Atlanta school superintendent Meria Carstarphen is proposing a set of dramatic changes — including closing schools and turning others over to charter school groups — in an effort to improve some of the city’s worst schools.
In an announcement made late Thursday, she outlined plans to close one school, merge four others and put five others under the management of charter school groups.
Some of the changes would happen next school year. Under the plans, dozens of teachers would have to reapply for their jobs this fall, and as many as 400 district positions could eventually be affected.
“We’ve been moving really fast on behalf of children who really need us to get this right,” Carstarphen said.
The changes are part of an attempt to keep Atlanta schools out of state control if voters approve Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District plan this fall.
A constitutional amendment to authorize Deal’s Opportunity School District plan goes before voters in November. If it’s approved, the state would be able to take over a limited number of Georgia’s lowest performing schools and close them, run them or convert them to charter schools. The new state-run school district would be under an appointed superintendent, so decisions about how students are taught and how local tax dollars are spent would no longer be solely up to locally elected officials.
Last month, the school district announced it was seeking to hire organizations like charter school operators, local nonprofits and companies that run charter schools to improve the performance of Atlanta schools that could fall under the Opportunity School District. The district has declined to identify all 27 groups that applied.
But on Thursday, Carstarphen identified three nonprofits as finalists.
Kindezi, which currently operates two charter schools in Atlanta, would work with Gideons Elementary School. The group would use next school year for planning, starting operations in the 2017-18 school year.
Purpose Built Schools, a partner to Atlanta’s Drew Charter School, would work with Thomasville Heights Elementary School, Slater Elementary School, Price Middle School and Carver High School. The work at Thomasville Heights would start in 2016-17, with the other schools following in the coming years.
Rensselaerville Institute’s School Turnaround Initiative, based in New York, could be hired to provide training to educators, Carstarphen said.
Carstarphen is also recommending:
- Closing Bethune Elementary School and opening a new school in the former Kennedy Middle School. The new school would open with elementary grades in 2016-17 and phase in middle school grades over time;
- Merging Grove Park Intermediate School with Woodson Primary School. The schools would be consolidated at the start of the 2016-17 school year on the Grove Park campus; and
- Merging Connally Elementary School with Venetian Hills Elementary, with the consolidation to the Connally campus also taking effect at the start of the 2016-17 school year.
Contracts with the charter school groups are still being negotiated, but Carstarphen said she expects the schools to be funded initially at the district’s existing level. However, in the coming years, the groups could receive additional funds, she said.
Teachers at the schools working with the charter groups will have to reapply for their jobs. Those not selected can apply for other vacancies within APS. “If they are a quality educator” they’ll have a good shot at being placed, Carstarphen said.
APS plans a series of public meetings regarding the changes. The school board is scheduled to vote on the charter school group agreements in March. Carstarphen said she plans to listen closely to community feedback.
“There might be some people, fair enough, who are advocates or who have political and personal philosophies about how they believe education should be done. But what I’m trying to do is be responsive to what parents are saying to me,” she said.
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