Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why not Arabia? Why not the theme schools?

We received the following email from a reader, and it takes our issue with the fact that Arabia HS (basically a theme/choice school) was not included as part of the redistricting plan—and wonders where are the theme schools in this plan at all? None of the theme schools was considered in this new redistricting plan as far as we can see. Theme schools have a stated purpose of relieving over-crowding. Why not utilize them in this current overall effort to relieve over-crowding? Is the school system creating over-crowding in some area schools which will force some of those parents to seek a seat in a theme school?  Pile that on to the AYP choice, charters, magnets and administrative transfers and this really is a game of musical chairs which only some have been invited to play.

We all know the magnets are front and center in the discussion, but what happened to the theme schools:

I feel duped once again by DCSS.

I was initially impressed with all the effort DCSS put into the public meetings and their website with all that accessible information. I felt compassion for DCSS decision makers and the tough decisions that need to be made ... and then I came back to reality. Where are the Theme Schools on the redistricting maps? DCSS is redrawing district lines, considering moving successful magnet programs, changing neighborhoods - but not the Theme Schools? No where could I find in the DCSS goals - at least in their presentations - anything about Theme Schools.

Let's look at DCSS's goals, according to their presentation:


  • Provide students with equitable access to quality programs
  • