F.AVE or fad? 4/5 teacher, school superintendent defend academy

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 1, 2013

Icon_SchoolsDecatur, Ga. – The 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue, aka F.AVE, opened in 2011 as a dedicated school for fourth and fifth graders.

Two years later some parents in City Schools of Decatur wonder if it’s time to make F.AVE a K-5 school to cope with increased enrollment.

CSD is currently in the process of redrawing elementary school boundary lines in order to reopen Westchester Elementary School in 2014. CSD is a K-3 system, with an early learning center at College Heights. The elementary schools feed into the 4/5 school, which feeds into Renfroe Middle and ultimately to Decatur High.

One F.AVE teacher called the suggestion of changing the school a “slap in the face” to teachers there. Superintendent Phyllis Edwards is slapping down the idea as well.

Edwards on Thursday sent out a letter to parents about the rezoning of the city’s elementary schools. Edwards didn’t specifically mention a group called “Press ‘Pause’ on CSD Rezone,” but in her letter pushed back at Pause’s comments about 4/5.

She asked parents to give the rezoning process a chance.

“I respectfully ask families and the community that we allow the current process to work,” Edwards wrote. “Westchester needs to reopen in early August.  A principal needs to be named and preliminary work completed, including forming a staff and engaging families.  All of this, including changes and upgrades to the school, and the Central Office team moving to Beacon Hill, must be completed by Spring 2014.”

Based on the letters I received yesterday, I’ve concluded that if parents in Decatur go after F.AVE during the rezoning, they’re going to have a fight on their hands. The superintendent will be one of the lead pugilists.

Edwards wasn’t entertaining any talk of shutting down 4/5.

“We have seen positive results of 4-5 model, especially at the middle school, which is now a Distinguished Title 1 School and one of the most sought after middle schools in the Atlanta metro area,” Edwards wrote in her letter to parents.

Here are Edwards’ main arguments in defense of the 4/5 concept.

It saves money. Having fewer elementary schools saves money because of, “economy of scale as more teachers and students at a grade level are housed in the same building,” Edwards wrote.

It helped end discrimination in the school system. The U.S. Department of Justice in 2007 removed CSD from the1969 desegregation order. “Achieving unitary status meant that CSD had eliminated the vestiges of discrimination in the system,” Edwards wrote. “A contributing factor is that all children come together in one school at the 4th grade instead of the 6th grade.”

– Kindergarten students can’t attend the 4/5 school. School spokeswoman Heather Borowski followed up Edwards’ letter with another point the superintendent forgot to mention. She said in an email that, “According to (Georgia Department of Education) standards, the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue will never be able to house kindergarten students. There aren’t classrooms on the bottom floor of F.AVE and kindergarten students cannot be in housed in classrooms on a second floor. The 4/5 Academy was constructed specifically for older students.”

So CSD officials are making 4/5 restructuring look like a nonstarter as far as the current rezoning process goes.

After I published an article about my interview with Edwards, a F.AVE teacher sent me a response. The teacher asked to remain anonymous and I’ve decided to honor the request so the teacher can speak freely.

Here’s the letter:

I would like to address the parents who continue to ask for City Schools of Decatur to change our instructional model to K-5. I speak on behalf of my colleagues at the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue and implore the few of you to STOP (PLEASE!) the constant talk of K-5 schools. Every time you mention re-configuring the schools, it is a slap in the face to the teachers who have worked so hard to create the most enriching, engaging, internationally-minded experience for our 4th and 5th grade students. The 4/5 Academy WORKS- we strive to reach our vision every day: The 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue will bridge academic and social connections between early learning and adolescence. We recognize and develop students’ strengths, appreciate and overcome students’ challenges, and ground our interactions in mutual respect and tolerance. Have you seen our students’ video about our school??

Additionally, the 4/5 Academy staff has created a united and strong professional learning community. Some of the FAVE teachers were one of only two teachers on their grade level team at the K-5 schools before the reconfiguration to K-3 and 4-5. The collaboration and professional community that we have at the 4/5 Academy is far richer and more experienced.

Finally, we have seen phenomenal success of our students at Renfroe Middle School. A huge contributor to our students’ middle school success is that they come together from across our great City from different socio-economic groups in sweet, preadolescence FOURTH grade instead of the sometimes-volatile, hormone-ridden SIXTH grade. The creation of a 4/5 academy is a direct contributor to the success of our Renfroe Middle School.

