School closings: Does the loss to the community matter?

Should a budget-stressed school system consider the impact on the surrounding community when deciding which schools to close? At the four meetings of the DeKalb citizen task force on school closings that I attended, dozens of parents warned that closing their local school would lower property values, fracture the community and push young families to move elsewhere.

Are any of those legitimate areas of concern for a school system?

Or is the school system’s only focus on how to best educate students within the confines of the resources available? In this time, those resources are limited and strained.

Many people do not understand that small schools that are half empty cost a lot more to operate and that those costs are spread among all the taxpayers in a county. Some communities have made the decision to keep all their schools small, but they pay a dear price for that benefit in much-higher-than-average property taxes.

In DeKalb, most small schools are a product of shifting demographics. The neighborhoods in some areas simply don’t produce enough children to fill all seats so schools are well under capacity, some as much as 50 percent.

The AJC has a good Sunday piece on the losses suffered by the Forrest Hills community in DeKalb when its small elementary school closed. The school was at 250 students at the time that DeKalb closed it.

What the story doesn’t get into is the higher cost associated with keeping open under- capacity schools. Because the state sets 45o as the elementary school enrollment trigger for full staffing funding, a local system has to make up the difference when a school falls below that magic number. That means that very small schools can cost a lot more per student to operate.  Figures cited at the DeKalb meetings were $1,500 to $2,000 additional expense per student.

So, while neighborhoods may love their small, under-capacity schools, the rest of the county taxpayers are paying more to keep the schools on life support.

I believe that small schools are better schools in many ways, although academics is not necessarily one of them, according to the research. Well-run small schools are likely to have fewer lost souls roaming the halls because teachers and principals get to know each student by name. The students often live nearby and walk to schools, so the sense of community around the school is strong.

However, small schools are a luxury under our state funding system.

Are they a luxury we can no longer afford, not matter how much a community loves them?

54 comments Add your comment

Very familar with Forrest Hills

April 11th, 2010
12:12 pm

This is a tough issue. The leadership of Forrest Hills were the only ones of the 5 schools closed at that time that saw the logic of the district’s need to save money. They wanted to see something in that building, which is why they petitioned not to keep it open, but to allow a regional school that served a mission for the broader area to come in–i.e. The International Community School. Many members of the Avondale Educational Association, which was a parallel group to the Forrest Hills Elementary Community Coalition also wanted to see ICS housed there. They were focusing on supporting Avondale elementary, but were having such difficulties dealing with the newly installed principal there that in one of the meetings, they offered that maybe Avondale Elementary could close instead and they could all then be zoned to Forrest Hills—the principal and staff there were so well loved and respected. Both community’s desires were rebuffed–and it is the anger that stemmed from that treatment as well as and the steadfast refusal to address AEA’s concerns about the leadership at Avondale Elementary became the angry energy behind the Mueseum Schools formation. So sad. Now Avondale elementary’s population is down and it may also be a candidate for closure. Yet there will be a commision charter school serving both neighborhoods in trailers in the parking lot of the Baptist Church next door, and the International Community School remains just across the street. Meanwhile the grand central office vision of a boys single gender middle school being place at Forrest HIlls (the “plan” that put forward at the time of closure) will not be happening any time soon. The budget for next year calls for cutting the “single gender points” that have been used for that program at Avondale Middle. And both Avondale Middle and Avondale High School are now so low in enrollment that logic would have them on the chopping block when the Citizen’s Planning group gets to the task that they originally signed up to do. i.e. redistrict globally and have a plan for what to do with all these buildings.

So sad.

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ScienceTeacher671

April 11th, 2010
1:05 pm

Some years ago, we bought land in a different community where we hoped to build our dream home. Our children were much smaller then. The community was very rural, but there was a nice little elementary school about 7 miles away, with racial & economic diversity and lots of parental involvement.

Soon after we bought the land, and fortunately before we began building, the district decided to close the nearby school, IIRC because the state had just come out with the minimum size requirements. If we had built, our youngest would have had a 25 mile bus ride to kindergarten, which we felt was unacceptable. Many of the remaining residents chose instead a 35 mile commute to private school.

I suppose the community ended up fine without us, but I definitely understand the impact closing schools can have.

Familiar w/ this area

April 11th, 2010
1:26 pm

I would have liked to have seen these involved parents bring their children and their talents to Midway rather than moving away or sending their kids to private and charter schools. They would have been a great addition to that school.

tryingtoteach

April 11th, 2010
2:28 pm

“Should a budget-stressed school system consider the impact on the surrounding community when deciding which schools to close?” Yes it should because schools should be one of he most important anchors in neighborhoods. So many factors pull people away from each other: politics, religion, culture but a neighborhood public school can unify a neighborhood.

