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APS Redistricting: The Battle For Coan Middle School

'We are being pushed out of our own neighborhood school.'

At the Atlanta Board of Education meeting Monday night, a parade of parents from the Kirkwood and Edgewood neighborhoods had one question: Why close their middle school, , only to hand it over to the students of another community not even in the cluster?

The parents were reacting to Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr.'s redistricting recommendations that call for the .

Davis' proposal, released late Sunday night, would reduce the number of excess seats by 7,200. APS has 47,000 students, but a 60,000-student capacity.

It follows a series of proposed rezonings submitted the district's outside consulting firm.

That schools would close as the district seeks to reduce costs and the number of empty seats — particularly those that are underutilized — is no surprise.

Indeed, parents from the Edgewood community came together to , from closure.

But the surprise, parents said, was to learn of Davis' recommendation that Coan, be closed and its 307 pupils be rezoned to King Middle in Grant Park, some four miles away.

Coan — the middle school that serves the Edgewood, Kirkwood, East Lake and East Atlanta neighborhoods — would be converted to a sixth-grade academy.

As such, it would serve to relieve overcrowding at Inman Middle School in Virginia-Highland.

Though Coan is only 34.3 percent full, closure wasn't an option in either or of demographers' recommendations.

That their kids be displaced and be made to attend a school three neighborhoods away so the children of another community could benefit was nothing less than offensive, parents said.

"Now, we are being pushed out of our own neighborhood school," Kirkwood resident and realtor Sally Alcock told Atlanta Board of Education members at Monday's meeting.

"Do not take our resources from our community and give it to another community so that community can stay status quo."

Board member Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, whose District 3 includes Coan and its feeder neighborhoods, told East Atlanta Patch she is not opposed to a sixth grade academy concept.

But she said she would not support the proposal if it means the exclusion of the children who are zoned to Coan's for those outside its feeder neighborhoods.

"I'm appalled," Harsch-Kinnane said of the idea in its current form. "I don't think we can use it without including the communities" Coan currently serves.

"I'm for a sixth-grade academy, but as I've said publicly, there has to be another way."

Bevin Carpenter Sr., community partnerships manager of , which aims to reduce school drop-outs and is actively working in Coan, said Coan's parents never had a chance to advocate for their school.

Coan was never on the closures lists in any of the previous proposals, he told board members.

"It makes no sense for Virginia-Highland students to be bussed to Edgewood," Carpenter said, reading from a letter Coan parents sent to the BOE.

Maggie Stewart, another Kirkwood parent, said the merging of King and Coan's students further concentrates kids of lower socioeconomic status together.

What's more, Kirkwood would end up going to Jackson High School, a lower-performing school in Grant Park, rather than Grady High School in Midtown, one of the better-performing secondary institutions within APS.

"Giving away our middle school, taking away our high school — we're giving more than everybody. It seems like the wealthier and louder communities are getting exactly what they want," she said.

"Don't try to bus our children off and ignore them and try to sweep them under the carpet."

Parents from other East Atlanta Patch neighborhoods, namely Old Fourth Ward, were happy the superintendent’s proposals included one of their goals, which was to be zoned for Inman Middle School.

Representatives of another neighborhood, Summerhill, expressed their displeasure that their children, currently zoned to attend the underperforming Cook Elementary in Capitol Gateway, would be rezoned to D.H. Stanton in Peoplestown.

Cook closes under Davis' proposal, with its kids being divided among several schools. Summerhill parents, as did those in nearby Cabbagetown, wanted to be rezoned to Parkside Elementary in Grant Park.

Cabbagetown, which also is currently zoned to Cook, and preferred Parkside, too, would be redistricted to Whitefoord Elementary School in Edgewood.

Monday's meeting will be followed by a around the district.

The Atlanta Board of Education is expected to vote on a final plan in April; the changes would become effective by the start of the 2012-13 academic year.

