Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One of These Things is Not Like the Other ...

With apologies to the Children's Workshop, I offer to the readers of this blog a Sesame Street styled test ...

Using the visual to the left, can you spot the High School feeder pattern that is not like the others? I have shown this map to folks who have no experience with DCSS or the public schools in general and they all get it right. It is elementary and it is the yellow one.

During the last 20 years, a perfect storm of piecemeal zoning decisions by DeKalb County, of backroom redistricting by DeKalb County School System, and of private bigotry by some has created the unnaturally elongated and twisting Cross Keys feeder pattern any viewer can observe on the System's map pictured here.

This death by a thousand cuts has been devastating to the neighborhoods in my area as more and more parents move out of the district in search of public education options. This long-growing pressure on my neighborhood school has been exacerbated by what I call "the last man out" syndrome.

As Cross Keys and its supporting schools became more and more isolated, area families saw their friends and neighbors leaving the System or even the district in search of public education. No one wants to be "the last man out" in what has been a failing district. So, all the families I know in my area are in a constant state of anxiety about the education options for their children.

So what now? Who shall we blame? Should we persecute or prosecute them? Sorry to disappoint you but I am not interested in blame or retribution-what I want to see is corrective action. I challenge the leadership in DCSS and within every department of DeKalb County Government to ask themselves what they can do to reverse the years of bad decisions made in our area. I am challenging the members of my neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods to do the same.

The trouble is, people need to get clear signals from their public officials. The upcoming renovation of Cross Keys is a good thing but dressing up the building is not enough. Rumors about the future sale or demolition of Cross Keys persist. Private and public sector leaders must step up and articulate a vision for the future of Cross Keys that is comprehensive and inspiring to parents and homeowners in the community to bring them back on board.

Who will speak with me for Cross Keys High School's future? I think this school that was once a Georgia School of Excellence can be restored to excellence. I think the Brookhaven community can be reconnected with its natural community high school at Cross Keys. I think our elected and appointed public officials have the ability to enable these things if they choose to do so.

Do they have the will?

Kim Ellis Gokce
President, HillsDale Neighborhood Association
Sponsor, Community Radar civic news sharing


Cerebration said...

As always, Kim, your article is entertaining and creatively written while at the same time incredibly distressing.

I cannot fathom how or why Dr. Lewis continues to push Cross Keys from his mind. He has spent an inordinate amount of time implementing this military academy which he hopes will eventually serve 650 Title 1 students AND an inordinate amount of time helping 277 - 8th-12th graders at DSA renovate a $10 million new home, but Cross Keys he leaves flapping in the breeze - even though these students have been here - in this county system - for far, far longer and in need of far more attention than these other groups.

I have no answer for the "big diss" - but like you - I demand a plan and some communication about the future of this school.

This "Marine" named Erwin, spoke up at the marine school meeting last night accusing our community in the "beautiful white north DeKalb suburbs" of not advocating for schools in S DeKalb like Columbia, Lithonia, etc. Apparently - he doesn't realize that those schools have received an abundance of attention and money from this administration, while schools in our "90% white neighborhood" crumble and decay. I would ask him - has he personally toured and compared Lakeside, Cross Keys, Chamblee and others to Miller Grove, Arabia, Lithonia, Stephenson and Columbia?

Anonymous said...

Shameful, Absoultely shaneful. But the elected memebers of the Board of Education allow and enable it.

Kim Gokce said...

Cere: I have not heard any commentary about the meeting at Heritage yet and I am sorry to hear the statements you heard were made - not productive.

As for Dr. Lewis and Cross Keys, I have no idea about his particular history with Cross Keys. As I mentioned, the upcoming capital investments are very welcome and perhaps over due. But, this in no way addresses a more fundamental problem that I see in Cross Keys' case.

I drove by the Heritage meeting last night but couldn't not stay imagine that - no parking!

Wow! The way the community rallied was amazing. This type of community action/support has been made virtually impossible in Cross Keys for the reasons I mention above.

That is our community's challenge - how do we rally community support for a school that has it's base stretched along Buford Hwy and isolated from its long-time support in Brookhaven area neighborhoods?

I believe this is what makes the case of Cross Keys so challenging and why a special burden to lead falls to our elected and appointed officials.

pscexb said...

