Atlanta school expands to include grades K-8

A Midtown Atlanta elementary school will grow to include grades 6-8 in a test of whether skipping middle school could get better academic results.

The Atlanta Board of Education voted 6-3 Monday to convert Centennial Place Elementary School to a charter school, enabling it to encompass the middle school grades. Centennial Place will become the city’s first traditional school to convert to a charter school beginning next school year.

Parents supporting the proposal told the school board that adding the extra grades will enhance students’ ability to focus on science, technology, engineering and math skills while eliminating a difficult step between elementary school and high school.

The experiment of housing kindergarten through eighth grade in the same school also may be replicated at Toomer Elementary in eastern Atlanta, but that school would be kept under the school district’s direct management rather than becoming a charter school. The school board could vote on that proposal early next year, and if it passes, the school district could later compare results at Centennial Place and Toomer.

“The K-8 model brings more stability — kids know their teachers longer, you build better relationships and the older kids can mentor the younger students,” said parent Rewa Berry, whose son is in fourth grade at Centennial Place.

Middle schools are meant to separate fast-growing kids from younger students while easing the transition to high school, but advocates of the Centennial Place plan said students will benefit from a longer-term curriculum. The school’s older students will be located in a separate building.

School board member Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, who voted against the initiative, said she was concerned about removing Centennial Place from Atlanta Public Schools’ governance.

“I don’t think that’s a good precedent to set in terms of whether we’re going to allow one of our schools, a traditional school, to be converted to a charter,” Kinnane said.

About 1 in 12 Atlanta students already are enrolled in schools that were founded as charter schools. Both traditional and charter schools are public schools funded by taxpayers, but charter schools manage themselves and have more flexibility over their academics.

Parents of students at Toomer Elementary said they want the same opportunity as Centennial Place, but without becoming a charter school.

“We have lost quite a lot of students to charter schools,” said Stacie Davis, the parent of a first-grader and pre-schooler at Toomer. “There are so many students who wouldn’t leave our school if they knew they were going to be here for the long haul.”

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