The APS Redistricting Debate: Kirkwood Residents Develop An Alternative Plan

Goal: Keep neighborhoods intact

Joe and Sally Alcock are the type of involved parents many schools would love to have.

The Alcocks, who live in Kirkwood, have been involved in their neighborhood school, Toomer Elementary, even before they had kids.

The school doesn't enjoy the academic records of others located in East Atlanta Patch such as Drew Charter in East Lake, Mary Lin in Candler Park and the Neighborhood Charter School, which serves Grant Park and Ormewood Park.

In the most recent statewide ranking of Georgia's 1,176 elementary schools, Toomer placed 817 based on 2010 combined math and language arts standardized test scores.

But Joe Alcock, former president of the Kirkwood Neighbors Organization and other Kirkwood residents like him, believe long-term involvement in their local neighborhood school whether or not you have children can only help make it better.

It's the recipe credited with Mary Lin Elementary's turn-around as longtime Atlantans remember it wasn't always considered a desirable school.

"We've been involved," he said explaining the family joined the Toomer Parent Teacher Association even before their two daughters, who are now in preschool and pre-kindergarten, were born.

"We knew we wanted kids and wanted to stay in the community," Alcock, who is on the KNO's Education Committee said.

That community spirit is what's fueled the recent drive — as it has in other neighborhoods — to come up with alternatives to four preliminary proposals Atlanta Public Schools is considering that could .

The main driver of the changes is some schools, such as Mary Lin, are over crowded, while others, such as Toomer, are about 55 percent full.

One of the options has Toomer, which has 272 students, merging with Mary Lin, which has 560 pupils.

Mary Lin parents aren't too keen on that scenario.

KNO's Education Committee has met a number of times in the last few weeks to craft what it calls "Option 5," which Alcock said aims to keep neighborhoods intact and if schools have to merge, combine those that make the most sense for the students.

Option 5 presents these scenarios:

Elementary Schools:

  • Merge Toomer and East Lake elementary schools with the combined number of students going to Toomer. (The four options being considered by APS all call for East Lake's closure.)
  • Mary Lin Elementary would serve Inman Park, Candler Park and Lake Claire.
  • KNO has not taken a position on Parkside, Hope-Hill, Benteen, Springdale or Cook elementary schools.

Middle School:

  • Coan Middle School would be the feeder school serving Mary Lin, Whitefoord, Burgess-Peterson, East Lake and Toomer elementary schools.

High School:

When Crim High School, which served Kirkwood and East Lake residents, was converted in 2005 to an alternative high school for kids needing different education arrangements, Kirkwood and East Lake were zoned to be in the Grady High School cluster. (A small portion of East Lake was zoned for Jackson High School in Grant Park.) Option 5 has those Coan Middle School students who come from Toomer, East Lake, Hope-Hill and Mary Lin elementary schools zoned to attend Grady High School.

Alcock said their plan is designed to keep neighborhoods from being split as the four options APS is considering do.

"I was opposed Option 4, which split our neighborhood, even though I was zoned on the Mary Lin side," he said. "It’s not all about my kid, it’s about what's most responsible for all the children."

