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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 to

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 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 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.”

Maggie April 11, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Good job, Nancy! Know that there are many, many happy parents today because of your vote. You absolutely did the right thing. I look forward to my youngest child enjoying the benefits of the sixth grade academy in a few years and the North Atlanta campus after that, and I look forward to my oldest child breaking in the new high school in a couple of years. Way to go. APS is finally giving us something to look forward to. THANK YOU for not dragging this out.
BRP April 12, 2012 at 01:24 AM
The 6th grade academy will require multiple transitions and feed into a mega middle school - but hey all of our children will suffer through it together. So sorry for your no-win situation. I really feel for you, but not quite as much as I feel for the children who are going to be in larger classes thanks to your vote.
FJ April 12, 2012 at 10:53 AM
The classes are going to be large no matter what - it is a sign of the times - and it has nothing to do with whether we have one or two middle schools. APS is facing huge budget issues and will continue to put the maximum number of kids in a class, no matter how big the population of the school is.
Saddened by APS April 12, 2012 at 12:40 PM
This is an unfortunate day for our cluster. Despite the fact that Nancy and the Board received extensive 'new and compelling' information prior to the vote and over 800 signatures, they opted to turn the other way and move forward with a mega middle school. Our children and our cluster will suffer greatly for this decision. Across the nation, large cities like Atlanta are focusing on their children and moving to smaller school environments. Having my child in a grade with 350 kids (still large) vs. a grade level of 700+ kids is not what the majority of data out there says is a positive thing (not to mention that my child will attend 5 schools despite the fact that we have never moved!). I think this decision is going to significantly impact what parents who have tried to support our public schools choose going forward. There is a limit to what we will expose our kids to and multiple transition during their informative years and HUGE grade sizes are unacceptable. Our private schools are so difficult to get into because their environments are coveted. They have the land, the funds, and the demand to be mega-schools with huge grade sizes and they opt not to because it's not what is best for the kids. It's sad that fear-based decision making went into this rather than doing what would be best for our neighborhoods and children across the board.
Sue Rodman April 12, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Saddened by APS. I see your point about the large grades. Perhaps it's time to make all these primary centers individual elementary schools so children can go K-5 without transition in their formative years. In addition, it would make it easier to do class-wide grade level programs within the elementary school - where the bulk of these programs take place. Perhaps that's the next round.
Bob Woese April 12, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Nancy, As a former Principal in the Buckhead community I am well aware of the challenges facing our growing student population. With this in mind, I commend you for making decisions that reflect solid research on your part, and a compassion for all of Atlanta's children. After all, this is why you are on the Board. Thank you.
Molly Read Woo April 12, 2012 at 02:34 PM
I would like to personally thank Nancy Meister and the other APS Board members who worked so incredibly hard to do the right thing for our kids, knowing that no matter what they finally decided, there was no way to make everybody happy. Still, they cared enough to keep trying, even while having to weather the slings and arrows of parents demanding perfection in a practically impossible situation. Thank you for dedicating yourselves to doing what you felt was right, given all the information you had on hand - which was a mountain in itself. Now, if all goes as planned, children in Atlanta will have what they need to succeed in school. Let's hope that parents can give their kids the right attitude for success, and think on what they can do to build up a good spirit in their schools, too, We are blessed with enough resources to do well in this city - to have a thriving, creative, academically prosperous life for ourselves and our children and the next generation. But this will only happen if we appreciate what we have right now, and the gifts of community we can share. Let us learn the benefits of making the best of any situation, show consideration for others, and confidence that working together for the greater good, we can overcome any small obstacles. If we learn that, we'll really have a great lesson to teach our kids. Thank you Nancy, Reuben, Cecily, Courtney, Emmett, Brenda, Byron, Cecily, LaChandra, Yolanda, Courtney, Reuben, and Super-Davis. Well done, piublic servants!
KM April 13, 2012 at 02:25 PM
There was no fear based decisions made by APS, but your comment is certainly trying to instill fear. Many have spent years analyzing these configurations and I personally spent time with the top researcher in the country on this topic. Affluent students are less affected by the size of the school. Look at our elementary schools 6 years ago they were half the size of where they are today, are these children receiving less because of the size of the school or having reduced academic achievement due to the transition b/w the primary and main campus - the test results and the smiles on the faces would say no! The size of class has more impact and the increase in class sizes at the beginning of this school would have more affect on academic achievement than the size of the school. Strong community leadership will have more impact. If you have concerns come to the Sutton coffee talk meetings, Council or PTA meetings or meet personally with these wonderful leaders and talk about your concerns. If your concerns are legitimate use your energy to mitigate these at the schools e.g. if your concerned that there will be less opportunity to participate in sports, come find ways to expand the sports programs.
KM April 13, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Well said!

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