LIVE BLOG: SRT 3 Community Meeting at Jackson High School – March 21, 2012

Welcome to our live blog of superintendent Erroll Davis’ community meeting with SRT 3 cluster of schools at Jackson High School, March 13, 2012.  This meeting is for parents and students zoned to Jackson High School and Grady High School.  Superintendent Davis will host tonight’s meeting.

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

6:33pm – Meeting is beginning with an introduction from Associate Superintendent, Steve Smith.

Over 500 community members and students are in tonight’s audience.

Smith introduces Board members: Kinnane, Muhammad, Meister, Y. Johnson and E. Johnson.  City Council member Wan is also present.

Smith:  Our purpose tonight is to answer questions that you have about the superintendent’s report.  He will provide an overview of remarks followed by a Q&A.  Many of you have sent questions and recommendations and we will address issues one by one.  We’ve gone through the questions from school community meetings and answered them one by one.  Our goal is to leave here with all of your questions as best we can with all your questions answered.

Smith asks audience to ask questions, not make speeches or statements.  (This rule has applied to all of the superintendent’s community meetings).

6:44pm – Davis is at the podium with opening statements.  Remember to refresh your browser every 30 seconds for updates.

Davis:  This is the 3rd of 4 regional community meetings.  I’ve walked away from each of those meetings questioning whether we have really shed light on the issues or done more to stir up emotions.  I think you are getting the transparency you asked for, but the making of policy and the making of decisions is not a pretty process.  In the past you may have seen the results of a decision with little input.  During this entire process we will hear comments and you will see changes.  The changes are results of your comments.

On the downside, is the impact that we are having on neighboring communities.  This process is going to end and we are uncomfortable when we see neighborhoods pitted against one another.  As always I try to see a positive….and I have been told that parents are much more engaged in this process.  What makes our good schools good is the level of parental involvement.  Parents who are demanding of excellence who want quality facilities and are relentless in their demands….they get good schools.  I wonder if this is sustainable, can we continue with this passion about future decisions?  We obviously want to get this right or as right as we can.

Clearly you deserve some insight into our thinking and tonight that is why I’m here.  I put out a prelimanary proposal and I meant it was preliminary.  The end result will not be identical to what you are looking at now.  Some will say that’s great…others will say “I didn’t have a chance to comment.”

The feedback has been great and I’ve tried to consolidate questions and get thru them as quickly as I can.

Redistricting is about more than shuffling students to save dollars. Clearly we need to save some money.  If you had attended our budget meeting, you would have heard that our cost projections are different than our revenue projections by $60Million.  I have to find $60M or reduce by $60M.  Is it do-able? I think it is.

We are talking about putting services to better use across the district.

Q:  How does QBE work?

A:  To explain QBE, I would be here for a long time this evening.  I will simpify it.  Every school comes with revenue.  That revenue is basically inadequate.  What we get vs what we spend for a single teacher – we get about 35% from the state for each teacher.  We have the equivelent of 735 positions for which we are not getting any funding.  Are there breaks based upon school size? Yes but they don’t relate to teachers the way the relate to Asst. Principals.  Do we take that into account when we staff our schools? Absolutely, but some of our smaller schools don’t have the same support staff that our larger schools do.

Q:  How can you say you will have a savings of $500K per closed school?

A:  It is a planning number.  In fact it is a conservative estimate.  $500k for 13 schools is 6.5Million a year.  We think this number is understated but we continue to use it for planning purposes.

Q:  Why is APS closing schools in African American neighborhoods.

A:   Most of our schools are in A-A neighborhoods.  Race is not a factor in our closings.  The words race cannot leave our mouths during our internal meetings.  The majority of school closings are in A-A neighborhoods.  Why can’t we zone north schools south? We want stable clusters and we have clusters like that which are stable, particularly the Grady cluster as well as North Atlanta.  Our goal was not to start with a clean sheet of paper but to give clusters the tools for success without disrupting those things that are working.

Q:  What numbers did you use to make this proposal? Where are your 10 year projections?

A:  What we have done is we have taken demographic projections for the next 10 years and adjust those numbers for the proposal.  The data changes daily as we change boundaries.  We will post in the next few days the 10 year projections by school, by year for every school in the cluster.  I expect to receive emails that say the numbers are wrong but there is no way to predict the future.  For planning we don’t rely on one scenario.  We rely on indicators over time and other variables other than demographic projections.

