Race, socioeconomic status affect redistricting plans

Sammi Dean

So far the APS redistricting process has played out like a game of musical chairs. Every neighborhood is advocating and organizing, but when the music stops and a new plan is released, someone is always left standing up.

The most recent redistricting plan, one endorsed by the superintendent himself, keeps Old Fourth Ward in the Grady cluster but gives Kirkwood the boot, possibly in response to widespread activism among the Old Fourth Ward community. In response to previous plans zoning Old Fourth Ward out of Inman Middle School and Grady High School, Fourth Ward Neighbors, Inc. complained of discrimination. Priscilla Borders, the organization’s spokesperson, considered the discrimination to be on both a socioeconomic and racial level. One plan the organization finds especially upsetting is the proposal to close Cook Elementary School and send the current Cook student body to Hope Hill Elementary, merging the two schools.

“We have a concentration of low socioeconomic status minority children at [Hope Hill],” Borders said. “If the maps continue to be as they are, [Cook and Hope Hill] will be separated from other [schools]. Then you have a whole school that is majority minority and low socioeconomic status.”

Under superintendent Erroll Davis’s plan, Cook and Hope Hill will still be merged, but students will remain in the Inman and Grady cluster.

Racial overtones had also surfaced regarding the proposal to zone the Mary Lin community—Candler Park, Inman Park and Lake Claire—to Coan Middle School. Many Mary Lin parents opposed this plan, while the Kirkwood Neighbors’ Organization publicly condoned it.

Catherine Downey, a Mary Lin and Inman parent, wanted her kids to remain on the Mary Lin-Inman-Grady path. Downey said her preference stems from the schools’ academic status, not racial issues.

“Coan Middle … is ranked really low in the state of Georgia,” Downey said. “It just so happens that the racial and socioeconomic makeup is very different from Inman. If the school was ranked a lot higher, people would possibly want to go there.”

In response to these concerns, the new plan proposes to shut down Coan and turn it into a sixth grade academy for children in the Inman-Grady cluster. The result of this, however, is that children living in East Lake and Kirkwood—areas currently zoned to Coan—will have to attend school further away at M.L. King Middle.

Tris Sicignano, a resident of East Lake, sees a lot of problems with this proposal.

“Well, my basic concern is that they are closing the middle school in the first place,” Sicignano said. “There are a lot of programs, including a clinic, a partnership with Emory and several other nonprofits, that may not follow these children when they go to a new middle school.”

Sicignano also dislikes the concept of sending the local kids to a different school. She does not like the idea that neighborhood children would have to leave so someone else can be bussed into their neighborhood.

Junior Cameron Richardson lives in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Under an earlier APS proposal, his younger sister Peyton would have attended Hope Hill Elementary instead of Springdale Park Elementary.

“[Hope Hill] Elementary School is on Boulevard, which is known for a lot of crime, so we don’t want a 7-year-old to possibly witness these things,” Richardson said. “Worst-case scenario she is a victim of a crime.”

Richardson said that if that change were to happen, his sister may leave APS altogether and attend a private or charter school. He said this would not be ideal because of the cost of private school.

Grady media specialist Brian Montero grew up attending APS schools. Having experienced some of the area’s evolution, Montero thinks parents are overreacting. When he attended Mary Lin Elementary School, it was in a similar position to some of the schools parents are so vocally opposing now.

“When I went to Mary Lin, everyone was like, ‘Don’t send your kids to Mary Lin. They have got to go to Paideia,’” Montero said. “At the time Mary Lin was ‘a bad school.’ It was primarily African-American. People have these notions of what a good school is. In reality, there are no good schools or bad schools. It just depends on how the community gets involved.”

Montero has the same outlook for the present situation.

“I don’t think it’s fair to keep kids at Mary Lin, Inman [and] Grady at the expense of schools where the population has gone down,” he said. “All [parents] have to do is get involved, and they could turn it around, sort of spread the wealth.”

At school-board meetings and online, parents and neighborhood organizations are lobbying to be heard. The school board will vote on the superintendent’s proposal in the next month.

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