Editor's Note: The East Atlanta Community Association, Burgess-Peterson Academy Parent Teachers Associaion and Local School Council wrote a letter the Atlanta Public Schools' superintendent and board to communicate the community's official stance on the ongoing APS demographic study and redistricting. They have share their letter with Patch.
To Superintendent Davis, the Atlanta School Board and our fellow parents and educators:
We appreciate the effort currently being undertaken with regard to the APS Demographic Study. We will not spend time in this missive critiquing the process thus far. We have been asked for positive and constructive feedback and we — the PTA and LSC of and the East Atlanta Community Association — will use this opportunity to provide it in what we hope is a clear and concise missive.
As we see it, there are three "levels of interest" for our schooling community. System-wide, cluster-wide and school-based. Many of these are interrelated, but we feel we can most clearly express our desires by outlining them thusly:
System-Wide. We recognize that we do not know enough about all of the diverse and varied communities in the City of Atlanta to make any sort of hard recommendations as to what should or should not happen in neighborhoods beyond our own. We do however believe that there are some universal principles that can be applied across the district:
- Maintain a focus on community-based schools. This point was repeated often and vociferously in focus group meetings and School Reform Team meetings, but seems to have lost some of its urgency in the first round of presented options. We appreciate that those options were merely starting points for discussion, but we hope that more respect is held in subsequent iterations for the social, historical and physical boundaries of our neighborhoods.
- Do not sacrifice educational quality in the name of efficiency. We acknowledge that the system is facing severe budgetary issues. We would submit, however, that the SPLOST IV vote was specifically a referendum on the fact that the people of the City of Atlanta are willing to put their money where their collective mouth is. We want to maintain small class-sizes and neighborhood-based schools, and we are willing to self-tax to do it.
- Respect the quality and integrity of APS instructional staff. The majority of teachers in APS are hard working and passionate about their vocation and the education of children of Atlanta. We appreciate that redistricting and school closings will necessitate some shifting of teachers, but we hope that the system is mindful that quality schools require quality teachers. When possible, successful instructional teams should be kept in place and when changes are necessary that teachers and other staff be given sufficient notice to accommodate changes in placement.
- We recognize that much of the push-back to rezoning stems not simply from differences in school performance or perceived effects on property value; rather it reflects a feeling that many parents have invested considerable time and effort in the support of their schools and thus feel extraordinarily strong ties to them. To respect this, we suggest that in select cases the system adopt lag-zoning, or grandfathering. That is, children who are currently attending one school (from a neighborhood that might be redrawn out) be allowed to finish at that school (should they so choose) and that the changes be instituted among those who have not yet enrolled.
Cluster-Wide. Burgess-Peterson Academy is very excited and proud to be a part of the Maynard Jackson High School cluster; we see great things for the future of the school, including the pending renovations. We know that we are but one school within the feeder and that what we have as a vision must work within the framework of serving all the schools in the cluster. We are excited as well to be a part of Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools and in that we have several points related to our vision of the MJHS cluster:
- We support for the boundaries of the cluster: Roughly, I-75/85 to the west, DeKalb Ave. to the north (we acknowledge that this particular boundary has not achieved consensus; we suggest only that it seems to make sense from a physical standpoint, and might potentially be an area in which the aforementioned grandfathering would need to occur), the City limits and I-20 to the east, and the City limits to the south. We feel these are logical physical and communal boundaries.
- We support SEACS vision for a consistent feeder pattern. We believe "split" feeders are a bad idea, and that for the cohesiveness of community and the consistency of instruction, a clear and direct pattern best serves the interests of the students. All schools in our cluster should feed into MJHS.
- We support the vision of MJHS as an International Baccalaureate school. Our community and school value academic rigor and we feel that implementation of an IB curriculum at MJHS would serve that goal.
School-Based. Burgess-Peterson Academy is a bit of an anomaly in the system. Our facility is out on the edge of the district, the neighborhood it serves is — relatively speaking — well-defined in its boundaries (Moreland Ave. as a distinct western edge, I-20 as a very clear northern and eastern border, and the City limits delineating our cohort to the south). It is also, in terms of activism and involvement, a very well-defined community.
We are vehemently against any recommendation that closes BPA. There are myriad reasons:
- It is the only remaining Elementary School in Atlanta/DeKalb south of I-20;
- It is a relatively new facility (extensive renovation and reconstruction in 2004) that is extremely well-appointed;
- We believe the enrollment projections may be underselling our growth potential, and we are certain the capacity numbers are not accurate;
- Our school is a model for performance - we meet AYP, we were untouched by the CRCT scandal, we (including the prestigious and lucrative 21st Century Learning Grant), money that would be lost to the system should the school close, and we've achieved national attention for our organic gardening and healthy eating programs (including a visit from the First Lady, Michelle Obama);
- Most importantly, in our view, is that this is not just a local elementary school — it is a center of our community. The organic gardening program has been run almost exclusively by volunteers from the neighborhood; we have had cooking demonstrations run by the chef from our local farmers' market; the community (in particular those who do not even have kids at the school) has participated in playground construction, building out shelves for new library books, and the design and construction of a new outdoor classroom. The value of this school to us extends far beyond its walls.
- Our ideal model for BPA would be as a K-8 I.B. school. We have several reasons for this vision. The I.B. model is very much in keeping with our desire to challenge our students and to offer them the opportunity to develop into inquisitive, engaged members of our community; it likewise would fit well with our progression into MJHS. The K-8 model is desirable to us in part because it would better respect the physical boundaries of our neighborhood, but also because the three charters that surround us are all also K-8 schools and we hope to provide a comparable and competitive model for local parents. In addition, from a physical standpoint, the facility could accommodate the upper grades in an existing second floor, allowing for a level of separation between the upper and lower grades. In respect to the notion of efficiency, this would increase our utilization rate.
- We do, however, understand that there are other considerations in the broader feeder pattern that might preclude a K-8 model for BPA, and we are willing to work within that broader framework if it represents what is best for the cluster as a whole.
We thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to continuing the efforts of the Demographic Study.
Elisabeth Burgess, Chair, Local School Council of Burgess-Peterson Academy
Reid Tankersley, President, PTA of Burgess-Peterson Academy
Lewis Cartee, Vice President/President-Elect, East Atlanta Community Association