Cere

April 11th, 2010
2:35 pm

I think closing schools could be a very bad move for DeKalb overall. Our school system has already shuttered far too many buildings, leaving them empty, decreasing property values and causing blight in the area (Druid Hills is a disgrace). Heritage School is another example – this empty building has been serving as a place for late night parties – complete with bonfires – on the property behind the shuttered, unattended building.

Closing schools could be the straw that will break the economic recovery camel’s back of DeKalb. It’s quite possible that the school system may in fact damage property values to the point that tax collections will never again pay for decent schools.

This kind of knee-jerk reaction – without long-range vision is very dangerous. If you are going to close a school – you darn well need to have a productive long-term plan for those kids and that property. I don’t see that discussion happening at all. DeKalb schools already own so many abandoned, shuttered buildings that they cannot even provide a listing of them all. The plan currently on the table is to just close more buildings, leaving them abandoned and mowing the grass once in a while. Bad plan for the future of DeKalb County.

Private School Guy

April 11th, 2010
3:41 pm

The situation in Forest Hills and Avondale as mentioned in the first post points out some of the issue DeKalb schools have created by being unresponsive to communities that are concerned and involved with education. But looking at the schools that may be selected this week for closure most are in areas that were once overflowing with children and now have very few. Demographics change, it’s not a racial thing but and economic reality. What DeKalb Schools does not understand is that as schools improve so do the neighborhoods. As the neighborhoods improve the tax base increases and more money is available for the school system to create even better schools. To fail to understand this is very short sighted and destructive to the community at large.

alm

April 11th, 2010
3:43 pm

We need to redistrict the whole county but I don’t see that happening when 5 board members are up for re-election in November.

Reality

April 11th, 2010
4:19 pm

This goes to a bigger issue – what ARE the roles of a school?

The basic things a school should provide is the basic education to the children – the three Rs if you will. Yes, it includes the core subjects such as math, science, English, and social studies.

Beyond the core subjects is what I call education gravy – the music, the foreign language, etc. These are very important and great to have, but in no way do they trump the core subjects.

Beyond the subjects taught is the “extra-curricular” activities for the students. This includes the sports, the clubs, etc. These are ONLY the organized activities sponsored by the school.

Then, the school can open its doors to provide the “other” things for a community. Maybe this includes day care. Maybe this includes after school ‘baby sitting’ while the parents work. Maybe this includes social work for abused students.

I strongly feel that when cut backs are made, these SHOULD go in the order mentioned above. Cut out the fat BEFORE you cut out the necessities.

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Danielle

April 11th, 2010
5:09 pm

I left Dekalb County three years ago due to many reasons and I haven’t
looked back. My heart goes out to the students, parents, and citizens
who are trapped and can’t leave. God help them all and I pray that the
incompetent so can leaders will leave and allow qualified leaders to
try and fix the mess. President Obama inherited a mess similar to the
mess in Dekalb Co. After much hard work and deterimination, things are
looking a bit better. It will take years and years to straighten out George Bush’s MESS. It will also take years to fix the mess Halford and Lewis made. Dr. Johnny Brown was ousted because he was ready to straighten things out but the citizens on the North end of the county were afraid of him because he wanted “equality of all”. Crawford Lewis was a “yes” man to nonsense and Halford received repeated ” DUIs”. So much for leaders in the past 10 years or so. Halford got off the hook. I wonder why? Good ole boys network?

Only one thing matters

April 11th, 2010
5:22 pm

Only one thing matters if this blog is to do a public service this week. Only one thing:

KEEP THE PRESSURE ON!

Make sure the DOE is doing what they are supposed to be doing; flooding the schools suspected of cheating with monitors, and monitoring before, during, and especially after the testing.

It’s the right thing to do. For this blog, it far surpasses ANY other issue this week, because if we don’t have an honest testing process, we have ZERO way of holding officials who might take shortcuts accountable.

Write Your Board Members

April 11th, 2010
5:25 pm

Danielle

HUH? Brown wanted to close the theme schools in S. DeKalb. Did you know that? He thought that they were a joke. Those parents were running scared.

Brown was let go for many reasons — but forcing equity on the system wasn’t one of them.