Péralte Paul (Editor) December 14, 2011 at 10:59 PM
What do you think of Kirkwood's "Option 5" to APS' redistricting?
inmangrady mom December 15, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Mary Lin (Candler Park) wants to remain in the Inman/Grady cluster.
B December 15, 2011 at 02:41 AM
Kirkwood has been and continues to advocate for redistricting other neighborhoods into their school system without any colloboration or constructive dialogue on their proposal. While I appreciate their desire to improve their underperforming, underenrolled schools, trying to force another neighborhood into their system "to raise all ships" adds more tension to an already tense situation. The other local neighborhood proposals (IP/CP/LC/VaHi) have been positive and constructive - Kirkwood's is a big diappointment in comparision. Not sure why Kirkwood feels they have a right to propose where other neighborhood's children should go to school.
inmangrady mom December 15, 2011 at 05:16 AM
Thank you That is exactly what I wanted to say but couldn't express it in a diplomatic way. Kirkwood has no right to be dictating where Mary Lin goes for middle school, especially when the neighborhood has already issued a position statement of remaining in the Inman/Grady cluster.
ESL December 15, 2011 at 07:02 AM
I would urge Kirkwood to do a gut check and do what is right for their neighborhood. CINS REP Doug Wood advocated for a K-8 last year. I would like that his advocacy be recognized by APS. COAN MIDDLE is the perfect Campus for a K-8. Close East Lake Toomer and WHitefoord and combine the schools at COAN with similar resources as Drew Academy K-8. Closing Toomer allows APS selling land to be combined with Pullman Yards for mixed use development. This would be in the interest of all Kirkwood residents.
Eric Rubenstein December 15, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Hey Kirkwood - you want your kids to go to Mary Lin? Move to Candler Park. I paid more to live in a neighborhood with good schools. That's how it works, people.
Tris Sicignano December 15, 2011 at 05:59 PM
@ESL, what you propose would DESTROY several communities. You suggest that three communities should be left with three abandoned school buildings in the Interest of Kirkwood? This isn't about a single community, but about the entire APS school community. Kirkwood's proposal is just that, a proposal. @ Eric, you may have paid more to live in your neighborhood, but you also bought into a PUBLIC school system. At no point is school zone guaranteed from one year to another. If that was your impression when you purchased your home then you were misinformed.
Tris Sicignano December 15, 2011 at 06:12 PM
@ESL Drew Charter has 3 principals and the building was specifically built to house two distinct school academies. Drew also has the luxury of limiting the size of its student body. Traditional APS schools can not do this. When you are willing to put your small child into Inman Middle from prek-8 then let's talk about your Coan K-8 idea
Tris Sicignano December 15, 2011 at 06:19 PM
From door to door Mary Lin is 1.4miles from Coan (2.3 miles the long way around) From door to door Mary Lin is 4.6miles from Inman (5.2 miles the long way around)
ESL December 15, 2011 at 11:14 PM
So EL Mom. WHat Kirkwood was trying last year with advocacy from Doug Wood and Cecily Harsch Kinane was K-8 at Toomer ( or was it to take Lake CLaire to Toomer- it's all so confusing the strategy of your real estate people over there) Did you not realize all your neighbors approved K-8 but at wrong school. Cecily said Toomer was too small and expensive to do K-8. But COAN K-8 is a perfect choice to solve APS problems. CLose Toomer , Eastlake and WHitefoord and give Kirkwood kids a hand up. The short ride down Hosea WIlliams to Glenwood connector to Jackson IB keeps your kids safe. Leave ML and 30307 alone. Your misinformed real estate people have forgotten what community is all about.
Tris Sicignano December 16, 2011 at 12:38 AM
@ESL I ask you again, would you send your small child to Inman Middle in a k-8 format?
Tris Sicignano December 16, 2011 at 01:12 AM
@ESL do not make assumptions. I do not live in Kirkwood. This plan in no way would benefit the children of the area. APS can't even get their traditionally modeled schools right. For some reason you and others think that if APS creates a brand new model that does not exist at all in the current APS system that APS will magically get it together. Let's call it like it is... you are on board for anything that will keep schools light and bright. The sooner we stop our feauxhemian rantings and get real the better we can all work to improve our sad school system and our city.
inmangrady mom December 16, 2011 at 07:21 PM
From my house, Inman is about 2.3 miles and Grady is not much further. A kid can ride from Candler Park to Inman or Grady without ever almost hitting the road, using the beltline and the path. My son rides his bike all the time to Grady. In addition, Candler Park (CPNO) and the Mary Lin community voted overwhelmingly to stay in the Inman/Grady cluster as well as keeping Lake Claire, Candler Park and Inman Park together in the same cluster. We also don't want to go to an under performing school, when we're currently in one of, if not the best middle schools in APS and we have worked hard in those schools through parent involvement.
Mary Lin January 19, 2012 at 09:57 PM
"It's the recipe credited with Mary Lin Elementary's turn-around as longtime Atlantans remember it wasn't always considered a desirable school." Yes, but the recipe at Mary Lin didn't include forcing kids from other neighborhoods to come to Mary Lin. It involved building the neighborhood and the school together -- not poaching off of other neighborhoods. Coercing other neighborhoods will only backfire, because people will simply abandon the school system.
Péralte Paul (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Good points, Mary Lin, but others have argued that the parents who attend the better schools - Mary Lin and Morningside - aren't the ones who put in the sweat-equity to turn them around into what they are today. They say, if the new parents were as committed to schools as those pioneering parents, then they would work to improve their children's educational experience no matter what school they attend.
Nick January 20, 2012 at 03:41 PM
This might seem utopian, but I would like to see NONE of the schools close. One of the problems, as I see it, is many of the homes/neighborhoods "can't sustain" modern families with 2+ school age children...still scratching my head at how 8-is-enough families did it in olden thymes...measures need to be put in place to attract growing families to these communities...WITHOUT MCMANSIONING...the lots, and therefore the homes in some of these intown neighborhoods are "too small"...abandoned or vacant homes should be razed, the lots combined with adjoining homes, so slightly larger homes (again, no mcmansions) could be built for the purposes of the "nuclear family"... but in the meantime, what can be done to raise the performance of these "underperforming" schools? i'm not an east atlanta resident, but i would be sad if East Lake ES closed, i think it's the only elementary school in that area, save the 4-5 school or College Heights.
