Parents weigh in on APS redistricting plan

When it comes to getting her kids off to school life can’t get much easier for Sharon Bray. Two of her children attend Morningside Elementary School, literally across the street.

Her seventh grader is a cheerleader at Inman Middle School and her ninth grader plays football at Grady High School. Both sometime walk to school.  They have been known to stroll out of the house 10 minutes before classes start and make it with time to spare.

Simply put, "It is perfect," Bray said.

But that all can change, as Bray and other parents and neighborhood leaders throughout the city are challenging what could be massive changes in how Atlanta Public School boundaries are drawn.

Last month, APS unveiled four possible redistricting scenarios, designed to cushion school overcrowding, close schools with lagging enrollments, and pave the way for a planned middle school in Midtown and high school in Buckhead.

The proposals were created by outside demographers and mapping specialists and could change as the district continues to sift through its demographic survey and considers community and parental feedback.

There has been a lot of that. Several neighborhoods, particularly in Midtown and Buckhead, have circulated petitions, written letters and held community meetings where hundreds of parents have attended to voice their displeasure in the proposals and to keep their kids closer to home.

Neighborhoods including Inman Park and Poncey-Highland have penned position papers to present to the school board. Parents in Southwest Atlanta, where several schools are set to close, have also mobilized. Many of the themes are the same – don’t break up neighborhoods, zone students when possible to schools in walking distance and take community input into account.

Regina Brewer, president of the Inman Park Neighborhood Association, said the organization felt the best way to build buy-in for the rezoning was to reach a consensus on how the boundaries should be redrawn. The group believes local school councils should be included in the process, but most of all, that the neighborhood should remain in tact.

"No one knows the history of [Inman Park] schools and neighborhoods better than us. We've created [a community credit union] together, we've fought a highway together, we have a relationship of collaborating for 40 years," she said.

Brewer said residents have worked hard to improve the quality of the schools in the area -- Lin Elementary, Inman Middle and Grady High – and want to remain zoned to those schools. She hopes the board will listen to their suggestions and use them.

There has also been an underlying tone of not trusting a school system that has been pocked with upheaval and the lingering impact of a major cheating scandal. There were also concerns that renewing the penny sales tax, which will be used to build the new schools, was not needed.

“The reality is that they don’t need to provide two new schools,” said Morningside resident Larissa Bradburn.

She is unimpressed about the idea of her kids attending different schools, even if they are brand new facilities.

“We have lived in this neighborhood for 18 years and love it because of the community and the community schools that the neighborhood has built," Bradburn said.

School board members and the superintendent said they will consider parent input before making a final recommendation, which could come in January.

Bradburn, who has children at Inman Middle and Morningside, said she worries about the long-term implications for her family and the kids in the neighborhood. Her kids walk to school now and while Grady High School is a few blocks away, the new high school would be around 10 miles away, “through Buckhead traffic.”

But Priscilla Borders, who has a child at Hope-Hill Elementary, said her Old Fourth Ward neighborhood could benefit from the rezoning. Three out of four of the options have the elementary school feeding into high-performing Inman Middle rather than Coan Middle.

The neighborhood association is working on a position paper to send to the school board.

“When the proposals came out, we knew there were viable choices and we wanted to make sure as a community our voices were heard,” she said.