Community support saved these Atlanta schools from closing

Parent Shelbia Blackwell can't speak for other parents in her East Atlanta neighborhood, but the prospect of having her daughter's school close has inspired her to become more involved in her child's education.

"I just want to do a little bit more for her," says Blackwell, who lives a few blocks away from D.H. Stanton Elementary School.

The decision to close a school is never easy. Parents often don't want their children attending classes further away from home. And they worry about the academic disruption moving to a new school may cause.

For school districts officials facing increasingly tight budgets, redistricting is a necessary evil. Cobb school board members recently voted to close three schools in the southern end of the county that were under enrolled. The Fayette County school district is considering a redistricting plan that may result in closing some schools.

At an emotionally charged meeting that went past midnight last week, the Atlanta school board voted to close seven schools: Parks and Kennedy middle schools; Capitol View, White, Cook, East Lake and Herndon Elementary. According to school officials, closing the schools will save the district an estimated $500,000 in personnel and other costs per school.

Superintendent Erroll Davis and school system demographers originally recommended other schools for closing, changing the plan several times by adding and subtracting schools on the closure list. Throughout the process, the district held dozens of public hearings and were frequently confronted by angry parents contesting the plan.

Blackwell is glad is glad D.H. Stanton avoided the ax. The unemployed mother walks to school  to pick up her daughter, Raven Woodruff, 8.

“I like having her close," Blackwell said. "If something happens and I don’t have the money, I don’t have to ask someone for a ride. I don’t have to take the bus to get to her. “

D.H. Stanton, Towns and F.L. Stanton elementary schools were saved at the last minute when the school board voted early Wednesday morning to keep them open.

D.H. Stanton

Address: 970 Martin St., Atlanta

History: Founded 1959. School was named for Daniel Hector Stanton. The school's librarian and Atlanta public school officials did not know the school's history. According to Helen Matthews an archivist with the Atlanta History Center, not much is known about  Stanton. Quoting a passage from Larry Keating’s book, “Peoplestown: Resilience and Tenacity,” the only mention of Stanton is that he was “A minister and source of spiritual inspiration to the community.”

Grades: Pre-K – 5

Academic Status: School Did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress last year.

Enrollment (Nov. 2011): 264

Capacity: 726

Utilization: 36.4

Racial breakdown: 95 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic

Percentage of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 100 percent

Frank Lebby Stanton Elementary School

Address: 1625 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta

History: Frank Lebby Stanton Elementary School opened in 1928. The school was named for lyricist  Frank Lebby Stanton (1857-1927), an Atlanta native and Georgia’s first poet laureate, appointed by Gov. Clifford Walker in 1925. Before that, he was a columnist for the Atlanta Constitution. Stanton’s writing was frequently steeped in so-called “Negro dialect” and the dialect of poor whites, although critics say he was an opponent of certain negative aspects of Southern culture and adhered to the progressive editorial philosophy of the Atlanta Constitution.

Grades: Pre-K – 5

Academic Status: School Did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress last year.

Enrollment: 269

Capacity: 374

Utilization: 71.9

Racial breakdown: 98 percent black, 1 percent Hispanic

Percentage of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 99 percent

George A. Towns Elementary School:

Address: 760 Bolton Road, Atlanta, GA 30331-1443

History: George A. Towns Elementary School opened in 1963. The namesake of the school is George Alexander Towns (1870-1960), an educator, author, and community activist. According to the Robert W. Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, where his papers are kept, Towns was affiliated with Atlanta University, first as a student, then professor and finally as an active alumnus. One of his most notable contributions is as founder and editor of the Crimson and Gray, the AU Alumni Association monthly newsletter. He was a member of the class of 1894 which also included his close friend James Weldon Johnson with whom he corresponded until Johnson's death. In 1929, when Atlanta University shifted its curriculum to only graduate level courses, Towns retired. He went to Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School (now Fort Valley State University, Georgia) where he was assistant to the principal and later acting principal until 1938. He was active in the community as a member of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, the Citizen's League, the Boulé of Atlanta (Sigma Pi Phi), and the Community Chest. A member of the Harvard University Class of 1900, he was also active in the Harvard University Alumni Association and in the 1920s used his class connections to raise funds for Atlanta University. His lifelong passion for writing is evidenced in the many odes he authored on special occasions and his poems, some of which were published.

Grades: Pre-K – 5

Academic Status: School met Adequate Yearly Progress last year.

Enrollment: 387

Capacity: 594

Utilization: 65.2

Racial breakdown: 76 percent black, 23 percent Hispanic

Percentage of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 96 percent