Maybe we need to build a new middle school to relieve overcrowding at Inman Middle School. Or maybe we should house 6th or 8th-graders in a separate academy, possibly located in the Old Fourth Ward.
“I don’t need consensus on anything. I don’t need votes. I need your best thinking,” the superintendent told the task force.
More than 60 parents turned out for the meeting, sitting on the floor when they ran out of chairs. But questions and discussion were limited to the task force members – about 20 in attendance.
Davis suggested that an academy could be housed in an annex close to the school, or if it were farther away, it could eventually be turned into another middle school.
The district has two vacant buildings that could be used – Walden and David T. Howard schools, both on Irwin Street in the Old Fourth Ward. The Howard school is famous for providing an education to Martin Luther King Jr. The superintendent admitted that he wasn’t sure if the cost of refurbishment would equal the cost of building a new middle school.
Other considerations of a separate academy are providing enough staffing for an off-site location and playing sports.
Davis suggested that an academy housing 8th and 9th-graders could kill two birds with one stone – solving overcrowding at both Inman Middle and Grady High School. This idea could work, at least one task force member said, because 6th graders aren’t allowed to play sports.
Several parents said they were opposed to the idea of splitting kids off in a separate academy, although they recognized the problem of overcrowding.
“Up until about two weeks ago, they had five kids sitting on the floor,” said Ann Jones, who has a daughter in 6th grade at Inman and a 4th-grade son who will go to Inman in a couple of years. She said she is concerned that an academy at either Walden or Howard would be too far away.
“They might as well just turn it into a boarding school,” Jones said.
Another parent, Elaine Persons, said she thinks the solution is to create new districts so kids are split more evenly among schools – an idea she admitted is not embraced by all parents. But while some schools are bursting at the seams, others have plenty of space, she said.
“I’d be fine if they even divided my neighborhood and sent all of us south of DeKalb Avenue,” Persons said.
Task force members asked if there is money set aside for building projects.
Davis replied that $30 million is expected to come from sales tax, and another $5 million has been set aside by the school board for capital expenses.
“I’m reasonably confident, if we figure out in a reasonable amount of time, that money will be a barrier we have to deal with – but not insurmountable,” Davis said.
The task force has been meeting since July, and meeting minutes posted on the APS website show that committee members were seeking clarification on their role from the superintendent. Davis apologized on Tuesday for not coming to a meeting sooner. The group also now has a facilitator - James Wilson, who is a former superintendent and worked in Cobb and Fulton schools for 37 years.
Inman is projected to have more than 1,000 students this school year – 118 percent over its capacity. That number is only expected to grow over the next decade.
We need a solution quickly, the superintendent said.
“I don’t like to see all these kids packed in here like sardines, and I’d like to do something about it quickly.”