Dear Dr. Herring and Atlanta Public School Board Chair Eshe’ Collins, Vice-Chair Aretta Baldon, and Board Members Katie Howard, Michelle Olympiadis, Jennifer McDonald, Erika Mitchell, Tamara Jones, Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Jason Esteves:
The Atlanta Public School’s (APS) Midtown Cluster has experienced consistent issues with student capacity over the past two decades. Although this is due in part to the growth of the Intown neighborhoods, I believe it is also a testament to the excellent schools APS has built through strong partnerships with the community, educators, and stakeholders. Families are proud to be a part of the Atlanta Public Schools family.
At present, two of the elementary schools in the Midtown Cluster, Morningside Elementary School (MES) and Springdale Park (SPARK), are at or over capacity. Due to the new David T. Howard Middle School (Howard) opening in Old Fourth Ward, APS is examining how to use the former middle school building (the Inman Building) to alleviate overcrowding in the cluster. At the beginning of 2022, APS’s consulting firm presented two proposals for the Inman Building: a new K-5 and a SPARK K-5 Dual Campus.
On May 2nd, Superintendent Herring recommended APS create a brand new K-5 in the Inman Building for the 2023-2024 school year. This K-5 proposal will rezone over 850 students; force layoffs and rehiring of a hundred teachers and staff positions; and render two schools, SPARK and Mary Lin Elementary School (Mary Lin), with precariously low student capacity, which will impact the funding for these schools.
As a parent to a 1st grader at SPARK, I am disappointed by the APS process leading to the recommendation as well as the profoundly disruptive recommendation itself. Especially when a far less disruptive option is on the table via the SPARK K-5 Dual campus model.
As for the process, prior to and following the May 2nd recommendation and board vote, parents in the Midtown Cluster have scrambled to gather data from APS regarding the academic impact, equity impact, budget impact, capacity issues, and transportation logistics between the new K-5 and SPARK K-5 Dual campus models. We have also attempted to engage in the decision-making process to the best of our ability. It’s been hard to navigate at times, but what I have learned is there is a common thread between us all: every single parent (and future APS parent) is advocating for continued academic achievement and stability for their student and their school community. While we may have different priorities and interpretations of the proposals, the overwhelming plea to APS is to grant stability for our students so we can keep supporting our established schools in bridging the learning and social/emotional gaps from COVID.
From my perspective, APS’s recommendation for a new K-5 does not answer that plea. In recommending a new K-5, APS has pointed to the benefits of walkability, bus transportation logistics, and long-term flexibility. As a parent and community member, I question these priorities. Why should school “walkability” and bus transportation logistics take priority over academics and stability concerns for our students? While thoughtful transportation plans are important in a city as populated as ours, I cannot understand how bus routes trump academic success, student social and emotional well-being or the displacement of hundreds of students and teachers, particularly after two years of a global pandemic.
As for long-term flexibility, APS has failed to articulate what it means by “flexibility,” why this is a priority, and how or why a new K-5 meets this goal better than a SPARK K-5 Dual Campus. Furthermore, although prioritizing a long-term benefit might make sense in “normal” circumstances, these are not “normal” circumstances. Our students, teachers, administrators, and community members have experienced a tumultuous and uncertain past few years. Students have experienced unprecedented learning loss, both academically and socially. Administrators have been forced to become public health experts on top of their normal responsibilities. Teachers have had to improvise and relearn how to teach by teaching virtually, then with face masks and this year teaching virtually and in person simultaneously. And, a critical obstacle for the K-5 recommendation, there is a hiring shortage in education. Students, teachers, administrators and parents are exhausted from the reality of navigating life in an ongoing pandemic. A new K-5 is only going to exacerbate the situation.
Proposing a disruption of this size, in this environment, without a well-vetted, well-researched or well-articulated long-term plan is not setting our cluster up for success. A SPARK K-5 Dual Campus is the BEST proposal to offer the MOST stability and continued academic excellence for our entire cluster. A Dual Campus rezones less than 180 kids, while a new K-5 will rezone over 850 children and gut the population of two thriving elementary schools further increasing the number of students impacted. APS and Superintendent Herring have stated that the alternative proposal, the Dual Campus model, is a viable option that would be successful and has been successful in other APS clusters. Why would APS choose the option that impacts so many elementary students when there is an alternative?
APS’s strength lies in its partnerships. Now, more than ever, we are asking you to partner with us by listening to the community. Our petition in support of a SPARK K-5 Dual Campus has gathered over 750 signatures from the impacted community. We ask you to listen to and respond appropriately to our request for stability for students, teachers and stakeholders.