Allen

April 11th, 2010
5:39 pm

DCSS really missed an opportunity when it shut ICS out of Forrest Hills 3 years ago, and denied ICS a middle school charter a little over 1 year ago. Putting aside all the other things a school like ICS does, it takes a burden–the burden of working with immigrant children with liimited English capabilities and often coming almost directly from a war-torn situation or a refugee camp–off of ‘mainstream’ schools.

But I guess it’s more important for the BOE to control every penny than it is for them to govern effectively.

What Luxury?

April 11th, 2010
5:41 pm

What luxury? Students in smaller schools are being left out because they are receiving less services in the school. They all currently are not receiving services such as art with materials, spanish,latin, strings, esol,more special ed teachers to share a case load, an additional school counselor, and several options for after school students.

catlady

April 11th, 2010
5:48 pm

Well, it depends on what you call a luxury. In terms of graduation (high school) and preparing for graduation (elementary and middle schools) smaller schools are a definite benefit to at risk students. With students of parents making more than, say, $200,000, they can do pretty well wherever they are sent (say, a closet, even, with no light bulb). However, for lower SES students, and those whose parents have less education, the smaller size acts as an ameliorating agent. As with most other things, pay for it on the front end, or pay for it THROUGH the back end. Check out research done on the huge, national NCES databases, such as NELS 88, for example.

I’d rather have a shot at saving those kids than have to provide welfare for them, and their children, and their grandchildren… Not to mention crime, “premature family formation,” etc.

Cut the glut of “supervisory” positions at all levels. Put the rubber where it meets the road, not in the penthouses.

Legend of Len Barker

April 11th, 2010
5:50 pm

It’s a double-edged sword.

For the negatives, you have a) cost of operation and b) worries about providing the best education for the kids. The state did a series of educational surveys in the 1910s and 1920s. There were tons of pure community schools and very, very few were effective. About 40 of these have surface online if anyone is interested in seeking them out. Of course, that said, this was a time when most counties had 30 elementary schools open, almost all of them one- or two-teacher.

The state began cracking down on rural elementaries in the mid/late 1980s. We were one of the last holdouts for rural county schools. We were forced to close our three K-8 schools (which averaged 12-13 teachers) in 1994.

While there was no money to provide anything fancy like clubs or any sports other than basketball, it did have some advantages. The teachers personally knew all the kids and their families. The teachers were more likely to band together. The kids were also closer. When a mentally challenged child moved in one year, they all befriended him. Whereas when the schools consolidated there weren’t the same bonds. Too much of a social and economic strata, I think.

There wasn’t much difference in social strata and I think it built more empathy.

The community also tended to embrace the school as it served as more than a school. The rural schools also usually had awesome fall festival carnivals, which made good money and brought everyone together.

I see the advantages and disadvantages of small schools.

catlady

April 11th, 2010
6:01 pm

Filter caught my 5:45 comment. Maybe this one will be released. I’m batting only .500 for the last few days in terms of ever seeing my comments in print. Maybe I should give up?

My system closed all but one of our community elementary schools and consolidated everyone else into two big, in-town schools. It has been an unmitigated horror. My county is very rural, but the only school that is still a community school runs rings around the others in terms of outcomes, behavior, parental involvement, etc. Students from it are way over-represented on (the only) high school honor grads list, but this is not an areas with higher SES than the others.

It is a small school, but years ago when the state threatened to pull funding, THE PARENTS CAME IN AND PAINTED AND REROOFED THE SCHOOL and it has survived to this day (it’s in about its 120th year, I think). The state said how much more the students could get in being bused to town in terms of class offerings and the parents said, “To heck with that–our kids get more here than you can measure!”

