Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chamblee High Packed for DCSS Meeting; Is DeKalb Facing Discrimination Lawsuit over Redistricting?

Maybe the Atlanta Hawks are having trouble drawing large crowds, but not DeKalb County School System for its public input workshops on redistricting.  Thursday night's gathering at Chamblee High School not only filled the gymnasium, but the school's cafeteria as well.  Guessing the number in attendance is not a specialty of mine, but I'd say there was easily over 1,000, including a Who's Who of Dunwoody politicians.  State Senator Fran Miller was there, so too State Representative Tom Taylor, Dunwoody Councilors Adrian Bonser, John Heneghan and Robert Wittenstein, as well as Bob Lundsten, chief of staff for DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer.  As you might expect, newly-elected DCSS board member Nancy Jester was there (Nancy seems to be Omnipresent these days), soaking up all the thoughts of her constituents.
I'll give DCSS a solid "A" grade for the workshop's format and the manner in which it was conducted.  It seemed that everyone that wanted "a say" had it, and all voices were heard (which is why the meeting extended well into the night).
The masses were broken up into groups of 8-to-10 (although a few "bleacher" groupings were of 20 or more), and after an hour of consulting with one another, each group was given 90 seconds to summarize.
Among the common themes I heard concerning the Dunwoody cluster:
  • Dunwoody residents should go attend school in Dunwoody
  • Elementary school attendance zones should be vertically drawn
  • Multi-family developments should be equally distributed among the elementary schools
  • 900 students is too much for an elementary school
  • Keep neighborhoods together
A common thread countywide was that perhaps DCSS is acting too fast in redrawing lines, and needs to slow down the process.  However, it's understandable that the school system wants to move ahead, as it needs to cut the budget, as well as consolidate schools to receive more state funding. 
Lundsten had the line of the night when he said, "all will be solved when we move to Milton County."  Bob, don't we wish!

DeKalb Facing Discrimination Lawsuit over Redistricting? 

WSBTV -- A former school board member says part of the plans to redistrict hundreds of DeKalb County students to new schools could lead to a lawsuit. He says the plans divide students along socio-economic lines.

“It’s too much, too soon,” Jim Redovian told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik.
Under two proposals set before county leaders, several hundred students would be moved from Vanderlyn and Austin elementary schools to Dunwoody Elementary School.
Click WSBTV to read the full story.


Bob Lundsten said...

For the record, my Milton County "line" was said tongue in cheek and taken out of context.

It was small talk banter that in no way was meant to lessen the importance of the issues that the Dunwoody Schools face now

It is Bob's way of trying to get me in trouble with my boss in DEKALB County

If you are waiting for Milton County to fix the school problems, I would not be holding my breath.
Your first grader maybe at UGA before we see that.

I must say no matter how this all works out, whether the school board actually listens to all of these concerns expressed last night, the meeting was remarkable. Everyone got to be heard, opinions express and it was done very well especially since the crowd was HUGE.

Bob Lundsten

Dunwoody Mom said...

Thanks Bob for the recap.

PolitiMom said...

I didn't think your summary accurately described the most spoken points of the night--unless you were in the cafeteria and their discussion was different than in the gym. What I heard at almost every table in the gym were three things:
1) Keep Dunwoody kids in Dunwoody
2) Equitable distribution of single- and multi-family dwellings
3) Keep magnets in place and replicate their success in other parts of the county.

I also heard more support of making DES K-5 that what you indicate. The only ones that want to keep it 4-5 are Vanderlyn and Chesnut parents. Ask an Austin parent how long it takes for their child to get to and from DES. Or ask a Kingsley parent how their child deals with only knowing a fraction of his class when he gets to PCMS.

It was a good summary of events--just want to set the record straight on the sentiments expressed.

Bob Fiscella said...

Look, whether we admit it or not or even realize it, we all have a bias.
My summary of last night's meeting hit on the points that I heard over and over.
PolitiMom - thanks for your amendments - I agree with what you said. We repeatedly heard that parents want the magnet schools to remain where they are, and we repeatedly heard that parents want to return to the K-5 model (although I will say that speaking with numerous teachers, they tell me the K-3, 4/5 is a better educational model because it allows their curriculum to be more specific and better prepares them for middle school).
As for me repeating the SOW (I hate this term, it is devisive) talking points - those were the comments we heard over and over last night.

Bob Fiscella said...

These were comments made by I from last night's meeting. They were posted in yesterday's blog, I thought they should be reposted here.

The turnout was impressive for the third public input workshop for redistricting and consolidation of DeKalb County Schools. The participants filled the seats around the tables and filled the bleachers in the gymnasium as well as filled the cafeteria. Dunwoody was well represented including some conflicting views.

Each table was asked to first list the positives in the plans, then name the negatives and finally list alternatives. The alternatives were then proposed to the entire audience.

Some organized groups were represented in the crowds. There influence could be witnessed by statement T-Shirts saying things like "Community first," and people carrying e-mails with crib notes. You could also hear their influence in some of the proposals. A few tables proposed changes using verbatim language, probably drawn from the crib sheets.

Some key themes included:

* Students and performance first, community boundaries also matter.
* Many tables said the process was moving too fast and should not be completed until the 2020 Vision was completed
* Many tables said the cost-benefit analysis should be completed before the process is complete
* K-5 is good and should be one of the top priorities for Dunwoody schools - In other words support the current proposals
* Placing all of the children from multi-unit homes in DES appears to create a situation of inequality and goes directly against the stated goals of the DCSS - In other words, change the proposals.
* Also against the stated goals of DCSS is placing 1,200 students in DES. DCSS wanted to hold all elementary to 900 - In other words, change the proposals.
* Blue Ribbon schools (eg. Livsey Elementary School) should be emulated, not shut down

The greatest applause and cheers from the crowd came after some speakers took shots at the school board for incompetency.