Q:  What about Walden and Howard? How much will it cost to bring them online?

A:  Both of these buildings are in poor condition and require significant renovation and remodeling.  WE had an early study on the Howard building April 2011 and the number now was 23M by July.  I suspect it would be higher now.  This proposal comes with a high level of risk – asbestos and other unknowns could impact construction.  We have closed buildings we have re-opened.  Mitchell building was closed in 2003 for low attendance and we re-opened it in 2009 and it is now the primary center for Brandon.  Tuxedo closed in ’73, we brought it back on line later in the 80’s.

Q:  How can APS justify spending so much on North Atlanta High?

A:  Clearly land is expensive.  The land has been purchased and it was expensive. When you compare the cost of the building to CSK, BEST, Therrell High…any way you cut it the cost is comparable.  This is not an over priced facility although it is expensive…but it is twice as large as most of our high schools.

Q:  Administrative transfers – when will you get a handle on these?

A:  We have a handle on administrative transfers that are legal. What is a mystery is how did illegal transfers register for some schools.  We will still continue to accept transfers based on the capacity of a school.  When a school gets to 90-95% we do not provide transfers.  Once a transfer has been granted they will still be honored to the highest level of that school.  The district will not provide transportation for out of zone transfers in the fall.

Q:  Now that the NCLB waiver has been approved will APS still honor NCLB transfers at Inman and Grady?

A:  If you are at a school you will be able to complete the school at the highest grade.  We are not required to pay for transportation for NCLB transfers any longer and we discussing whether what we will do moving forward.

Davis:  One area that APS must do better in is special needs.  We will continue to provide specialized  transportation as it relates to a child’s IEP.

Q:  What will happen to principals and teachers at schools that are closing?

A:  I do not believe that when you talk about schools closing that there should be a winner or loser.  We should use this as an opportunity to put the absolute leader in place and that leader will be able to choose the absolute best staff.  Again, a staffing plan will be communicated once the board votes on April 10th.

Q:  Will teachers at closed schools be guaranteed a contract?

A:  No, some teachers will lose their jobs.  As to who will be kept and let go…principals will be allowed to build their own team, therefore we need to make sure that the best leaders are in place as principals.  I do not plan to place teachers in school.  I cannot hold principal’s accountable for decisions they did not make.

7:16pm The superintendent will now take questions directly from the audience.  The Q&A above were questions sent in prior to the meeting.  There was a SURGE of parents scattering towards the microphones as the floor was opened.

Q:  I was surprised to see a 6th grade academy for Inman.  What districts use this? What data is there to support this model.

A:  We are not breaking any new ground here.  This is not a new reform model.  They have them in Marietta and other places in GA.  What we teach in 6th grade what we teach will not change.  The extra classes, pull outs, its all do-able.  What about 2 middle schools? The numbers are there.  I’ve gotten questions about the 2 hour bus rides…there are no 2 hour bus rides in our district.  Middle Schoolers on average in Atlanta is 13.4 minutes in the morning and 17 minutes in the afternoon.  All of these problems are solvable and we are not breaking new ground.  For a quality education people will travel across this city but they won’t walk across the street for an inferior education.

Q: Don’t you think that utilizing an existing middle school such as Coan would be a great cost savings and logical solution to relieve overcrowding in SRT3?

A:  If the school were to be closed I know what I would get out of that and I originally suggested that it could be repurposed and used at a 6th grade academy for Inman – that was met with disdain – so that dog did not hunt very well.  You can come up with any number of solutions to populate a building, but few have been along the lines of this is how our community can solve the issue, as opposed to “I’ve got a solution for another community.”  If I had a clean sheet of paper and started from scratch I would have a different set of recommendations.  What I’m trying to do however is minimize cluster upsets.

Q: Have you researched expanding Inman or Grady?

A:  Grady 1275 with the trailers its a little over 1500, with redistricting changes we propose the highest number forecasted is slightly above 1400.  What we want to keep an eye on is Inman.  The issue is not Grady, it is Inman.  I am not going to make a build decision based on a 100 student overage in 2018.  That also implies that we will clean up Grady of all the students that shouldn’t be there.  If we do that we don’t see great problems with Grady.

