DeKalb faces challenges in upcoming redistricting

Redistricting is a chilling experience for everyone involved, the affected families and the school administrators. It’s especially true when families feel they are being drawn out of a beloved school or feeder system.

That is a deep concern in north DeKalb, where parents are gathering tonight at a redistricting meeting at Henderson Middle School at 6:30. Parents in the Leafmore neighborhood fear the possibility that they will be shifted from the Oak Grove/Henderson/Lakeside feeder system to the Sagamore/Shamrock/Druid Hills system.

At this point, DeKalb is in the discussion and planning stages of redistricting. As the recent school closing hearings in DeKalb demonstrated, parents will rise up quickly even at the suggestion that their children could be tapped for redistricting.

The challenge in DeKalb County is that growth has slowed in the south end of the county, which had been a hotbed of new housing a few years ago. During the school closing hearings, system officials shared stark numbers that showed half-empty classrooms in many south DeKalb areas. But many schools continue to draw new students in the north end of the county.

That north/south line is both a geographic and a racial one in DeKalb, which makes this conversation all the more strained.

DeKalb Schools are surveying parents. Most of the responses have been from elementary school parents. The survey gives the number of respondents by schools. The top five were Fernbank Elementary with 150 responses; Montgomery with 106; Vanderlyn with 105; Austin with 62 and Briar Vista with 46.

Asked the most important factors in redistricting, respondents listed these as their top three: Keeping communities intact (672), geographic proximity (610) and instructional capacity (486).

I don’t envy anyone in DeKalb as redistricting is never easy, and there are factors in this discussion that will make it even more complicated and volatile.

–By Maureen Downey, AJC Get Schooled blog

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Dr. Tim

November 29th, 2010
1:33 pm

All I can say to DeKalb admnistrators is good luck. People get very emotional about what school their child attends, even if they don’t get care about anything else.

Ernest

November 29th, 2010
1:41 pm

Tough decisions must be made as the district is losing state money due to having over 10,000 empty seats throughout the district. We are simply seeing the natural evolution of population shifts over time.

In the mid to late eighties, DeKalb closed/restructured many schools in central and north DeKalb due to ‘white flight’ (partly due to the M to M program) and converting to junior high/middle school model. With the exception of when new schools were built, that may have been the last time that redistricting was done. Will ’squeaky wheels’ prevent the best decisions for all students and the commmunity to be implemented? This will be interesting…..

Trbinado

November 29th, 2010
1:49 pm

I’m beyond disappointed that teacher quality was of 3rd most importance on these questionnaires.

ABC

November 29th, 2010
1:49 pm

Dr. Tim: people get “emotional” because they have invested a lot of time, money, and resources into living in a particular district. For me personally, I am very active in my kids’ school and would HATE to be districted out of it. Also, my husband and I have made sacrifices and live in a house that’s smaller and shabbier because we wanted to be in a particular school district. We could have bought a nicer and bigger home in a not so good elementary school, but we decided that our children education is worth it.

So yes, people care! and they should!

Dekalbite

November 29th, 2010
1:51 pm

Fernbank parents will probably prevail in the end. They have the money and influence to ensure their community school stays intact, and they have a lot of motivation to succeed in leaving their community and school virtually untouched. Many of them have paid $50,000 to $100,000 more to live in houses that are zoned into Fernbank. Consider that as housing prices went down all over Atlanta, they rose in the Fernbank community. Not many people were laid off from CDC or Emory where so many of these individuals work. MDs, PhDs, law degrees, etc. are the norm for this group. Many are politically active and involved in the business end of a wealthy university. The average Fernbank house valuation is close to $500,000, and there are many very modest ranch houses in the Emory/Fernback area that cost a premium to buy.

Willivee Drive is one street over from Medlock Elementary School. These are very tiny brick homes from the 40s and 50s. If you live on one side of the street you are zoned to Medlock (a short 3 or 4 minute walk). If you live on the other side, you are zoned to Fernbank and bused there. Houses look exactly alike, but people have paid tens of thousands more to live on the Fernbank side. Scottdale public housing is zoned into Medlock so their test scores, PTA wealth and support, etc. is much less than Fernbank.