DeKalb Parent

April 11th, 2010
6:05 pm

Bravo Maureen! I had the same opinion of the AJC article today about Forest Hills — yes, it’s unfortunate when nearby schools close, and it may in fact have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood, but all of those concerns about property values, a community feeling, etc miss the point, which is that the education provided to the children of DeKalb County should be the best we can offer. Closing under-enrolled schools that cost thousands more per child makes sense, if those children can be offered the same or a better education in a school a few miles farther away. Saving money in this way alleviates the need for cost-cutting through measures that are more harmful to our children, such as the loss of music, art, paraprofessionals, and school days (due to teacher furloughs), as well as less time with the teacher due to increased class sizes. Closing school buildings will minimze the damage to what goes on in the classrooms. It is the teachers who have the biggest influence on our students’ performance, and if schools are closed, the County has said the teachers would go with the students to their new school. They’re just getting rid of buildings and administrators, two things of which this county has far too many. I think a lot of the hard feelings among DeKalb parents in this process stem from this: demanding that one’s school stay open despite the fact that it costs much more per student to operate is selfish and short-sighted. It is a neighborhood thumbing its nose at the rest of DeKalb, saying “having our kids’ school close by is worth the extra money all of DeKalb’s taxpayers have to pay, and we don’t care that every child in DeKalb will suffer classroom cuts as a result.” This is a very self-centered attitude that is not appreciated by other parents. (As an aside, it astounds me that anyone would fight to keep their neighborhood school open when it hasn’t even met AYP (which is true of two of the schools on the potential closings list). What are those parents thinking? “It may be a lousy school, but it’s convenient, so let’s keep it open”? I don’t know why they think that closing a failing school is going to harm their property values — its failure is already harming the neighborhood’s property values.)
It’s time for everyone to accept the hard reality of our times — we cannot afford to sustain what we have now. The choice we are left with is this: either we sacrifice buildings and convenience, or we sacrifice the quality of the education provided to all of DeKalb’s children. It seems to me an obvious choice.

catlady

April 11th, 2010
6:06 pm

Re the upcoming testing: I am hopeful that THE STATE will take charge of the test books and answer sheets each day and after testing at those schools or systems suspected of answer-changing, and allow access to them only when heavily monitored by trained observers. The key will be to lock the tests up each day and at the end where they can only be accessed by school personnel/district personnel in front of these monitors!

I look forward to seeing the test results this year for those schools.

catlady

April 11th, 2010
6:14 pm

Filter caught my 6:05 also.

Paulo977

April 11th, 2010
6:16 pm

What Luxury ….you are absolutely right !! The situation in the small poor African- American schoolis pathetic ! There used to be some art, music and other enrichment programs a while back , but after the ‘insane’ demand for higher scores on the darn standardized tests most of these schools cut out the very programs that would help to drive the academics . Any one who has studied EDUCATION must know that the cultural arts are a way of engaging the young in the business of cognitive response to the world and facilitating success which then carries over to academic areas. All that seems to go on now are drills and more drills and the scores get lower and lower providing an excuse to CLOSE this schools . As far as I am concerned this is RACISM …. call it what you will!!

Ernest

April 11th, 2010
6:28 pm

Maureen,

A clarification please. The vote by the Task Force to send a recommendation of closing no schools was one of symbolism. There were members of the Task Force that had either philosophical problems with recommending school closure or felt the burden of those decisions should rest with the BOE. That is why immediately after that vote, they voted to recommend sending the list of 10 schools they narrowed the list to to the BOE for consideration. It was recommended by the parliamentarian this be handled as two separate votes rather than one.

To the point of your blog, the DeKalb schools of the 50’s and 60’s were designed on purpose as small, neighborhood schools. I spoke to someone who went to school back then and they commented citizens complained at the time that some schools were built too small. One has to believe that Jim Cherry and the BOE during that time could not imagine what has become of the school system today. Unfortunately that model is not suited for today’s school system with the economic conditions the way they are.

A few years ago, DeKalb took three small, under-enrolled neighborhood schools (Leslie J. Steele, Terry Mill, and Tilson) and combined them into a new facility on the Steele site. I believe the McNair Academy represents what some neighborhoods may be forced to consider. There is probably enough capacity in some areas of the county of empty and/or specialty schools that could be used for temporary student housing IF the voters approve something like this. Students would be inconvenienced for a short period of time but will parents impacted be willing to consider this.

It is a fact that DeKalb has more schools than any other district in the state despite having the 3rd largest enrollment. As citizens become more aware and in tune with how local dollars are being used to fund and subsidize small schools, I believe the McNair Academy model will be offered as a remedy.

The BOE will look at high/middle schools in the next phase. As Very familar with Forrest Hills mentioned earlier, it is possible Avondale High and Middle may be considered for closure as a neighborhood school. Perhaps it could become the future centralized magnet cluster with a Performing Arts Academy included? Where is Dunwoody Mom when you need her?

Ernest

April 11th, 2010
6:42 pm

Check the filter please….

Values Education

April 11th, 2010
6:42 pm

Yet research shows us the one factor that matters the most in academic achievement is not class size, but the size of the school.

