, John Carey,
    AD William, Pitts, Chattanooga and many others. This has become a source of failure in the sight of our community. Abandon buildings, boarded buildings!!! Boyd is a place that keeps hope alive within the community. Our parents can be involved in the education of their child.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! This community has grown and is consistently growing. Be mindful of the new homes, apartments, condos, and lofts. The future of this community is very hopeful and promising. With Boyd closing this future is not as promising. The property value of this community will not be stable.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! The redistricting includes a bigger division in our community. Transportation is used to bus students that live 5 minutes away and/or walking distance to another school. This division continues within a community. An apartment complex is divided and with this proposal, additional transportation is need. Families are suffering under this plan.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! I beg of you to keep Boyd open!!! Give us a chance to continue to be a place where 400 plus students, parents and educators will combine together to stabilize this district and the community at large.

    My name is S. F. Walthall. I am a native Atlantan and a proud product of Atlanta Public Schools. I have several great experiences in the Boyd Community as a child and as well as an adult. My family lives in this community and they are property owners.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! It is not my wish for William M. Boyd Elementary School to close!! However, I wish for Boyd to remain open to continue to be a safe haven for our students, parents and the community at large. It will be a wrongful decision to close Boyd Elementary School.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! In time of need Boyd has been the source of stability. The faculty of Boyd has been the rock that stabilizes the family and community.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! Boyd has continued to raise their test scores and a successful AYP status.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! This community at large has suffered enough. The closing of several schools in our area, John Carey,
    AD William, Pitts, Chattanooga and many others. This has become a source of failure in the sight of our community. Abandon buildings, boarded buildings!!! Boyd is a place that keeps hope alive within the community. Our parents can be involved in the education of their child.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! This community has grown and is consistently growing. Be mindful of the new homes, apartments, condos, and lofts. The future of this community is very hopeful and promising. With Boyd closing this future is not as promising. The property value of this community will not be stable.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! The redistricting includes a bigger division in our community. Transportation is used to bus students that live 5 minutes away and/or walking distance to another school. This division continues within a community. An apartment complex is divided and with this proposal, additional transportation is need. Families are suffering under this plan.

    Keep Boyd Open!!! I beg of you to keep Boyd open!!! Give us a chance to continue to be a place where 400 plus students, parents and educators will combine together to stabilize this district and the community at large.

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