When Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis visited North Atlanta High School on Tuesday, March 13, to discuss his plan to redistrict the city’s schools, parents gave him a warm reception.
North Atlanta’s cluster of schools won’t change under Davis’ proposed redistricting plan, but there will be big changes in the southern clusters, including closing 13 schools. Parents at those schools said they were treated differently under Davis’ proposal.
“I think it’s going back to the segregation days if you ask me,” said Katrina Jackson, a parent at F.L. Stanton Elementary which Davis recommended closing. “Really, I’m just heartbroken to hear the schools are going to be closed. It’s too unreal.”
Davis disagreed, saying his plan actually tries to put southern schools on equal footing with their northern neighbors. The reality, he said, is north Atlanta’s schools are overcrowded and south Atlanta’s schools have empty desks. APS has a capacity for 60,000 students but serves 47,000.
“The plan is designed to attack major disparities,” Davis said, noting his proposal moves the entire system to a cluster model, where elementary schools feed into the same middle school and the same high school. It’s a model that he said will strengthen the school community in southern clusters, as it has in Buckhead. He also said the consolidated southern schools would benefit from better support services than they currently receive.
Davis said the focus should not be if one school is closed in the south then one should be closed in the north. “The focus should be, what do you have that I don’t have,” he said.
Davis’ plan is subject to further revisions and approval by the Atlanta Board of Education, but the superintendent doesn’t expect Buckhead’s maps to change much.
That won’t comfort south Atlanta parents who aren’t happy that Buckhead’s schools are going to remain open while their schools will be shuttered.
Since the redistricting process began last fall, North Atlanta parents have grilled APS officials during every public meeting where there was a mere suggestion that their school attendance zones would change. South Atlanta parents said they struggled to get turnout.
“We couldn’t even get a big group together like they did in Buckhead,” said Capitol View Elementary parent Bridgette Porter, whose school also would close under Davis’ plan. “We weren’t properly notified.”
Fellow Capitol View Elementary parent Jinaki Flint said Buckhead was successful because the whole north Atlanta cluster worked together to pressure APS officials. Parents of children in south Atlanta don’t have that kind of luxury, Flint said.
“Our school is in an area where the population is disenfranchised. When you have a situation where the population is disenfranchised, they don’t get a voice,” Flint said. “We’re hoping the superintendent will visit us and give us a voice.”
Flint said she hopes parents in Buckhead will get involved with south Atlanta schools to make sure they are treated fairly in the redistricting process.
“Just because they live there, doesn’t mean they can’t lend their voice to what’s going on in our community,” Flint said. “Ultimately a lack of education affects everyone, including people who live in Buckhead.”
Davis said the school system contacted all parents through “multiple channels” during the public comment period, using phone calls, fliers sent to parents homes and notices in churches.
During the question and answer session on March 13, Cynthia Briscoe Brown, co-president of North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools, asked how north Atlanta parents could help the parents of south Atlanta schools.
“I don’t think there’s a lot you can do in other areas of the city, quite frankly,” Davis told Brown. “I don’t know that there is anything I would ask of you other than what you’ve done already, which is comment vigorously.”
Buckhead parents said they sympathized with the plight of their neighbors.
Amy McPherson, a parent at Bolton Academy, said change was inevitable.
“If we were on their end, we’d be really upset as well,” McPherson said.
Jeremy Moeser, a parent at Morris Brandon Elementary, said the school closures will save money and that will benefit the whole school system, not just north Atlanta.
“It’s not a situation where this area is getting what it’s asking for at the expense of other areas,” Moeser said.