The Atlanta Board of Education agreed May 2 in a split vote to move forward with a controversial recommendation to open a new elementary school in Virginia-Highland. But the recommendation may change before a final vote this summer after some board members said they want more feedback from Midtown residents who strongly oppose a new K-5 school.
The board voted 5-4 on the first vote to approve Superintendent Lisa Herring’s recommendation to convert the former Inman Middle School into an elementary school. The plan requires some 850 students from Morningside, Mary Lin and Springdale Park elementary schools be rezoned to different schools. More than 500 would come from Springdale Elementary, known as SPARK, lowering its enrollment by nearly 50%.
Herring made her recommendation public a week ago. She bypassed a proposal to create a dual SPARK campus. She said the new elementary school offers flexibility for future enrollment growth across the Midtown cluster, creates balanced elementary schools, increases potential the percent of students in the walk zone and maintains diversity where possible.
SPARK parents packed the May 2 meeting, wearing flowers pinned to school T-shirts, and criticized the process, saying one week was not enough time to study and review the plan. They urged the board to reject Herring’s recommendation and go with the dual campus. SPARK parents have started a petition to try to overturn the recommendation.
“Our kids deserve stability, and I don’t believe the recommendation prioritizes our students’ mental health and well-being,” said one SPARK parent whose child’s entire education has occurred during the pandemic. “There will be a tremendous amount of change for the over 800 students taken from their current schools.”
Board members asked for more time to listen to the upset families and to understand better why a new school was recommended over a dual campus. A final vote was slated for June. But Herring said a final decision could be made by August to give time to hire staff for a new school for the 2023-24 year.
School staff also let board members know that the first vote is a recommendation and changes could be made before August. Voting against the recommendation were Michelle Olympiadis, Jason Esteves, Jennifer McDonald and Erika Mitchell. Board Chair Eshe’ Collins, Vice Chair Aretta Baldon, Cynthia Briscoe Brown, Tamara Jones and Katie Howard voted in favor to allow next steps.