LIVE BLOG: SRT 2 Community Meeting with the Superintendent, March 22, 2012

Welcome to our live blog of superintendent Erroll Davis’ community meeting with SRT 2 cluster of schools at Carver High School, March 14, 2012.  This meeting is for parents and students zoned to South Atlanta High School and New Schools of Carver High School.  Superintendent Davis will host tonight’s meeting.

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

6:37 pm – Meeting is beginning with an introduction from Associate Superintendent, Steve Smith.  Smith tells the audience the rules for the evening – questions, not statements or speeches.

6:42 pm  Superintendent Davis is at the podium.  Emphasizes that the proposal at this point is preliminary.  No final decisions have been made.  This meeting is to answer questions from the community.

Releasing a proposal for the closing of 13 schools does not make you very popular.  What I would like to share with you are those reasons.  I wrestle with the easiest way to do this, so I thought I might use an example to explain my decision.

Let’s say the economy is doing well, and your family is renting a house for X dollars a month. Then, almost out of nowhere, the economy crashes.  You get laid off.  A couple of your older children decide to move out to try to make it on their own.Left in the house are you and your younger children.  And although you’re still paying for a spacious house, you’re actually using fewer rooms of the house.  The landlord could care less about your circumstances.  Your rent remains the same, and it’s still due on the first.What would you do?  If you stay in the house …You have to ration out your meals.  Eating out for a nice dinner is certainly out of the question.  You don’t have cable because you cannot afford it.  And you cannot buy new clothes for your child because most of your money goes to just keeping a roof over your heads.Or you decide to downsize.  You move to a smaller apartment for less money a month.  Then you have some extra money to provide the very best for your child: food, clothes, movies, video games, and more.What would you do?  Would you stay in the big house and struggle?  Or would you downsize and get back on your feet?  Everyone wants the best for their child.This is the choice APS is facing.  I don’t know any parent in this room who would settle for less than the best for his or her child.
We as a system are no different.  However, instead of looking out for the best interest of one child or several, we are looking out for the best interest of 47,000.  APS needs to move from a bigger house, to a smaller house, from a bigger apartment to a smaller apartment.  We need to downsize the number of schools so that we don’t spend money on 13,000 empty seats.
The recommendation is that we close 13 schools around the district and we will take the savings and put more resources in the schools that will remain open. We will move to a cluster model forming 10 groups of schools.
What does a cluster model mean?  It means you will start in an elementary school, go from that school to a middle school where you will meet up with other students from other elementary schools and you will all go to the same middle and high school.  This will give you stability, allowing parents to get involved early, know each other, bond with one another and meet others with similar interests.
What we have in this area of the city is that kids from the same elementary will go off to different middles and then different high schools.
6:50  I want to emphasize that my closure and redistricting recommendations have nothing to do with the CRCT investigation, as some believe.  If you asked me to name 10 schools involved in the CRCT investigation I couldn’t.  I’m trying to put that behind me.And the recommendations have nothing to do with race.   Currently, the majority of APS schools are in African-American neighborhoods. After this process, the majority of APS schools will remain in African-American neighborhoods.The recommendations have everything to do with saving money andredirecting the funds to better resources for all children.When I visit schools I get questions about equity, and that’s a good question.  The more we can concentrate resources, the more I can give to schools.  At the end of this process I hope to have an assistant principal in every school, no matter the size.  Our allegiance in this process must be to children, not to buildings.  I will keep as many open as possible, but it comes at a cost and that is a cost your children will pay.  We are not in a fiscal condition to bring the same services to all schools.Can I make promises this evening? If I accept closing what will I get out of this – That’s what you want and I can’t do that.  What I can say is what we would like to do.  Better academic services and programs, more resources on special needs students, better leadership and more.Let me look at the schools that will be affected in this cluster.  Remember that this is preliminary.6:56pm
Recommendations by HS Cluster – 2 High Schools in All Carver HS Cluster
Benteen ESwill remain open with some changes to its attendance boundary.
Capitol View ES Will be closed.Students will be reassigned to Perkerson ESWith the community’s support, instead of demolishing the Capitol View facility (as we originally announced), we will repurpose it.
Finch ESwill remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.
Gideons ESwill remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.
Perkerson ESwill remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.
Slater ESwill remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.
Thomasville Heights ES Will be closed.  Students will be reassigned to Benteen ES.  The Thomasville facility will be repurposed.
Parks MS – Parks will be closed.  Students will be reassigned to Sylvan Hills and King MS (Note: Price will receive a very small number of students also.)  Let me explain the schedule for Parks’ proposed closure.In the upcoming school year (2012-13), Parks will have seventh- and eighth-grade classes only for students who are currently attending Parks.  Those students will have a choice: They may continue attending Parks, or they may attend their reassigned school instead.In 2013-14, the Parks facility will be used as an APS transition site.  By January 2015, we hope to have Parks opened as a vocational education/career academy (e.g., automotive classes that are appropriate for cars built in the 21stcentury and beyond)Parks’ location near the Atlanta Metropolitan College and Atlanta Technical College makes the school a perfect choice for a career academy.  This is something the community has been requesting.  We will work closely with community, city, county and state officials to make the career academy happen.
Price MS will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.Sylvan Hills MS  Will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.  Will be renovated and expanded at an est. cost of $30M.Carver High School  Will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.  Carver Early College is our highest performing school in our district. (applause)