Fernbank is a lovely tree filled area close to downtown, midtown and Emory. As for Fernbank elementary School, the PTA is wealthy and active, Emory University is a close partner with them, they have lots of extra gifted funds, teachers teach to the top because they have so many top students, and they have a successful IB program in place so students can feed into the Druid Hills IB program (top students in classes of 17 with highly qualified teachers).

Fernbank parents have much on the line as they have spent years carving out and created a high quality education for the students in their community in the midst of a failing school system. My money is on these politically influential, news savvy, and high achieving Fernbank group. They have been a quiet group because they have an educational oasis in the midst of a desert. But they are a sleeping giant. I would not want to be the one that wakes them up.

B. Killebrew

November 29th, 2010
1:53 pm

Do the Leafmore people realize that Sagamore Hills is a great elementary school? And that Druid Hills High School seems to have its act together (at the moment) more so than Lakeside? And finally–that Shamrock is comparable to Henderson?

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
1:56 pm

Ditto what Ernest said…Hopefully, DCSS will have the backbone to do what is best for the entire school system and not just the few “squeaky wheel” parent groups.

And the Dunwoody/Vanderlyn redistricting is going to get ugly, ugly, ugly.

catlady

November 29th, 2010
2:09 pm

Ernest: You can’t say “evolution” in Georgia! Especially on a school blog!

Dekalbite

November 29th, 2010
2:10 pm

“And the Dunwoody/Vanderlyn redistricting is going to get ugly, ugly, ugly.”

And who can blame them. Schools are so uneven all over DeKalb County that people who move into this county count on their own efforts to make a school functional for their kids. Educational offerings and experiences vary widely from school to school, and our Central Office administration and BOE seems incapable of governing in an efficacious manner. Parents do not trust this BOE and administration to be able to put aside politics when making these decisions. Meanwhile, their children’s education is at stake, and many parents do not want to opt for private school in this economically uncertain times. Those that have children in high achieving schools do not want to rock the boat.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
2:14 pm

My kids didn’t go to Vanderlyn and they are doing very well. To assume that a child cannot get a good education at another Dunwoody elementary school is insulting, but then again, we’re used to that attitude.

oldtimer

November 29th, 2010
2:22 pm

Dekalbite..I agree with you. Many people bought their home in the area with the schools that were the best. Fernbank is wonderful. Hendersone..excellent. I, though am of the belief that parents should be able to choose the schools they want for their children. So many of Dekalb’s schools are awful. Maybe the thing to do would to be to makesomeof them “academies” or ‘charter school”. I now live in TN and it seems to be improving some schools in Nashville.

John

November 29th, 2010
2:23 pm

“keeping communities intact” == PC way of saying “we don’t want our kids in school with those monkeys” or “we don’t want our kids in school with those crackers”.

IOW: Racism, pure and simple.

Jeff

November 29th, 2010
2:27 pm

In my experience as a former teacher, the NUMBER ONE factor in a child’s education:

His or her own internal motivation.

The NUMBER TWO factor:

his or her parents’ providing stinging external motivation – whether via belt on backside or withholding the electronics, whatever gets the kid’s attention and makes that motivation internal.

Schools have little to nothing to do with it, and parents just use them as a convenient scape goat for their own dismal failure.

Sagamore/Shamrock Mom

November 29th, 2010
2:27 pm

I love Shamrock Middle School. All the parents that have children at Henderson complain to me about the numerous problems. I wish all of Sagamore Hills would go to these schools.