Maureen Downey

April 11th, 2010
6:59 pm

What Luxury, I mean the school size itself – 250 to 350 kids – at a time when many schools are 600 and 700 students. Maureen

catlady

April 11th, 2010
7:13 pm

At-risk kids need smaller schools. Period. They need teachers who will ALL support them (easier to do in a school with one or two classrooms per grade.) In the small school I wrote about earlier, we all knew EVERY KID’s name and felt free to call them on grades, behavior, etc. We also felt free to give pep talks to their parents when we saw them, as they were all “our kids.” At risk kids need a place that they can navigate without being lost in the crowd–a place where they fit in and belong–and, like Cheers, “where everyone knows your name.” The parents, many of whom were not highly educated (when I first started, the average school attainment for my children’s dads was 6th grade and for their moms it was 10th) were INVESTED in the school. They expected three things: their kids to work hard, including homework, their teachers to work hard and let them know if there was a problem, and their kids to behave (In 20 years I only had one parent not back me up when I called home.)

Yeah, we did not have an art or PE teacher. The regular classroom teachers had to teach those things. We got music once a week. But those same kids were being educated on far more than that! For a couple of years I figured our high school completion rate for the kids from our school who started as kindergarteners (less the few that moved away-a very stable population) and it was about 90%, at a time when our county’s rate was about 50%. Part of the reason why was that they got personal attention and investment at the beginning of their school careers.

Only one thing matters

April 11th, 2010
7:14 pm

KEEP THE PRESSURE ON AJC.

Nothing, NOTHING else matters if we can’t trust the integrity of the process.

What else could POSSIBLY matter, if school systems are allow to engage in widespread, massive cheating?

KEEP THE PRESSURE UP AJC, make sure the state people DO THEIR JOB and protect the process.

catlady

April 11th, 2010
7:16 pm

Another lost one…

don't want to give my name

April 11th, 2010
7:23 pm

Ernest—Dunwoody mom called my cell from a beach in Florida Friday. She’ll be back shortly. I think we all need to balance our focus at times. And you need to run for school board again. I still have two of your signs in my garage.

Educator2

April 11th, 2010
8:27 pm

@ DeKalb Parent, I agree with you. The closing of all the under capacity schools is needed. Why should the entire county lose paraprofessionals so these under capacity schools can stay open? Why should parents in over capacity schools pay taxes into a unfair school structure that allows a select few to stay in their under capacity schools? The DCSS needs a complete redistricting, which apparently the BOE does not see as a option.

@What Luxury, the under capacity schools in DCSS have PE, etc. The small school itself is a luxury.

Tam

April 11th, 2010
8:33 pm

As a parent in the Northlake area my children attend a “small” school and small schools have great benefits. However, it this economic climate I believe we all need to be flexible and understand that change must happen. While I don’t want to see Dekalb county have mega schools like Gwinnett,I do understand the need to close small schools.

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ScienceTeacher671

April 11th, 2010
9:32 pm

How many of these educational “innovations” such as the team concept and the idea of letting students have the same elementary teacher 2-3 years in a row are just attempts to get back to the “family” atmosphere of the small community school? As Catlady describes, there are definite advantages to smaller schools, particularly when the community is invested in them.

Jahmar

April 11th, 2010
9:44 pm

This is slightly off subject, however, this is a question I feel I should bring to everyones attention. When people discuss the effect of parental involvement in a child’s education are they simply stating that it has a huge impact on how well that child performs or do they have any genuine ideas on how to incentively make parents become involved? As a community, DOES ANYBODY have any ideas on how we can increase parental involvement or do we simply allow a child’s(& the community’s) future be destroyed because of bad parenting?

DUH

April 11th, 2010
10:15 pm

Let’s just go ahead and blame the school system for everything. What DeKalb needs are parents who are involved and care about education. It is crazy to say if a school closes I am going to make this an excuse not to be involved in a childs education. With a vast majority of non-involved parents DeKalb has reached its peak and on the way downward. Everyone is a critic but nobody can offer a valid solution. The DeKalb citizen/parent’s answer is we want we want we want as long as it is not me who has to pay. DeKalb has suffered great embarrasement with the actions of the superintendent who has just that attitude. Whats in it for me. Something has to be cut and someone has to choose. I say just just get it over with and cut. Cut the programs, close the schools, raise taxes and cut paying a super who is under investigation for criminal charges. No matter what his contract reads it should not cover his personal legal fees. He is being investigated not the school system. So why should the tax payers have to pay? Just the fact that the investigation was strong enough to have a warrent of this nature served should be enough to release him.

