Erroll Davis says no to K-8 schools in Atlanta

Atlanta ends teacher furloughs, proposes pay raise

The Atlanta Board of Education eliminated this year’s two remaining teacher furlough days on Monday, and board Chairman Courtney English said he wants to give teachers at least a 4 percent pay raise next year.

The elimination of furlough days on March 17 and May 26 (Memorial Day) restores teachers pay for working on those days at an estimated cost of $3 million to the city school district.

English said Atlanta teachers haven’t received a raise in five or six years, and they deserve one.

Atlanta schools Superintendent Erroll Davis on Monday rejected a parent-led effort to expand three elementary schools to include grades 6-8.

Instead, he wants to strengthen existing middle schools that are threatened by competition from charter schools, declining enrollment and lack of parental involvement.

Davis’ announcement at Atlanta’s monthly school board meeting upset parents in eastern Atlanta who wanted to keep their children in a more nurturing elementary school environment before sending them off to high school.

“It’s extremely disheartening,” said Sally Alcock, whose children are in pre-kindergarten and second grade at Toomer Elementary. “Our school can succeed if you let it succeed, and our parents want K (kindergarten) through 8.”

Davis told the school board that it wasn’t economically or programmatically feasible to create a series of small K-8 grade schools. Davis’ decision didn’t require a vote from the school board.

“What would it take to get community or parental investment in middle grades? The answer is a whole lot more than we’re doing,” Davis said. “They need something compelling and something innovative.”

Davis said one idea would be to upgrade two eastern Atlanta schools, Coan Middle School and King Middle School, so they’re more hospitable and less “prisonlike,” potentially incorporating magnet or International Baccalaureate-type programs.

His decision scuttled months of work from a group of parents who prefer their existing elementary schools and fear sending their children to Coan, a school whose enrollment has dropped to about 250 students who are housed in a half-empty building surrounded by a graveyard.

They said they felt betrayed that Davis made his decision without rescheduling a community meeting that was canceled during last week’s snowstorm. Davis said he heard from the community when about 200 people showed up at a previous gathering last month.

“What we were looking for was a proven commitment for academic success, which has been shown through the K-8 model,” said Doug Wood, whose two children attend fifth grade at Toomer.

Many of the parents supporting K-through-8 education wanted three schools in eastern Atlanta — Toomer Elementary, Burgess-Peterson Academy and Whitefoord Elementary — to encompass the middle school years, which would have led to Coan Middle School’s closure. Those elementary school students would then have gone on to attend Jackson High.

Some K-8 schools already exist in Atlanta, but they’re all charter schools or private schools. None of the five core Atlanta-area public school systems have traditional schools that educate students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The Atlanta school board did start one K-8 school in December by converting Centennial Place Elementary School to a charter school, the first traditional school in the city to be converted.