The plans to redistrict many Atlanta schools have led to several new advocacy groups of parents, including Meet in the Middle APS.
With Superintendent Erroll Davis taking comments through today on his proposal on how to close schools and shift attendance lines, the group sent me its position paper on middle school configurations. After Davis makes his final recommendations on redistricting, the Atlanta school board will vote April 10.
Meet in the Middle APS opposes the proposal to convert Sutton Middle into a 6th grade academy and make the current North Atlanta High School a mega middle school with approximately 2,000 seventh and eighth graders.
(An aside on APS: I am trying to get a comment from APS about the news that quite a few principals were told they did not have their jobs at their same schools next year. The group includes veterans and newbies to the principal posts. There will apparently be consolidation and realignments designed to both save money and improve efficiency. The folks who got this news this week will be able to apply for the open slots. I sent a note to Keith Bromery of APS yesterday but no response yet. Keith, are you out there? )
Keith Bromery is out there: He just sent me this response:
APS is initiating personnel changes, which is a regular, recurring activity for the period near the end of the school year. The personnel changes are associated in part with the administration’s initiative to transition four of the district’s 10 high schools from the Small Schools structure with multiple principals on a single campus to the Small Learning Communities (SLC) model with one principal and academy leaders in charge of the small, themed learning communities on these campuses.
While both models are effective in serving students, the SLC option is seen as more encompassing and allows for more efficient use of resources beyond the confines of the Small Schools’ boundaries. The SLC model also allows for more collaborative opportunities among all educators on a campus, as well as better class scheduling and the implementation of common planning times.
Most APS high schools are already configured as Small Learning Communities. This effort is also part of the administration’s overall initiative to place the very best educational leaders in schools throughout the district.
When I asked Bromery about the reported changes in elementary and middle school leaders — which would not fall under this SLC explanation — he responded: “The only explanation offered on APS personnel matters at this point is what was sent previously.”
I know that our news reporters are pursing these changes, and the AJC will have a story shortly.
Back to redistricting. Here is the Meet in the Middle group’s position:
Meet in the Middle APS is a group of concerned individuals from six elementary schools in the SRT4 cluster whose goal is to ensure that there are two smaller, equally strong and diverse middle schools in our cluster.
We oppose the district’s current recommendation of creating a large sixth grade academy (600-700 students) and a massive mega-middle school that is twice as large as anything currently in the district. We have no opinion on how the boundaries of the two schools should be drawn.
The benefits of two equally strong middle schools clearly outweigh any of a mega-middle school. Academic research, the superintendent’s guiding principals and common sense support this position. Research and empirical data show that smaller schools have higher test scores, better grades, improved attendance, higher graduation rates, greater safety and less violence; more parental/community involvement and greater teacher satisfaction.
Not only are two middle schools supported by current enrollment, this solution also promotes the superintendent’s other priorities by ensuring: (a) the proximity of students to the school; (b) student safety; (c) transportation efficiency; and (d) better access. Finally, smaller schools increase one’s opportunities for involvement in extracurricular and leadership activities, increase the familiar faces students know in school, reduce administrative burdens and save money.
Yes, smaller schools have lower costs per graduates than larger ones. The support for two, smaller, equally strong middle schools is overwhelming compared to a factory model, mega-middle school and a segmented sixth grade academy.
We have yet to hear a good argument explaining how the district’s current plan of creating a mega-middle school better serves the children. In fact, after being consulted by the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools in 2011, Dr. Mary Ariail of Georgia State University, an expert in middle school education, concluded that a creation of a 6th grade academy and a 7th-8th grade middle school was the “worst configuration available.”
This is why more than 700 concerned parents from all of our elementary schools have signed our petition in a little more than a week. Seven hundred signatures – even though only parents of children currently in 3rd grade or below are directly affected. APS should at least put more thought and due diligence into this decision, and then support it.
If the APS must decide now, make the decision based on what is in the best interest of all the children, not on a group of parents’ fear of change. Let’s not settle for the “worst configuration available.” Let’s give it some time to have a clearer picture of what’s to come. Sign our petition and contact Superintendent Davis and the APS Board of Education with your comments.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog