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(UPDATE) Toomer as K-8? Proposal criticized

Kirkwood and East Lake

(UPDATE) Toomer as K-8? Proposal criticized

A photo of Toomer Elementary students. Photo from TalkUpAPS blog.
A photo of Toomer Elementary students. Photo from TalkUpAPS blog.

A photo of Toomer Elementary students. Photo from TalkUpAPS blog.

UPDATE: 7:01 pm. At the Feb. 3 Atlanta Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Erroll Davis ruled out placing K-8 schools in the Jackson High School  cluster.

“For a variety of reasons I have come to the recommendation that we should not pursue K-8 in the East Region and that we should address issues in the middle school and that it should be done quickly for the entire cluster, not just the eastern part of the cluster. It is not programatically or economically feasible to have a series of small K-8 schools,” Davis said, according to the TalkUpAPS blog.

Davis said “It is clear” that parents aren’t sending their kids to the middle schools in the Jackson High Cluster, Coan and King.

He said parents want something innovative, like refurbishing both middle schools and implementing an international baccalaureate curriculum. Davis told the board he will make a recommendation about the future of the middle schools in two months.

“Bottom line, I don’t want to pursue K-8 any further,” Davis said. “I want to pursue innovation in middle schools in the entire cluster, not just the eastern portion. I don’t think formal action is needed for this recommendation.”

Editor’s note: Here is the previous version of this story, posted at 1:44 pm today. 

A proposal to transform Toomer Elementary into a Kindergarten-through-eighth grade school ignited a debate among parents of children attending elementary schools in the Jackson High cluster.

Parents at Toomer, which serves the Kirkwood community and East Lake, want their school to adopt the K-8 model because of increased competition from Drew Charter Middle School. But some parents from Whitefoord Elementary and Burgess Peterson Academy say Toomer parents are striking out on their own, ignoring the needs of the whole cluster.

The Toomer to K-8 effort is being led by a group of about 15 parents from East Lake and Krikwood. Joe Alcock, a local architect involved with the K-8 push, said Toomer parents aren’t trying to alienate parents in other schools. They just want what they feel is best for their children.

“Toomer is not trying to say we aren’t interested in your problems, but our problems are significant enough that we have to get our house in order before we can start helping others,” Alcock said.

The crux of the issue is Coan Middle School, which has faced closure during recent rounds of Atlanta Public Schools redistricting. If any of the three elementary schools feeding into the middle schools goes K-8, Coan would likely close, Superintendent Erroll Davis wrote in a letter to parents. The board was supposed to take up the issue this month, but the Jan. 28 snow storms forced the cancellation of a public input meeting.

Lewis Cartee, Burgess-Peterson Academy Local School Council Chair, served on a task force to study the K-8 idea. He said he understands that Toomer parents want what’s best for their kids, but thinks the effect it will have on other schools is too large to ignore.

“It wouldn’t matter if it was Toomer or Whitefoord, it will affect Coan,” He said. “If you start to do something a vacuum, you can’t do that because it affects so many other people.”

Sara Brown, a parent whose two young children are zoned for Whitefoord, said another point of concern for parents is what will happen if Toomer becomes K-8 and Coan closes. Students would then be zoned for King Middle School, which would feed into Jackson. She said one of the reasons Coan stayed open after the last round of redistricting was an appeal from Kirkwood parents who didn’t want to send their children to King.

“APS promised to throw lots of resources into improving Coan then Kirkwood decided they didn’t want to go to Coan anymore,” Brown said. “So without talking to the other neighborhoods, they said, ‘Can we pull out of the middle school?'”

Alcock said the K-8 proposal is nothing new. He said Toomer parents first proposed it in 2011 and reintroduced it in March of 2013. He said Toomer parents “put up a huge fight” to save Coan, but he said after that Jackson Cluster parents lost interest in staying involved at the school. Now, Alcock says, Toomer is in a situation where Drew is pulling students away from Toomer. If something doesn’t change, Toomer will struggle, Alcock says.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to Coan, but I’m in the position where if the K-8 model doesn’t happen at Toomer, Toomer is going to see a sharp decline because of a very well funded school at Drew is attracting students away from Toomer,” he said.

In his letter to parents, Davis proposed three different options to create a competitive K-8 model in the Jackson High Cluster:

1- Convert and combine all three elementary schools into a K-8 that would be housed at the current location of Coan Middle.

2- From Davis’ letter, “A second option would allow for a slower transition into the K-8 structure. Recognizing that some parents may not want younger children to immediately interact with middle school students, the current Coan students could stay at the East Lake building until they matriculate to high school. In the inaugural year, Whitefoord and Toomer would move to the current Coan facility as a part of the new structure. Burgess Peterson could be given the option to move into the building with Whitefoord and Toomer or of implementing K-8 in the Burgess Peterson building or remaining in their present format.”

3- Converting all three schools into separate K-8 elementaries.

District 3 Board of Education Member Matt Westmoreland declined to comment when asked about the K-8 proposals. He referred questions to Board Chairman Courtney English. Attempts to reach English for comment were unsuccessful.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised from its previous version with additional information about the redistricting effort.