APS Advances School Changes for Improved Quality and Efficiency

Over the last three years, Atlanta Public Schools has done a great deal of work in right-sizing the district to more effectively direct resources toward our students. As part of this effort to improve quality while increasing efficiency, we consolidated small schools in the Carver, Therrell and Washington clusters and single-gender schools in the first year. We made changes that led to the creation of Hollis Innovation Academy and Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy and the launch of partnership schools in the Carver Cluster in the second year.

As we entered a third year down the path for transformation, several key data points clearly emphasized the need for more work:

  • APS is a school district that was built to accommodate more than 100,000 students, but in truth, we now only have about 52,000 students in about 87 schools.
  • One of our neighbors, Fulton County Schools, educates just short of 100,000 students, and it has 106 schools. That’s nearly twice as many students in only 20 more schools.
  • Another neighbor to the south, Henry County Schools, educates 40,000 students and has only 51 schools.

Tonight, the Board, with a 7-2 vote, approved school changes in alignment with the district’s Transformation Strategy that take continued strong steps toward improved quality and efficiency. The Board approved the following closures, consolidations and program changes:

  • Jackson Cluster: At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, close Whitefoord Elementary School, redistricting students to Toomer Elementary and Burgess-Peterson Academy.
  • Mays Cluster: At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, close Adamsville Primary, restructuring Miles Intermediate as a PreK-5 school and redistricting some Adamsville and Miles students to West Manor Elementary.
  • Douglass Cluster: At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, relocate the Business, Engineering, Science and Technology Academy at the Benjamin S. Carson Educational Complex (BEST) to the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSK) with two 6-12 single gender academies on the CSK campus. Phase out the closure of Harper-Archer Middle School by serving only 7th and 8th grade at Harper-Archer next school year. Phase in and create a new middle school at the BEST facility, serving 6th grade only in 2017-2018. At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, close Fain Elementary School and Towns Elementary School and open a new elementary school at the renovated Harper-Archer campus. For the 2019-2020 school year, launch a new PreK-8 partnership school with KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools to serve all students at Woodson Park Academy. (This will not be a start-up charter school.) For the 2020-2021 school year, we would close the current Woodson Park building and open a new campus at the former Woodson Primary site to include a new school building, a YMCA, an early childhood center and a health clinic.
  • Citywide: Relocate West End Academy to Crim Open Campus High School starting in the 2017-2018 school year.

More details of the mergers, closings and partnership are available in the official plan available here. I wanted to stress in this blog that at no point did we take any of these changes lightly. Closing and merging schools is always hard, never easy or comfortable and always comes with criticism and hope, mourning of the past but celebrating the possibility of improvements for the future.

That is why this district involved itself in an extensive communication and public engagement process over the past three months before I ever took my final recommendations to the board. These have included but are not limited to:

  • Community meetings – this included official meetings such as four (4) cluster meetings in the Douglass, Jackson and Mays clusters; six (6) public hearings in those clusters; and no fewer than a dozen formal meetings with community leaders, staff and parents in those clusters.
  • Informal meetings – there were numerous informal gatherings which my senior staff, board members and I attended to engage with the community and answer questions.
  • Open houses – KIPP Metro Atlanta and Purpose Built opened their doors to provide parents and community leaders with on-site visits of their schools, including our first partnership school at Thomasville Heights Elementary School.
  • Countless individual conversations – these ranged from phone conversations, email exchanges and direct one-on-one meetings. The team and I rode buses and ran with parents as we explored the neighborhood on wheels and on foot to engage the community and verify concerns about proposed solutions.
  • We kept track of the work, plans and calendar at www.atlantapublicschools.us/schoolchanges. It was regularly updated with presentations and FAQs and other information relevant to the school changes being proposed.

And it informed the draft scenarios and superintendent recommendations.

The feedback across all three clusters (Douglass, Jackson and Mays) helped shape the plan significantly and reflects the importance and effectiveness of our community engagement efforts. We spent a lot of time talking with students, staff, families and community members, and we really saw how much those communities connected with their schools.

We listened. And I only have to note that the proposals literally changed with every interaction as evidence of that. When we started in the Douglass cluster, every scenario involved the closing of our single-gender academies. The community spoke, and so we landed on a recommendation that finds a way to strengthen the single-gender schools on a single campus.

Likewise, I learned through interactions with the Benteen community how critical the community supports are to its vulnerable families and student population. It has created a network of wraparound supports with the school as its anchor, a situation that APS does not have the capacity or wherewithal to re-create for this community at another school at this time. So, I ultimately decided not to recommend closure of Benteen.

I will note that I have given a specific charge to both the single-gender academies and the Benteen community that they must continue to support their schools. If we see these schools decline – especially in enrollment – we may have to revisit these decisions in the future.

BenteenRunFinally, community input informed our decisions for future use of both the Adamsville and Whitefoord buildings. Thanks to feedback in the Jackson Cluster, we were able to solidify plans for the Whitefoord building to remain open to provide early childhood education and health care. Likewise, I am optimistic that we are close to finalizing a plan that ensures the Adamsville building will continue to be used for educational purposes moving forward.

I appreciate all of the students, parents, staff, community members, partners and all of the stakeholders for coming out and contributing to these critical conversations. I hope the work we’ve seen reveals signs of the engagement and interaction to come because it gives me great hope and inspiration for the APS Journey of Transformation.

If we were able to tackle something as difficult as these consolidations, closures and new partnerships, then we will be able to do more to put quality and efficient measures in place so that more and more students can graduate ready for college and career.

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