Kirkwood Parent March 07, 2012 at 06:55 PM
I think it is: A. 300 students at Coan + B. 175 students from East Lake + C. 400 students at Toomer = D. 875, with a capacity of 900 at Coan. Adds up nicely, although I could be wrong about any of those numbers. Based on all the baby strollers I see in the neighborhood, it wouldn't be long before Toomer was back in use.
I.C.E.S Kirkwood March 07, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Krista- I saw your post on the KNO website. I live in Kirkwood, have two children who attend Toomer - a school I love and am very active in. And I too, am coming to the conclusion that we folks south of Dekalb should definitely turn our efforts toward the Jackson cluster. The only thing I cannot reconcile myself to is having Inman use Coan! I certainly don't know the ins and outs of these things, but it seems ideal if we could consolidate Toomer and Eastlake there, and turn it into a K-8 school. The distance is much closer for the schools that would feed into it (Toomer, East Lake, Edgewood), and it would feel less scary than sending our kids to a MS in a relatively far away neighborhood, both of which many of us don't know anything about. Someone wrote (maybe you?) that the ABOE is having a meeting on the subject of K-8 schools. If true, perhaps creating a K-8 school at Coen is not just pie in the sky. I have no interest in fighting to get my kids into the overcrowded & too large Grady cluster. I'd rather benefit from all the resources and funding that will be going into the revitalized (and much smaller) Jackson cluster!
Nick March 07, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Thanks for the info, Kirkwood Parent! Well, I am not a fan of any schools closing, but if they "must", they should merge into the building with the largest number of seats...count me in on any protests or rallies to keep Coan operating as a middle or elementary school!
Kirkwood Parent March 07, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Yes, I have been flooding all available message boards in an attempt to process my emotions on the issue! It does seem like people are coming around to the possibilities for the Jackson cluster and I'm really happy about that. I think APS will back off on the repurpose Coan for Inman proposal because it just doesn't pass the smell test. They are having a meeting on March 12 regarding alternative configurations like K-8 so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's a possibility. My 5-year old will be at Toomer next year and my 1-year old will be there in 4 years. We are so excited about the school and so grateful to people like you and other people we don't know but whose names we hear a lot, like Joe and Sally Alcock, who have made the school what it is. We looked at Drew, but we honestly like Toomer better. I think even more people would choose Toomer if we had a K-8. The neighborhood support for that school would be incredible. It would help us buy into the Jackson cluster and not feel so worked over by APS in the redistricting process.
Kirkwood Parent March 07, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Agreed! I think my original Toomer # was wrong--looks like there will be 400 at Toomer after adding East Lake. So we have somewhere around a total of 700 students ready to go to a K-8. This would avoid the big empty building and would be less disruptive for the kids who are already at Coan, which shouldn't be discounted. Our 12-year old neighbor told us yesterday that she was getting sent to King so that Coan could be a 6th grade academy. This news is not lost on anyone.
dina b March 07, 2012 at 11:08 PM
tired parent - that is a great name. I am with you. However, Grant, Ormewood, East ATlanta, Cabbagetown wanted to go to Coan. We would have made a large impact on Coan because we have large numbers of middle schoolers with very involved parents. King is already 60% full and it would be very hard to change the way things are done there. I am from NY and we rarely build a new building, just keep on using the old ones as best we can. I will never understand how APS thinks that renovation can improve what is happening inside a school. I am totally disgusted now.
Péralte Paul (Editor) March 07, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Kirkwood Parent: Would you mind e-mailing me? I have a question I want to ask you off-thread.
Maggie Stewart March 08, 2012 at 02:12 AM
It's easier to deal with Coan closing as long as the 6th Inman Academy does not happen there. As long as Inman Middle kids are in that building and we are not allowed to be there, it will be a distraction for us as a neighborhood and it will cause problems getting everyone behind a plan for OUR kids. Inman Middle Annex/Academy has to be located in another place or else there will be a battle over who gets to go to school there - whether it's to everyone's detriment or not. Also there may be some alternatives for the Coan building that we can't even look to explore yet that would benefit OUR neighborhood. Right now, the facility in our neighborhood will only be used to benefit other neighborhoods who have outright told us that the building is acceptable for them to use as long as our kids aren't in it. We need to be talking about how Coan and E Lake Elementary should be re-purposed to help the communities that they are located in, and we need to focus on the practical matters at hand. If our kids are going to be bused to King, we need to talk details and extracurricular activities, and how to improve parental participation, etc.