7pm –  South Atlanta HS Cluster  Now for the schools in the proposed new South Atlanta cluster.

Cleveland Avenue ES will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.

Dobbs ES will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.

Heritage Academy will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.

Humphries ES  Will be closed.  The recommendation to close Humphries is the single most painful decision we have had to make during this process.  Based on neighborhood lines, students will be reassigned to one of three schools: Heritage Academy, Cleveland Avenue ES or Dobbs ES.  We are also looking into opportunities to repurpose the Humphries facility.

Hutchinson ES will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.

Long MS  Will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary.  Will be appropriately sized to fit the HS at a present estimated cost of slightly less than $10M.  (We don’t expect students to have to move.)

South Atlanta High School  Will remain open with some change to its attendance boundary

Before I answer your questions, I want to correct something I have been hearing that is not true.

I have heard people say that if APS closes schools and places more students in another school, then class sizes in that school will automatically be bigger.

This is not true.  If a school gets more students, the school will get more teachers as well!  That is how we determine our staffing: more students = more teachers.  Therefore, no class should be larger than the maximum class sizes approved by the school board and the state education department.  The current approved classes sizes are …  No more than 23 students for every kindergarten class

  • No more than 25 students for classes for grades 1, 2, 3
  • No more than 30 students for classes for grades 4 & 5
  • No more than 30 students for classes for grades 6, 7, 8

Again, it is important for everyone to understand that more students = more teachers in a school.  We want to make sure we keep our best teachers.  Certainly, we cannot guarantee a contract to every teacher now serving in APS.  But what we can guarantee is this: We are not going to shortchange any child, and we are going to make any necessary staff reassignments as open and fair as possible.

I also get asked often about how often I visit schools – I have been inside of every school in this cluster slated to close – every school.  No one in any school that is slated for closure has done anything wrong.  Nothing.  This is a painful decision but changes must be made.

7:09pm Audience Q&A will now begin:

Q:  I understand that you are going to put a career academy in our community and you say that’s what we want.  We have not had anyone from the BOE attend our meetings to express anything about the career academy to our community.  Why are we missing core teachers in the classroom at this point in the year.  Social Studies, Science and others at Parks?  My daughter has had subs throughout the year.

A:  What we do with the comments is that we spend about 5 hours per week reviewing comments but I do not have the capability to return every phone call and email comment from every parent in the city during this process.  It pains me to hear you talk about the quality of the teachers or lack thereof.  This process will allow us to place the best leader at your school and that leader will be able to hand pick their team.  We will put in place mechanisms that will allow the community to give input on the performance of the principals in the schools.  I can only be apologetic for the quality that you see and I appreciate you commenting on that quality.  The best schools that we have the parents will not allow sub-quality in their school and they are relentless, like you, about getting the best people in their schools.

Q:  What decisions are being made by students, the people being affected most by this situation?

A:  Good question.  Very few decisions, when we get to higher and higher levels I think students are capable of helping.

Q:  South Atlanta is being unrepresented.  Did you tell parents in Buckhead that their help was not needed when it came to helping others of us in the city?  Have you taken into consideration that the people in South Atlanta could have used some help from the folks in Buckhead?

