DCSS ignores its own rules and transfer students
By Tom Doolittle
Supercluster meeting to be held Tuesday, January 25 at Oak Grove United Methodist Church at 7:00.
What started as DeKalb School System’s (DCSS) attempt last year to close and consolidate twenty-three (23) underutilized schools (most south of US 78) has morphed into a plan to identify overcrowded schools and change several schools’ neighborhood boundaries (county-wide “redistricting”).
The Lakeside High School zone is not overcrowded according to community school advocates and no schools are being closed; but traditional neighborhoods are slated to be removed from four elementary schools for the first time since the last school was built 40 years ago. (Neighborhoods were added to other schools when Heritage Elementary was closed as a feeder in the mid-1980s.) Lakeside area advocates want to know why DCSS is trying to “fix something that isn’t broken”. Not only that, but they say DCSS “can have its cake and eat it too”, by continuing to serve students from outside of the school zone.
After the DCSS plan was published in the first week of this month, Lakeside PTA president Barbara Haan immediately contacted representatives from feeder schools. Emphasizing that providing feedback and information to the community and DCSS regarding the school zone proposals is not a PTA effort Haan said, “We have never seen the Lakeside community more together on a scholastic issue.” Four elementary schools and Henderson Middle School had representatives at the meeting on a moments notice on Friday before the big snow storm. Meanwhile, the Leafmore, Diamond Head and Sagamore neighborhood associations called meetings to generate support. Also, the Lakeside Foundation’s role in the “Valhalla Project” $1.5 million capital campaign was put on hold to consider the impact on the community’s giving.
Depending upon which plan DCSS chooses, a so-called “centralized” or “decentralized” plan, Lakeside would lose neighborhoods with at least 231 current students, 84 from Oak Grove, 63 from Evansdale and the rest from Sagamore. Sagamore is being moved in total (“redistricted”) to the Druid Hills High School zone, despite the fact that many Sagamore students have walked to Lakeside since it was built in 1965.
As Things Stand Now
A Lakeside communiqué to parents establishes a primary goal of having no “split-feeder” schools, whereby students who attend schools together are separated moving onto the next level. Summarizing the plan’s impact to the community, “the current plan splits neighborhoods at the primary and secondary level and sends children far outside the natural boundaries of a school's community. This negatively impacts our children's socialization and the neighborhood's identity.” (City of Dunwoody advocates have raised similar objections regarding city areas being redistricted from schools in Dunwoody.)
The position paper also says DCSS actually defies its own stated priorities: (1) preserving geographic proximity (primary criterion); (2) safe and efficient traffic patterns; (3) preserving and supporting intact neighborhoods (secondary criterion); (4) minimizing disruption of long-standing feeder patterns.
The source of the problem is DCSS’ contention that some Lakeside feeder schools are overcrowded and therefore the high school zone should change. However, Lakeside united group says the high school itself is not overcrowded and the feeder zones should be handled within the highly regarded school’s current boundaries.
“…the plan significantly understates the student capacity of Lakeside High School...” which will be increased from 1314 to 1789 once the current 25 classroom renovation is complete during the next school year.
As there is no school within the Lakeside zone being proposed for closure; Sagamore is currently not overcrowded; and Lakeside has 450 seats being added to its campus; many advocates are mystified that the sometime controversial school zone is being reformulated. The Lakeside communiqué points out that DCSS also does not account for “increased/decreased enrollment due to non-resident transfers from sending and receiving schools under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”
This is what Lakeside’s Haan refers to as the “AYP bubble” which she claims will not be relevant soon because no schools will ultimately be able to meet its 100% success mandate and remain a transfer school. “If you remove the AYP bubble, there’s no need to restructure—and the middle school and some elementary schools can be rebalanced (within the zone), she contends.
Next Step—The Supercluster Meetings
Haan, Lakeside feeder school representatives and the various communities that started their own efforts, about 50 people; met Sunday to establish a comprehensive position and solutions to rebalancing the feeders. Some changes to feeder boundaries are suggested, DCSS figures are contested and school populations are creatively managed in the proposal that “makes more sense and impacts as few as possible” and “does no harm to any other group”, presumably a reference to the Druid Hills cluster.
The Supercluster effort continues for the general public on Tuesday, January 25 at Oak Grove United Methodist Church at 7:00.
Writer Tom Doolittle is a 17-year Northlake area resident, founding trustee of Northlake Community Alliance, Inc., founder Northlake Business Forum and writes the www.NorthlakeStation.blogspot.com