Kirkwood Parent March 08, 2012 at 02:29 AM
I think you're right-it puts salt in the wound. I don't think Davis understood this initially. When he was asked at the Mar. 5 meeting whether it would be unfair to have Kirkwood kids drive by a school they weren't allowed to attend, he basically said, well, it wouldn't be any more unfair than having them drive by an empty building. He has a point, but I think most people agree that the Coan as Inman academy plan raises some issues of equity and just doesn't smell right.
Kirkwood Parent March 08, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Hi Peralte--I sent you a message from my personal email. Let me know if you didn't get it.
Maggie Stewart March 08, 2012 at 12:10 PM
And yet, the Inman parents are now planning bus routes, etc. to Coan, a school they found totally unacceptable last week. What? Dekalb Avenue? Dekalb Avenue looked like a 12 lane interstate to them last week, and this week, well, it's just takes a hop, skip and jump to cross that silly little street.
ESL March 08, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Did you also hear that they were making special buses just for Morningside kids that would be gold- plated, on 32" rims and have extra cushions in the seat for the long commute to COAN? As long as you Kirkwood folks are going to go the manipulation and hyperbolic route let's see some real imaginations coming from SOD. How about the jet packs that get distributed by APS to Inman Park kids so they don't have to touch the ground before they land at COAN?
Maggie Stewart March 08, 2012 at 01:52 PM
And by the way, if you guys get those jet packs, let us know. I think we might could use them as well if the ultimate decision is to send us to King - that's a haul.
Maggie Stewart March 08, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Look, ESL, I'm not saying you guys asked for Coan. Clearly, you didn't. I'm just saying it is the wrong place for the Inman kids to go to a 6th Academy as the children who live around the school will be denied entrance to that school and bused by the school much farther away. As I previously said, right or wrong, if you guys are there, it will be a distraction as it's unfair and morally reprehensible for APS to flaunt you guys using Coan in front of us. If King is the best solution, we need to focus on King, but, sadly, this will be a focal point. Please imagine if your neighborhood school were closed to you and other children from another zone were there while your kids couldn't be. It'd make you mad, right? And I'm just wondering where all of your loud objections are to dangerous DeKalb Avenue now. Please, speak up and voice it again! Seriously!!!! Please, because I want you guys to go to school in another location so that my neighborhood can begin to heal and focus on what we need to.
ESL March 08, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I'm with you on that - we need equal access to all jet packs !!!!
Inman Park March 08, 2012 at 03:37 PM
For everyone questioning the 60% existing capacity at King Middle, keep in mind that the O4W will be leaving King and going to Inman. The Grady cluster advocated for full inclusion of the cluster (for O4W in particular) and I certainly understand and appreciate that. However, I do not agree that Kirkwood should have to pay the price for this. I understand Mr. Davis' point in consolidating King and Coan, for capacity and budget reasons, but using that space for kids outside the area just adds insult to injury. On the other hand, I know that many parents in the Grady cluster are very upset also about this proposed 6th grade location- this was not what they asked for either. The frustration should not be necessarily taken out on those parents, as much as it should be aimed toward APS. Just out of curiosity, if APS does proceed with the sixth grade academy, but decides somewhere other than Coan, where do you propose that be? I have heard that the vacant schools in O4W are in such bad shape due to age, vandalism, theft...that those sites are not currently on the drawing table??
Ken Edelstein March 08, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Inman Middle School parents aren't happy about the Coan location either. It's not located in our zone. If it were temporary in the same way that going way across town to Archer will be temporary for Jackson High during construction there, that would be one thing. But nobody in the Inman cluster advocated for the Coan location, and I doubt anyone wants it.