Kim, I see at least two areas of the county in need of attention, the Buford Hwy and Memorial Drive corridors. Though TADs are considered taboo, might both these areas benefit from the CID concept? I've heard positive things from those in Gwinnett regarding what was done with the Jimmy Carter Boulevard area.

I agree with your point, a comprehensive plan is needed for Cross Keys cluster. It will need to be a collaborative effort between our federal, state, and local elected officials along with the stakeholders in that community.

Kim Gokce said...

@pscexb: You are the 2nd person to mention to me a CID for the area. I confess my ignorance on the subject but will be brushing up in the coming weeks. And the list of todos gets longer still ...

Cerebration said...

I think perhaps, the powers that be are simply waiting for the day when the Cross Keys attendance line will be condensed so tightly that when they cross through it, it will just seem like a traffic controlling device, to which our school leaders can say, "What was that bump?"

"If we don't build it, they won't come."

Ella Smith said...

The whole situation regarding Cross Keys is very upsetting.

I was at Heritage and I did think what Dr. Lewis said made some sense but I still fell that another location would be better for the Marine Institute.

Kim Gokce said...

While I still believe there are some real shenanigans behind some of Cross Keys woes, I did realize something today that I had not noted before.

One reason for the elongated district for Cross Keys is the fact that its sole middle school is Sequoyah at the other end of the district. This former high school became a middle school quite a while ago. I suppose among other things, Cross Keys is a victim of that long ago plan to create middle schools back in the day.

Anyone know what Cross Keys district looked like before Sequoyah was re-purposed as a middle school? I would like to know what elementary schools fed Cross Keys then???

Anonymous said...

Son of awcomeonnow
Here with some past history.
I don't know the exact dates of the closing, but there's more closed/mothball elementaries adjacent to the 1-85 corridor then anywhere else in the county.
Closed in the 80s - Sexton Woods, Heritage, Skyland, Warren,
Northwoods (Yeshiva High School).
Maybe some others can help me out here, but I believe Northwoods went to Seqouyah, and Skyland went to Cross Keys.

One other interesting tidbit.
Drive by any of these sites, and most of the closed schools were TRUE neighborhood schools prior to the closings.
How do I come to this assessment? Look at where they're located- smack dab in the middle of large single family residential subdivisions.
These were all schools located to serve their communities, and to allow all the children in these communities to come to school everyday on foot.
They were also K-7, and clustered close to a nearby grades
8-12 high school. Before all of these schools were closed it was possible in many cases for kids to go through all 12 years of education without ever boarding a bus.
With the double whammy of the closed schools/ pairing of Cross Keys and Seqouyah this ceased.

Cross Keys and Seqouyah are at opposite ends of Buford Highway, so any walkers in the entire area would be required to board a bus to attend school during some part of their K-12 years.

That created a need for bus contracts. The closing of the schools resulted in big time overcrowding throughout the Cross Keys attendance area by the early
90s, with 100 plus trailers needed to handled the overflow (plumb forgot about the mothballed schools
nearby). That created a need for
contracts for mobile classrooms.

Finally, the closing of neighborhood schools, superconcentration of rental kids throughout the entire corridor also created something else in two parts: a cash cow for the school system of federal dollars.

The two parts?
1. Title one. As a high school in the late 80s Seqouyah had approximately 17% of it's students receiving free meals.
As a middle school for the entire Buford Highway area in 1994
it was officially Title One, as 71 percent of the students were now receiving free meals.

The high amounts of immigration in the Buford Highway corridor also resulted in another windfall for the school system in one other respect ESOL funds.
(English as a Second Language).

I don't know what the amounts work out to for ESOL vs Title one, but I know that it isn't chump change when you have large numbers, as in the case of the Buford Highway Corridor.

Whoops. Long post, and I apologize. Almost forgot one other contract. School additions/gymnasiums.
The overcrowding resulted in a
"Need" for school additions. Completely overlooked? Capacity nearby in closed schools. So additions were made to numerous schools in the area. Gymnasiums were built in the area prior to most of the other parts of the county receiving them.

It's deplorable that the county has used all the poverty along Buford Highway as their little ATM.
Mix together one part closed schools, one part instant Title one caused by closed attendance boundaries, add two parts ESOL.
In a seperate container mix together bus contracts, trailer
contracts, construction contracts.
After baking, remember that
no one in the area will stay put long enough or understand English well enough to question if the mix
doesn't taste right, or is left to spoil. You've already gotten the
(federal) money so who cares?

