The true colors of APS will be revealed through the redistricting process, some ask will APS have the courage to do what is right by way of students and communities?
Atlanta Public Schools is in the process of redistricting, starting in the fall 2010 and continuing through the spring of 2011, APS held Demographic Study finding meetings in each SRT (School Reform Team).
The study revealed a huge decline of projected growth population in certain areas of town while others would experience an influx of families all tapering off in 10-20 years. Recently, parents & community members were introduced to the options developed from the demographic study and the passing of SPLOST IV. Many left the meetings not sure what to make of the four options revealed by the team.
But if not to all, it was clear to some that the Demographers role was to look at enrollment and utilization. But what does that mean to communities, students and parents?
Redistricting/Rezoning is not a new concept, as a product of APS, prior to graduating in 1983, APS had about 100,000 students enrolled in schools some of you may remember high schools like West Fulton, Bass, Smith, Archer, Harper, Turner, North Fulton, Fulton, and for me the nostalgia of my alma mater Walter F. George HS was lost after those years.
I know what it means to feel like a part of your history has been stolen. During the years of Dr. Hall, her administration started with shifting demographics in 1999 with school closings like Hubert, Campbell and Marshall and ending in 2010 with school closures like Blalock, Hill and AD Williams. Overall in the last 11 years, 22 schools were closed and others were consolidated.
So, although we all want our communities to stay in tact and our children to continue to go to school with friends they have had since kindergarten, it is inevitable that this changing demographic, the infusion of Charter Schools and the aging out of communities will undoubtedly ensure that changes must be made.
But I ask for us not to just focus on the endings, but the beginnings. As this writer expressed in last months Board of Education Remarks, “I don’t think speakers and advocates across this city would be as concerned with redistricting, if all schools were effective schools”.
I have heard some disturbing comments over what was first the Demographic study meetings and now the Redistricting meetings. Comments like “what is the data for high performing schools being merged with low performing schools?” and “isn’t it true that some zip codes have more two-parent family homes (or) communities with higher level degrees?”
Some even made comments about being sent to the “scariest school in the system.” While still others have tried to use their tax base as a way to strong arm the system.
WOW! I thought APS outlawed bullying, and yet each community has decided to use who has the biggest voice or who can cause the biggest threat to APS!
For me as a parent whose four children have attended 10 schools in APS all to try and find quality schools who are effectively educating children, maybe the question should not be what we have heard before, but will APS have the courage to do what’s right for ALL children!?
Maybe if APS focused on the following objectives: Does the demographic options do more to exasperate the already racial divide in APS?; How will the redistricting affect inequities in our system?; How can we level out concentrations of poverty; and most importantly will APS have the courage do what’s right for all by creating effective schools!?
In the past, we will have to say “I am not sure.” Over the last two years, we have heard the many voices from North Atlanta who have thanked Dr. Hall and the Board for the constant attention they have paid to keep them in the system.
Now, I am not upset with children in Public Schools receiving adequate education, however, it is upsetting to constantly hear what has been done to cater to certain sides of town and not others. Although, most sides of town have benefited from SPLOST dollars through renovation projects, schools like Sylvan Hills who have been left out of three SPLOST cycles, in a school that has not been touched in 62 years, while others are experiencing not only one, but two and three trips to the SPLOST dollar fountain, we must again ask ourselves about equity.
The re-evaluation of School Reform Models, the changing leadership all make us optimistic that this administration will have the courage to ensure all schools are quality schools. Will APS buckle to political power? Or will they continue to show value on certain sides of town, while forgetting and only believing that remediation reform models are the only education that can be offered to certain children, while continuing to produce a permanent underclass population.
In conversations with Curriculum & Instruction, to Special Needs, Technology, Athletics and even Talented & Gifted, it has been confirmed that there is an abundance of disparities going on in APS.
So again, the real question will not be which schools are closed, but will APS be a school system of equity and quality education. When this is done, I assure you know one will care if they have to go to the left or right, but that their children will be headed in the right direction of quality public education.
I challenge the School System to really make good on their slogan: "OUR FOCUS, STUDENT SUCCESS."
Stay Tuned, the jury is still out!
Shawnna Hayes-Tavares is a advocate for youth in the Atlanta Public Schools and coordinator of Southwest and Northwest Atlanta Parents and Partners for Schools (SNAPPS).