New name proposed for Atlanta school building linked to cheating scandal

The former Walter Leonard Parks Middle School is being turned into a new college and career academy to serve Atlanta Public Schools students. AJC file photo by Johnny Crawford jcrawford@ajc.com

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The former Walter Leonard Parks Middle School is being turned into a new college and career academy to serve Atlanta Public Schools students. AJC file photo by Johnny Crawford jcrawford@ajc.com

An Atlanta school building named after an early champion of the Pittsburgh neighborhood could be renamed and “rebranded” to honor a district administrator who died last year.

A committee voted 4-3 this week to recommend that the southwest Atlanta building that housed the former Walter Leonard Parks Middle School be named the Atlanta College and Career Academy at the Dr. Michael S. Maze Campus.

The proposed change has disappointed some in the neighborhood who want to protect Parks’ legacy.

“I think people in the community of Pittsburgh wanted to keep it that because of their history, and they feel like they are losing their history,” said Joyce Sheperd, the Atlanta councilmember who represents that district.

Others say a new name is an opportunity to honor Maze, who advocated for expanding the district's career and technical programs, and to rebrand the building. The former middle school was among the schools where investigators found rampant test cheating by educators about a decade ago, a scandal that tarnished Atlanta Public Schools. The former Parks principal was among those who pleaded guilty and testified in court in 2014 that he orchestrated cheating.

Parks Middle School merged with Sylvan Hills Middle School.

APS is completing an $11 million renovation of the Parks building so it can reopen in August as a new college and career academy. The academy will offer courses for high school students in fields such as automotive and aviation mechanics, business and computer science, culinary arts, law, nursing and teaching.

Now that the building has a new use, the school board asked a committee made up of educators, community leaders and others to recommend a name for the facility.

The Parks name pays tribute to Walter Leonard Parks, who in the early 1900s was a civic leader in the Pittsburgh community. He operated a grocery and general merchandise store and established a company that gave loans to many first-time homeowners. He was active in a community organization that pushed for improvements such as paved streets, lights and better transportation.

The recommended new name would honor Michael Maze, who until his death in 2019 served as the district's director of career, technical and agricultural education programs. Maze worked for APS for more than two decades and in 2017 received the Administrator of the Year award from the Georgia Association for Career and Technical Education.

Maze was “the architect” of the new college and career academy, said Eshé Collins, the board’s vice-chairwoman who also served on the naming committee and supports the recommended Maze campus name. He “advocated for many years to have a program of this magnitude to provide a solid and robust career technical education,” she said during a virtual meeting of the naming committee this week.

A desire to rebrand the building after the cheating scandal wasn’t the “overarching deciding factor” in suggesting the new name, Collins said, but there was conversation about taking the opportunity to do so.

Sheperd, who also served on the naming committee, said she's excited about the new academy and what it will mean for Atlanta students. She also understands the desire to recognize Maze, but she'd like to see at least some portion of the school be dedicated to Parks. A plaque or some other monument with historical information should be installed at the site so visitors can learn more about the person behind the name, she said.

The board is expected to consider and vote on the new name at its May 4 meeting.