Kim Gokce said...

@Son of awcomeonnow: Wow, that's quite a bit to digest. That fact that the narrative is even possible to tell (accurate or not) based on the facts gives me pause ... can DCSS explain the facts with a different narrative that holds water? I don't know but would love to hear it.

Let's see what the new Board makes of this obviously "anomalous" situation with the Sequoyah/Cross Keys district. It's a whopper!

Anonymous said...

Son of awcome here again.

YOU can give them the benefit of the doubt. I quit doing so over 10 years ago.

I'm pretty sure all of the closings/ conversions of the schools occurred between 1983-1988.
In the scheme of things, that's not a very long period of time to take that many schools out of service.

Something else occurred in those years: Fair housing ( no singles complexes), Section 8 legislation, and Low Income Housing Tax Credits. I read in the
AJC that Buford Highway has 60 plus complexes along it. Most of
them were built prior to 1990.
So..... you have all of these schools taken out of service just at the time that many rentals that had been singles only suddenly started receiving families.
The double whammy of reduced numbers of schools for them to feed into/ sudden increases of enrollment from complexes that had
previously not affected school enrollment at all created big overcrowding, and the consequent need for trailers.
The schools can give their side of the story, but the recipe
Stir in one part school closings, fold in combined redistrict covering entire width of county.
Add to mix 60 complexes suddenly adding students to the mix (Buford Highway was where people who worked in Buckhead lived
when I moved here in the early 80s).
Stand back and watch these
needs skyrocket:
1. Buses
2. Trailers
3. Building additions to
handle the overflow.

The officials at the school can say that undercapacity at the time made them do it, or the deseg suit. Hey, they can blame it on the bossa nova.

The fact remains that whoever sold us the buses, rented or sold the trailers, and got the construction contracts came out of it measurably wealthier.
And all of these groups wouldn't have made any money if some nice person hadn't decided to do some fiddling with the school attendance zones.

pscexb said...

Kim, SoA is our housing/zoning guru from GDK and has a WEALTH of knowledge. When he posts, I read :).

We had a LONG discussion about this on GDK a while back. I recall back in the late 70's and early 80's when most of the complexes on Buford Highway were 'adult only'. Shenanigan's also had 6 for 1 drink specials for ladies but that is another story :). When those types of complexes were outlawed in the mid 80's, families with children began to move in. This coincided with the time that DCSS made the decision to close/sell many small ESs due to rapidly declining enrollment and the decision to implement the junior high, then middle school attendance model. Central DeKalb was where most of those schools existed. When the population began to increase again in the late 80's/early 90's, the school system began to scramble to find additional space. Add to that the housing boom in south DeKalb, we had many challenges.

Kim Gokce said...

@pscexb: 6 for 1, eh?

This is great background information and what I asked for ... but ...

In summary, it seems that this can be distilled down to 1 root cause: In the period referenced, there was no collaboration between DeKalb County Planning and DeKalb County Schools.Is there now? Will there be ongoing? Less than this means only future failures to be bemoaned on future community blogs ...

The history you both offer is great perspective and it begs what will Dr. Lewis, BOE, BOC, and others do differently now?This is a question I encourage every citizen in DeKalb to ask their officials, elected and appointed.

If we fail to address this central issue, we will only see an ongoing cycle of well-intentioned mishaps and mayhem in DCSS.

I am making Cross Keys a test case for this very question of collaborative planning. It is late in the game but with apologies to Yogi, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Will our leaders and officials take up this challenge? We will know within a month or so as final decisions about Cross Keys renovation and future are made.

Cerebration said...

I made the Orwellian move here in 1984. We lived out in Gwinnett and they were building spaghetti junction. There was a guy who would sit on the median wall and sell beers out of a cooler for $1 to all of us stuck in the one-lane traffic jam on Friday afternoons. Back then, you could drink and drive - you just couldn't be drunk. It wasn't until several years later that GA even banned open containers. That's the era we're talking about, folks.


