Towering in the skies, decrepit and abandoned, lies the David T. Howard School in the historic Old Fourth Ward. Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr., once walked the school’s halls more than 50 years ago.
The David T. Howard School is expected to reopen in five years to relieve the overcrowding in schools in the Grady cluster, specifically Inman Middle School. The Howard School has been closed to the public since 1976 due to declining enrollment.
“To be able to go to the same school and be educated in the same classrooms as Martin Luther King, Jr. brings home significance you can’t get anywhere else,” says Julia Neighbors, parent of an Atlanta Public School student. “I can’t believe there was talk about tearing the building down. A school is the heart of the community and it can transform a community in a way commercial spaces just can’t do. It’s a place for parents and children and families to really thrive.”
There was once talk of bulldozing the school as it attracted vagrants to the community. But at Atlanta Public Schools’ (APS) “State of the District” address Oct. 8, Superintendent Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen presented the idea of transforming the Howard School and the Atlanta Public Schools.
At the event, Carstarphen addressed the problems APS students face not only in the classroom but outside in their communities. “Out of 100 ninth graders, only 59 graduate on time, 32 actually enroll in college, 24 stay for the second year,” Carstarphen stated. “APS doesn’t track this data, but I’ve been putting it together for the State of the District. At the end of the day when when we project what really happens to them only 14 from the ninth grade of 100 finish a four year degree.
I will do my job and the job of this community to ensure every student has access to a quality education and that allows them to break the cycle of poverty, break the cycle of ignorance, break the cycle of corruption, break the cycle of violence and that high quality education will give them those skills so those choice actually come to life,” she continued.
Carstarphen addressed the importance of having a strong foundation in APS. She explained that APS needs a strong system for students which includes counselors, social workers, student resource officers along with teachers and communities to provide support for every student. Carstarphen’s philosophy coincides with the proverb: “it takes a village to raise a child.”
“Atlanta needs a quality public school system so the city can be as successful as it can be. But it can’t be successful for some children – it has to be successful for all its children,” Carstarphen said.
Carstarphen’s unifying words caused some teens to highlight how non-inclusive the school system is of teens in their decisions.
“APS doesn’t really do a good job of getting student input or communicating ideas with families,” said Judah Girvan, Grady High School student. Emma Matthews, also a Grady High Student, added “APS has a lot of teachers that care about us and our education.”
Blake Fowler, a Grady High School student, agreed with Girvan saying “communication doesn’t get passed as clearly from the higher ups in the administration down to the students.” Dhruv Meahra, also a Grady High School student, said students are often left in the dark about big news.
Carstarphen explained that changes made within the David T. Howard school are only the beginning and a sign of more changes within the foundation of APS in the future.