Q:  Will King Middle have a Mandarin program like Coan

A:  It certainly is possible.  That is a decision that Karen Waldon will have to make if this decision is made to move student and/or programs to King.  We are not going to do a full blown plan on proposals that change  month to month.  Once the plan is closer to completion we will plan for that scenario.  I also hear that there is no way to do this in this short period of time.  I can understand the view that this is so complex that you can’t possible do this in a short period of time.  The answer is that yes we can.  We have a closure manual that will be put on line and it details what every program is supposed to do.  We’ve closed 10 schools in recent years – we don’t have to do this from scratch and we have school closure protocols from personnel to transportation to special needs – its all in there.

Q:  How specifically the children from Coan have a better outcome at King?  Will students be able to get home after school with activities?

A:  If you use CRCT scores you will find that the math scores at King are higher than Coan.  If you look at the frequency of AYP, King has been more successful than Coan in that regard.  But they are not dramatically different in quality and performance.  I want to get past the idea that we are going from a low performing school to a lower performing school.  That is just not the case and we need to get past this.

We are renovating King, extending the IB program into King, we will make the process improvement programs at King just like Jackson and as we look at our schools we are looking at whether we have the leaders to take the schools to the next level.  We have a commitment to make sure that we have quality schools at every location for every child.  We have kids who have afterschool activities at places like Sutton that take them home after school.

Q:  Will there be school closings every time the district is over budget?

A:  That will always be a tool. But these changes were not made only based on budget. We are trying to bring support services such as an assistant principal to every school.

Q:  Any current plans to include the rest of the Grant Park neighborhood into Parkside?

A:  After this was initially announced we got a lot of comments about neighborhood integrity and where lines were drawn.  We are going thru those proposals, meeting weekly.  With respect to Grant Park we are sensitive to the neighborhood and how it is not zoned as a cluster and it is on  our radar.  We will either make the changes or tell you why we didn’t.

Q:  Would you be open to a conversation between the Children’s Museum and the district regarding finding private money to fund the Howard building. ?

A:  As we look at the growth in Inman, we are going to have to have a site somewhere.  We cannot, architecturally, accommodate growth that we see at Inman.  We can then have the argument over a 6th grade academy & one middle or 2 middle schools.  We believe absolutely that the secret to success is other people’s money (laughter). We would absolutely be interest in partnerships.

Q:  What are you going to do for our cluster’s stability to better our schools that we have now? APS has neglected all of our SE Atl schools (refers to the history of charter schools in southeast Atlanta).

A:  Rightly or wrongly, we are where we are.  300 students at a 900 seat school.  I am not persuaded by history to say that it is ok when I am trying to concentrate resources while also trying to find all the dollars I can find.  You know your community much better than I.  You tell me, what I need to do to make this school better.  Send them in as opposed to just “keep it open.”    I am looking for solutions other than how you want another community to come in and solve your problem.

If you had the kind of passion and consistency over the past 10 years that I’ve seen during this process I have to ask myself would we be in this position right now.  What I am seeing out of this community is a K-8 at Toomer which would have also have harmed Coan.  But I’ve said this is prelim.  I’ve said show me a path, show me a way.  Your view of being “in the Grady cluster” is not true, its a split high school with Jackson AND Grady.  You have part of the students going into Coan and going to Grady and part going into Coan and going to Jackson. I believe a consistent feeder pattern is best.

Q:  You are for a cluster model, but what about the split at Grady in a report listed today?

A:  I’m not sure about these categories, if it just came out today we will have to look at it and address it.

Q:  Can you give insight on students coming into Jackson during construction.

A:  Jackson will be closed and refurbished at a cost of $40M with new leadership and possibly new faculty depending on the faculty’s ability to meet IB standards. Where will it be next year? That has not been decided.  We have one site that is prepped for high schools, the Archer school, no one wants to go there and I understand that.  We have some middle schools recommended for closure that could accommodate a high school for a one year period.  Decision won’t be made until after Board votes on proposal.

Q:  Why is Cabbagetown zoned to Whitefoord and why can’t why hasn’t our request been honored to go to Parkside?

A:  First we don’t zone students by request.  What I do know is that everyone wants to go to Parkside.  We will certainly take it down and in our weekly discussion we will take another look at it.

Q:  Can you please release the sites that you are considering to resolve the overcrowding at Inman Middle.

A:  This is what is on the radar (no extensive due diligence on any of these sites) – Suggested to us is Howard, Waldon, Cook, Centennial (in terms of building on land we do not own).  We have to evaluate also whether it is possible to keep kids at Inman for another year.

