A fresh campaign for a new North Springs Charter High School building has been launched by a small group of parents.
Citizens for a New North Springs (CFANNS) claims the building at 7447 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, which opened in 1963, is getting patchwork fixes, despite being the county’s oldest high school. And they’re unhappy that Sandy Springs’ other high school, Riverwood International Charter High, is getting an all-new building, the first phase of which opens next week.
“In Sandy Springs, there’s not parity,” said group member Cheryl Barlow, whose son is a North Springs freshman. “Riverwood looks like it’s going to be an amazing facility,” she said, but leaves North Springs students with “inequality in education.”
Fulton County Schools spokesperson Susan Hale noted that North Springs got $14 million in renovations, including a new entrance, air conditioning, roofing and flooring, in a 2010 special local option sales tax package. And, in the 2022 Capital Plan, she said, “North Springs is slated to receive a major addition that includes instructional areas, such as new science labs, auditorium, black box theater, art rooms, music suite, and physical education space within the main building.”
That capital plan also includes improved parking, security and athletic fields, she said.
All such improvements in the school system are prioritized by a “Facility Condition Assessments” program, Hale said. That ensures “equitable review” of all school buildings, she said.
But CFANNS parents say many of those upgrades are related to maintenance, not improvements for an inadequate facility, and others remain vague, one-line promises. They say they’ve never gotten a straight answer as to why the school district doesn’t simply replace the 54-year-old school, or why the newer Riverwood, built at Heards Ferry Road and Raider Drive in 1971, is getting a new facility.
“You’re trying to keep putting [on] major Band-Aids … You’re just throwing good money after bad,” said Betty Klein, whose adult children went to North Springs years ago, and who now has two adopted children attending. She said North Springs still uses a table that has her now 53-year-old son’s initials carved into it.
CFANNS put together a photo-filled presentation about the school’s condition, available online at cfanns.org. Complaints include: classrooms that are too small or have no windows; overcrowded common areas; rampant maintenance issues; a severe lack of parking; and a building generally inadequate for modern education.
“Some of the issues are definitely safety issues,” said Barlow, citing door alarms that are battery-operated rather than hardwired and thus often left unpowered with doors propped open.
The presentation also features some numbers comparing North Springs and Riverwood. North Springs has a larger student population (1,658 vs. 1,551) and a higher percentage of minority students (74 percent vs. 66 percent). North Springs and Riverwood have similar percentages of students who are considered economically disadvantaged (46 percent at North Springs, 41 percent at Riverwood), and both schools have about 40 percent of students on free or reduced-cost lunch programs.
Klein said unhappiness with North Springs’ condition and the sense of competition with Riverwood has been brewing for several years. Large groups of parents, sometimes joined by teachers, have met with school district officials and have spoken at school board meetings.
“[School board members] said they were getting pressure from Riverwood parents, and if they get a new school, North Springs isn’t getting one, and that’s exactly what happened,” Klein said. “The issue is, we built Riverwood and we have no money for North Springs.”
“We’ve not been given a satisfactory answer” as to why North Springs isn’t getting a new building in the foreseeable future, Barlow said.
Julia Bernath, a School Board member who represents the North Springs area, emphasized the district’s process for reviewing building conditions and setting priorities on fixing or replacing them. But she also suggested another look at the North Springs report.
“As a board member, I want to be sure we are making wise use of our money,” she said in an email, “and while a large addition is currently planned for North Springs, I hope our staff will review the last evaluation done on that school to be sure we are providing the best possible facility for our students, whether it is a renovation or a rebuild.”
North Springs has a Parent Teacher Organization and a school foundation that last year merged with the PTO, with the combined organization now known as Spartan Nation. Julie Abes, Spartan Nation’s co-president, said the group has not yet met to discuss CFANNS’ effort and take a position on it. But, Abes added, she personally supports the call for a new school as both a parent and an alumna.
“I fully support a new school,” she said. “By giving us a new school, there will be an overall better educational experience as students now require in the 21st century classroom. As I walk through many of the halls, they are the same as they were 30 years ago when I graduated — even some of the desks and chairs are the same. As the oldest school in Fulton County by 20 years, I would think North Springs would be a priority to Fulton County to receive a massive upgrade — not just small patches to the infrastructure.”
CFANNS formed to be a more open and political voice on the building issue than Spartan Nation may be, Klein said.
About five current and former North Springs parents organized CFANNS. One is Jody Reichel, a former PTO president who is now running for Sandy Springs City Council.