Administrators from Frederick Douglass High School have proposed that ninth grade students be relocated to a separate building to ease the students transition from middle to high school.

The proposed ninth grade STEAM Academy would be located at the former Fain Elementary School, two miles from Douglass High School.

During the board of education’s April meeting, interim principal Forrestella Taylor gave a presentation detailing why the board believes a separate ninth grade STEAM academy would address some of the school’s major issues.

The school’s failure rate is currently 49.2 percent overall, and 52.7 percent for freshmen specifically. Douglass also had the lowest graduation rate in the district last year at 69 percent, compared to the district’s all time high graduation rate of 83.1 percent.

“We must do something differently and urgently, with a focus on ninth grade,” Taylor said.

Taylor also argued that impermanence of the school’s leadership is another contributing factor to the school’s failure rate. If Taylor is confirmed as the school’s official head principal, she will be Douglass High School’s eleventh head principal in ten years. 

Taylor presented data from the Georgia School Climate Survey, which is collected annually by the State Department of Education. The data indicated that for the last five years, over 70 percent of Douglass High students responded that they have worried about another student hurting them. Further, only 50 percent of students in 2020 said they felt safe in their school in the last 30 days.

The proposal for a ninth grade STEAM academy in a separate building is not the first solution the school has tried to ease the transition period between middle and high school. In addition to summer bridge programs and mentorship programs, Douglass also dedicated the entire third floor to only freshman classes.

“Unfortunately, as you can see by our current data, it has not been successful in deterring many of the things that are impacting Frederick Douglass High School,” Taylor said.

While Douglass does have issues that are unique, Taylor pointed out that the ninth grade class is usually the largest class a high school will have. According to Taylor’s presentation, fewer than 20 percent of students who fail the 9th grade will go on to graduate high school.

“Ninth grade coincides with life course changes such as reduced parental supervision and increased peer influence,” Taylor said.

Fain Elementary is about one fourth the size of Douglass High which Taylor argued would ease students into the high school environment and also deal with the issue of chronic skipping, which plays a major role in low attendance rates.

In order to start a pilot of the ninth grade STEAM academy, it is proposed that the district use approximately $2.8 million of CARES ACT funding to update the facilities and technology needed to accommodate the freshman.

The secondary campus will draw from the existing staff at Douglass and new teachers that will fill existing vacancies that are already allotted for in the budget. Taylor also suggested that they utilize the buses in the same way as other APS schools with a satellite campus.

Taylor told the board that she has already had teachers ask to be placed in at the ninth grade academy even volunteering to teach a different subject.
The next meeting of the Douglass High School GO Team will be held on Zoom, May 18. Parents and community stakeholders can sign-up for a 2 minute time-slot during public comment. The link will go live at 4:45 PM, 30-minutes before the start of the meeting.

This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice  through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In  Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the  country.

Madeline Thigpen is an education reporter and Report for America Corps Member. She joined the Atlanta Voice in 2021. At the Voice she covers K-12 education for the Atlanta metro region and higher education....