Parent at the mic- took off a shirt, threw it on the floor, but not sure what the question is/was but here is Davis’ response:

All of our departments have been asked to submit 15% budget cuts.  15% is 90Million dollars.  If I had $60M I couldn’t use it to keep a school open, I would have to use it to fill our $60M hole in our budget.  Our goal is to get as many resources to the hands of the children and closest to the children.

Q:  Please share how you analyze how the public/private funds at Coan impact the school.

A:  I have the letter here that was published from Emory on behalf of Coan. One of the arguments of course is that no funds are transferable, I’m not sure that it is the case.  It actually, in fact, ends with saying that no matter what the outcome, that Emory would remain involved.  This does not sound like an organization that will stop committing based on location.  If you’re talking ongoing savings of $500k – $700k vs a 1 time investment – unless folks are investing on an annual basis vs a 4 year grant with the hope of another – those dollars pale in comparison to ongoing significant savings. I am appreciative that people are investing in our schools but I’m trying to give you a harsh reality that the money that is being invested does not offset what would be saved on an ongoing basis.

Note: Davis also just commented that the reason many schools have made so much progress is that many started so low.

Q:  Why is it that children who are zoned for not zoned for Inman are being sent there while we are being zoned out of Grady into one of the worst performing schools in the state?

A:  At the moment, kids from Coan go off in different directions and I don’t think that is the best model to realize.  The goal is to make every cluster strong.  I wrestle with what is vs what can be. We are making some hefty investments into Jackson, starting with Jackson and moving backwards.  If Coan remains we would have to make significant investments there too.  Investments would be in teachers and leaders first.  We are not however starting from scratch but we want to put the best proposal out there with as little impact as possible.  Out of 47,000 students there are less than 5,000 that will be moved.  I welcome comments via email if people believe there is a better way.

Q: Can the kids at Coan stay there in 6th grade with Inman kids if they use the facility?

A: It’s an option but not the best direction to move for our cluster model.

Q:  Can the Intown Middle SPLOST $30M be redirected to Howard?

A:  Of course there is a possibility.  The splost dollars are not a contract.  We don’t have a commitment to spend them. There is flexibility for us to use those funds in other building activity.

Q:  In regards to Hope Hill, the current proposal says we will have 80 students coming into HH to get our capacity numbers up.  We are concerned that we won’t be able to receive full resources due to our low numbers.  Additional north and east lines would get our numbers up.  If we don’t get our resources, is rezoning the line a possibility?

A:  We will resource the schools based on need to the extent that we can afford it.  Our first pass at the budget will do this.  First step is an assistant principal no matter the school size.    You should not assume in advance that because you are slightly under 400 that you will be under resourced.

Banter back and forth with a parent and Davis about Coan and using it as a 6th grade academy for both Inman and Coan 6th graders. Audience agrees that parent doesn’t understand that the decision to close Coan is separate from the idea of using it as an academy.  First time tonight that things got a wee bit testy.

Note: Definition of overcrowding right now is 90% capacity, however that may change in an effort to not open the doors again to administrative transfers that then overcrowd the school.

Q:  How does the approval process for this proposal work?

A: After the March comment period ends we will re-tool the proposal, then publish a new proposal online, accept more comments over spring break and put final touches on the proposal on the weekend before the March 10 board meeting.  We are still in conversations with the board over whether it will be an up or down vote, voting on components or other scenarios.

Q:  How do we stay involved with this process after the decision is made in the Grady cluster.

A:  We have parent liaisons that go out and cultivate this type of environment.  As we prepare to move 43 principals into permanent positions we will need parent input as well. (Davis went on to name other ways)

Q:  (Coan student) Have you ever sat in the school for a day and watched the students learn?

A:  My goal is to visit every single school in my first year and I am well on my way.  I have not had the luxury of sitting down for class.  We usually go out, observe, spend time with teachers, spend time with principal and hear their concerns – that’s generally what we do.  As an eighth grader you should be commended for coming out tonight – I appreciate you.

Superintendent just committed to staying until all questions from those standing in line are answered even though we are already 30 minutes over the end time of the meeting.  At least 20 community members in line.

Q:  Is there any intention to present transition plans, before the board votes, for schools that are closed.

A:  Not before the board vote, but yes, there is an extensive transition plan and we will place the school closure manual online for you to see.

