“We hear you and completely understand the toll that the past few years has taken on our students, our staff, our families and quite honestly our community. And we are recommending delaying the implementation of the fourth and fifth grade academy to the fall of 2023,” she said.
The district has wrestled over the future of the Inman facility for several years, discussing how the space could be used to ease overcrowding in some nearby elementary schools. The middle school closed in 2020 when the district shifted its students to the newly renovated David T. Howard Middle School about two miles south.
Herring’s recommendation is to create a new fourth and fifth grade academy at the Inman site. It would be fed by four elementary schools: Hope-Hill, Mary Lin, Morningside and Springdale Park. Those four schools, which currently serve students through fifth grade, would be capped at third grade.
Parents opposed to that plan said they appreciate the district’s delay but said the pause doesn’t address other concerns.
“It just feels like we’re being ramrodded on this idea that has so many open questions — from academic benefits to impact on transportation and traffic to impact on neighborhoods as a whole,” said Ben Nemo, whose child attends one of the affected elementary schools.
By the district’s calculations, enrollment in the proposed academy would approach the building’s capacity by 2025. New classrooms would eventually be needed.
During a Wednesday meeting with parents, Chief Academic Officer Yolonda Brown said that once fourth and fifth graders move to the new academy, there would be space to add more prekindergarten classes in existing elementary schools.
Administrators also touted the benefits of the Inman building, which has music and theater facilities not available in all elementary schools.
Nemo said he and other parents will continue to voice concerns about the plan. More than 700 people have signed an online petition started by their group.
Herring said she’s also heard from supporters.
“Our goal as we move forward is not to divide but to find that common ground that suggests a win for all of our students,” she said.
Herring said the district could open the new school to both fourth and fifth grades in 2023, or start with only fourth graders and expand to fifth grade in 2024.
School board approval is required to open the academy. A board vote was initially expected in December, though it’s not yet clear how the one-year delay might affect that schedule.
All nine board seats are up for election Nov. 2, with the new board to be sworn in in January.