Will Atlanta’s school improvement plan pay off for students or leave them behind?

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Will Atlanta’s school improvement plan pay off for students or leave them behind?

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Bob Andres/AJC
Bob Andres/AJC

Atlanta is in the midst of a complex, expensive effort to improve the city’s worst schools.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and the district’s elected school board have hired charter school groups to run some schools, closed and consolidated others and spent tens of millions to improve other low-performing schools.

But with every school board seat up for election this year and some parents unhappy about school closures, the political solidarity that enabled Atlanta’s first steps towards transformation could shift, putting Atlanta Public Schools’ reach for transformation in doubt.

Carstarphen’s plan could could reshape entire neighborhoods and put thousands of children on paths towards better lives. It could transform some of Georgia’s worst schools and rehabilitate the reputation of a district still known for the criminal cheating conspiracy that hid the poor job some schools did of educating students. It could prove that charter school-style reform works and make Atlanta a national model for improving big-city schools.

Or it could leave Atlanta with empty schools, hundreds of students stranded in low-performing schools, and yet another set of promises unkept.

If the makeup of the school board changes with this fall’s election, Carstarphen could leave or be forced out and promises of a better future could fizzle. Carstarphen left her last superintendent’s post in Austin, Texas, for Atlanta after voters angry over similar plans to outsource schools to a charter school organization helped elect new school board members.

“I’m not against charter schools. I’m not against Dr. Carstarphen,” said Kenny Hill, who runs a volunteer tutoring program at Adamsville Primary School, which will be closed at the end of this school year and rented to a charter school. “But I am against leaving these bright kids behind … because of whoever’s agenda it is for things to be different.”

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