F.AVE or fad? 4/5 teacher, school superintendent defend academy

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 1, 2013

Icon_SchoolsDecatur, Ga. – The 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue, aka F.AVE, opened in 2011 as a dedicated school for fourth and fifth graders.

Two years later some parents in City Schools of Decatur wonder if it’s time to make F.AVE a K-5 school to cope with increased enrollment.

CSD is currently in the process of redrawing elementary school boundary lines in order to reopen Westchester Elementary School in 2014. CSD is a K-3 system, with an early learning center at College Heights. The elementary schools feed into the 4/5 school, which feeds into Renfroe Middle and ultimately to Decatur High.

One F.AVE teacher called the suggestion of changing the school a “slap in the face” to teachers there. Superintendent Phyllis Edwards is slapping down the idea as well.

Edwards on Thursday sent out a letter to parents about the rezoning of the city’s elementary schools. Edwards didn’t specifically mention a group called “Press ‘Pause’ on CSD Rezone,” but in her letter pushed back at Pause’s comments about 4/5.

She asked parents to give the rezoning process a chance.

“I respectfully ask families and the community that we allow the current process to work,” Edwards wrote. “Westchester needs to reopen in early August.  A principal needs to be named and preliminary work completed, including forming a staff and engaging families.  All of this, including changes and upgrades to the school, and the Central Office team moving to Beacon Hill, must be completed by Spring 2014.”

Based on the letters I received yesterday, I’ve concluded that if parents in Decatur go after F.AVE during the rezoning, they’re going to have a fight on their hands. The superintendent will be one of the lead pugilists.

Edwards wasn’t entertaining any talk of shutting down 4/5.

“We have seen positive results of 4-5 model, especially at the middle school, which is now a Distinguished Title 1 School and one of the most sought after middle schools in the Atlanta metro area,” Edwards wrote in her letter to parents.

Here are Edwards’ main arguments in defense of the 4/5 concept.

It saves money. Having fewer elementary schools saves money because of, “economy of scale as more teachers and students at a grade level are housed in the same building,” Edwards wrote.

It helped end discrimination in the school system. The U.S. Department of Justice in 2007 removed CSD from the1969 desegregation order. “Achieving unitary status meant that CSD had eliminated the vestiges of discrimination in the system,” Edwards wrote. “A contributing factor is that all children come together in one school at the 4th grade instead of the 6th grade.”

– Kindergarten students can’t attend the 4/5 school. School spokeswoman Heather Borowski followed up Edwards’ letter with another point the superintendent forgot to mention. She said in an email that, “According to (Georgia Department of Education) standards, the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue will never be able to house kindergarten students. There aren’t classrooms on the bottom floor of F.AVE and kindergarten students cannot be in housed in classrooms on a second floor. The 4/5 Academy was constructed specifically for older students.”

So CSD officials are making 4/5 restructuring look like a nonstarter as far as the current rezoning process goes.

After I published an article about my interview with Edwards, a F.AVE teacher sent me a response. The teacher asked to remain anonymous and I’ve decided to honor the request so the teacher can speak freely.

Here’s the letter:

I would like to address the parents who continue to ask for City Schools of Decatur to change our instructional model to K-5. I speak on behalf of my colleagues at the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue and implore the few of you to STOP (PLEASE!) the constant talk of K-5 schools. Every time you mention re-configuring the schools, it is a slap in the face to the teachers who have worked so hard to create the most enriching, engaging, internationally-minded experience for our 4th and 5th grade students. The 4/5 Academy WORKS- we strive to reach our vision every day: The 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue will bridge academic and social connections between early learning and adolescence. We recognize and develop students’ strengths, appreciate and overcome students’ challenges, and ground our interactions in mutual respect and tolerance. Have you seen our students’ video about our school??

Additionally, the 4/5 Academy staff has created a united and strong professional learning community. Some of the FAVE teachers were one of only two teachers on their grade level team at the K-5 schools before the reconfiguration to K-3 and 4-5. The collaboration and professional community that we have at the 4/5 Academy is far richer and more experienced.

Finally, we have seen phenomenal success of our students at Renfroe Middle School. A huge contributor to our students’ middle school success is that they come together from across our great City from different socio-economic groups in sweet, preadolescence FOURTH grade instead of the sometimes-volatile, hormone-ridden SIXTH grade. The creation of a 4/5 academy is a direct contributor to the success of our Renfroe Middle School.

In closing, my colleagues and I beg parents who want to dismantle our beloved F.AVE to PLEASE STOP- it’s demoralizing to all of us. The K-3, 4-5 model helped to make City Schools of Decatur the BEST in the state. We ask you to please stop trying to change our schools back to K-5.

 

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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