The new elementary school to be built in Skyland Park will be named for U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon and longtime member of Congress. Meanwhile, officials met with residents over concerns about the future school’s traffic and population.
The DeKalb County Board of Education voted July 12 to name the school for Lewis, who represents the 5th District in Atlanta. The official name of the school will be John Robert Lewis Elementary School. This is the first public school in the country named for Lewis.
“John Lewis is an American icon who has dedicated his life to the highest ethical standards and moral principles,” said Superintendent Dr. R. Stephen Green in a statement.
School officials meet with residents
On July 14, residents from the Skyland Park neighborhoods met at Brookhaven City Hall with school district officials, including Green.
In a controversial vote, Brookhaven City Council voted May 10 to approve an agreement with the DeKalb County Board of Education to purchase Skyland Park for $4.7 million for the new 900-student elementary school as part of the school district’s efforts to alleviate overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster. The school is expected to draw students from overcrowded Montclair Elementary and Dresden Elementary, whose student populations are largely Latino.
Neighbors in the area at the time said they did not want such a large school near their homes and raised concerns of congestion and traffic. Some also worried that the school’s students would be largely Hispanic and on public assistance. “This won’t represent the community the school is in,” one resident said at the May 10 meeting.
Mayor John Ernst promised at the time he would set up a meeting between the residents, many with elementary-age students, and school officials; the July 14 meeting was fulfilling the promise.
The school district is purchasing 10 acres of Skyland Park from Brookhaven and is also purchasing from the state the Skyland building where the State Vital Records Office is located for $2.8 million.
As part of the agreement, DeKalb County BOE will then transfer the land the building is located on — some 4 acres — to the city for the renovation and construction of a new Skyland Park.
The school district is expected to close on the properties with the city and state by January 2017 with the new school slated to open in three years.
Who will be attending the school and from what areas remained concerns.
Kim Gokce, founder and director of the Cross Keys Foundation, asked residents to embrace the project as representative of the city. “If you created a Brookhaven City District School today, two-thirds of the students would be a minority – immediately,” he said.
Race, housing type, diversity – those are not considered when the Board of Education redistricts, explained Dan Drake, director of Planning and Forecasting.
Rob Smith, who has served as a spokesperson for residents living around Skyland Park, said he felt the meeting with school district officials was “very positive.”
“I’m Glad Dr. Green showed up. That was important,” he said. “We’re still not sure on the feeder pattern … There’s not a good answer yet because it’s early. I think everyone was heard.”
Traffic issues will have to be addressed by the city, Smith said, and ongoing discussions will take place on how to handle school traffic in and around residential neighborhoods.
Green said he also felt the meeting was positive and informative for the school district and the residents.
“Sometimes putting a new school in can worry people, but then you can see the brighter side to this and trigger and launch discussion around beautification efforts in neighborhoods.”
The John Robert Lewis Elementary School will be temporarily located at 2383 North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta, in the former International Student Center, until it opens in Brookhaven in early 2019.