APS schools in east Atlanta face another round of consolidations. Fair?

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is meeting with Jackson cluster parents about proposed school closings and consolidations.

About 200  parents filled the auditorium at Maynard Jackson High School tonight to learn about proposed school closings and consolidations in the cluster. Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen made an effort to answer everyone’s questions, giving out her cell phone four times at the end for those who didn’t get a chance to speak in the two-hour meeting.

Parents offered reasonable arguments for keeping their schools open. I don’t know if their arguments will be enough to dissuade the district from closing schools that have too few students, including Benteen and Whitefoord elementaries. East Atlanta has already seen the closing of Coan Middle and East Lake Elementary, both of which remain empty.

I have covered many school closings, and they are always emotional. If it’s any consolation, parents often seem more affected than students who typically embrace their new schools quickly.

That does not mean there isn’t loss. Elementary schools often are the heart of a community, and it’s dispiriting to pass a shuttered building that was alive with children a year earlier.

And parents in gentrifying east Atlanta have seen their share of school closings and reconfiguring, which is not the case with the midtown/Virginia-Highland/Morningside communities. One parent asked Carstarphen: Why not redraw all the lines so kids in the crowded schools in more affluent neighborhoods could fill some of the empty seats in the Jackson cluster?

Carstarphen did not pretend there was a logic to the school zones she inherited when she arrived here two-and-a-half years ago or that politics and race have not played a role in producing crowded schools in some areas and half-empty ones in others. She is still trying to make sense of a system that often defies reason, she said.

But, she said, redrawing the entire district was a major undertaking that would entail massive community involvement and she had immediate problems to solve. The small schools are costly. And APS has not seen strong evidence the smallness has led to higher performance or prompted more of the families flocking to east Atlanta neighborhoods to enroll their kids, said Carstarphen.

Yes, she was aware baby strollers are everywhere, but the detailed projection models didn’t show those children coming to APS in droves. Instead, Carstarphen said those parents are choosing charter schools in the area and private schools. One of the state’s most widely celebrated charters, Drew, serves more than 1,800 students in Pre-K through 12th grade.  (A parent commented on Facebook there is also a thriving homeschooling community in east Atlanta.)

With 310 students, Benteen would be absorbed by the D.H. Stanton campus, creating an elementary school with about 600 students by the year 2019.

According to the school chief: Both Benteen and D.H. Stanton have capacity, but D.H. Stanton has a larger building. Also, a new Sheltering Arms Early Childhood Center will open this year to serve students from six weeks through Pre-K and that is a critical element in her goal of reaching children earlier.

Whitefoord students — 272 of them — would split; those from the Edgewood community would go to Toomer Elementary, while students from Reynoldstown would attend Burgess-Peterson Academy. Toomer would grow to 569 students, while Burgess-Peterson would increase to 457.

APS was built for more than 100,000 students, said Carstarphen. “We only have 40,000 in neighborhood schools. The other 10,000 are in charter schools.”

Parents defended their own school’s uniqueness. Whitefoord parents cited the school-based health clinic that provides services for students and their families. (Carstarphen wants the center to move with students.) Benteen parents pointed out the school’s success with Latino students.

A few parents were skeptical of Carstarphen’s contention consolidated schools will see significant increases in services and staff, with a mother pointing out she heard the same pledge when East Lake Elementary and Toomer merged and the extras never came. (East Lake closed in 2012; Carstarphen came to APS in 2014.)

Carstarphen stood by her pledge, citing the detailed information in the PowerPoint she presented to the crowd. She put the list before the public, she said, because she intends to honor it.

The Toomer parent also questioned whether the school would sacrifice the 15:1 student-teacher ratio it now enjoys if the consolidation is approved. Principals will decide class size and staffing, said Carstarphen. But she reiterated small schools and low teacher-student ratios had not necessarily proven a blueprint for success for Atlanta.

“There is no magic number,” she said. Referencing her former Texas district Carstarphen said schools in Austin with 800 to 1,000 students, even in poverty areas, “outperformed what we are doing today in Atlanta.”

The superintendent emphasized school principals would have to work together to ensure a smooth transition in the consolidations and leadership at the school level would be critical in making the plan work. “There is no other cavalry coming,” she said. “We have to figure this out for ourselves.”

 

 

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21 comments
John Prevost
John Prevost

Thank you for your exceptional coverage of education! One reason Carstarphen mentioned for consolidation is the cost of maintaining and administering small schools. This leads me to a question about charter schools. What level of funding are school boards responsible for with charter schools? If boards are required to pay some level of charter schools' administrative costs, most of which have small enrollments, aren't we saving on the one hand with consolidation and using it less efficiently on the other when charters are funded? It might be argued that consolidation serves to promote charters for parent who feel unheard. Let me add that I live in Grant Park which has thrived in large measure because our top ranked charter school led to families making the decision stay rather than move to the burbs when their kids became school age.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

APS should have done triage years ago, but it is too late now.