Parent of two students in DeKalb County

April 11th, 2010
10:18 pm

What some people are failing to realize is that when the school has a certain numbers of students (below 400, I think), the state DOES NOT fund that school. All of the money comes from the county. I know that some parents/students are upset about their schools possibly closing, let’s look at the big picture. If you kids is being bussed to the North side of Dekalb County, do you think that maybe they’ll get a better education? Yes, maybe they will have to get up a few minutes earlier, but in the end it will be worth it and you’ll be thanking God in the end. Believe me, I know. Let’s just pray and keep God in the mist of this ordeal. It’s only temporary. God you bless and DeKalb County. Lord, knows that we need it.

Grumpy

April 12th, 2010
12:03 am

Property values? That’s a funny one. These schools are in the armpit of the county. Property values are already in the toilet.

catlady

April 12th, 2010
7:08 am

Jahrmar–some suggestions, hopefully not too generic: First, your administration has to completely buy into the idea that parental involvement is good. We are not talking about just buying wrapping paper. That one is much harder than it seems–a no, duh! You’ve got to have a principal and CO that want parents involved. Secondly, you have to have teachers who don’t have an us-against- them attitude. That is also tough to come by, as teachers have been burned too much. Then, you have to create a welcoming climate. Another toughie, especially if your principal hates to talk to parents. Brainstorm things parents would be interested in–a hook to draw them in the first time so they can see it is not so scary. Many of our parents have few good memories of school themselves, at least in the neighborhoods I think we are talking about. Try putting all your efforts into one shebang program early in the year to dispell parental fears. Finally, for this program, pull out the stops on door prizes and food! Repeat. In a couple of years you should see some difference, as word gets out.

8 years ago I started a program at our school targeting the Latino parents. We only do it a few times a year, but it has paid huge dividends in terms of parental assistance and goodwill. We routinely have 125+ parents and kids come to this. (Contrast this with our PTA, which pulls in less than a dozen white non-teachers). Some of the walls have been broken down; Latino parents now show up for other special occasions IN DROVES, far disproportionate to their numbers in our school. It has spread to other schools in our county as well, although their numbers have not been so high.

I imagine you know all this, but this is what has helped us. I wish we would target the other parents now, but all my energy goes to this group.

Gwinnett Parent

April 12th, 2010
7:11 am

If it is so important to these parents to keep their small schools open, they should try to find private funding to cover the shortfall. It costs $1,500-$2,000 more per student. They can pay out of their own pockets or have a fundraiser for the difference. Why should they have more $$ per student than the rest of the county? Everyone needs to be open to the idea of private funds. No, it’s not racism. It’s simple economics. Hopefully people can look at the numbers instead of the color of the student’s skin. Considering anything other than the numbers is racist. Also, it’s not the school’s responsibility to uphold property values. Property values are a function of the community. Yes, good schools increase values. However, the goal is not achieved from taxpayer funding alone.

Dunwoody Mom

April 12th, 2010
7:30 am

I’m not sure if I buy into this neighborhood school argument. Gwinnett County Schools are mega-schools, not neighborhood schools and it has not seemed to affect their property values other than what the current economy has had on them. If the schools are good, then I don’t think it matters much close one lives to them. I know it would not matter to me.

Very familiar with Forrest Hills

April 12th, 2010
8:09 am

Catlady is right about parental involvement not be a two way street. Example regarding the “problem leadership” at Avondale Elementary. I know a parent with a degree in special ed who had a child that at a young age needed speech theapy—which she took him to AE twice weekly for an hour or so to receive. During that hour, as she waited, she was approached by several kids dying for attention that were also English Language Learners. With the full knowledge of the pre-K teacher, she started reading to one or two of them twice a week and developed a special relationship with them. As soon as that new Principal noticed it, she immediately put a stop to it—the excuse being that there was a policy that required all volunteers to have a criminal background check. My friend had no problem with submitting to that process—but after 4 different attempts to find out what the procedure was to get one done so that she could continue, she gave up in frustration. Finallly accepting that that principal just didn’t want any volunteers from the Avondale Estate community in HER school. So those poor kids have lost that relationship.