Also - The fact remains that whoever sold us the buses, rented or sold the trailers, and got the construction contracts came out of it measurably wealthier..
Yes - and now you can add to those wealth building initiatives, the companies who make and process tests, the companies offering tutoring and the companies offering privatized programs for public charter schools. Big - big - big bucks.

Is NCLB starting to make sense now? It could be translated to "No Corporation Left Behind." And we've all bought into it simply because of the stated goals to level the educational opportunities. It's not doing that - it's only making certain people really, really wealthy.

The more we ingrain the idea of "special" programs or "charter" programs or "magnet" programs into our psyche of acceptable - or even preferable - educational "opportunities" the more we are going to leave certain groups behind - waaaay behind.

Anonymous said...

Son of awcomeonnow here answering Kim's question on why
planning and the school board hasn't spoken.

Son of believes they have for a lonnnnngggggggg time, but they've just been lying to us about it all along.

Wouldn't a school superintendant and others have noticed back when that the schools
that already were pushing against the burden of busing didn't need yet another one in the form of vast amaounts of rental housing?

There was a vast push between 1983 and 1988 of building.
Each of these years had between 3700-5000 units built.

Twenty thousand more units, at just the time (1986) that schools were no longer sheltered by them being single family only.

What have we heard from the school leadership in all this time?
Squat, nada , zip.

Womack's on the board now.
Does anybody hear any "Whoa!! Stop!" from him yet?

The school board has profited
MIGHTILY from all the poverty. I knew they were flat in love with it a few years back when I started seeing "Title One" fair brochures at the front office at my kid's school. The school board wants to drag 'em in kicking and screaming,
results and viability be damned .
If they hadn't stopped zoning and refinancing into low income tax credit properties, the school system might only have federal dollars for twenty thousand or so students, instead of the current level of way past forty five thousand. At six hundred extra dollars apiece, federal. (and that's just for starters) . Ka CHING!!

Seeing Walker on the board
reinforces the idea that some in the background have been talking for years. Having someone from one of the bond authorities just drops whatever pretenses they had about
no knowledge of the other side's activiies down the chute.

The final shot. The school board was sitting around a table with the county comission last year discussing the Sembler project. They also had representatives from the development and housing authorities
there. Three evil empires under one roof.
The housing authority was going to tear down an absurdly large 1000 unit complex, and replace it with something even larger, with yet more subsidized units. They acted like it was being
Guess what? It would have resulted in a whopper tax write off for Sembler. Anyt time a "Housing Advocate" shows up at a meeting , it's usually a ringer.
NO one has seen them prior to the meeting (except to maybe scope out the competition). They're present to make sure their buddies invested in the project can cram as many low income units as possible into the mix. That way they can take , say 3.5 million off their taxes yearly instead of a piddly 900 thousand.

Cerebration said...

You need an old tree stump to sit on while we all sit at your feet and listen to your stories of old, sonof. It's all quite interesting...

Question though -- how do you explain the fact that Avondale (24 apt complexes), Cedar Grove( 1 apt complexes), Clarkston (28 apt complexes), Columbia (15 apt complexes), Lithonia (17 apt complexes), (Miller Grove (12 apt complexes), MLK (5 apt complexes), McNair (21 apt complexes), Redan (2 apt complexes), Stone Mt (24 apt complexes), Towers (19 apt complexes) are all TITLE 1 schools, none of which made AYP in 2008 - most having not made AYP for several years -

While ---

These NON-Title 1 schools - Lakeside (36 apt complexes), Dunwoody (28 apt complexes), Chamblee (22 apt complexes), Druid Hills (69 apt complexes), Tucker (24 apt complexes), all make AYP year after year.

Of course there's SW DeKalb - making AYP but with only 4 apartment complexes - but it is a magnet school.

And -

Most ironically - Cross Keys - with a whopping 80 apartment complexes feeding into it and a large population of English language learners, probably the worst campus in the county and very little support from the central office - made AYP in 2008.

I just don't get it. How are all those SW DeKalb schools Title 1 when most of them are fed by suburban single family homes in supposed middle class neighborhoods. And further - why do these schools - many of which are gorgeous new facilities outfitted with the best new equipment available - fail to make AYP year over year?

Lucy - you've got some "splainin'" to do.

I would make the charge that a new administration is required - one who will look at the reasons for the underperformance at these schools and make remedies to fix them - remedies that don't require expensive "special" programs, out of control transfers for a whole host of "reasons" and the transportation associated with those transfers.