A:  I don’t remember if I was threatened with a lawsuit from parents in Buckhead – but if I was it had nothing to do with my decisions in that cluster.  I believe that it is the people who live in the community have the answers for their community, not people who come from the outside and tell them what to do.

Current commenter/community member is giving a speech wrapped in questions that asks that we pay attention to the fact that MARTA, charter schools, the Beltline, TAD and other factors are  the reason behind the demise of public schools.  Davis interrupts.  The speaker interrupts.  Davis rebuts.


Q:  Won’t the closing of these schools trigger overcrowding?  What if I don’t want my child to attend the zoned middle and high school?  With the money saved from closing the schools, how will it be spent?  How will repurposing work?

A:  If there are schools under capacity, people have the right to transfer to those schools but they have to provide their own transportation.  The very things that people say they want are the very things we are not providing in this part of town. I can’t tell you what we will put in each school until we move further along in this process.  Our academic staff will assess the needs in the school and place more or less staff in that school.  Even a school with lower numbers may, for whatever reason, demand more resources.  We are not putting you into an overcrowded situation. We have guidelines for the next 10 years.  There will be no programmed overcrowding.  Will there ever be overcrowding? Possibly, because we can’t predict the future.  I can’t really give you a clear view of how a specific school will be repurposed until after we close the school.  We have formed a repurposing task force to work with the NPU’s, the City…to figure out what is the best use of these buildings.  The very last thing I would want is to have a boarded up building in a community. (light applause).

Q:  Why are you taking the Thomasville Heights students and moving them to a smaller building with no special needs department?

A:  The Benteen building is smaller, but it will not be overcrowded.  Thomasville can hold 835 but its only 50% full.  What we are looking at in the proposal is to move thoe students into Benteen and after boundary changes we will be at higher utilization.

Q:  Thomasville (housing community) is gone, now the school is gone…what’s next?

A:  Our task force will look at programs like City of Hope and the Thomasville Heights building could be repurposed for that in a bigger facility and serve more children.  The one there now, I believe, is almost at capacity.

Q:  Are you aware of an extrodinary program at Thomasville Heights where a group of doctors from Morehouse work with the children there?

A:  I am not aware of your specific program, I am aware that a lot of our schools have wonderful programs such as yours.  We are also aware that the partners bring programs

Q:  This is from God to ask to you.  Mr. Davis, how can you treat your job better than you treat God’s children.  This is a question that He wanted me to ask you.  This is a question that you need to go home and speak to the creator about.

Note:  I have no idea where this is going……speaker says she doesn’t want her question answered…..

A:  ~Davis attempts to answer question~

Next speaker asks about the quality of the demographer’s work and why APS doesn’t see the closure of a school like Thomasville Heights as a failure on the part of the Board of Education.

Davis:  Our decision is based on the work of the demographers (one year of work), but we cannot base our actions only on their numbers.  If there is one thing we’ve learned during this process, it is that children are much more flexible than their parents.  On the subject of special needs, I’ve been advised that we will be able to put a minimum, at least one person trained to work with special needs students in every school.  All of the issues you’ve mentioned about not having this and not having that are about not having the means to do those things.  These are tough decisions that will lead us to giving you what you need.  Transitions are difficult, we understand that, but we believe our children will be better served if we can get that support like other areas of the city get.

Q:  What data was used for the decision of closing Thomasville Heights? What testing safeguards do you have in place for the upcoming CRCT?

A:  The procedures for testing have all been changed.  More people are involved in the process.  Not one person will have the data or tests in their hands at any given time.  We have saferooms in our schools with timed locks and keys that identify who goes in and out.  Certain things, including delivery of tests from one place to another will trigger red flags.  Nothing is 100%, but they are better than what we’ve had in the past.

Q:  How are you preparing teachers for the Common Core Standards?

A:  We will be moving to a standards based curriculum called Common Core in the fall.  Teachers are being prepared now to roll this out in the fall.

Q:  Some of the characteristics concerning educational quality don’t seem to be included in the proposal.  What are some metrics that relate to the school I’m being zoned into.  Average tenure, average pay, other items should be inluded in the report.