In closing, my colleagues and I beg parents who want to dismantle our beloved F.AVE to PLEASE STOP- it’s demoralizing to all of us. The K-3, 4-5 model helped to make City Schools of Decatur the BEST in the state. We ask you to please stop trying to change our schools back to K-5.


About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • Beth McAlister

    As a parent whose children went through CSD before F.A.V.E., I would urge parents now to be cautious about returning to that model. Any educator will tell you that sixth grade is probably the most challenging year to teach in K-12. Hormones and growth are surging, they wear their emotions on their sleeve , and they have no idea where their edges are, because they change so quickly. When we took that combustible age group and threw th into their first system wide school, things were made more difficult. I clearly rembering, now chief, Mike Booker, telling me that the were called much more to the middle school than the high school to break up fights and calm disruptive behavior. I thought the 4/5 Academy was a great idea, bringing kids together before the difficult transition into teenagers.

    I would also like to caution against over reacting. It can be so toxic to kids and schools. There is always fear with change, but it is important to calm paranoia and overreaction. By the time both of mine got through K-12, I found most of my worries were groundless.Decatur schools are great. Your kids will get a fine education, and be qualified to go to good colleges and universities. Just chill.

  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Decaturish for posting this. Would it be possible to publish the words of the song used in the video?
    My initial reaction to the video and letter from the teacher is that it is pure propaganda, supporting one side of a highly partisan issue. Why on earth are we using the children of Decatur to promote an idea that has divided Decatur, maybe not as much as the closing of Westchester or the future bond referendum, but the 4/5 academy was controversial ten years ago and remains so today. And why is protecting the identify of the “teacher” (I suspect an administrator or paraprofessional) so important? This person is promoting a political agenda in a local election. As I recall from my recent work within CSD, the participation of staff members in elections, whether influencing students to favor a candidate, party or cause, is a violation of professional standards and not to be tolerated. I will also challenge the assertion that “any educator will tell you…” My own experience, and the TEACHERS I have known over the past thirty five years, tells me the most challenging grade to teach is the one you have during your first and second year on the job. Sixth grade is no harder than any other grade for the experienced and confident pro. I would also caution that “just chilling” is not good advice for parents or voters. Again my experience is that parents who raise hell are the ones most successful in bring about improvements in their child’s education. And the voters should over-react. We are talking about millions of dollars!
    Now if I was the dictator of Decatur City Schools, or I was a member of the 4/5 parent council, I would ask the principal to remind teachers and staff that their job is to teach, not indoctrinate children or influence the voters. But since I’m not, I can only encourage citizens to keep in mind that when you vote on Tuesday, you’re choosing a candidate that has to make some tough and unpopular decisions. In my opinion, our number one problem is spending. EVERYTHING should be on the table, unless required by state or federal law.

    • Mr. Billingsley, you raised a good point there about employees advocating for political positions. It was something I weighed carefully. I decided to grant the request because I felt the person who sent me the letter was trying to provide a perspective that may not otherwise be represented because they are employees who aren’t authorized to speak for the school. I am not a fan of anonymous comments, but I’m also not a fan of one side being over-represented because they have less to fear by making a statement openly. As long as a statement isn’t a personal attack, I try to err on the side of making sure all views are represented. It’s not always an easy call, but I appreciate you asking questions about it. It makes me a better journalist and editor.

    • Mr. Mister

      Mr. B,

      While I agree that educators certainly have to be careful about when to wade into local politics, I’m not sure that advocating for one’s school is a violation of professional standards, at least as defined by the Georgia PSC (http://www.gapsc.com/Rules/Current/Ethics/505-6-.01.pdf). I see no evidence in this letter or video that students are being indoctrinated to believe a certain political perspective, unless one views the IB learner profile as representative of a certain political party or philosophy. You and other commenters on this and other sites are absolutely correct in asserting that the tone of this letter is counterproductive to its goal of highlighting the value of the 4/5 model, but are absolutely wrong in asserting that educators should not make their voices heard in defending or advocating for the approaches and structures they believe lead to student success, especially if those teachers are also citizens of the city. Balancing the fiscal, educational, and family life benefits and disadvantages of various elementary education models should include all voices, including the educators implementing the current approach.

      Thanks for continuing to engage in local politics and for showing kids, even in retirement, that civic involvement is a duty to be treasured.

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