The demographers who drew the latest maps for rezoning Atlanta Schools knew what Buckhead parents had in store for them on Feb. 1.
Gary Mongeon, vice president of The Bleakly Advisory Group hired by Atlanta Public Schools, looked at the crowd gathered at North Atlanta High School and said he was ready.
“We’re here to take our medicine,” he told the audience.
The audience decided anger was the best medicine. Parents from the North Atlanta cluster of schools – North Atlanta High School, Sutton Middle School, Bolton Academy Elementary, E. Rivers Elementary, Garden Hills Elementary, Morris Brandon Elementary, Sarah Smith Elementary and Warren T. Jackson Elementary – spent more than two and a half hours unloading on the demographers hired by APS. Parents wore different color t-shirts in support of their schools and waved signs. They booed the two new options presented by the demographers and applauded each parent’s passionate plea against the changes.
Among the more controversial proposals:
- A proposal to add a new midtown middle school under Option A that would be comprised of students from E. Rivers and Centennial Place Elementary. The North Atlanta cluster feeds in to Sutton Middle School. A new North Atlanta Middle school would take the place of the North Atlanta High School campus, and would take students from Garden Hills, Morris Brandon and Bolton under option A. Sutton would take students from Jackson and Smith. Under option B, which does not involve constructing a new middle school, Brandon, Rivers, Bolton and Centennial would feed into North Atlanta Middle. Jackson, Smith and Garden Hills would feed into Sutton. The main objection was that Centennial is a School Reform Team 3 school while the rest of the cluster belongs to School Reform Team 4. Parents asked why a school from a SRT with lower enrollment numbers was being mixed in with an SRT with higher enrollment. Parents also blasted the idea of building a new middle school as fiscally irresponsible.
- Buckhead Forest, a neighborhood formerly known of Buckhead Triangle, would be rezoned to Garden Hills Elementary instead of Sarah Smith in Option A. Parents said the move would only affect 10 to 15 students, a small number if the goal is to balance enrollment from schools that are under capacity with schools that are over capacity. Matthew Cropper, president of Cropper GIS, another APS consultant, said he believes the number of students is significantly higher.
- Parents also asked why the new proposals did not contain a sixth grade academy at Sutton while making the North Atlanta Middle a school for seventh and eighth graders. Cropper said the demographers would take another look at the sixth grade academy idea.
- Parents were concerned about students in schools with International Baccalaureate programs being moved to schools that did not have IB programs.
There was a seemingly endless line of parents lined up at two different microphones. Some prompted their children to read statements asking the demographers not to take them away from their classmates. At one point, one of the parents yelled across the room at School Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel who was sitting in one of the front rows, asking him to stop looking at his cell phone and pay attention to the parents who were speaking. McDaniel put the phone away.
The capacity numbers the demographers presented in their latest round of proposals, released on Jan. 27, show stark contrasts between the North Atlanta cluster and the southern neighbors. For example, Rivers’ capacity is 528 students and it has 639 students. Centennial has 466 students and a 572 student capacity.
Amy Shea, North Atlanta Parent Teacher Student Association co-president, said the latest round of options do not incorporate the comments parents gave demographers for the last four maps that were released in November. Those maps generated a similar reaction. Shea said the community is “angry and frustrated.”
Shea spoke directly to McDaniel and School Board Member Nancy Meister.
“We request that you ensure the current boundaries of SRT4 don’t change,” Shea said.
In this video: Shannon Cox, a parent at E. Rivers and a Brookwood Hills neighborhood resident, fires up the crowd at a Feb. 1 meeting with Atlanta Public School demographers to discuss the latest school zone maps.