Dekalbite

November 29th, 2010
2:32 pm

My child didn’t go to Oak Grove, and she has been very successful as well. But our local school functions just fine. I worked in almost every elementary school in DCSS (middle and high as well), and there is considerable variation in services from school to school. DCSS needs to concentrate on standardizing facilities, faculty qualifications and course offerings. Title 1 funds need to be spent at the local school level to help “level the playing field” between the schools with wealthy PTAs and those with very little in the way of parental support. There are schools in DCSS where teachers spend most of their day teaching students who are below grade level in reading and math and handling discipline problems. To say all our schools offer equal opportunities to all our students is disingenuous at best.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
2:36 pm

I don’t recall anyone saying that all schools offer equal opportunities. That is one of the reasons for the Eduational Site assessments done by the consulting firm assisting DCSS with the closing/redistricting venture – to actually have documented what is offered in each school and if it is offered in an appropriate setting.

Dekalbite

November 29th, 2010
2:45 pm

“I don’t recall anyone saying that all schools offer equal opportunities.”

Well, that’s the number 1 reason for the resistance to rezoning. Much of what makes schools uneven in DCSS is parental involvement and PTA wealth. School achievement swings widely in DCSS when it comes to those variables. That’s why it’s so critical that Title 1 funds be used wisely. I will say that they have not been used wisely because the main purpose of Title 1 funds is to close that parental involvement and PTA wealth gap which shows up in lower student achievement for too many students in poorer schools. Student achievement in Title 1 schools has gone down – not up. I’m not aware that the Educational Site assessments done the consulting firm will address those critical issues so rezoning will be contentious.

Mid DeKalb mom

November 29th, 2010
2:48 pm

If the county had redistricted as often as it needed to, this wouldn’t be such a problem. Other large, urban and suburban school districts do this every 3-5 years. People are used to it, they know that the people who live around them will move with them and that their kids will know people at the new school. I wish DeKalb would just get it done with and let us move on. Let people settle in, get things done in their new schools, and then look for the redistricting to happen again in 3 years. It isn’t traumatic if they do it regularly and openly. The main thing they need to do before this will work, though, is come up with some minimum set of educational services that every school will have so that there are not tremendous differences. There will always be some differences, but not all of the resources or points should be counted per school. For example, if one school has 2 1/2 gifted teachers and another school has none, the school that has none should get at least .5 regardless of the points “earned” by that school. I think PE, music, art, and gifted should be in the minimum criteria. I am not so concerned with the foreign language as a requirement in every school, at least on the elementary level.

Dunwoody parent

November 29th, 2010
2:59 pm

Dunwoody Mom,

Just because a family wants to stay in the school they chose does not have to mean something negative to the other schools. Dunwoody Mom,
your views across all the blogs definitely show your bias and angst toward other people in your community that do not think like you.

Dunwoody parent

November 29th, 2010
3:00 pm

Also, nowhere has it been stated for fact that DES will be repurposed.

Jim

November 29th, 2010
3:02 pm

John@2:23pm: Those same racists have been supporting John Lewis, Cynthia McKinney (when in the district), and Barack Obama overwhelmingly in elections. The folks around Fernbank are fighting to keep their kids in place as opposed to keeping others out.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
3:05 pm

@Dunwoody parent – I beg to differ – this “redistricting” issue is a hot topic in Dunwoody – I cannot venture to the grocery store without over-hearing conversations about it. And yes, I’ve heard many negative and insulting commments about other Dunwoody elementary schools, so please do not accuse me of “angst and bias” – that’s a little dramatic don’t you think?

Both Jim Redovian and Nancy Jester have said that Dunwoody ES should be returned to a K-5 school.

pierre1852

November 29th, 2010
3:05 pm

Someone said earlier that Medlock receives students from Scottdale. How is this possible when both McLendon Elementary and Avondale Elementary are much closer? It seems too that many Druid Hills High students virtually watch Clarkston High or Avondale High from their school bus windows in the morning and afternoon, and that both these schools have very low enrollment numbers and therefore many empty seats. Is it something to do with old time anti-segregationist/busing policies? Am I just being naive in thinking that the re-drawn lines should have students going to the school that is closest to them? Why is that principle not at work? I’m new to this issue, so maybe I’m missing something obvious here (Civil Rights? Desegregation hangover?).