A:  I don’t know if there is a report that contains ever piece of data you want.  One of the challenges of this district is that the facts that people thought the system should be based upon, ie the CRCT, led people to inappropriate behavior.  What we are moving towards is standards based education without the same focus on test scores.  It is very hard to measure what is an educated individual.  I can certainly tell you that right now schools under 450 don’t really have full time anything that comes into the schools.  What we’re trying to do is to combine schools to get those types of resources.

Q:  Perkerson Elementary is within 1/8 of a mile of a major roadway.  *cites a study about respitory disease* Have you done an air quality study?

A:  I don’t think that you can say that there is an air quality issue at Perkerson.  We include comments like this in our weekly meetings and weigh the

Q:  Who is a on the repurposing committee?

A:  Steve Smith will chair and in regards to local community members, we will include NPU’s as we go to their particular neighborhoods to repurpose buildings.

Davis:  My goal is to take money and put it closer and closer to the children so I’ve asked every department downtown to give me a budget that is 15% less.  That represents 90Million in savings.

Q:  Why should I send my child to a lower/under performing school due to you wanting to close my performing school?

A:  Schools do not remain constant in their performance.  Young lady that was just at the mic explained that her school was up, then down now back up and the goal is to get all of our schools to a higher level of performance.  We need parents to say this is unacceptable.  What impact can you have?  We are putting into place this month or next, evaluation tools for principals where we will ask the public, teachers, parents “how is this leader doing?  what can they improve on?” If we find that leaders are not performing then we will replace those leaders.

We need excellent teachers in every school, not just where people are making noise now.  We are raising the bar, the qualifications for getting into this system will be higher than they are now.  These are long term problems and need long term fixes.  We need your help as parents to do this work.  Not every parent has the ability to understand what is higher performing and what is lower performing and how to move my child from one place to another.  What we find is a system where kids and their parents are left behind while others in the community seek out other higher performing schools.

Q:  Will all the teachers go back into the APS hiring pool or only between schools that are opening and closing?

A:  What we’ve told leaders is that they will be able to select teachers.  You will not be able to pull them out of other schools unless they want to go.

Q:  As a parent, why would I want to send my kid to a school with that much traffic, activity and crime around it?

A:  You made comments about the differences about the area and those are the types of things that we welcome in our comments.  What we had in this situation was 3 schools in a row.  As we looked at the number of kids in the Humphries zone we realized we only had a need for 2 schools, not 1.  We discussed Humphries more loudly and vigorously than any other school. We violated more of those principles than in any other area.  These are prelim proposals and we don’t want to pit schools against one another.  We do use the crime maps, density maps and we use all of that area.

Q:  The east siders are not coming to the west, the west can’t get to the east (parents agreed tonight to not use north and south).  Have you given any consideration to a city wide school of the arts.

A:  We are actually discussing a city-wide school of the arts. It was discussed with the board on Wednesday.

Q:  Are you satisfied out of what you are getting out of our small schools? Is it working?

A:  Traditional high school set-ups are the least expensive, schools like Carver are the most expensive.  We don’t have a good sense at all if we’re getting what we are paying for.  With that said, Carver Early College is our highest performing school  We have too many high schools in this city so these are timely questions.

Q:  Will you bring magnets back?

A:  The board has had discussions during the last 2 strategy meetings about this and this is something that we will have to keep in front of them.  Due to all of the changes in front of us, there is no plan to put a magnet program back this year.  We will continue to discuss this model.

Community member asks about a name change to Brown Middle School.  He was referring the information contained in this article.

Q:  After all this, will our questions be taken into consideration. How will we know that our efforts were worth it?

A:  If you look at this entire process the demographers came out last year with 4 plans.  People commented, pointed out what was wrong and they came back in January with 2 very different plans that reflected many of the comments they had received.  It clearly took those into account.  My proposal is different from the demographers last 2 proposals.  We didn’t come out with some different just to do something different, we listened to the comments and made changes.  I can tell you that this is a prelim proposal and I will take your suggestions and put them into my work as I make more changes before presenting my final recommendation to the board.

March 26th is the final day to offer feedback from the public. Email comments to (or simply write your recommendation/comment on a sheet of paper and turn it into your school principal).

Steve Smith wraps out the meeting.

~Live blog has now ended~


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