Friday, April 6, 2012

Save our School: How APS is harming children & our neighborhood

Our neighborhood isn't the one you picture when you think of upperclass, suburban neighborhoods.  That's because we aren't.  You won't see home after home with white fences and BMWs in the driveway. We are a diverse neighborhood with working class families.  Many of our homes are single parent homes working hard to make ends meet.  Our homes aren't cookie cutter duplicates of the one next to it - we have character.  And the neighborhood is changing.  The crime is seeing significant drops, houses are being sold and young, married couples are moving in.  They city just spend millions of dollars to build a new park just a few blocks away.  It just opened in March.

Atlanta is in an education crisis.  It seems everywhere we look the city is trying to cut costs and close the most important aspects of the community.  Just yesterday MARTA released that they will have to make some significant cuts in the upcoming year, eliminating a lot of coverage and service.  What major metropolitan city can survive without public transportation?  Atlanta is also planning to close 10 public schools.  Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has been planning to close schools for months, the initial plan was announced in May 2011.  These schools were identified as having low enrollment therefore they aren't able to get the funding that larger schools receive and they are draining resources that could go to other schools.  They claim that each closed school will save $500k that will then be used to support the schools that remain open.

Since last Spring, neighborhoods of the schools that have been identified as ones that will be closed have been rallying together to convince APS to keep the schools open and to identify ways to keep them open and reduce costs.  There are some great plans out there - making schools more green, adding pre-K classes to schools to increase the numbers of students in attendance, and so many other plans.  The final decision to close the schools will be made on April 10, only a few days away.

The shocking thing, is that on April 1, the elementary school in my neighborhood was added to the "cut" list.  Never once had it been identified as an at-risk school.  Never once had parents of children in our neighborhood been given a reason to be concerned.  Never mentioned on a single list, the neighborhoods of Peoplestown, Summerhill and Grant Park didn't have to worry about DH Stanton Elementary School.  Until April 1, a Sunday, during Spring Break.  That's 10 days before the final vote.

APS is doing our neighborhood a disservice and acting unethically.  They say that the decision is based on economics.  This can't be the case - it wasn't the case for the past 10 months there couldn't have been a new development in a negative direction overnight.  If the schools closing were based on purely financial analysis, there is no way a school could be added at the 11th hour.

I had a Realtor friend of mine pull some numbers for the area zoned to attend DH Stanton.  In the past 24 months, 108 homes have been sold.  In the past 12 months, 54 homes have been sold and 16 homes are currently under contract or pending.  The neighborhood is growing, not declining, which means there is no way the financial situation in our neighborhood is declining.  Additionally, the 2012 census shows over 500 4-year olds in our zip code.  500!  Those are all upcoming Kindergardeners.  Our house doesn't have children yet but we'd love to send our kids to the school 2 blocks away.  I'm sure we're not the only household in this situation.  In fact I know we aren't, I met other couples like us last night at the rally to save our school.

I plan to stand up and raise my voice to try to save our elementary school.  This isn't a black or white issue, it's about classes.  Of the school closures, most of them are on the south side of town, the lower income areas.  These schools around me will be closed to help fund the schools further north, the upper income areas.

I plan to stand up against APS' plan to close DH Stanton Elementary School.  As a single, affluent, childless woman,  I want my future children to have the opportunity to walk to school.  I want them to be able to know the kids in houses around them; driving down the street any afternoon will show you that there are plenty of kids.  I want my neighborhood to be thriving in 5 years, it's definitely on it's way now, why stop it.  We have a new, state of the art park in the neighborhood where students of DH Stanton can play.  We don't have school bus traffic up and down our streets each morning because kids can walk to school.  Just last month we had a representative from the Governors office come to the Peoplestown Neighborhood Association meeting to talk about their plans for the neighborhood.

I hope that the board and Superintendent of APS hears our voices.  I hope they see the support the school has from the parents and neighbors in the area.  We are willing to support the school, please don't take it away from us.  Let's give our kids the chance to grow up knowing and loving their neighborhood.  The only way they will grow up to understand the importance of community is to show them what a community is.

Save D.H. Stanton Elementary School.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention above that APS does not have a single plan in place for what they will do with our school once it's closed.  The very last thing we need in our area is a large, vacant building to be a home for illegal activity.  If the school is going to be maintained yet vacant, I don't see how that is saving money.  It will still need security, maintenance and utilities to run the maintenance.  If the school is closed and shut down completely, it will cost even more to get it up and running again.  Yet another example of the poor decision making of APS.

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