Very familiar with Forrest Hills

April 12th, 2010
10:39 am

I was typing too fast. I meant to say in the prior post that for parental or community involvement to work–it requires the people in the schoolhouse to welcome it. I might also add to the story above that the community volunteer was white, as are many of the individuals of both the Avondale Education Association as well as the Forrest Hills Community Coalition, and the student population in both Avondale Elementary and Forrest Hills was overwhelmingly poor and either black or immigrant. Avondale Elementary staff welcomed community involvement until the problem principal arrived at Avondale, causing huge staff turnover her first year and lots of complaints. This was ignored by the powers that be at the central office. It would be very easy to attribute this to racism—but whose? The citizens of Avondale Estates, the new principal, or the central office’s? The prior principal at Avondale that the Avondale Elementary Association worked well with and supported was black, as was the new one. I later had an interesting conversation with a very articulate Avondale Estates father–who happened to be black. He had had his daughter at Avondale Elementary and had been happy there but moved her to ICS shortly after the new principal arrived there. He told me that when the new principal arrived, everything changed there, and when it became obvious that she was being protected by the central office, he knew there was nothing that could be done, so he moved his child.

Emily

April 12th, 2010
11:03 am

As a product of the Dekalb Count Education system, I find this entire debate a bit odd.
Closing these schools is not being put forward in boom times out of fun. The county’s education budget is weeks away from failing. The students at schools that are being considered are enrolled at schools that, while I was in Dekalb county, were eligible for relocation to other schools through the M2M program. Why is it, that less than a decade later, these neighborhoods were full of students who were desperate to leave their “neighborhood schools” to be bussed for over an hour to a different elementary school, are suddenly so loathe to be bussed maybe 10 extra minutes to a school near them to be educated?
Why is it that claims of the “intense community involvement” at neighborhood schools are being made in the same breath as claims that these kids are “high risk” and need to be catered to? If there was intense community involvement and parental investment in the education of these children at these schools, they would not be high risk, and would not need to be catered to. If the children are high risk, it is because of neighborhood and family conditions due to lack of involvement and investment, and there is no reason to focus on keeping them in the same environment that has created the high risk situation!
I understand that it is hard to watch your child’s educational venue debated in a committee, but there is an 88 million dollar budget deficit to be considered. These schools are operating well below capacity, at an extreme cost to the county. Closing the schools will save money and give the children in those neighborhoods the ability to attend schools where the teachers get paid and the utilities are on, while riding busses that have gas in them, to learn on computers that work. If the budget deficit is not closed, it is not the venue of education that will be debated, but the ability of Dekalb to educate at all.

Ernest

April 12th, 2010
11:05 am

Thanks for the ’shout out’ don’t want to give my name! I hope to continue making contributions to the school district and community at large. Whether it will be as a school board candidate/member remains to be seen. There are MANY great citizens throughout the county that take their ’stake’ in the school system seriously.

Let me throw something out for discussion, based on catlady’s comments on the need for smaller schools for at risk kids. I will ‘assume’ most are not in favor of policies based solely on race. Would anyone support policies based on socioeconomic status (SES)? to the point, could you support a lower teacher/pupil ratio based on the SES/IEP of the students? I’m not calling these children ’special education’ candidates but ’special needs’ based on their SES? I know through Title 1 additional resources are provided (outside of the general budget), some which can address what I brought up but would anyone support this at the school district level rather than at the state level?

At the end of the day, we want to do our best to improve student performance. I can say my kids would probably continue to do well in a slight larger environment. What about those that need that smaller environment, especially in the early years? Determining optimum class sizes should be based upon more than an algorithm.

Realist

April 12th, 2010
11:55 am

So much attention has been given to the $2.2 million that can be saved by closing schools, that little attention has been paid to the other $113.8 million (isn’t $116 million the projected budget deficit at this point?) Ms. Tyson and the BOE have a single objective – preserve all jobs outside the classrooms at DCSS. With the exception of the 150 Central Office cuts, all of the personnel cut and hundreds of teacher positions not filled are inside the schoolhouse. I’m not even sure if the Central Office cuts are really at the Central Office. I’ve read that there are positions actually inside the schoolhouse that have been moved on paper to the Central Office in order to subject them to cuts.

What a distraction this $2.2 million savings has been! I expect that tonight at the budget meeting, Ms. Tyson and the BOE will do exactly what they want to do and our children will be the losers. We’ll end up with an even greater percentage of our employees outside the schoolhouse.

Dunwoody Mom

April 12th, 2010
11:58 am

Ernest, honestly, you make too much sense – that alone disqualifies you for the DCSS BOE. There is so much that could be done with merging campuses, magnet programs, etc. that would save money and really academically make sense. Seriously, though I hope you will run and I would vote for you if I could. btw,I had a wonderful spring break trip, though it was not to Florda. But, there are 30 schools days left and I’m ready to go!!!

There was much community angst when Nancy Creek was closed several years ago, but from what I have heard, those students that were merged into Montgomery have adjusted and their parents are extremely happy.

