Meister Says Pine Hills Redistricting Vote the Right Decision
School board member says best interest of students, district served by her support of Davis recommendation
Buckhead school board representative Nancy Meister said Wednesday she feels she made the right decision in voting to redistrict the Pine Hills neighborhood from Garden Hills to Sarah Smith Elementary.
Meister supported APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr.’s recommendation, which will shift a projected 127 students from Garden Hills to Smith. The school board in a marathon session that ended at around 2 a.m. Wednesday gave final approval to Davis' redistricting plan, which calls for the closure of seven city schools.
“I was in a no-win situation,” Meister said about the Pine Hills vote. ”I had to make the decision that was the best for the district and the kids. Garden Hills is significantly overcrowded, and Sarah Smith can handle the capacity.
“I have to live with that decision. I feel I made the right one in supporting the recommendations. As much as Sarah Smith parents are upset, Garden Hills parents are happy to see some relief at their site.”
Davis posted his Pine Hills recommendations on the APS website late March 31, the Saturday before the system’s weeklong spring break. Sarah Smith’s PTA co-presidents asked the school board to table the decision for at least 30 days to give the parents more time to respond.
Meister said thst she spoke with Dr. Sidney Baker, Sarah Smith’s principal, and he said that “they can handle the capacity,” based on a classroom ratio of 22 students per teacher. She also said that the students “are definitely spread out” among different grades. “I don’t know if there’s a bubble.”
She said she also had a similar difficult choiice in approving Davis’ recommendation that Sutton Middle School eventually be “repurposed” as a sixth grade academy. The separate sixth grade academy was supported by one segment of the community, while a vocal group called for two separate middle schools, one at Sutton and the other at the present North Atlanta High site.
Her vote was based on resarch, Meister said. She said she looked at different studies on both positions and visited the Maretta school district's separate sixth grade academy. The sixth grade academy will keep the students together from middle school through high school, she said, and will help the transition from elementary school. The support of Karen Waldon, APS deputy superitnedent for curriculum and instruction, was another factor.
“It’s new day,” Meister said. “It’s going to flow very well, and we have two years to plan for it." She said she’s confident that “the parents are willing to get together and bridge the two groups together and make it one middle school. It’s exciting.”
Cynthia Briscoe-Brown, president of the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools, said that while NAPPS didn’t take a position on the Pine Hills recommendation, she thought it was “well thought out” by the administration.
She said the 127 figure is a projection and “we don’t know how the numbers will turn out.” The Sarah Smith parents, she said, are “concerned about a great many more than that. We have to see what happens.”
Leigh Darby, co-president of the Sutton PTA and a supporter of the sixth grade academy, said, “I am thrilled that the board voted on the plan last night and that the sixth grade academy was included in the plan." A group supporting the two middle schools had called on the school board to delay for two years its vote on the middle school issue.
“Now that the vote is done we can start working on moving to the new North Atlanta campus and helping parents with that transition," Darby said. " … I think the sixth grade academy will be a good stepping stone for our parents of sixth graders and will help them ease into the transition of middle school.”