Mary Lin Elementary School is located across the street from Candler Park Golf Course. (Atlanta Public Schools)

Some parents of students at Mary Lin Elementary School are digging in to fight a potential rezoning of the school as Atlanta Public Schools prepares to kick off a series of community meetings to reveal its proposals to alleviate overcrowding at several campuses.

About 80 Mary Lin PTA members attended a special Feb. 13 meeting via Zoom where most of them voted to approve sending a letter to Superintendent Lisa Herring and the Board of Education urging them to keep the school in the Midtown Cluster. No proposals to rezone Mary Lin out of the Midtown Cluster have been announced, but redistricting and rezoning are often recommended to alleviate overcrowding. Many PTA members said they wanted to be proactive and state their position clearly after hearing rumors the school could be rezoned to the Jackson Cluster, just south of the Midtown Cluster.

“This [letter] is just a proactive step to come together as a group to agree and present a united front,” PTA President Deanne Uroic said.

“If APS comes out with no redistricting for Mary Lin, the only thing that they will see is that we’ve come together as a community, and we have a strong backbone, and that we care about our community,” she said.

The letter was sent just before APS’ Feb. 15 community meeting where school capacity data will be presented and questions answered. A series of meetings in March is expected to result in a recommendation to the school board April on how to address overcrowding at Midtown High School and Maynard H. Jackson High School as well as KIPP Woodson Academy and Centennial Academy. The school board is expected to vote no later than June on final plans on how to deal with overcrowding.

The flyer announcing the Wednesday, Feb. 15, meeting where APS will discuss school capacity and overcrowding. Data shows the schools facing the most serious overcrowding issues are Maynard Jackson High School, Midtown High School, Woodson Park Elementary and Centennial Academy.

APS said in a statement on Tuesday that the district “has not identified any scenarios, redistricting or otherwise,” to resolve overcrowding at Midtown High School or other schools.

“We will engage the community on proposed scenarios in March,” the statement said. “Based on that feedback, we will come back to the community with a draft recommendation in April. If the solution requires redistricting, the district will bring a recommendation to the Atlanta Board of Education for first read in May.”

Maynard Jackson High School is expected to stay at 1,500 students over the next couple years, which is 100% capacity, according to APS. Midtown High School has a capacity of 1,525 and its enrollment is projected to jump to 1,711 students by the 2024-25 school year, putting it at 111% capacity.

The Mary Lin PTA letter questions APS numbers for Midtown High School and apparent lack of of transparency, especially with such a quick turnaround for a board vote. The members asked school officials to extend the process to six months, instead of just three.

The letter approved Feb. 13 by the Mary Lin Elementary PTA and sent to Superintendent Lisa Herring and members of the Board of Education.

“One of the key findings of the Fall 2022 stakeholder feedback is that it is ‘crucial that you are able to trace decisions back to the community engagement process,'” the Mary Lin PTA letter said.

“Despite this goal, our neighborhood has not been engaged in these decisions, and the proposed timeline leaves little time for us to react to the school scenarios that are to be released in March, the draft recommendation that is to be made in April, and the formal recommendation in May,” the letter said.

“Our frustration and distrust as we face the rest of the Midtown and Jackson Cluster overcrowding issues in the coming months are of real concern, not only for the future of the Mary Lin families but for the health and welfare of those same families,” the letter said.

Some members expressed concern that the “tone” of the letter may be too adversarial. Others also wondered if they should wait to hear the proposals before taking an official position. Much of the approximate three-hour meeting included debating the timing of the letter and then editing the letter.

Uroic said it was important to make a statement as early as possible. The school board’s controversial decision last year to convert the former Inman Middle School building into the new Virginia-Highland Elementary School was done within a few months as well and Mary Lin’s opposition was voiced too late, she said.

Atlanta Public Schools are divided into nine clusters. (APS)

The redistricting for Virginia-Highland Elementary, slated to open in August, resulted in removing the Inman Park neighborhood from Mary Lin’s attendance zone — a total of 171 students — and moving them to Springdale Elementary School. Mary Lin’s total enrollment was just over 630 but will dip to about 460 next year.

Taking such a position now before community engagement meetings begin opens the channels of communication with neighborhood organizations and with school board members, Uroric said. It also allows Mary Lin parents to “feel supported instead of each on their own individual island,” she added.

“We’re losing several of our neighbors and friends [because of last year’s redistricting], and we don’t know the consequence of that,” Uroic said. “So I think for us to just take a stance and say basically, just let us be, let us adjust. Let us have time. Let us be this new community that we are, which is much smaller than we were previously.”

Online petition demands ouster of superintendent, leadership staff

Mary Lin Elementary PTA members are not alone in their feelings of distrust and frustration with APS. A group named Transparency Now has some 700 signatures on a petition requesting the school board fire Herring and her leadership team. The group says with Herring as superintendent, a high percentage of students scored poorly on last year’s Georgia Milestones exams in English Language Arts and math. The group alleges there is a lack of services and resources for students with disabilities, that the food served to students is not adequate or healthy, and that there is no transparency or data to show if there has been an increase in crime at schools.

“Atlanta Public School’s senior leaders have failed our students, teachers and staff in academic achievement, operations, climate and culture, engagement, and ethics, college and career readiness since July 2020 under the leadership and guidance of Dr. Lisa Herring. Let the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education know WE WANT NEW SENIOR LEADERSHIP – including a new superintendent and senior cabinet – to change the trajectory for our kids and implement aggressive strategies that will increase growth and help ALL students achieve. Our students’ success, achievement and futures cannot wait,” the petition says.

The school district issued a statement to the petition:

While Atlanta Public Schools is aware of the petition, the undeniable fact is that many of the points mentioned offer an incomplete interpretation of our student data. We acknowledge that many of these post-pandemic baseline data can be sobering but they also don’t paint a complete picture of our students, their successes, and their academic trajectory. We are keenly aware of the many learning and social-emotional impacts caused by the pandemic and are also evaluating some existing challenges prior to the pandemic while creating and honing solution-based approaches to meet the needs of our current and future students at APS. 

We always welcome meaningful and constructive dialogue with our families as we prepare to graduate scholars ready for college, career, and life. 

At APS, we are relentlessly focused on student achievement for nearly 50,000 scholars. We have launched a series of data-driven efforts to provide baseline, benchmark, and formative snapshots, in order to understand current student achievement as we implement the Board’s 2020-2025 strategic plan to improve student outcomes.”

We cannot and will not ignore the pandemic’s impacts on learning. APS is not immune. Georgia is not immune. We have been working diligently to triage any hindrances to our students’ academic success, even as the pandemic began. This proactive academic assessment and achievement approach creates a gold standard method to addressing student needs from a multitude of angles, following the height of the pandemic. 

This story has been updated to clarify about 80 people attended the Mary Lin PTA meeting and do not represent all parents of students attending the school.

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Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.