Earl Williamson, RN March 09, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Rally For Coan Middle School's Future ... OUR Future COAN MIDDLE SCHOOL 1550 Hosea Williams This Saturday 3/10 @ 9:45am- 10:30am APS intends to close Coan Middle School to the communities of East Lake, Edgewood and Kirkwood. APS then intends to take the Coan building and use is as a 6th grade annex for Inman Middle School. The children of our communities will no longer be able to attend their own local middle school, while Inman Park children can. Instead our kids will be bused 5 miles to King middle school. • Our children will no longer be able to walk to school. • Coan's outside funding and innovative programs will not follow our children to King Middle School. • Once the 6th grade annex is no longer needed the Coan building will sit empty, along with two others in NPU-O. • We are joining together to tell APS to INVEST IN COAN! APS has historically neglected Coan Middle School – Enough is Enough! Don’t close down our kids’ school because the system never invested in it. East Lake, Edgewood & Kirkwood are resilient communities that have overcome obstacles - our kids deserve to have a great middle school – in their neighborhood. This plan is short-sighted and not a long-term strategy for our communities. Strong Schools = Strong Communities!!!
ESL March 09, 2012 at 07:27 AM
Can we also rally to close Toomer and Eastlake and make Coan K-8 ? I'll make some signs.
DAP March 13, 2012 at 02:34 PM
"Academy" schools are just segregation for the 21st Century. They are a way to provide an allegedly better school product while hoping the unwashed dirty masses do not figure out how to work the system for tapping into that Academy product.
Earl Williamson, RN March 13, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Coan Middle School has a capacity of 900-1100 (APS figures). Though currently underutilized it very clearly offers both the central location and available space to resolve worsening overcrowding at Inman Middle School and to support other areas. Hence the recent suggestion by some to add Mary Lin Elementary to Coan Middle School’s cachement area. The existing infrastructure and capacity at Coan Middle School can relieve the critical overcrowding at Inman Middle School (currently at 113% utilization with future estimates growing to 184% ). Coan Middle School is currently at 34% utilization and can accommodate hundreds of new students immediately with no additional cost to taxpayers. Caon Middle School is a fiscally responsible solution providing cost effective utilization of available public money and facilities. This is especially true given the academic and non profit resources participating at Coan Middle School at no additional expense to tax payers. It is also about ending the practice of using NPU-O communities as throw aways in re-districting and resource allocation (evidenced by the historical short changing of Coan).
ESL March 13, 2012 at 03:14 PM
@Earl- you have a good handle on some numbers but what would COAN utilization be if every student zoned to COAN went to COAN? What would be utilization numbers if you close Toomer and Eastlake and made COAN k-8 which is being considered for multiple locations according to yesterday's ABOE curriculum meeting. You are driving a solution that affects other neighborhoods which is against recommendation of Davis and other board members. if you stick to your own hood interests and convince Kirkwood and Eastlake to press for COAN to be k-8 you Save COAN. This constant refrain of trying to influence APS to place other neighborhoods into COAN that do not want to go there has proven very damaging to cross neighborhood relations. Kirkwood has developed a reputation that will out live redistricting. You can easily get to 80% utilization of COAN if you close Eastlake and Toomer and add some Edgewood students. That is a winning strategy that saves tax dollars - and will repair the damaged relations with neighbors NOD.
Kirkwood Parent March 13, 2012 at 03:25 PM
@ESL, I completely agree with you. For some reason, people in our neighborhood aren't getting behind the K-8 idea, which really would solve a lot of our problems without creating problems for other neighborhoods. We have a lot of people throwing the racism argument around, i.e., "Candler Park and Inman Park parents won't send their kids to Coan because they're racist." Well, then what do you think explains our reluctance to send our own kids to Coan? And don't you think it might be just as racist to say "hey, could you people please put some white kids into our school before we have to go there ourselves?" K-8 is a brilliant idea, but instead of pursuing it we're picking fights with other neighborhoods.
