Atlanta board casts initial votes to close southeast elementary school

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Credit: Johnny Crawford

The Atlanta school board signaled support for a plan to close Thomasville Heights Elementary School, citing a drastic enrollment drop that’s expected when a nearby housing complex is razed.

The board on Monday voted 7-2 to rezone students who attend Thomasville Heights to Slater Elementary School. Board members Erika Mitchell and Michelle Olympiadis opposed the move.

The action is the first of two votes required to close Thomasville Heights in southeast Atlanta at the end of this school year. A final vote is expected next month.

“In order for families to plan, for students to plan and for our staffs to plan, I think it’s probably important that we move forward tonight,” said board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown. “It’s not a good situation for anybody.”

District officials recommended the closure because of a court-ordered demolition of Forest Cove. The subsidized housing complex, where most of Thomasville Heights students live, is in poor condition. Once the complex is torn down, APS estimates only 60 students would remain in the school’s attendance area.

Under the proposal, those remaining students would shift to Slater about 3½ miles away. Both schools are operated by Purpose Built Schools Atlanta, a nonprofit APS hired several years ago in an effort to turn around chronically low-performing schools.

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Some community members called for APS to keep the school open and pointed out the paradox the district faces on two sides of the city. At the same meeting Monday, board members took initial steps to open a new elementary school in the growing and affluent Midtown area.

Board Chair Eshé Collins said keeping Thomasville Heights open would be a disservice because it would be difficult to fully fund the school and offer the same level of education with so few remaining students.

Relocating Forest Cove families has been long and complicated process. Officials have said they expect to help residents find new homes in the coming months.

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Board member Tamara Jones asked if APS has a contingency plan if children are still living there when the upcoming school year starts.

Superintendent Lisa Herring said that, if needed, the district can tweak the plan between now and the final vote in June. But she stressed the need to give parents time to prepare for the new school year.

Officials said APS can reopen the Thomasville Heights if the apartment site is redeveloped and students return to the area.

“We’ve stated temporarily because we are yet to have a clear understanding of what housing will look like over time,” Herring said.