I wager Carstarphen is circulating her resume' now. She probably was waiting for a Department of Education position from HillaryClinton.

jgperez
jgperez

 Yeah, reconfiguring districts would piss off the few white liberals in the adjacent neighborhoods who send their kids to public schools for a couple of years before fleeing to the burbs or going private so keep the Black East Atlanta kids segregated in ever-fewer inferior, under-resourced schools. The remaining white Atlanta parents then apply pressure for lower school taxes, feeling justified and righteous in doing so as they are paying for private schools. 


So claim that a situation that has been allowed to fester for years and years is really an immediate crisis of  a "resource problems to resolve" that brooks no delay so that the same scenario can be repeated in a year or two.


So get ready to flush millions of dollars of education funds down the toilet defending against a federal lawsuit when it gets filed and getting saddled with an inflexible, court-mandated plan that will very quickly allow for the problem of unequal school resources to appear again. We've been going at this for six decades skirting the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, so why stop now?

No one should be allowed to be on the board of education who does not have children in the APS and their children should be automatically assigned to low-performing public schools in their area.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

"'There is no magic number,’ she said.  Referencing her former Texas district Carstarphen said schools in Austin with 800 to 1,000 students, even in poverty areas, ‘outperformed what we are doing today in Atlanta’.”

A more accurate statement: “… schools [today] in Austin with 800 to 1,000 students, even in poverty areas, ‘outperformed what we are doing today in Atlanta’.”

Why?  Because schools in Austin have pretty much recovered from Carstarphen having been there.

For example…

https://dianeravitch.net/2015/08/31/austin-eastside-memorial-high-is-back-from-the-brink/

Carstarphen really should let go citing where she has been as a slick way of disparaging Atlanta public schools and giving herself built-in excuses for failing to get the district onto a never ending journey of continual improvement.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Perhaps these schools are too small, however, for children "at risk" of failure, small is better.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


Well, you're not going to get any help on that front:




"Principals will decide class size and staffing, said Carstarphen. But she reiterated small schools and low teacher-student ratios had not necessarily proven a blueprint for success for Atlanta."


In other words...She's promising exactly nothing.Trust this itinerant mercenary  with your kids futures if you dare.Even though there should be some efficiency from closing schools that are not at capacity,you're more likely to see more administrative deadwood than extra help on student/teacher proportions. And then,there was this dandy:


"A  few parents were skeptical of Carstarphen’s contention consolidated schools will see significant increases in services and staff, with a mother pointing out she heard the same pledge when East Lake Elementary and Toomer merged and the extras never came."


And they never will.Because there are too many status quo defenders that never hold the system accountable.



Tom Green
Tom Green

Let me guess. The OSD would have handed those empty buildings over to charter schools and forced even more school closings.

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

Carstarphen talked about the time and energy used to fight back against the OSD. And the seemingly never-ending challenges from the state. Parents asked why APS schools had to be judged by an unfair measure -- the CCRPI -- and she had to explain, flawed or not, it is state law and APS schools have to meet it.

Astropig
Astropig

Parents in these communities:


Go get yourselves a charter for a new school and tell APS to stick it where the sun don't shine.Then watch over that school like a mother hen and get involved.Don't let this just-passing-through big $$$ superintendent control your kids educational future.

Letusteach
Letusteach

@Astropig My kid has a learning disability.  Will he receive special education services at a charter?

Mack68
Mack68

@Astropig oh, the people in these communities DID get themselves a charter school. Several of them, as a matter of fact. The first one opened in 2000. 

That's one of the reasons that these schools are under-enrolled now.

Astropig
Astropig

@Mack68 @Astropig


So you're saying that,given a choice, parents will choose another option? I thought that status quo schools were utopia-an idyllic learning environment where friendly scholarship lifts the uneducated into the ranks of the elite. Man,what happened? How could parents be pried away from status quo schools? What could  be wrong with these people?


Get right on that and report back,okay?

Mack68
Mack68

@Astropig @Mack68 Yep, and exactly what critics warn about happened here. The more affluent, motivated and capable parents and students have largely opted for those charter schools. 

The traditional schools have been left with a disproportionate population of students in poverty and with special needs.

You may be ok with that, but doesn't it make you a bit uncomfortable?

Astropig
Astropig

@Mack68 @Astropig


Not a bit. Make the zip code schools better and students won't leave.Those "critics" have their kids in elite private schools.

Mack68
Mack68

@Astropig @Mack68 In this APS cluster (the high school and its feeder schools), 100% of the students in the "traditional" elementary schools are ED/EL/SWD*. The three charter elementary schools in that cluster are 25%, 53% and 56%.

*Economically Disadvantaged, English Learner, or Student With Disability