In a former IBM building, the priciest school ever built in the state of Georgia recently opened its doors to students. The New York Times reports that the North Atlanta High School cost $147 million to renovate, far more expensive than the average cost to build a new school, which is $38.5 million. With 11 stories and a 900-car parking deck, the school community is optimistic about the new state-of-the-art school facilities. This certainly comes as positive news following the negative impact that last spring’s cheating scandal brought to the Atlanta community.
No one ever suspected that Beverly L. Hall, a respected and admired superintendent, would be capable of encouraging teachers to doctor students’ state tests to get higher scores. Last March, The New York Times reported that in 2010, seven teachers were handpicked to erase and correct students’ state test answers. This practice had been going on for some time and the story only broke when one third grade teacher, one of “the chosen,” agreed to wear a wire for Georgia state investigator, Richard Hyde. Prior to the story breaking, Superintendent Hall had been lauded for her ability to commandeer her district of 52,000 children, which despite having a large percentage of minority and at-risk students, often outperformed its more privileged neighbors. Arne Duncan even invited her to the White House and she earned over $500,000 in bonuses. Along with 34 teachers and administrators, Hall was accused of conspiring to “either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores.”
Now, with the scandal behind them, the Atlanta community is buzzing with excitement at North Atlanta High’s opening, which offers students a slew of amenities. In addition to its impressive square footage, The Huffington Post states that the new school also boasts a video broadcast center and even an indoor shooting range. The shooting range was installed for the rifle team and the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. Safety is a top priority and students will wear full protective gear and shoot with compressed air pellet guns. Parents have been mostly receptive to the idea of the shooting range with community member Sharon Peacock stating, “Great idea. Let's start teaching children the proper and responsible way of handling a firearm.”
The New York Times has compared the New North Atlanta High School to the Taj Mahal. The school will offer many advanced placement classes, business classes and international studies. With expansive performing art facilities, a food court-style cafeteria, 56 acres of property and a massive gymnasium, principal Howard E. Taylor is hoping that parents will see the new school as an alternative to the new charter schools that have been providing a fair share of competition.
Taylor recognizes that many of the students come from difficult situations. While some of the students are from upper and middle class families, some of the families are homeless, 50 percent of the students are African American, 20 percent of the students are Hispanic and at least 40 languages are spoken across the student body. The graduation rate was dwindling to a meager 61 percent. Security has been tantamount, with 17 entrances under surveillance, impact-proof glass installed in windows and cameras over hallways and stairs. When students and parents were invited to an open house, there was very little criticism regarding the new facilities. Mariana Ryes, a sophomore at the school, said, “My only advice is to invest in better elevators. There is no way I am going to get to my classes on time in these.” With 11 floors total, that could be a serious challenge.
Sign up for Teach.com’s monthly newsletter to receive the latest in education news and information about becoming a teacher, including certification, teaching programs and more!