Atlanta Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis Jr.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis on Monday, April 9, made his closing argument for his plans to reconfigure the city’s school system in a way that he says will provide a better education for its students.

“There are occasional challenges in life that simply cannot be avoided and must be faced for the benefit of all concerned,” Davis wrote. “This is the situation with the current redistricting effort, as we attempt to make needed changes in order for all students to academically benefit from a more equitable distribution of available educational resources.”

Davis’ message, published in a letter on the APS website, is a prelude to Tuesday’s vote to consider Davis’ final recommendations. The Board of Education will meet Tuesday, April 10, at the Maynard Jackson High School auditorium beginning at 2 p.m. The board picked the location in anticipation of the overflow crowds of people who will have an interest in the redistricting plan.

Davis’ plan closes 10 underpopulated schools, mostly in Atlanta’s south side, while leaving most of the boundaries wealthier North Atlanta schools alone. It will eliminate 5,500 empty classroom seats, Davis says. Currently the school system has 13,000 excess seats.

Davis is recommending turning the current Sutton Middle School campus into a sixth grade academy when the middle school moves to the current site of North Atlanta High School. He recommended the Pine Hills neighborhood, located on the eastern side of Buckhead and sharing boundaries with both Fulton and DeKalb counties, be zoned to Sarah Smith Elementary School to relieve overcrowding at Garden Hills.

Even though Buckhead came out of the redistricting process relatively unscathed, some parents are opposed to the sixth grade academy concept. Sarah Smith parents have asked the superintendent do remove his recommendation to zone all Pine Hills students to that school.

Here is the full text of Davis’ letter:

April 9, 2012

Dear APS students, parents, employees, and supporters,

There are occasional challenges in life that simply cannot be avoided and must be faced for the benefit of all concerned. This is the situation with the current redistricting effort, as we attempt to make needed changes in order for all students to academically benefit from a more equitable distribution of available educational resources.

Our proposal calls for the closure of 10 under-enrolled schools and the creation of 10 clean feeder patterns or clusters, the latter establishing a direct, un-splintered flow of students from elementary to middle to high school. The current system involves under-enrolled schools – some currently at only a third capacity – and splintered feeder patterns of various groups of students coming out of a single elementary school and feeding into multiple middle schools, depending on where the students reside. It also involves various groups of students matriculating out of a single middle school and feeding into several high schools, again depending on where the students live. This situation is chaotic, dysfunctional and wasteful, and it simply cannot continue. It also does nothing to build parent commitment to a given school.

While it is difficult to propose the closing of any school, it is a necessary step to ensuring that all of our schools are enrolled to minimum capacities so that essential educational resources can be equitably distributed. As it is now, under-enrolled schools are not eligible for the resources that schools that are at or near full capacity receive. Many do not warrant an assistant principal, full-time counselors or paraprofessional support, because they lack a sufficient number of students to receive these resources. Because state funding formulas do not favor small classes, we are currently employing over 700 more professionals than are under state formulas.

By comparison, the Henry County district has about 40,000 students compared with 47,000 at APS, yet the system contains about half as many schools as APS. It is apparent, by this comparison alone, that we simply cannot continue to staff, heat, cool, clean and maintain schools that are nowhere near capacity. It not only wastes resources; it deprives students attending under-enrolled schools of the resources they need for academic success.

We have worked hard to make the redistricting process as open and transparent as possible with focus groups, demographic surveys, three sets of regional public meetings and dozens of hearings over the past month at the schools potentially impacted by our redistricting proposal. Throughout this lengthy process, public input was received and incorporated into subsequent plans. We received people’s comments and suggestions and modified our plans and proposals accordingly.

As we hopefully near the end of this process and draw closer to approval of a redistricting plan by the Atlanta Board of Education and eventual implementation, it is my sincere hope that the community remains actively engaged with us in successfully making this transition to a more efficient and educationally valuable end result. My focus has always been on continuous improvement of the education delivered to students every day. This is the sole rationale behind the redistricting initiative. It wasn’t to save money, reduce staff or close older buildings. None of these were the driving factors in our redistricting proposal. My intent all along has been to reconfigure the system through consolidations and realignment of feeder patterns to put the district in the position to provide a quality education to all of our students, regardless of where they live and go to school.

Sincerely,

Superintendent Erroll B. Davis, Jr.

Here is the full text of the Sarah Smith PTA’s letter to Davis:

Dear Superintendent Davis,

The Sarah Smith Elementary PTA Board respectfully requests that you remove your recommendation to zone “ALL of Pine Hills to Smith” in your Final Redistricting and Closure Recommendation.   We are surprised and confused by this recommendation.  As defined by the City of Atlanta, all of Pine Hills includes the area east of 400 and north of I-85, which includes over 2,500 additional residences.  When members of our school community initially requested the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association (consisting of approximately 129 additional residences) be zoned for Smith, the demographers stated that this was never a possibility.  APS would not move just this small portion of Pine Hills (the Neighborhood Association) without moving all of Pine Hills (2,500 residences in total).   In the demographer’s expert opinion, Sarah Smith with its higher utilization rate did not have the capacity to accommodate the bubble of 1-4 aged children in this area to its existing population.  Throughout this entire process, the demographer’s message has been consistent: the Sarah Smith community just did not have the necessary capacity to accommodate all of Pine Hills, as defined by the city.

Why is it now that when the expert demographers are no longer involved in the process you can say Sarah Smith has the capacity to handle “all of Pine Hills”?  After repeated attempts for information last week, we have received little information and evidence that any additional analysis has been made to lead to results different than that of the expert demographers.

We also take issue with the timing of the change and the method in which it was communicated to the public.  Your Final Redistricting and Closure Recommendations were posted on the APS website close to midnight last Saturday at the start of Spring Break.  Many families are not even aware of this change to your previous recommendation.  Moreover, APS offices have been closed for all but one day since this release, and parent requests for any data supporting the validity of this change have gone unanswered.

APS has spent months of time and energy on this redistricting process.  We have been through a year of proposals and community feedback. To end it now with a final recommendation without proper vetting and community input lacks integrity.  This issue is too important to the North Atlanta Cluster to merely shift the overcrowding problem at Garden Hills to Sarah Smith Elementary School.

Absent a full demographic analysis of the impact this increase of population will have on the Sarah Smith community, we humbly ask you remove your request to zone “all of Pine Hills” in Sarah Smith Elementary School.

Katie ElHamahmy, Sarah Smith PTA Co-President

BJ Young, Sarah Smith PTA Co-President

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com