I would even go so far as to say that this administration is so hyper-focused on new buildings - new programs - magnet - theme - and choice - that it is effectively in fact - harming the home schools and causing flight, leaving empty seats and poor performers "behind".

pscexb said...

Cere, if you bring up 'old tree stump' to SoA, he'll remind us of the timber contracts from clearing space for many developments around the county. Had to get that in, SoA!!! :)

Good data Cere, however I would submit socioeconomic status data would be a better indicator of AYP success rather than the number of multi-family dwellings. Indicators would include but aren't limited to:

1) Average home values
2) Percentage of single family homes to multi-family dwellings
3) Percentage of two parent households.
4) Highest education level attained in a household, especially that of mother.
5) Family income and occupation
6) Number of books in the household

Cerebration said...

Exactly psc - this was recently released by the college board - I think it reinforces how little our schools can actually close the poverty gap by providing education.

There is a direct correlation between income level and SAT scores nationally — results that matched locally with the new U.S. census findings, according to newly released data released from the College Board.

The overall SAT results were broken into 10 family-income blocks, beginning at less than $10,000. They increase in $10,000 increments to students with family income levels greater than $100,000. Students from families with less than a $10,000 income scored a mean of 429 in critical reading, which improved to 445 in the $10,000 to $20,000 income range. That score jumped in each of the next eight income groups, peaking at 549 with students from families earning more than $100,000. The same trend occurred in math: Students at the lowest-end income level had a mean score of 457, which crept to 465, 474, 488, 501 and then 509 in the $50,000-$60,000 range. The numbers kept improving to a mean score of 564 at the $100,000 and above level.

Typically, each $10,000 income increase corresponded to a 10- to 12-point gain in the mean score of each test section. The only significant variation was between students from families earning between $80,000 and $100,000 and those earning more than $100,000. In those categories, mean scores jumped 26, 30 and 29 points, respectively, in critical reading, math and writing.

Anonymous said...

Son of would wonder if many of the subdivisions in south Dekalb haven't become economically similar to apartments.
With all of the declined values, foreclosures, conversions to market rate and section 8 rentals, many areas that were two
parent, middle classed communities have morphed into something completely different.
I've been hearing reports on this concerning the Redan area (particularly Main Street) for 15 plus years now. I'm sure there's many other areas in similar straits. Friends who've moved out of Cedar Grove attendance area
feel sad when they come back to visit what few friends haven't moved out of their old neighborhoods.
When you get a preponderonce of rentals, neighborhoods become the hood.
( And this will be reflected in free meal figures, if truthful.)
PS: many Title one applications aren't, and Dekalb County will never check to see about it).

Anonymous said...

A few facts:
Cross Keys was merged with Sequoyah during the 1989-90 school year. It used to include Ashford Park Elementary as a feeder school, but in the 90's parents screamed and now AP feeds into Chamblee.

A new teaching program has been forced down our throats at CK by the county - Questions - Who sold the program to the county? Is there evidence it works with ELL kids? No one seems to care, after all it is only Cross Keys.

Cross Keys is a great school because we have great kids and concerned teachers. The county forgot about us many years ago! We're used to be ignored.

and yes, I work there.

Cerebration said...

That's interesting - what teaching program would they send to Cross Keys - but not to all high schools? I've not heard of this - unless it's a Title 1 thing.

Kim Gokce said...

@Anon: Thanks for filling in that detail about the merger - I didn't realize the conversion of Sequoyah to a MS coincided with its merger into Cross Keys. Makes sense now that I think about it again. I'm still gathering contacts in the Cross Keys community - you can trust me with your name if you would like to communicate directly. Send your contact info to "kim at communityradar dot com"

I appreciate what you do for the Cross Keys kids - as I meet more of them, I am very encouraged about the future.

Kim Gokce said...

When I originally posted this item, DCSS briefed the public about the DeKalb Tech North move to Cross Keys and the renovation dollars for the main school building. During the meeting at Ashford Elementary, Patricia Pope indicated that Andreas Peeples (sp?), the project manager for DCSS, would be holding a public meeting to share the project plans and gather final public input.

Anyone see this scheduled since? If it has happened, somehow I completely missed it. Please tell me there will be a public briefing on this important project ...