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Purpose Built Schools Atlanta looks to Atlanta school for turnaround model

Purpose Built Schools Atlanta said they are considering how Drew Charter has had so much success as the group looks to turn around low performing schools in Atlanta

ATLANTA — With one southeast Atlanta school set to close at the end of the school year, its management group is looking at another school as a model to turn around the historically low-performing school. Thomasville Heights Elementary, run by Purpose Built Schools Atlanta (PBSA), will close because an apartment complex where most of its students live is shutting down.

Dozens of teachers stand to lose their jobs in the process, and hundreds of students will be in new classrooms next year. PBSA started taking over Thomasville Heights, Slater Elementary, Price Middle School and Carver STEAM Academy in 2016, partnering with Atlanta Public Schools to turn around the underperforming schools. 

PBSA said it was looking to Drew Charter School, which is not affiliated in any way with PBSA, to model its own turnaround of its four schools.

According to the Georgia Governor's Office of Student Achievement, Drew Charter stayed level at a "B" average schoolwide from 2015-2018. The school earned an "A" average in 2019. Meantime, the four PBSA-run schools were performing at mostly an "F" average during that same timeframe, including after PBSA took over the schools.

RELATED: Condemned apartment complex leads to Atlanta elementary school's closure

However, PBSA told 11Alive that the four schools saw improvement before the pandemic. It pointed to a 32 percent reduction in suspensions, 20 percent fewer students moving away and twice as much parent engagement. However, the latest state data showed a relatively high number of students in and out of the classroom from year to year in the PBSA-run schools compared to Drew Charter.

Parents like Bernard Arnold are voicing their frustration over the turnaround process and what they feel is a lack of communication. When a municipal judge condemned the run-down Forest Cove Apartments, it forced school officials to close PBSA-run Thomasville Heights Elementary. A majority of students at Thomasville Heights Elementary live at Forest Cove. 

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"Our kids have been through so much," Arnold said. "We just came from two years of COVID-19. They've been through a lot."

The City of Atlanta is helping to relocate those students and their families. However, the closure is expected to cause 50 teachers and staff to lose their jobs, according to PBSA officials. Hundreds of students will likely also end up at different schools next year.

PBSA said development in the East Lake area has led to Drew Charter's success. Drew opened in 2000, and it has benefitted from new apartments, retail and other infrastructure in the last decade. The school is also close to East Lake Golf Club. PBSA projects the turnaround at its historically failing schools could take up to 10 years at the very least.

"I think this whole community will need some serious, in-depth support from all providers," parent Monique Nunnally said. 

PBSA held a town hall Tuesday night at Slater Elementary, which is where about 60 former Thomasville Heights students are expected to attend next school year. More town halls are scheduled over the following week to keep parents and stakeholders aware of future changes.

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