As Ernest states, middle/high schools are next and redistricting. Ah, yes, redistricting in Dunwoody. Let the fireworks begin.

Cere

April 12th, 2010
12:11 pm

Good idea, Ernest. Title 1 money used to go for exactly the cause you cite: to work with at-risk children directly in math and English skills. Sadly, our leadership has morphed Title 1 into an enormous jobs program – using the money to hire literally hundreds of people to monitor teachers. These people have done nothing to improve performance, and in fact have served to only pile more paperwork on teachers, decreasing morale.

Unless and until our school leaders put the bulk of our resources as close to the student as possible, things will not improve.

Again, I say – what kind of damage will vacant schools cause to neighborhoods and property values? The board reps I have heard from are against selling off these properties – so they are apparently fine with leaving empty buildings around the county.

Here’s a short list of some of the vacant DeKalb schools currently causing neighborhood decline and/or blight:

Heritage ES
The entire Druid Hills Campus
Forrest Hills ES
Tilson ES
Terry Mill ES
The old Chamblee Middle (old Shallowford ES)
The Admin offices on North Decatur Road (after move to the new Mtn Industrial Center)

These 9 people on the board of education control almost 75% of our property tax dollars. I don’t think they are protecting property values in the least with these decisions to abandon buildings around the county. They will only cause property values to decline further – eroding their own ability to fund their mission. (Which should simply be to educate our children.)

The law does not allow a building to sit empty for much over 2 years, without having to be rebuilt to code in order to return to service. If you close buildings – sell them or at least tear them down.

@ Ernest

April 12th, 2010
12:41 pm

I taught in DeKalb for 31 years at a number of schools from low income to middle income to upper income, and achievement does tend to track with income. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think you will find a lot of support from middle and upper income parents when it comes to a blanket rue making class sizes smaller for lower income/lower achieving schools by utilizing DCSS general funds. All parents are competitive, especially when it comes to their children. Current worries about globalization making it harder for their children to obtain and maintain jobs in the future are making them even more anxious. Their theory is that they pay a disproportionate share of the school bill through property taxes. Why should they stay in DeKalb and pay more for less?

Title 1 funds should be used to provide teachers who work directly with struggling math and reading students. Title 1 funds should follow the students to the schools, and most of the budgetary decisions should come from the Title 1 school personnel, not Central Office personnel. This is the way Gifted funds are handled very efficiently and effectively for gifted students, due to state regulations. For years, the DCSS Central Office used to pool Gifted funds and dole them out as they saw fit. When the state told them gifted funds needed to follow gifted students, what a positive difference it made for gifted students!

I have seen a tremendous difference since the Central Office appropriated most of the decision making for Title 1 funds in the 2000’s, and it has not been positive. DCSS has around $30,000,000 a year in Title 1 funds (and millions more in Stimulus money recently). Title 1 funds are meant to equalize educational opportunities for lower income students. Dedicated Title 1 teachers teaching small classes of struggling math and reading students was a very successful model followed in the 80s and 90s. Used wisely, $30,000,000 can make a huge impact on struggling students. If you go to the DOE Georgia website, you will see that Title 1 educational achievement indices have not budged in the last 5 years. No gains are shown and no one seems to be responsible, certainly not the decision makers.

Other programs that will benefit all students who are struggling with basic math, reading and writing skills can be instituted out of general funds. They may benefit some schools more than others since some schools have a higher population of “high risk” students. Gifted funds do that now in higher income schools. Some high income/high gifted population elementary schools have as many as 5 more teachers due to gifted money following the students – thus their class sizes are lowered. They have more teachers teaming with the regular ed class teachers so there are often 2 teachers working with 25 students.

The key is to provide “boots on the ground” – i.e. teachers working directly with students in classes small enough to give “high risk” learners the individual attention they need.

You are exactly right that middle and upper income students do not suffer anywhere near the educational consequences that the lower income students do in large classes.

I hope you run for BOE member again. I will certainly donate to your campaign and work for your election.

Heard It All Before

April 12th, 2010
4:42 pm

Speaking of taking the necessary pain in a time of unprecedented budget devastation, more than a year ago, Crawford Lewis warned us all to prepare for a new bus zone policy effective with the 2009-10 school year: No more bus service within a 1.5-mile radius of the school (this was on top of the new hub-and-spoke system). That affects my fifth-grader and we made alternative plans, but like so many of the trial balloons out of the central office, the plan vanished as though it was never uttered. Can this administration and board not even push through that straightforward a belt-tightening measure?