Grady Cluster Families Fight Board on Rezoning

The Southerner

A group of frustrated families came together on Apr. 10 at the Atlanta Board of Education’s monthly meeting to make their case on behalf of their children’s academic futures.

West Midtown is an area that has been highly controversial on the grounds of rezoning. The first major rezoning issue was brought to light in 2012, over Grady being the zoned high school for the 30318 zip code area. As of 2017, a new policy has been instilled, establishing that rising sixth graders of the West Midtown area will no longer be able to attend Inman Middle School and will instead be required to go to Centennial Academy for the 2017-2018 school year.

Chadd Jonesmith, co-representative for Inman Middle School on the Counsel Board for Intown Neighborhood and Schools (CINS), has played a major role in the fight to keep West Midtown students zoned for Inman.

“Part of the reason I took the position on the board was that I wanted to make sure that the West Midtown area was kept in the loop,” said Jonesmith “I felt we didn’t really have a voice in regards to rezoning,” Centennial Academy, previously known as Centennial Place Elementary school, transitioned into Atlanta Public Schools’ first conversion charter school beginning with the addition of sixth grade in 2015. A conversion charter school is a school that was previously a traditional public school and is now requesting more freedom in curriculum building.

Centennial has many partners, including Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and the Georgia Aquarium, who help fund and educate students. They are highly committed to STEAM curriculum, focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics education. Centennial became a charter school because they believed that, given the flexibility to create a education program specifically designed for their students, they could then take advantage of their partnerships and resources.  

Despite the optimism shown during this transition, current West Midtown parents expressed concerns about the ability of the school to accommodate  the addition of three new grade levels.

“The same year that Centennial became a charter school, they lost 45 percent of their teachers, and they still do not have a middle school building yet,” Jonesmith said.

The primary concern raised by Centennial parents regarded the decision to require rising sixth graders to attend Centennial Academy for the 2017-2018 school year.  Many West Midtown parents feel that the decision was not a community decision and that Howell Station, Home Park, and Atlantic Station neighborhoods were left out of the discussion during the process.

“I heard a rumor of this, but there was no formal notification. What Carstarphen said in regards to the discussion occurring in 2012 is not entirely true,” Jonesmith said, “Well, if it is true they certainly didn’t let anyone know.”

Current Howell Station residents were shocked when they learned that they were no longer allowed to attend Inman Middle School. The neighborhood was made aware of this when one family attempted to enroll their kids in Inman for the 2017-2018 school year and were told that they would be out of zone for that year.

“Only the sixth grade counselor at Inman raised the red flag that our children would not be able to transfer next year because of a zoning change,” Kristen Dicarlo, a current Inman and Centennial academy parent said, “Then we decided that if they wouldn’t let our children go for the next year, we would transfer them mid year, as we were still zoned and allowed to do that.”

Many of the parents currently battling the new zoning policies had kids go to Centennial Elementary School and had much less  problems with discipline, grading practices, or communication  before the new grade additions.

“We wanted to give Centennial Academy a chance since Centennial Elementary was good for our kids, Tim Mcguire, a Howell Mill resident, said “Mid-way through the 6th grade year, we started having issues that we felt were due to the newness of the middle school but were not issues we could overlook.” In spite of the fact that APS is receiving major resistance from parents on the new zoning policy, Meria Carstarphen remained firm in the decision to send Westside middle schoolers to Centennial Academy. Parents of students affected by the policy are currently working on a position paper with a goal of fighting to keep Inman an option for their children.

“I hope that our kids can stay at Inman until the new Howard renovation is open and that our kids can then remain at Howard,” Jonesmith said. “If they want to explore a better middle school option for the Westside, that is eventually going to have to be a discussion due to the Westside growing immensely but it’s not going to be Centennial.”