The 2021-2022 school year is underway at Midtown High School – where students and faculty returned last month to a renovated campus, a new visual identity and in-person learning during a persistent pandemic. The highlight of the $34.9 million renovation, funded by the one-penny Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST), is a four-level addition.

“For the first time in 20 or 30 years, we’re not making do,” said Midtown High School Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman. “The renovation is so respectful of the work we do here.”

Located at the corner of 10th  Street and Charles Allen Drive, the addition boasts 10 classrooms (to replace modular ones), four industry-certified Career, Technical and Agricultural Education spaces, two science labs, a new media center, administrative offices, counseling spaces and more. Improvements to the existing buildings include an enlarged cafeteria with a school store, and a family living center for students with special needs to learn life skills.

Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman

“It lets us serve 100 percent of our students better,” Dr. Bockman said.

The renovation also includes a main entrance plaza near the new visitor parking in front of the Charles Allen building.  

“We needed a focal point –  a real entrance to the school,” Bockman said. “It’s ADA compliant and safer. We’ve always had people wandering around the campus – parents, visitors, delivery people trying to find the front. Our architects [Cooper Carry] and Parrish tried to do as much as they could to work with the community.”

New fencing and gating around the campus also promote safety by controlling access. 

Yet, even with the addition and added visitor parking this urban campus’ capacity will continue to be tested. The 300 parking spots are significantly less than the APS minimum standards of about 750 spaces. The school capacity is now 1,500 students with 1,500+ already enrolled, leaving lingering questions if APS built big enough or if redistricting will be considered in the near future. 

For now, the community is embracing the new name and visual identity. 

“One of the most important things was community outreach – so that any identity that came from the group was the result of a larger conversation,” said John Brandhorst, Midtown High School Fine Arts Department Chair.

In Fall 2020, the Atlanta Board of Education voted to rename Henry W. Grady High School to Midtown High School as part of ongoing effort to remove names related to the Confederacy and Jim Crow Era of racism and segregation. A coalition of faculty, students, parents and pro bono professional designers recently unveiled the new visual identity, which includes an academic logo and sports/spirt logo. 

The “M” in the distinctive logos promotes intersectionality. 

“Midtown is in the middle of everything.  We’re at the crossroads of the city” Brandhorst said. The branding guidelines state Midtown HS sits at the “crossroads of discovery and ideas, creativity and innovation, scholarship and athleticism, inspiration and achievement.”

“So that intersection is represented in that little bit of architecture in the middle of the M – where the red and the black intersect,” Brandhorst said. Adding, “People talk about the school being an aggressive institution of liberalism and innovation, so we abstracted swords and shields into the M.” 

Midtown High School will maintain its red and grey colors and the Knights mascot, a nod to the legacy of an institution about to celebrate its 150th anniversary. 

“What remains now is actualizing it – making sure everyone is using the brand the same way as we gravitate toward a unified vision,” Brandhorst said. 

Because the name change was a school board decision, APS is expected to cover most related costs, like uniforms and signage. The Midtown High School Foundation is ready to pitch in to cover any gaps that arise. 

“We’re in discussions with the administration about what else is needed and isn’t covered by APS. We have set aside funds and will be certainly fundraising for other needs.” said Rachel Spears, Midtown High School Foundation president. 

The Foundation recently covered the artist honorarium for the new media center double-level mural by alumni and local artist Alex Brewer, also known as HENSE. Last school year, it purchased 50+  document cameras, digital pens and headsets to support virtual teaching plus software, Black Box theater enhancements and more. 

All students have returned to in-person learning under an APS mask mandate and other COVID-19 protocols as the Delta variant surges.

“The basic feeling from the faculty is ‘We can’t wait to see our kids again. Zoom sucks,’” Brandhorst said.

But there are concerns for Dr. Bockman and her team to work through. For example, how to handle teachers or students test positive for COVID-19. APS released quarantine guidelines on its Health Information page the week school started for schools to implement.

 “It is a complex moving target,” said Dr. Bockman. “It’s situational based on vaccination status.”

Bockman and her team are tracking students who test positive for COVID-19 to determine who needs quarantine for 10 days, who else was exposed and how to incorporate virtual learning back into an in-person model. Exposed vaccinated students without symptoms will not need to quarantine. As of August 6, 2021 (the second day of school) six students tested positive, effecting 48 class periods, not to mention potential exposure on buses and or sports team practices. 

To address potential learning loss, teachers will evaluate students emotional and academic readiness, as most students return to the classroom after more than a year of virtual instruction.

“We’re doing comprehensive assessments in math, reading and an emotional health – to see where kids are – and then formal intervention and emotional support,” Dr. Bockman said.

Midtown High School will continue to offer math and reading support classes and hired another graduation coach to catch students up. Twenty-minute sessions of Social Emotional Learning will be offered four times a week. For the first time, every student has an APS issued HP Chromebook. And a new bilingual community engagement specialist, Nydia Rivera, will provide outreach to Latinx students and families. 

“We are still the same very high achieving school,” Dr. Bockman said.  “We try to meet the needs of all kids.”