Friday, August 21, 2009
What’s Killing DeKalb Schools?
by Paul Womack
(This posting is taken from a public letter written by board member Paul Womack and published at Go Dekalb by "Lefty", on November 18, 2008.)
Parents with children in DeKalb County Schools are worried about the future of the system and the quality of the education their children are getting. They’re doing anything they can to get their children into good school, and many are abandoning their neighborhood school. We have overcrowded schools in one area and nearly vacant schools in another, while transportation costs skyrocket. The problem is eerily similar to the situation in the late 1980’s, when I served on the school board before.
In response to court-ordered desegregation, DeKalb schools created a program called “Majority-to-Minority” (or M-to-M) transfers, where any student in a majority population at one school could transfer to any school in the County where they would be a minority. In other words, any black student could transfer out of a majority black school to a majority white school –and the County would provide the transportation.
DeKalb Schools were integrated –but there was an unintended consequence. Black parents didn’t like having to send their children across the County for a quality education. They wanted quality schools in their neighborhoods too. They were right. 16 years later, they’re still right.
The M-to-M program allowed the DeKalb Schools to duck a serious problem –making educational excellence available in every neighborhood, every school and every classroom. Until every school offers a quality education, parents will abandon the ones that don’t and pack their children into the ones that do.
No school should have more students than its design capacity, and preferably, not a single student more than its educational capacity. Parents in the neighborhoods should be able to readily assess which students should be attending their schools. Transfers between school attendance zones should ONLY be permitted when a student has a specific academic need that their assigned school can not meet. The long-term solution is to make every school in our DeKalb System excellent, which will eliminate the need (or excuse) for student transfers. In the short term, we must enforce a strict policy of attendance in schools only by those students legally entitled to be there.
I am not satisfied with current DCSS Board policy on administrative transfers, nor on residency verification procedures by the school system. More important than that, however, is an appalling secrecy about how parents can verify, for themselves, that their schools are following any policy at all. Does your child come home and tell you about 15 new students in his or her class after the school year has started? If so, how can you find out who these students are, where they came from and why they’re there? Most parents can’t, and that creates rumor, suspicion and resentment that can destroy a school and weaken a school system.
If we won’t fix problem schools, we should at least follow the law. State law limits the number of students in classrooms–if a school is over design capacity then no more students should be enrolled from anywhere. Any school administrator who enrolls in a school more students than that school has capacity for should be reprimanded, including possible termination.
The bottom line is this: If you created excellence and ample opportunities for academic success in every school in DeKalb, you wouldn't have parents trying to break down the doors of the "best" schools. For instance, Lakeside High School has capacity for 1320 students. The last report from the principal showed 1702 students enrolled - more than they had when school year started! Where did these students come from? Is there a good reason they are there (ie, an academic reason, and not just an "administrative" transfer or a favor pulled for a big-shot or a complaining parent?)
When I served on the School Board, parents wanted their children to get an excellent education then, and they still do. We need a system that puts excellence everywhere.