Atlanta superintendent recommends opening upper-elementary school

Atlanta Public Schools are recommending turning the former Inman Middle School in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood into a fourth and fifth grade academy to serve students from four surrounding elementary schools. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC FILE PHOTO

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Atlanta Public Schools are recommending turning the former Inman Middle School in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood into a fourth and fifth grade academy to serve students from four surrounding elementary schools. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC FILE PHOTO

Atlanta Public Schools could open a new fourth and fifth grade academy as early as next year, a recommendation that would reshape four east-side elementary schools.

The upper-elementary academy would be located at the former Inman Middle School site in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. It would be the only one of its kind in APS.

For years, district officials discussed how to repurpose the old middle school, which closed in 2020 when Howard Middle School opened about two miles south.

Superintendent Lisa Herring said the concept eases overcrowding at surrounding elementary schools and brings students together from multiple schools before they enter middle school. She said it also provides academic and social benefits.

“The fourth and fifth grade academy affords us the opportunity to better personalize academics and offer whole-child support for elementary students,” she said, during a Wednesday meeting.

The recommendation would impact four elementary schools that currently enroll students through the fifth grade: Hope-Hill, Mary Lin, Morningside and Springdale Park.

If the school board approves the plan, students would attend kindergarten through third grade at their neighborhood school and then be grouped together at the Inman site for fourth and fifth grades. They would then move on to Howard Middle School and Midtown High School.

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The proposal received mixed feedback. Some parents praised it. Others brought up transportation and financial concerns and questioned why students should be removed from close-knit, walkable schools.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult to build a sense of community in a two-year school,” said Jenifer Keenan, who represents Howard Middle School on an advisory team that serves this cluster of APS schools.

”There’s been so much disruption in these poor kids’ lives. Part of me just wishes that APS would … pause in general on many changes and just allow children to get back into their routines,” she said.

Officials said the new academy would alleviate overcrowding concerns in several elementary schools where enrollment is expected to continue to rise. The plan also avoids having to rezone school attendance boundaries, a politically thorny process that can prompt backlash from parents and property owners.

Still, officials acknowledged the new academy won’t completely solve overcrowding. The district projects that by 2025, the school’s enrollment would reach 970 students and be near the building’s capacity. Within a decade, officials anticipate a need to build more classrooms.

ExploreAtlanta district to recommend next use for former Inman Middle School

Herring acknowledged the proposal comes with staffing, transportation and other challenges but said she doesn’t believe those hurdles “to be insurmountable.” APS will look to hire more bus drivers and already ordered more buses, officials said.

Morningside Elementary Principal Audrey Sofianos, whose students are using the Inman site while their building is renovated, said the facility offers orchestra, band and chorus rooms; an auditorium; large gym; and science labs.

“When I think of the advantages for that intermediate age, there are many to really maximize this property for that age group,” she said.

The school board is expected to vote in December on the recommendation.

If approved, Herring said the new school could open next fall or, depending on public input, the launch could be delayed until 2023 to allow more planning time.