By C. Julia Nelson
It’s a catch 22.
Three north Buckhead elementary schools are known for their excellence in education, which makes recruitment effortless. On the other hand, their abundant popularity has the Atlanta Public School (APS) district in an overcrowding bind that has parents upset at the prospect of redistricting the schools and sending their students elsewhere.
In an effort to appeal to parents, the Atlanta Board of Education held a community meeting on Jan. 22, providing a platform for debate on the proposed redistricting and permanent primary centers for each of Morris Brandon, Warren T. Jackson and Sarah Smith elementary schools. (See below for details of proposals.)
APS parents, teachers and administrators packed the Shaw Theater at North Atlanta High School to hash out the options for resolving the issue of overcrowding in the North Buckhead cluster of elementary schools.
District 4 board member Kathleen Pattillo, who represents the interests of all three schools, supports the current proposal and defended it as the most feasible plan based on other, more disruptive, options.
“I believe it’s the best proposal at this time,” Pattillo said. “This solution came as a result of looking at all factors over time. The primary centers would provide significant capacity and limit the rezoning. It’s the least disruptive answer to the overcrowding (problem).”
The well-attended meeting lasted late into the night, as a panel of APS representatives fielded questions and comments about the proposal. Concerns ranged from attendance zone boundary lines and grandfathering in current students to traffic issues as well as justification behind creating primary centers as opposed to building a new K-5 school.
Valerie Thomas, executive director of facilities services for APS, explained that the current proposal provided the most cost effective and expedient option for resolving the overcrowding problem for the next seven to 10 years.
“While we recognize that we need a new school, we believe with kindergarten centers we will have the ability to create capacity and move forward in a more expeditious manner,” Thomas said.
Thomas said redistricting is necessary to keep students attending the proposed permanent primary centers within the same zone as their home school. In some cases families living within one mile of Brandon may have to relocate their students to Jackson even if it is three miles further away based on the proximity of the proposed primary center.
To date, no transportation study has been conducted to determine the impact to the surrounding neighborhoods nor has a second recommendation been considered. Additionally, parents are concerned that the grandfathering effort will counteract the effort to reduce overcrowding until the current kindergarten students move on to middle school.
Either way, emotions are mixed through and through. A random show of support during the meeting revealed that the audience at the forum was pretty equally split between support and opposition.
Nikki Klein, mother of a Brandon Elementary student, sympathizes with the board, but as a volunteer with the North Metro program is disappointed at the prospect of seeing a viable program overlooked and potentially lost because of the proposal.
“They are heart-wrenching decisions that have to be made and I support the current recommendation,” Klein said, “but I’m sad to see North Metro go away. It’s a great program for the community.”
While it is still to be seen whether the program will cease to exist, Yolanda Adrean, a PTA member said North Metro is being severely overlooked and displaced. Annually serving about 100 APS students with behavioral and autistic issues at the Margaret Mitchell school, North Metro would be relocated to Peterson Elementary under the proposal to make room for the permanent primary center for Brandon Elementary. Peterson is also in need of renovations before it is a reasonable location for students to learn, she said.
“Peterson has been boarded up for several years,” Adrean said. “We want to know how they will prepare the building for our population.”
A final recommendation will be before the APS board during the committee of the whole session on Monday, March 3. The board’s final action will be taken at the regular meeting on Monday, March 10. If this plan is voted down, there is no plan B to be considered at this time.