The Atlanta Board of Education will consider Superintendent Lisa Herring’s proposal to convert the former Inman Middle School into a new elementary school located in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood.
Officials say the new K-5 school would alleviate overcrowding at other schools and also provide space for families moving to booming Midtown.
The board is expected to take the first vote on the proposal at its May 2 meeting; the second and final vote is set for June 6.
Herring’s proposal to adapt the former middle school into a new elementary school is based in large part on the one submitted to Atlanta Public Schools just over a week ago by Sizemore Group. Sizemore was hired by APS in 2019 to spearhead the creation of a facilities master plan. APS posted Herring’s and Sizemore’s proposals on its website and also emailed the superintendent’s tweaked version to families on April 25.
“While the consultation recommendations succeed in addressing school capacity challenges by leveraging under-utilized schools, we understand this process is larger than operational concerns (“sticks and bricks”),” Herring said in her report.
“Our engagement provided a deeper understanding of the impact these decisions have on each school, neighborhood, family and student,” she said. “In developing these APS recommendations, we focused on our shared values of excellence, equity and engagement.”
Sizemore also presented to APS and the community the option to create a dual campus for Springdale Park Elementary, also known as SPARK. This scenario would have put SPARK’s third through fifth graders at the Inman building while its kindergarten through second grade students would be housed at its main campus at 1246 Ponce de Leon Ave. Right now, due to overcrowding, SPARK has its kindergarten students at a rented space at a church on Briarcliff Road, less than a mile away from the Ponce de Leon campus.
Morningside Elementary School students would be placed at the Inman building to become part of the SPARK school as part of the second scenario. Morningside students are currently in the Inman building while their school at 1053 East Rock Spring Road is undergoing nearly $20 million in rehabilitation and renovations. Morningside parents overwhelmingly support converting the Inman facility into a new elementary school.
Both scenarios require rezoning school boundaries and hundreds of students being transferred to different schools.
The process of shifting children to a new school to deal with overcrowding never makes anyone happy, said Atlanta School Board member Michelle Olympiadis. Olympiadis lives in Morningside and represents the Midtown Cluster, which includes Hope-Hill, Mary Lin, Morningside, and Springdale Park elementary schools. Also included are Midtown High School and Howard Middle School in Old Fourth Ward, where Inman Middle School students now attend.
There has been a lot of community engagement about the future of the Inman building, but parents are looking at the latest scenario just one week before the vote, Olympiadis said. The overcrowding situation at Midtown area schools is dire and is projected to get worse in the next few years. Making more space available for learning needs happen as soon as possible, she said.
“We’re at a point where we’ve got to do something in the Midtown area,” she said. “I’m not opposed to any scenario that the administration has put forth to the community thus far, but I just don’t feel as though the communities had a real opportunity to authentically engage.”
Shannon Gaggero of Virginia-Highland, the mom of a Springdale Park first-grader, said she was “shocked” when she learned Herring was recommending the new elementary school. That option could erase the years of hard work families and faculty put into the school to make it successful.
“We have about 750 students at Springdale Park right now and about 500 of those students will be completely rezoned to a new elementary school,” she said.
“It’s shocking for APS to recommend that over two-thirds of our student body be rezoned,” Gaggero said. “SPARK will be a shell of itself.”
Gaggero said the process was a difficult one as parents new to the area had to quickly learn the ins and outs of what schools consider when rezoning, such as types of housing, diversity of school-age students, walkability, and incomes. But the SPARK resulted in fewer students being transferred to a new school, she said.
“I don’t like in general [how systems works] when they pit parents against each other, and I think unfortunately, that’s been our reality for the past couple of years,” Gaggero said, noting school fights over mask mandates, in-person learning, and virtual classrooms.
Amy Hayward, also a Springdale Park mom, said the dual campus scenario would afford the Midtown Cluster and APS time to analyze more closely post-COVID data to determine long-term solutions to overcrowding.
“The K-5 scenario is a short-term solution, and an unnecessarily disruptive burden on our community, resources and students in the midst of a global pandemic,” Hayward said.
Shraddha Srivastav Strennen lives in Piedmont Heights and has two toddlers attending Morningside Elementary. She’s happy with the new K-5 school option. A dual campus could become a massive campus and no longer be a small neighborhood school where she wants her children to learn.
“I get it. I feel like I feel their pain,” she said of the Springdale Park parents complaints. “For all of us, whatever it is, changing and growth is hard.
“But I think children thrive in more of a community environment, and this feel like a better long-term solution.”
Rezoning would not take effect until the beginning of the 2023-24 school year for the new school if approved.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify APS was provided two scenarios for what to do with the Inman building — one to convert it into a new elementary school, which is supported by the school administration, and the other was to create a dual campus for Springdale Park Elementary.