Middle meetings – APS wants public input on Coan
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis has called for more meetings in the Jackson Cluster to figure out what to do about low enrollment in Coan Middle.
Davis sent a letter in February to Toomer Elementary Parent Teacher Association President Stacey Martin about the need for additional input. Toomer parents have been pushing to make their elementary school a Kindergarten through eighth grade school. There were meetings about that idea, but Davis surprised parents by telling Board of Education members that he’s not interested in pursuing a K-8 at Toomer.
In his letter to Martin, Davis said he’s looking for ways to increase enrollment at Coan, saying, “I reached the judgment that we should explore quickly and intensely what it would take to secure buy-in for improved middle grades education within this cluster.”
Martin spoke to the Kirkwood Neighbors Organization on March 10, and handed out a survey in advance of the upcoming public meetings.
“What I’m hearing from Davis is the goal or purpose of these meetings is what it will take to commit the community to middle school education,” she said. “I want to go into a conversation as informed as possible.”
Toomer’s pursuit of a K-8 is in response to increased competition from Drew Charter Middle. The proposal ticked off some parents from Whitefoord Elementary and Burgess Peterson Academy who said Toomer parents were striking out on their own, ignoring the needs of the whole cluster.
Martin said she’s working with the PTAs at those schools to find out whether they will be sending their children to Coan Middle. King Middle is the other feeder school in the Jackson High cluster. In a previous story about this issue, Sara Brown, a parent in the Whitefoord school zone, said one of the reasons Coan stayed open after the last round of redistricting was an appeal from Kirkwood parents who didn’t want to send their children to King.
The renewed discussion about Coan comes as APS is looking for a replacement for Davis, who took over the system in the aftermath of a test cheating scandal. Martin said Davis’ lame-duck status doesn’t mean the meetings will be meaningless.
“As an invested parent, I want decisions to be made,” she said. “Our community rests on the progress of these decisions.”
The meetings will be held March 18 at 6 pm in the Coan Middle School gymnasium and March 24 at 6 pm in the King Middle School amphitheater.
Both meetings are open to the public.
Here is Davis’ letter to Martin:
February 24, 2014
Ms. Stacey Martin
Parent Teacher Association
Dear Ms. Martin:
This communication is to follow up on my letter of December 30, 2013. I would like to invite you to participate in a series of targeted sessions and community meetings to explore further the future of the Jackson Cluster and, in particular, the strength of its middle schools.
In the December letter, I framed a number of K-8 alternatives for the eastern part of the cluster from an admittedly financial perspective. While two community meetings had already been held in the cluster prior to my letter, I indicated that I would seek further school leadership and community input on local and social issues, and make a recommendation to the Atlanta Board of Education at its February meeting.
At the board meeting, I recommended that we not pursue a K-8 structure in this cluster. Instead, we should focus on improving middle grades education not only in the eastern part of the cluster, but the entire cluster.
Please be aware of how I reached this recommendation. Subsequent to my December 30 letter, a third meeting was held with community members, one meeting was held with school leadership, and a fourth meeting with community members was cancelled due to weather concerns. My takeaways from the three community meetings and the one meeting with elected and appointed school and community leaders are as follows:
1. There is sufficient evidence to support the proposition that K-8 works as a viable educational platform.
2. The desire to move to a K-8 structure varies by elementary school with the most intense and clearest intent being expressed by Toomer parents and, much less so, by the other two schools (Burgess-Peterson and Whitefoord). In fact, the majority of the school-appointed and -elected leadership, including principals, would prefer the status quo in the latter two schools. There were, of course, individual expressions of support for K-8 across the cluster.
3. The lessons of Coan indicated that small-scale middle grades education is not viable from an educational and social perspective within the APS system. This became particularly clear when the discussions of the challenges noted the inability of students to participate in significant athletic programs or the inability of the school to offer a wide range of electives and extracurricular activities.
4. If any of the elementary schools in this part of the cluster were converted to K-8, their middle grades population would not approach the size of Coan, which is struggling to stay viable today.
5. Any single school conversion, without the conversion of all schools in the cluster, would hasten, if not ensure, the demise of Coan.
6. The economics of converting a single school successfully are also secondary to the financial risk of institutionalizing the concept of small neighborhood K-8 schools.
7. There was no significant interest on the part of any school in combining the three elementary schools to reach the critical mass needed to provide an effective K-8 educational program.
8. There was even stronger resistance to a combined program being located in the current Coan facility.
9. Community commitment to and investments in the elementary schools seem strong and growing, along with a growing commitment to the feeder high school, Jackson. However, the community support or investment at the middle school level is not as robust.
10. As evidenced by student attendance, there is little support for attending Coan in its present condition. The quality of the middle school buildings, both at Coan and King, seems to be a significant barrier.
11. It was noted that the district could demonstrate its support by committing additional resources to both buildings, as well as providing attractive and/or innovative educational programs cluster wide.
Based primarily on the above, I reached the judgment that we should explore quickly and intensely what it would take to secure buy-in for improved middle grades education within this cluster. It is my plan to have a number of community meetings with the entire cluster prior to the April board meeting and to have at least one, if not two meetings, with elected and appointed school and community officials. The purpose of these meetings will be to define what it will take to obtain the entire cluster’s commitment to middle grades education, particularly in the eastern part of the cluster, where enrollment at Coan is approximately half the enrollment of King, in the western part of the cluster.
Potential Ideas to Explore
Several ideas have already been proposed. I stress these are nothing more than examples of the types of ideas I wish to collect, catalogue and review prior to the April meeting. For example, below are two options to consider:
1. Refurbish extensively both the Coan and King buildings. Introduce a quality and rigorous IB platform into both schools and designate each of the schools as cluster wide magnets, one with a focus on STEM and another with a focus on arts and literacy.
2. Close Coan and use the Coan building for a career academy with local preference for the children within the cluster. (Planning has already taken place for a career academy and the next step is, in fact, to find an appropriate location). King would be extensively refurbished, a rigorous IB platform would be introduced, and it would serve as the sole middle school for the entire cluster.
I want to stress that it is ideas such as the above, and others, that I would like to explore prior to the April meeting of the Atlanta Board of Education. Again, I am not advocating any one idea at this point. My plan following the meetings is to make a set of recommendations to the board in April. support of the Jackson Cluster. As always, I look forward to
Thank you for your ongoing support of the Jackson Cluster. As Always, I look forward to your further input and participation. Please indicate your availability to attend the March 13 meeting by replying to Nicole Knighten (email@example.com or 404-802-2859) by March 6.
Erroll B. Davis Jr.