Critics denounce proposed Atlanta elementary school closure

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Credit: Johnny Crawford

A proposal to shutter a southeast Atlanta elementary school drew criticism Monday during the first of what officials said will be three public hearings on the issue.

Parents and community members voiced opposition to the plan to close Thomasville Heights Elementary School at the end of this school year.

Officials with Atlanta Public Schools have said the decision is due to the pending court-ordered demolition of the nearby Forest Cove subsidized apartment complex. Many of the school’s 235 students live there. The school’s enrollment is expected to drop when the apartments are torn down.

Sharon Gaston’s fourth grade granddaughter is one of about 60 students who attend Thomasville Heights but don’t live in the apartments. Gaston said she doesn’t have a vehicle and walks her grandchild to school.

Under the proposal, her granddaughter would be rezoned to Slater Elementary School.

“I depend on Thomasville,” she said. “I understand what’s going on with Forest Cove, but … why punish everybody?”

APS hired the nonprofit Purpose Built Schools Atlanta several years ago to run Thomasville Heights, Slater and two other campuses as part of an attempt to turn around some of the district’s lowest-performing schools.

Superintendent Lisa Herring said Monday the district is committed to a transparent decision-making process.

“School closures are never easy conversations to have,” she said. “We want to navigate that carefully as well as honestly.”

The school board was initially expected to vote on the closure and rezoning in May. The board now plans to vote in June and hold two more hearings on the matter.

Several speakers urged APS to reconsider the district’s pact with Purpose Built, including Atlanta parent Kimberly Dukes.

“The Purpose Built contract is a problem. Partnership is a issue,” she said. ”If you do not hold those schools accountable, we have a problem.”

Nikkita Warfield, Purpose Built’s chief academic officer, said the factors leading to Thomasville Heights’ recommended closure are outside of its control. Purpose Built has said it intends to reopen the school when the apartment complex is redeveloped.

”Everything that we do, we do to ensure the very best outcomes for our students. Sometimes the right decision is also the hardest decision,” Warfield said.