Teacher

November 29th, 2010
3:10 pm

It doesn’t matter where a child goes to school as long as parents are involved.

alm

November 29th, 2010
3:10 pm

DeKalb voters in school districts 1 and 7 don’t forget to vote in the runoff election tomorrow!

District 1
Nancy Jester
James Redovian

District 7
Donna Edler
Zepora Roberts

lynn d

November 29th, 2010
3:25 pm

Pierre

DeKalb has to many schools that are to close together.

In our case, we are between a mile and a mile and half from three, maybe 4, elementary schools.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
3:26 pm

@Dekalb parent – how do you relieve the overcrowding at Vanderlyn, Austin and Chesnut without “repurposing” Dunwoody Elementary?

Cere

November 29th, 2010
3:51 pm

“That north/south line is both a geographic and a racial one in DeKalb, which makes this conversation all the more strained.”

I hope everyone is aware that of almost 100,000 students in DCSS, less than 10,000 (10%) are white. In fact nearly 12,000 are Hispanic. And well over 70% are African-American. I would say that the “north/south divide” is more of a leftover perception of racial division rather than a reality for most of our schools countywide. Although most of the 10% of the whites and 12% Hispanics live in the north end, the north and central is very racially diverse with many African-Americans as well as refugees and immigrants from all over the world. For example, how many schools in south DeKalb provide ESOL or International schools?

Dunwoody parent

November 29th, 2010
3:52 pm

Redistrict a little, and include Kingsley.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
3:56 pm

What do you mean “redistrict a little”?

dunwoody parent

November 29th, 2010
4:13 pm

Balance the enrollment at the then 4 k-3 schools as best as possible. I most definitely agree with you that all three schools provide excellent education. I like the 4-5 concept, and am not opposed to redistricting altogether, even if it means me.

dunwoody parent

November 29th, 2010
4:14 pm

Make that all the Dunwoody feeder schools

Ernest

November 29th, 2010
4:15 pm

I would say that the “north/south divide” is more of a leftover perception of racial division rather than a reality for most of our schools countywide.

Well said Cere! It has become a ‘convenient’ allegation by some to intimidate.

Adding to the comments by Jeff and Teacher, my children attend schools in south DeKalb and I believe they received a quality education. Where I felt it was lacking, I along with my wife supplemented their instruction. Regretfully involved and engaged parents are a ‘minority’ in some schools and they grow frustrated with environments that focus more on remediation than enrichment. I believe everyone agrees that one’s address should not define the quality of education their children receive but there are realities the schools have to face with respect to the other children that may come ill prepared for school.

Finding a school and/or teacher that can use differentiated instructional methods in teaching classes with varied abilities and learning styles would be a coup. Otherwise, we may need to consider ability grouping to ensure each child receives what they need to reach their potential.

tutorcation.com

November 29th, 2010
4:18 pm

Hence the reason why we need more support teachers (not necessarily ESL) to fill in the learning gaps that occur every time these kids get shuffled around. I personally tutor several kids in South Gwinnett that missed certain core skills during the shuffle. Same thing happens whenever a county “improves” a program, such as math.
I sure wish we’d let the “market” fix the problem with learning vouchers. If poorly-run businesses close down due to inefficiency, so should poorly-run schools. Let the parents control where their kids attend, and watch the market straighten it out. I used to teach in DeKalb, and knew of several teachers who certainly didn’t deserve to be there, much less get paid for it. Yet they’re guaranteed a job each year due to “tenure”.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
4:22 pm

I have heard that DES would be “at capacity” within a few years – I guess we’ll wait and see if Dan Drake’s data backs that up. If so, a little thinking “outside the box” might be called for.

Good grief

November 29th, 2010
4:25 pm

Mid DeKalb Mom @2:48 is SO correct! I taught in the fastest-growing school district in the United States in the 1980’s and parents there accepted that redistricting would occur every few years. This DID keep the schools equitable….it was UNHEARD of that one school would have more programs than another. The exception was the a magnet for science and math that–of course–had more math and science teachers. But everything else was equal.

