A huge crowd packed Wednesday night to view four different possibilities for Buckhead school districts.
Demographer Matthew Cropper of Cropper GIS, one of the consultants working with APS on the plans, disclosed one of the biggest surprises of the evening, that a separate ninth-grade academy is proposed for the present Sutton Middle School building.
The separate ninth grade is required because the new North Atlanta High School won't be able to handle an expected eventual enrollment of around 2,400 students, Cropper said. The demographic study anticipates continued growth in the Buckhead area school population through 2021.
Under the proposal, the present North Atlanta building would become a middle school, with sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Previous plans, of which School Superintendent Errroll Davis said he was unaware, proposed a separate sixth grade academy at the Sutton building, with a seventh and eighth grade students attending school at the present North Atlanta building.
In meetings with upset parents after a general introductory session in the North Atlanta auditorium, Cropper said the site of the new North Atlanta High on Northside Parkway is geographically able to handle about 1,800 students, not the 2,400 projected, making the separate ninth grade necessary.
Neigborhood representatives studied maps and expressed their anger and concerns over proposed school redistricting to balance the growing school population in Buckhead and North Atlanta and undercapacity school buildings in the southside, where the population is declining. Some neighborhoods on the south side of Buckhead would be moved from the North Atlanta Cluster to that of Douglass High School.
District 4 school board member Nancy Meister said before the meeting, "this is very preliminary; I can't stress that enough. This is a good opportunity for people to give feedback to go to the next step. This won't be settled until March or April."
Demographers at the meeting asked for extensive neighborhood responses, and said another public meeting will be held in January. The four plans will be consolidated into two final proposals, they said. The proposed maps, and an online survey, are available at the APS web site.
Split neighborhoods and changing districts sparked emotional responses from some residents, who expressed relief at Davis' brief remarks that the plans are preliminary. The plan, Davis said, "does not reflect any of your concerns and we will not make any decisions without considering those concerns." Davis left the meeting after his remarks, saying he didn't want to give the appearance of influencing the process of the residents meeting directly with the demographers.
A big contingent arrived from the Loring Heights neighborhood, upset at plans that would shift the area from the E. Rivers, Sutton and North Atlanta cluster to Centennial Elementary downtown, Kennedy Middle School and Douglass High, whose enrollment was projected to drop to around 800 students.
Neighborhood leader Ron Grunwald said he was puzzled by the middle school configuration, because the plans propose the construction of a new middle school on Peachtree Road across from Deering Road, the main neighborhood thoroughfare. Loring Heights, outside the Buckhead boundaries established by the Buckhead Coalition, recently joined the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, with its ties to Buckhead schools cited as a prime example of having common interests with Buckhead.
Pine Hills neighborhood leaser George Mirgorod expresed displeasure at the plan to move the area from the Sarah Smith Elementary district to Garden Hills, which he said violated Cropper's statement that the proposed districts were drawn so that schoolchildren wouldn't have to cross major roadways.
Mirgorod said the new alignment would result in students traveling across Piedmont, Sidney Marcus and Lenox roads, and Ga. 400. "I can ride my bike with my dog to Sarah Smith," he said. "But to Garden Hills?"
Cropper called the redistricting a "domino effect," with neighborhoods shifting from one school's district to the next.
The general informational session didn't include an "open mike" for residents to express concerns, which drew protests from some parents who wanted to bring the maps into the auditorium and ask questions there. Cropper said the auditorium was too small for the maps to be placed there and that the purpose of the meeting was to elicit in-depth, wriitten responses from residents, which could be "quantified."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution schools columnist Maureen Downey said in her blog that she's heard negative comments from north Atlanta parents, especially E. Rivers neighborhoods that would be placed in the Bolton Academy district.