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Southeast Atlanta’s Middle School Challenge

By Lewis Cartee
As we begin the second semester of the school year, most students and teachers are turning their thoughts to the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). However, for many parents living in the communities of East Atlanta, Kirkwood, Edgewood, and East Lake, the topic on everybody’s mind is the middle school. For many years, families with children attending elementary schools feeding into both Coan Middle School and eventually Maynard Jackson High School have been asking our Atlanta Public School (APS) leaders to face what many see as one of the most pressing issues facing families in our area.
During the redistricting process of 2011-12, concerned parents wondered whether Coan Middle School would merge with King Middle School or simply close. At that point, some parent stakeholders put forth the idea of creating the K-8 (kindergarten – eighth grade) concept to replace the current K-5 (kindergarten – fifth grade). With the increased popularity of K-8 charter schools, many saw this idea as a possible answer to the challenge. What was apparent to all was that something significant needed to change in order to better serve the academic needs of the children of the Jackson H.S. cluster. However, as APS ended the redistricting process, Coan was saved for the time being, and the K-8 conversation was also brought to a close.
Over the years, many citizens felt promises made to create a better middle school environment went unfulfilled with the exception of bringing the well-respected former principal of Inman Middle School, Dr. Betsy Bockman, to lead Coan Middle School. While Bockman produced solid gains in her short tenure, many parents still believed greater resources were required, deserved, and long overdue.
The K-8 idea resurfaced in the spring of 2013, with Toomer Elementary being offered to serve for this pilot program. Most agreed this would only hasten the closure of Coan, which is already struggling with low enrollment, and for many, the mantra became “All or none!”
While not everybody agreed it should be all or none, the message was heard by Superintendent Errol Davis as well as the APS board members, and a delay on the vote for the K-8 pilot program was put into effect just before Christmas. This extension would allow the newly elected APS board to take their seats, additional large group community input sessions to occur, and in a very welcome move, a task force to be created. This task force would consist of representatives from the affected schools in the form of all principals, parent leaders in the roles of PTA presidents and local school council chairs, as well as the president of the Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools (SEACS). The purpose of this task force is to meet with Superintendent Davis personally to discuss the opportunities and concerns for the options already put forth, as well any other ideas for how to solve what Davis himself called the “middle school challenge” facing Southeast Atlanta. While the three options currently being considered are a starting point, the Superintendent has made it clear that he is open to other ideas and encourages all involved parties to present these at subsequent meetings.
At the time of this writing, the Task Force has convened once and the first of two community listening sessions has transpired. The second takes place January 28. Superintendent Davis is hoping to make further recommendations for the APS Board to debate at the February school board meeting on February 3. However, there is no guarantee it will be finalized at this meeting.

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