Earl Williamson, RN March 13, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Please note that what I am reporting is based on the consensus statements of both Kirkwood and East Lake, reflecting your difficulty in finding support for K-8 at Coan. Note as well that K-8 at Coan would cause loss of Emory's Graduation Generation programs and much other increasingly effective middle school programming now available at Coan Middle School. A major issue is increasingly acute overcrowding at Inman Middle School and a geographically well located and underutilized Coan Middle School. True cost effectiveness and efficient facilities management clearly supports a Coan Middle School receiving elementry populations currently contributing to overcrowding at Inman Middle. It continues to amuse me how those more than happy to dictate Coan Middle School outcomes are so often those complaining about the origin of much more effective and cost effective solutions One need only look at Big Tent to determine the source of damaged relations with those NOD.
Kirkwood Parent March 13, 2012 at 04:53 PM
@Earl, there is no reason a K-8 at Coan would result in the loss of any of Emory's programs. Look at Emory's statement of why it would be hard to transfer those programs to King. Nothing in that statement suggests that it would be difficult to keep the programs at Coan in a K-8 model. I would imagine that Emory would support the K-8 model because it would allow the community resources to be even further concentrated and, likely, even more effectively used. I understand that at least Kirkwood reached a consensus decision on the issue (although I would say that the landscape has changed since February 10). It's just hard for me to understand the reasoning underlying the decision.
TooBusytohate March 13, 2012 at 05:11 PM
LOL - the survey question reads as if it were a "push poll". Anyone with even a modicum of understanding realizes Coan is not beig closed in order to create a 6th grade academy for the Grady area. As things are currently drawn, there are not enough students to keep King and Coan both open. One had to close, and APS chose Coan. APS also needs more middle school space to feed into Inman, and looked at the available options and thought Coan would be a good fit. I think virtually no-one thinks Coan should used for a Grady 6th grade academy. The questions should just be simply "Should Coan be closed?" I think the Coan as a K-8 is a great idea, and feel even more stongly about keeping Coan open after reading the response from Emory re: Coan. I had no idea how involved they were in the area schools and think APS should do everything in their power to nurture and grow that relationship.
MAO March 15, 2012 at 02:10 AM
How is moving Mary Lin to Coan going to solve the problems at Coan? It is a FAILING school. Until two months ago when Georgia was exempted by the Federal Government from meeting the very easily obtainable No Child Left Behind Standards, every parent zoned for Coan was legally allowed to transfer their child elsewhere. Do you really think that the Mary Lin kids are so great that they will solve this? Do you also believe that dilution is the solution to pollution?
Nick March 15, 2012 at 03:28 PM
^5 I am trying to make more of an effort to take race out of the discussion... I like the school building, I like the neighborhood, I don't like to see school buildings closed, and I would like to see the building reach full capacity and become a desirable school for the neighborhood. The discussion begs the question of why more local children are not attending that school?
Nick March 15, 2012 at 03:33 PM
If Inman is overcrowded by, let's say, 80 students, could 80 children (their parent(s)) be allowed to choose to go to Coan? Kinda like M-to-M, except...wait, exactly like M-to-M!
Kirkwood Parent March 15, 2012 at 04:23 PM
@Nick, I hope we can all make that same effort. It's just not productive to talk about race, which really has nothing to do with performance. Contrary to what most people believe, the best performing high school in Atlanta is Carver, not Grady. From what I understand, Carver is about 98% black. You raise what really is the most important question on the thread-why don't more local children attend Coan? I think that's just a matter of past performance and reputation, not race. We all wish its performance and reputation could be improved, but we're not willing to send our own kids there until we see a little progress. Many of us think that if we just get the Candler Park/Inman Park kids zoned to Coan we will magically and instantly see that progress. Maybe that's true, but I don't think it's fair to ask those neighborhoods to do something we've been unwilling to do ourselves. That's why I would like to see a K-8 solution for our community. But I think there are other options that could work as well. It sounds like there are lots of people in Grant/Ormewood Park, Cabbagetown and East Atlanta who have young kids and are excited about sending them to Coan and doing everything they can to make the school better. If we have to hitch our wagon to somebody, I'd rather go with the people who want to be at Coan than the ones who are doing everything they can to avoid it.

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