One of the most interesting revelations of the meeting were claims that redistricting of DES would result in the population being 60% children from multi-family dwellings, and that could make DES eligible for Title 1 money from the feds. Conspiracy theory or not, speculation in the crowd was that this was a strategy to get the funding and completely intentional.

concerned said...

Thank you Bob. I appreciate your views and the respect you show people who may have a differing opinion

Bob Fiscella said...

Concerned - thx for the kind words!

PolitiMom said...

Ditto to Concerned. Thanks for addressing differing viewpoints. Any chance you can find and post this "vertical lines" map for us? I've been looking everywhere and its very elusive.

SmartOne said...


Can you publish the vertical line map or should we just do an open records request with Tyson? Not sure why so many people treating apartment people as second class citizens.

concerned said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
concerned said...

The only people treating apartment folks as second class citizens are the people fighting so hard to keep them out of Austin and Vanderlyn come 2011-2012 school year. Just ask the folks that live in the Ashord Dunwoody corridor. I did. lots of them.
All the hating on the people wanting equitable access is sad. They are right. Do not shoot the messanger.
In the end it seems they may not prevail, but they were right in the war of right and wrong.

SmartOne said...


professional consultants with experience across the country made the decentral map you speak of. it was not created by a couple of moms and dads drinking wine and sitting at a dining room table. I too spoke with two friends living behind Chili's restaurant. They thought the new school would be better since it has no trailers and has lots of technology. They were upset about parents from Vanderlyn not wanting to join then at DES.

Bob Fiscella said...

I would love to publish a vertical lines map. Unfortunately, I don't have one, and I have not seen one.

SmartOne said...

I saw the map briefly. It put Springfield and Chatue Woods where they belong - Vanderlyn. It moved some homes north of Vanderlyn to Kingsley. Austin got their apartments back, Vanderlyn keeps The Jefferson)

Anonymous said...

Sad, if it is true as would violate the DCSS stated criteria of closet school. Housing type is neither a stated criteria nor a valid criteria for drawing attendance lines.

I said...


I wish there was a thread about the alternatives proposed at Vanderlyn yesterday. Both plans tried to be inclusive and the authors should be commended for trying. I for one, have been converted to a believer of one of the plans.

I believe plan number #2 (Vanderlyn Academy) may be the best plan put forth to date by any group. Why? It is the most inclusive of all the plans I have seen, meets most of the DCSS stated goals, reduces overcrowding (maybe not as much as some plans, but it also has other benefits other plans don't have), creates a viable K-5 school, maintains educational continuity for a majority of students, etc. (I links to slides below for folks who have not seen it) I personally believe there are a few other VERY IMPORTANT benefits not mentioned in the presentation.

Other Benefits:
The plan addresses the epicenter of the discord in Dunwoody -- Vanderlyn. There are parents at Austin, Kingsley, Chesnut, Hightower, etc., that have well founded concerns about all the plans, but the fight over Vanderlyn appears to me to be at the heart of what is tearing the community apart. This plan finds a way to keep most existing Vanderlyn households in Vanderlyn, while also easing overcrowding. By doing that, we will see the least disruption of the community. The disruption of the lines could lead to some flight of homeowners, disruption and uncertainty around property values, and disrupt the continuity of education for the students. This plan helps ease those potential issues with the DCSS plans and makes Dunwoody a better place to live for everyone, including those at other schools, because the community will be more stable.

Some folks have expressed concerns about the grade level split and extended campus. I for one am not worried about it based on personal experience and that of an educator close to me. I attended Community School in St Louis ( Community School was, and still is, one of the most successful private elementary schools in the nation. When I attended, it had some of the top test scores in the nation, by no help of my scores I am sure. It was also split K-2 & 3-6, similar to plan #2. I had a wonderful experience there and remember no issues with the grade splits. I called the man that was the headmaster (who happens to be my father) at that time of my attendance. I asked him about the Vanderlyn Academy proposal and he told me based on his experience as an educator, including Community School, (MO) Deerfield Academy (MA), The Bement School (MA), Hamden Hall (CT) the grade level split suggested here should be no issue and it was in his mind actually optimal place to have a split, if a split exists. He also said we should be more concerned with the student teacher ratio. The closer we get to 12-15 students per teacher the better. By my understanding -- a back of the envelope estimate from the presentation -- plan #2 gets the student/teacher ratio to 17:1, where the Decentralized plan leaves it at about 21:1. My father, the educator said 21:1 is probably the max any teacher should ever be asked to handle. So, Plan #2 may actually save us from over extending our teachers.

While I hold this educator's opinion in high regard because he is my father, he is also one of the brightest people I know. He attended Deerfield Academy, Brown University and has multiple advanced degrees as well as a successful legacy as an educator.

For these reasons and the other reasons I stated above, I now believe Plan #2 -- Vanderlyn Academy -- is the best all around plan for all parties involved. I believe it would benefit students, parents of Vanderlyn and all of Dunwoody by providing an excellent educational option and maintaining stability in the Dunwoody community.

Slides from Plan #2 presentation
Plan #2 Benefits:

Plan #2 The Map: