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UPDATED – Middle School merger approved

Kirkwood and East Lake

UPDATED – Middle School merger approved

Coan Middle School. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt
Coan Middle School. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

Coan Middle School. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

The Atlanta Board of Education has approved a plan to merge Coan and King Middle School next year.

The Board of Education approved plan 8 to 1 at a special called meeting on April 22, according to the TalkUP APS blog. Board of Education Member Byron Amos, District 2, was the only no vote.

Matt Westmoreland, the BOE member representing the Jackson High School cluster, voted for it. According to the blog, Westmoreland said that he was “frustrated” that the conversation was taking place so close to the start of a new school year, but he thinks this was the right decision because he would “be even more frustrated if children are left in a school that the BOE is being told is not working,” according to the TalkUP APS account of the meeting.

Under the plan, Coan and King would combine in the 2014-2015 school year. During the first year of the merger, all students would attend classes on the current Coan campus, Superintendent Erroll Davis said. While the students are at Coan, King will receive a $10 million to $20 million renovation. Students would move back to the King campus in August of 2016.

Davis said upon the board’s approval of the recommendation, “We will designate immediately a strong transitional team of school leadership, parents, students and central office representatives.”

The announcement comes as Davis is preparing to leave as superintendent. The BOE recently voted to hire his replacement, Meria Carstarphen, the superintendent of the Austin Independent School District.

Parents at Toomer Elementary had pushed to convert to a K-8 school, but Davis decided against it. Both Coan and King have struggled with low enrollment, and the desirable Drew Charter School is also pulling students away from the two middle schools.

According to TalkUP APS, Davis said there wasn’t enough support from other Jackson Cluster Schools for the K-8 idea.

“I explained that the idea of K-8 would be more plausible if all three schools chose to adopt K-8 and moved into the Coan building,” Davis said. “That was not acceptable to the community – to the point that by the end of the discussion the Whitefoord and Burgess community did not want to entertain the K-8 discussion.”

At the April 22 meeting, the BOE also approved the school system’s $658 million budget.

According to TalkUP APS, before the vote on Davis’ middle school proposal, Amos said,  “Having a hard time knowing where to start. I held my nose and voted for a budget that stinks but this is downright disrespectful. That manual that was held up was written on the backs of Kennedy Middle students. After one year of complete Armageddon and no learning taking place at Brown Middle School, I asked what lessons did we learn at Brown and how will we relate those lessons to Parks. Now we sit here and say 3 years later and say that now that we are going to get it right. Before we do that we need to honor the people where we got it wrong and at least admit that we got them wrong. This administration has the inability to take care of our children and that is downright hurtful. When you propose some of the very same things to this district that the people at Kennedy have been fighting for it is downright disrespectful. You would have a conversation with one side of town…it is the tale of two cities. Let’s come up with a different way of doing things.”

Davis took offense to some of Amos’ comments, according to the account provided by TalkUP APS.

“As much as I respect your comments, I am not accepting of the disrespectful comment and I have not said that we got Brown and Kennedy correct,” Davis said. “The Board voted to close Kennedy. This is not about Kennedy or Brown, this is about a school with 230 students and a principal that is saying kids are not getting an education…I don’t think you can say we can continue having a sub-standard experience for these children. This is not about Brown. It is not about Kennedy. The board has spoken on Kennedy and I understand that there are those who do not like that decision and if the board wants to re-open that decision they can. I will, however, post online as early as tomorrow why I don’t think Kennedy should be opened. I am advised that people rallied around [Coan] but the board then voted to expand Drew. The reality is that we have an underutilized school. But it is your choice. I don’t think that the fact that it has not been done correctly in the past should influence whether or not we do it for another group of kids. This is the start of a process. The process allows you to come back and look at the transition plan.”

Under the plan adopted by the BOE, in July middle and high school principals in the Jackson Cluster will begin a series of meetings on ways to improve middle school education at King.

“We want to bring the community together to discuss their ideas around innovation,” Davis said, according to TalkUP APS. “During this same period, the same group will collaborate with the district to involve a university partner to help develop a potential teaching lab school agreement. We would expect the community on the east side of the cluster to propose ideas and a process for repurposing the Coan site. Starting in early 2015, the process for renovating the King campus will begin.”