Teacher groups, activists protest charters at APS headquarters

A protest organized by the Georgia Federation of Teachers took place outside the Atlanta Public Schools headquarters on Thursday. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC
A protest organized by the Georgia Federation of Teachers took place outside the Atlanta Public Schools headquarters on Thursday. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the Atlanta Public Schools headquarters Thursday to oppose charter schools and call for new district leadership.

The Georgia Federation of Teachers organized the demonstration in response to what it believes is the “privatization” of public schools. Teachers, former teachers, education activists and others were among those who gathered just before the downtown rush hour.

They blew whistles and brought signs that read “Community schools not charter schools” and “Support public schools.”

Protesters are concerned charter schools take resources from traditional neighborhood schools and operate with less oversight.

Federation president Verdaillia Turner said the group wants APS “to walk away from turning any more schools over” to charter groups. She also called for new leaders to replace the superintendent and school board chairman.

“I don’t think they ever looked at what really makes schools operate,” she said.

In response to the rally and calls for new district leadership, school board chairman Jason Esteves said: “The community elected us to focus on our children, not adult-created distractions. We are, and will continue to be, focused on preparing each one of our 52,000 students for college and career.”

APS spokesman Ian Smith said the district’s 18 charter schools are managed by nonprofit governing boards and are “open to any student who resides within the district’s boundaries.” He said the district maintains high standards for charter schools it authorizes and “monitors these schools closely.”

“In the past four years, only one new charter school has been approved by the district (KIPP Soul), following our rigorous application and review process,” he said, in a written statement.

As of October, APS charter schools enrolled 9,467 students.

In 2016, the district introduced a new kind of management model for some of its most-troubled schools. Using what it calls a "partner" approach, APS has since handed over the daily operations and staffing of six schools to outside organizations that have expertise running charter schools. The groups sign multi-year contracts with APS, which provides them with funding to run the schools.

Last school year, the board began discussing another strategy to improve schools — a concept the district calls the "Excellent Schools Project." Those discussions have been largely on hold since the spring, but protesters fear that, if implemented, the plan could lead to more schools being outsourced to charter-related groups.

On Thursday, one of the protesters, Greg Fann, walked outside the district’s central office while shouting “charter schools have got to go.”

“When they put money in public education and public schools, public schools can do just as well as charter schools,” he said.

In a written statement, Georgia Charter Schools Association President and CEO Tony Roberts said the association “believes that charter public schools play an important role in the Atlanta Public School system and give more Atlanta students greater access to a high-quality, transformative public education.”

Atlanta teacher Greg Daguiar said he came to Thursday’s rally because he wants to make sure that teachers’ voices are heard and that public schools have strong support at each building and grade level.

“The whole idea of a strong public school I think starts with our teachers,” he said.

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