Péralte Paul (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I think a lot of folks agree with you, Nick. No one wants to see their school close. But the numbers are numbers. There are some schools that are bursting at the seams, while others sit near empty, East Lake ES among them. In fact, under the four original proposals the demographers put out, East Lake is the only recommended for closure under every plan. As far as home sizes, I'm not sure what to think. It seems people are in more house than they actually need. And that's just nationally. When the average U.S. household has 2.6 people, (in City of Atlanta it's 2.42 on average) I don't know the need for megahouses or McMansions. I also think APS could be smarter how they build schools. Make elementary schools K-8 and high schools 9-12, allowing them to maximize properties and economize for scale. I know some will say you need these little academy type schools for the kids' learning. But I just don't see the need or the value. Johnny and Jane should be able to learn, whether or not they attend a K-3 school or K-8.
Nick January 20, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Totally agree, Peralte! Just spoke with a friend of mine who has two kids that go to Imagine Wesley Charter, found out it's K-8. "Back in my day", ALL elementary schools were K-7, and the high schools were 8-12. I liked that model. I hope the East Lake school can turn things around, that's a pretty good hump between there and Toomer, or Coan. If all Atlanta neighborhoods were economically viable, it would level the playing field, and there would be no desirable or undesirable schools.
Péralte Paul (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 11:07 PM
True. But East Lakers also have Drew Charter School as an option. Their students outperform all other elementary school students in the East Atlanta Patch neighborhoods, including Mary Lin Elem, and arguably have a harder curriculum than those APS students. Of course, like any great school, they have the issue of lots of folks trying to get in but not enough seats to accommodate everyone.
Patrik Jonsson January 27, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Actually, Eric, that's not how it works. These are all public schools we're talking about, and none of them are actually proprietary to any specific neighborhood. And if you want to use my tax dollars to build additions to a school in your neighborhood when there's half-empty schools a mile away, you're going to have to make a more thoughtful argument than "I make more money than you."
ESL January 27, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Does anyone in Kirkwood understand the history of your neighbors to the north? We had 4 APS schools closed in the corridor between Dekalb and Ponce that could have solved our overcrowding issues at ML & Inman & Grady had APS done a better job of planning. How on earth can Kirkwood rationally argue to keep your 6 APS facilities open ( Eastlake Toomer, Burgess Peterson, Coan, Crim and Drew) and not spend SPlost funds on the ML sector? APS has an operational deficit and it is not part of capital improvement budgets. The way you solve operations deficit is to close schools. TOOMER should be the first on the chopping block in spite of it's connections to APS admin. Just recently 4000 tons of lead contaminated soil was treated in Pullman Yards (http://www.smeinc.com/pullman-yards-train-maintenance-facility-for-gba) with an APS facility downhill and right next door. This was a known hazardous site for years. I would suggest legal action on behalf of Kirkwood for all those years APS knew of lead contamination in property adjacent to Toomer. You can probably reach a class action out of court settlement send all your kids to private school. Folks connected to APS could have encouraged this whole redistricting exercise and mitigated the neighborhood divisiveness by addressing the APS facilities deficit in our ML area from the beginning. With no schools and little representation within APS this amounts to taxation without representation. ML neighborhoods are not happy.
Patrik Jonsson January 27, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I agree that APS bears the brunt of the responsibility for this godawful mess. But here we are, and it's no good looking back now. Whether the Mary Lin arguments will offset the broader issue of deep inequity in the system -- and, ultimately, whether to wall off predominantly wealthier neighborhoods from poorer ones -- is unfortunately the bottom line issue at hand. No matter who is to blame, that's the the problem for all of us to solve, hopefully together.
Patrik Jonsson January 27, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Oh, and a couple of corrections and clarifications. The pollution problem at Pullman Yard, as your link indicates, has been cleaned up. Plus, it's hard to file a lawsuit when there's no evidence, over decades, of any actual related health problems, at least that I've ever been able to unearth after looking at the issue at some depth. I do, after all, send my son there. Also, I don't know of anyone advocating to keep all the schools on the south side of the tracks open. Most people down here, I'm pretty sure, realizes that one or more have to close.
Patrik Jonsson January 28, 2012 at 03:09 AM
The facts about Pullman Yard "pollution," from a resident who looked into it and posted it in response to another similar comment thread: "I spoke to Donna K. Seadler from the EPA. She is the person who came to Toomer on April 15th, 2011 and was actually able to access Pullman Yards from Toomer that day, as was requested. The principal did call someone from APS facilities, as is protocol, and they came right away, because they are just around the corner, and granted the EPA full access. On June 17th, 2011 Toomer was tested for lead and other substances and given the all clear. "No levels of lead above regional screening levels or regional action levels" Same for other substances. Donna also said she had provided this information previously when someone from Lake Claire had posted something similar on another site last year. Your intentions are clear and downright mean. I would ask David Rein to remove this entire thread as the headline is completely misleading and your intention is to create fear when there is no reason for it. Donna gave me permission to post her contact information here and is hoping to get a fact sheet prepared with the results of the testing and all pertinent information. In the meantime you, or anyone else may contact her. Donna K. Seadler Remedial Project Manager Superfund Division seadler.donna.epa.gov 404-562-8870
ESL January 28, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Why did APS keep a school open next to a known super fund site? That is more than mean that is criminal. Why did Kirkwood neighbors statement direct an option to pull ML into COAN? If they were so worried about APS budget considerations they could have suggested closing more schools in Kirkwood area- where there is a plethora of half empty schools.


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