As we have been reporting on the blog, Atlanta is in the midst of a redistricting that may wrest some kids from strong schools and reassign them to weaker ones.
An AJC.com news story on the issue today features this quote: Atlanta school board Chairwoman Brenda Muhammad said the district wants feedback and hopes parents understand the plans will likely change once input is compiled. “We encourage responses and recommendations,” she said. “I am hopeful parents will understand at the end of the day, the final decision has been made on fairness and what is in the best interest of children.”
While I respect Ms. Muhammad, I have to disagree with her. Redistricting occurs because of financial and administrative needs, not academic needs. Decisions to redraw lines and close schools may be fair and in the best interest of the district’s financial bottom line but the decisions are not in the best interest of every individual child. There will be kids who lose out on a better education because they are shifting to a school that is struggling academically.
In some school districts, schools are not that far apart academically so redistricting, while emotional, does not mean any significant change in the quality of instruction or academic outcomes. That is not the case in Atlanta where performance can vary a great deal from school to school.
I have received several e-mails over the last few months from unhappy DeKalb parents whose schools closed last year. Their new schools are not as strong. Parents complain about the cultures, saying their old schools had higher expectations for students. I suspect a few APS parents will be just as unhappy with their new schools when this is over.
For the first time in almost a decade, the district is planning to redraw attendance boundaries to relieve schools that are overcrowded and shutter schools with sluggish enrollment. APS has enough seats to serve 62,500 students but has roughly 49,000 enrolled.
Four scenarios were released in late November to start discussions about new school boundaries. The maps were created by outside demographers and mapping specialists, and they will change as the district receives results from a demographic survey and considers parent and community feedback. Superintendent Erroll Davis is expected to make a final recommendation early next year.
Each scenario calls for multiple school closures and for additions or new schools to be built in crowded North Atlanta. School lines across the city will have to be redrawn to accommodate the changes.
That’s got parents such as Cole Cowden upset about the possible outcome.
Cowden said his family relocated to a neighborhood just north of Atlantic Station and fell in love with Centennial Place Elementary School. One of his children now attends high-performing Inman Middle School with another set to start in 2014. But preliminary maps show his neighborhood redistricted to attend Kennedy Middle School, one of the schools where state investigators say cheating occurred in 2009.
Cowden doesn’t like that the early scenarios only consider which schools are full and which ones are empty, and he doesn’t think the district is really taking into account the public’s input.
“APS stood by while a contractor created a set of tracks,” he said, “and now I am on the wrong side of the tracks.”
Atlanta’s enrollment changes are similar to those occurring in cities across the country, said Jerome McKibben, a demographer and consultant hired to work on the APS redistricting. After the housing bubble popped, many families stopped moving from the city to the suburbs. As a result, districts such as APS are seeing an enrollment spike in early grades.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog