Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. met with parents in the Grady High School cluster Thursday night to lay out his vision for the district and answer questions.
During the forum, which sponsored by the Council of Intown Neighborhoods and Schools at Inman Middle School, the superintendent said APS is still healing from the scars and scandals of the recent past but that his focus is on boosting school achievement.
"All of our schools can and must do better," Davis told Grady cluster parents, which include the Old Fourth Ward, Candler Park, Midtown and Virginia-Highland neighborhoods.
"We are putting in plans and programs to achieve that success," the superintendent said, explaining the core goals of his five-year plan.
That plan includes:
- Boosting graduation rates districtwide
- More inclusive and comprehensive programs for special needs students
- Increased focus on advanced placement courses by adding more of them and assessing achievements
The underlying themes to this plan, he said, is reshaping APS' personnel to focus on what he said were four core principles — excellence, ethics, equity and engagement.
But for many of the parents in attendance of the meeting, their core issue was overcrowding at Grady High School and the continued questions of what the district will do to relieve overcrowding at Inman Middle.
Davis sought to ally parent concern about capacity at Grady, saying that in a worst-case scenario, the school can accommodate up to 1,887 pupils — 37 students for each of its 51 classrooms.
Grady has 1,443 students now, including 10 trailers on campus.
While the student population is nowhere near the worst-case figure, he acknowledged the district needs to be more vigilant in monitoring out-of-zone attendance.
One step, he said, is revamping the registration process by next spring so that when parents enroll their children, the district can better monitor out-of-zone enrollment attempts.
When the district completed its redistricting and went to single feeder patterns in its clusters, siblings going to different clusters — outside of special cases such as special needs students needing a program at a particular school — raised immediate red flags, he said.
As one of the academically better performing clusters within APS, the out-of-zone issue is a problem for parents zoned in the Grady attendance zone.
"People want what's best for their children,as evidenced by the Grady cluster's performance," Davis said.
But APS will step up enforcement, up to and including prosecution of parents and guardians who knowingly send their children to an out-of-zone school.
One of the problems the district has in identifying more out-of-zone cases is that despite complaints from parents, few are willing to turn in violators.
"That's part of my challenge," he said. "Everybody knows but no one wants to tell me."
Other parents wanted to know as part of the larger drive to improve academic performance across APS, what did Davis plan to do about shedding bad teachers from the classroom faster.
He said APS is "building the mechanisms" to allow for the removal of bad teachers from schools.
"Absolutely no one wants poor performing teachers removed from the classroom more than high-level performing teachers," Davis said. "But not in a willy-nilly manner. Personnell is an area of tremendous challenge for us."
Indeed, some parents raised the concerns about teachers staffing and the problems associated with leveling, the system by which a school assesses its true personnel needs once it has a greater handle on its actual student population.
One parent noted some classrooms didn't have permanent teachers until early October — halfway into the fall term.