Atlanta Public Schools officials said Thursday the district is committed to a turnaround plan at in Grant Park.
APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr., told parents from the neighborhoods in Jackson’s attendance zone the efforts are part of a districtwide plan to raise the quality of all public schools in the city.
“We expect success,” Davis said of the Jackson focus. “ We’re not going to settle for anything less than success. It will be vigorously monitored and we are going to succeed.”
A large component of those efforts centers on the planned $36 million renovation to the Jackson campus, which is set to begin when the current school year ends.
The project, which officials expect to be completed by the start of the 2013-14 school year, calls for the rebuilding of classrooms, installing a new heating and air conditioning system, new gym and art room and landscaping, among other changes.
The attention comes as many of the neighborhoods that comprise Jackson's attendance zone are in various stages of gentrification.
Jackson's attendance zone neighborhood include:
- Grant Park
- East Atlanta Village
- Ormewood Park
- Capitol Gateway
- Sweet Auburn
- A portion of Downtown and portion of East Lake
And while many parents express reservations about the school, some of the newcomers — who don't even have children old enough to enroll there — are getting involved now at the elementary, middle and high school levels to help make improvements. A group of parents founded one such organization, Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools, last year.
APS officials acknowledge Jackson's performance has to keep pace mirroring the changes occurring in the neighborhoods it serves.
"We are here because we believe Maynard Jackson High School plays a huge role in the viability and stability of the east Atlanta," said Brenda J. Muhammad, APS board chairwoman whose district includes Jackson. "We are here because this area is alive with growth economically that we need to match academically."
While the school undergoes its renovations, the roughly 800 students who attend Jackson will spend the 2012-13 academic year somewhere else.
Davis said no final decision has been made regarding where the students might relocate. But one possibility — which parents strongly oppose — is to have them go to the former Archer High School on Perry Boulevard in northwest Atlanta’s Scotts Crossing neighborhood.
The other component of the turnaround plan — and arguably more difficult — is improving the academic performance at Jackson, which is named for the former Atlanta mayor.
There are some positive signs.
The nonprofit College Board named Jackson a 2011 Advance Placement Challenge School.
Both BusinessWeek and U.S. News and World Report cited the school in recent "best schools" lists. BusinessWeek named it best low-income school in 2009 and U.S. News & World Report gave it a "bronze medal" rating in its annual guide.
And the school is a candidate for the International Baccalaureate Program, an academically challenging course of study.
APS expects it will gain final approval from the International Baccalaureate Organization by 2013, making it the district’s second IB school. As part of getting ready for IB and to maintain program requirements, APS will spend $100,000 each year at Jackson for the next five years, Davis said.
The school itself has had a longstanding reputation for being standoffish with the surrounding community, but school officials are seeking to change that.
Earlier this year, one Jackson administrator attended a Grant Park Neighborhood Association meeting and told members the school is making a concerted effort to reach out to the community and get the neighborhood involved. According to some meeting attendants, it was the first such interaction with Jackson in years.
Davis said more focus would be given to the readiness of students attending grammar school and middle school in the Jackson cluster, so as children are promoted they are adequately prepared.
To that end, he said high school teachers at Jackson would be calling their middle school counterparts to discuss trends they see with incoming students. Middle school educators with do the same with their elementary school counterparts.
"We have made progress," Davis said. “I'd like to think it’s substantial progress, but we a have a lot of opportunities."
Still, by some measures, Jackson gives pause for concern.
It failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress — a federal benchmark designed to identify where a school needs to improve — in 2010 and 2011.
And based on the results of last year’s combined math and English/language arts standardized test scores, Jackson ranks 375 out of 399 high schools statewide.
Of the four secondary schools in East Atlanta Patch, only , a non-traditional institution, fared worse: It ranked 396th, based on its test scores.
Another issue of concern for parents is the school’s graduation statistics. APS reports the 142 Jackson seniors who graduated in the spring of 2011, represents a 77 percent graduation rate.
But Georgia Department of Education figures show that as freshmen in 2007, the total number of that class was 317.
An APS spokesman said that doesn’t necessarily mean the difference between the incoming class and the graduating seniors — 175 students — dropped out.
“Just because the number entering the freshman class doesn't equal the number graduating four years later doesn't mean the differential dropped out,” district spokesman Keith Bromery said. “They could have transferred to other schools or taken more than four years to graduate. You make adjustments to graduation rates based on these and other factors.”
The focus on Jackson comes amid a tilt-a-whirl of change of facing APS.
The district is in the midst of a controversial demographic and that could see some grammar schools with small enrollments merge with other schools. Other schools that are over crowded could see some of their students rezoned to schools in nearby neighborhoods.
The possibility of being rezoned has caused a row in Inman Park, Candler Park and Lake Claire. All three are all currently zoned for , the second-best primary school in the neighborhoods that comprise East Atlanta Patch behind Drew Charter School.
Mary Lin, which is in Candler Park, is overcrowded. One of the solutions under consideration has Mary Lin merging with Toomer Elementary in Kirkwood.
Mary Lin parents are vehemently opposed to that scenario because the school ranks higher academically than Toomer. Both Toomer and Mary Lin are both zoned in the cluster of schools that feed Midtown's Grady High School, considered one of the city's better secondary schools.
The fear by some Mary Lin parents is APS could rezone some neighborhoods or split them — like East Lake is — with some kids zoned to attend Grady and others zoned for Jackson.