Q:  Once those decisions are made would you be open to more community forums to present that plan?

A:  Absolutely

Q:  What is the process, once these decisions are made….what is the next step to provide a vision to the district?

A:  You’ve highlighted something we must do. We are doing it as we rebuild the infrastructure of this system.  We are in the process of building process and capacity.  You are right, we must articulate our vision but we are hesitant due to the wild promises made in the past about various models.  We are going to invest in the people that are delivering the education to your children.  We are raising the bar – you will be able to write in order to work in our schools.

Q:  Can we solve the capacity problem at Inman by using portables on the Inman campus, rather than introducing an off site facility.

A:  Yes, we can – (applause) – I didn’t say we would.

Q:  Can you give us your thinking on a permanent vs a temporary solution for Inman?

A:  In terms of permanent or semi-permanent – we can give you a temporary site or a semi- permanent one and you may be ok with overcrowding with your 8th grader but the rising 6th grader may not be.

Q:  Question about Inman expandibility

A:  Inman would be very very difficult to expand in a why that wouldn’t cause it to go up higher than traditional middle schools or move out the entire student population.  You can take schools and put portables on their soccer fields but you have to ask is this what you want in a quality education.  I cannot let today’s parents dictate something like that as a long term solution.

Q:  2nd grader from Cook – Why are you closing my school (Cook Elementary) and sending me to another school in a dangerous area?

A:  If I could keep every school open so that all kid could walk to their school I would…but I can’t. About 63% of the kids are eligible to walk to school and certainly that is one of the things we have to consider.

Q:  Why can’t you divide up the students at DH Stanton, send them to other schools and give them an opportunity to have a safe learning environment? (parent goes on to discuss the status of disrepair at DH Stanton and the superintendent agrees with the parent about the condition of the school).

Sorry – missed the answer

Q:  Why can’t Mary Lin be zoned to schools in the area to relieve their capacity and fill other schools?

A:  We are not starting from scratch. How much disruption should we introduce into the system and how much $ can we get back. I could fill up every school and disrupt a lot of things that are working well.  If we are looking at the number of students that must be moved, if it is your child…it is too high.  I have to look at 47,000 children.

Current speaker reads from Brown V. Board of Education

Davis: Instead of asking other neighborhoods to “share the pain” I want to ask you “What can we give you?”  I’m trying to provide clusters and schools large enough where the system can afford to give you services you can’t get in a small school.

In the next proposal I have no doubt that you will see some lines change.

Q: Is there information available about how many students are attending a specific school

A: The superintendent didn’t quite understand the question (I think), but you can find out where each and every zoned student at every APS student actually attends school (traditional and charter), here:

Davis reminds speakers that he needs questions, not statements.


Why not 2 middle schools for the Grady cluster?

A:  The Grady cluster could support 2 middle schools. There are pros and cons for both.  I am not precluding 2 middle schools but I am recommending a 6th grade academy as a stop-gap measure.  If we want to continue this discussion or the board can make a statement on what they want permanently.  The board is aware of the pros/cons of 6th grade academy & 2 middle schools.

Power just went out at the school.  Davis is now answering in the dark via the light of many cell phones. This is the coolest thing ever 😉

What I want to know is can we find motivation for more students to attend this school (Coan)

Q:  do you have a principal planned for the Inman 6th grade academy?

A:  I am still in conversations with Mrs. Waldon on whether you will have one or 2 principals under the current proposal.

~Live blog has ended (in the dark)…..audience is evacuated row by row with help from our APS police officers. Thanks for following and feel free to comment below!~

7 thoughts on “LIVE BLOG: SRT 3 Community Meeting at Jackson High School – March 21, 2012

Add yours

  1. @Tammy_Garnes — You are the BEST! Great job blogging tonight and always! You are such a valuable asset to APS, parents (whom can’t always attend all meetings) and all stakeholders!

    We are grateful and so fortunate to have such an expert in Social Media such as yourself.

    You may have to develop a course or two to teacher our students how to master a message using SM. I see a Summer class in the making 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for blogging tonight! I think Davis is doing a great job and I think his answers are validated. He knows what is going on.

  3. I really do appreciate whoever is doing the APS blogging. It’s been very thorough coverage. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for doing this, for those of us who are very interested and could not make it tonight. Just reading it I have a great deal of respect for Davis and the very difficult job he is trying to do.

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