APS greenlights new elementary school, high school capacity discussion to follow


Atlanta Public Schools

Virginia-Highland’s Inman Middle School building will open its doors as a new cluster elementary school next fall. The plan modifies school attendance zone boundaries for Mary Lin Elementary, Morningside Elementary and Springdale Park Elementary.

Jamie Marlowe

Despite disagreements over how the decision was made, plans to open a new K-5 elementary school in the Midtown Cluster are underway, and efforts to build a new school-centered community are in progress.

“The community that is rezoned has a chance to really come together and work to build another really great neighborhood school,” said Melissa Clark, a current Springdale Park Elementary parent being rezoned to Inman Elementary. “A lot of us were around just over 10 years ago when SPARK (common name for Springdale Park) was built, and it’s hard that it’s the same community that’s going to do it again, but I think we can and we will.”

In an effort to address overcrowding and balance enrollment numbers across the Midtown Cluster, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring presented the school board with the recommendation to turn Virginia-Highland’s Inman Middle School building, which originally operated as an elementary school from 1924-1977, into a cluster K-5 elementary school. The board voted 7-1 Aug. 8 to finalize her recommendation. Redistricting will go into effect in the fall of 2023.

“We’ve explored a lot of different iterations over the years of what we could do with the building,” board member Tamara Jones said. “Now we’ve reached the point where we’re kind of out of time.”

According to the APS Facilities Master Plan, Inman Elementary is expected to draw 493 students from Springdale Park and 170 from Morningside Elementary. The plan also rezones 171 Mary Lin students to Springdale Park and 9 students from Springdale Park to Morningside, ensuring all cluster schools will house a minimum of 400 students. Some parents felt their voices weren’t heard, and alternative uses for the site were not fully considered.

“I have been really frustrated, particularly with the process by which the decision to go forward with a new K-5 school has occurred and also how the zoning was done,” Mary Lin parent Jamie Fergerson said. “I don’t think the process was done with the appropriate amount of community involvement and with equity and diversity at top of mind, along with continuity for students who are already in year three of a pandemic.”

Fergerson lives in Inman Park, the neighborhood being redistricted to Springdale Park after roughly 40 years of being part of the Mary Lin attendance zone. Fergerson’s initial choice for relieving elementary school overcrowding was a Springdale Park dual campus expansion, where Springdale Park would house grades K-2 with grades 3-5 at Inman, though Fergerson isn’t completely opposed to the K-5 school.

“I think the Inman Park, Candler Park and Lake Claire parents and the administration of the school have worked really hard to build a fantastic neighborhood school,” Fergerson said. “Certainly, splitting that up is difficult. I also understand that anytime you open a new school, there are going to have to be decisions made, but I believe there were other options to keep communities and neighborhoods intact and to make sure that we’re building diverse and equitable elementary schools.”

Board member Michelle Olympiadis was the lone dissenting vote, though she recognizes the need for an elementary school capacity solution. Olympiadis said she thinks the community engagement process got lost during COVID and that it should’ve started prior to the pandemic.

“I wish there had been a way to take a step back and let those impacted communities speak a little more,” Clark said. “But here we are; so, the next step is making sure that APS really does follow through with some of these promises that they’ve made about supporting the new school and prioritizing finding a principal.”

With the loss of Inman Park, Mary Lin will be operating at around 60% capacity. Some parents have voiced concerns that the school will be vulnerable to resource loss and future cluster redistricting.

“[When] spending per pupil in a smaller school goes down; those schools often lose specials and enrichment programs,” Fergerson said. “There are less parents to support the school; there’s less tax revenue in that area; so, I think there’s concern that we’re just going to be putting more disruption on these kids who have already experienced so much disruption in their short academic career.”

Many parents are concerned APS won’t find sufficient staffing for the new school and that new Inman Elementary students might not have access to the same resources available at existing cluster elementary schools during a nationwide staffing shortage.

“The principal search at Howard (Middle School) took a really really long time, and I’m hopeful that APS follows through with getting somebody hired immediately,” Clark said. “They’ve told us that they will have a candidate as soon as the September meeting, which I would be surprised, but I’m hopeful that they do. We’re seeing teacher shortages at Howard and some classrooms without teachers, and I hope that we can ensure that that’s not what’s going to happen at the new elementary school.”

Jones, who voted in favor of the recommendation, understands parents’ concerns surrounding the plan, especially redistricting concerns.

“I understand the frustration, I do,” Jones said. “Having lived through this 10 years ago when we had a rezoning, it’s never easy; it’s painful. Every parent wants what’s best for their child, and they want to make sure that they’re going to have the quality academics, the whole child support that every child deserves, and being nervous that it might not be there because you have a smaller population than you did before. I can understand that angst, and I’m not trying to minimize it.”

At the high school level, Midtown has been struggling with overcrowding for a number of years. APS is soliciting community feedback on high school overcrowding, as well as under-utilization of other facilities in a series of community engagement meetings starting Aug. 30. Jones understands the urgency of addressing high school capacity and is ready to officially begin those discussions with the input of affected communities.

“We need to work so much harder on trying to engage with folks and make decisions in a collaborative way so that we don’t go through this level of pain every time we have to make a change,” Jones said. “We know that populations are constantly shifting, and so we’re going to need to constantly work together on making sure that all of our kids are getting the level of academics and social and emotional experience that they deserve.”

The next steps for Inman Elementary are staffing the building and working with the community on principal selection. Jones, acknowledging parent complaints about a lack of sufficient communication between the board and the community, wants to create a better engagement framework for dialogue with cluster families, especially with the high school discussion around the corner.

“There is a lot of anxiety and fear around the high school capacity issue, and we are going to be tackling that this fall,” Jones said. “It’s really difficult to buy off on an elementary solution where we don’t have a solution to the high school, and I understand that all of those are very valid concerns people have. I would like to go forward and start to tackle those issues.”