Inside Atlanta's $147 Million Public High School

Luxury in the form of a free education isn't cheap.

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North Atlanta High School's lobby (Dustin Chambers/the New York Times)

Sitting atop 56 acres in an old IBM office building, North Atlanta High School is looking like every bit of the $147 million it costs to build it. Although that number is nowhere near the most expensive public school in the country -- Robert F. Kennedy High School in Los Angeles cost $578 million -- according to the New York Times, it was $50 million over the school's original budget.

But as the Times shows, the money appears to have been put to good use for what is said to be Georgia's most expensive school ever built.

With 11 stories, a 900-car parking deck and views fit for a corporate executive, the school, North Atlanta High, looks very much like the fancy office buildings and glittery shopping strips that populate its Buckhead community.

With its large African-American student population, the focus of North Atlanta High will be to improve its dismal graduation rate.

"We have a special obligation here," said Howard E. Taylor, the new principal. "The district is digging out of a historic crisis."

He and other educators say that the new school building is an opportunity to show that a large, urban public high school can be a viable alternative to the rising tide of charter schools, voucher systems and private education.

Some of the 1,400 students who will attend the school this year come from the wealthiest families in the region, but others, Mr. Taylor said, are homeless. Nearly half are black. About 27 percent are white and 20 percent are Hispanic. They speak more than 40 languages.

"If there was ever a model for an urban high school, this is it," he said.

The goal is to move the school from its graduation rate of about 61 percent — a rate so low it helped lead to the ouster of top administrators last fall — to 90 percent.

Students who attend will see plenty of perks.

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