B. Killebrew

November 29th, 2010
4:33 pm

@pierre (and others):

It is important to peruse the current district boundaries in order to best understand the situation.

These links will be very helpful for everyone participating in this blog topic. Please read and view:

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/planning/files/ES%20Attendance%20Area.pdf

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/planning/files/Middle%20School%20Attendance%20Area.pdf

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/planning/files/High%20School%20Attendance%20area.pdf

B. Killebrew

November 29th, 2010
4:35 pm

pierre,

You will see that the Scottdale Area is divided between McLendon, Indian Creek, Midway, Avondale, and Medlock

B. Killebrew

November 29th, 2010
4:36 pm

And more, pierre:

You have to remember that a lot of the Druid Hills High Zone is the former Shamrock High Zone–most of Shamrock was absorbed by Druid Hills.

Dekalbite@ Jim 3:02 pm

November 29th, 2010
4:44 pm

LOL
“The folks around Fernbank are fighting to keep their kids in place……….” is just a euphemism for ““keeping communities intact” “.

Dekalbite@

November 29th, 2010
4:50 pm

Enter your comments here

Dekalbite@Ernest

November 29th, 2010
4:55 pm

“Finding a school and/or teacher that can use differentiated instructional methods in teaching classes with varied abilities and learning styles would be a coup. Otherwise, we may need to consider ability grouping to ensure each child receives what they need to reach their potential.”

Many teachers know how to use differentiated instructional methods, however class sizes of over 30 will probably guarantee this will rarely happen. DCSS cutting almost 500 teacher positions in the last two years rather than fund the classroom and cut in the admin and support area has contributed to this problem. Please talk with some good teachers and ask them how much differentiated instruction they can do with 30 or 33 or 36 kids in a class. I agree that with the class sizes DCSS currently has, ability grouping is about the only way to go.

Allen

November 29th, 2010
5:17 pm

I have a hard time with the “we bought our home in this district because of the good schools” argument against being redistricted. Putting aside anything else those loaded words might mean, the fact is the good schools in that district were created by someone else’s years of effort with the local PTA, local principal, etc.–not your effort if you only moved in 5 years ago or less. Maybe if you get redistricted you’ll have the opportunity to do that work yourself in your new school home. :)

Dekalbite

November 29th, 2010
6:02 pm

“I taught in the fastest-growing school district in the United States in the 1980’s and parents there accepted that redistricting would occur every few years. This DID keep the schools equitable”

That’s true that redistricting every few years would force all parents to care about all schools. After all, your child might end up in another school. But this is not the way they think. The pact with the DCSS administration has been – keep us intact, leave us alone, and we’ll take care of our kids. If lu do that we won’t make noise about anything else that goes on in the system.

col

November 29th, 2010
6:32 pm

Dunwoody Mom

That is not a decision a board member should be making. Rather, their role is to vote on the recommendations made by the staff to them.

Dunwoody Mom

November 29th, 2010
6:56 pm

@col – I agree with you – wholeheartedly!!!

ABC

November 29th, 2010
7:05 pm

Allen: NO THANKS. I have ZERO interest in sacrificing my chidlren’s education in an effort to improve a crappy school.

another dekalb parent

November 29th, 2010
7:46 pm

Everyone pays taxes and deserves a good education and if you purchase a home on the fringe of a school district and don’t ask basic questions about schools in the next district, you have not planned adequately. This sounds harsh, but it is not like it is hard to find out if your school is overcrowded and may be redistricted. A good school is a magnet and just like anything else in life, when there is overcrowding, something will have to shift. Fernbank is extremely overcrowded and with 24 students in a first grade class with no aide, it may not be your best option. Just like the families in very valuable homes who were shifted from Morningside to the new SPARK Elementary in APS, it is up to the parents to make it work. This is the price we pay for a public education system.

col

November 29th, 2010
8:31 pm

24 students in a first grade class with no aide,

That is a permitted class size. Don’t presuem that if students are redistricted that class size will shrink. Teachers will be pulled as well.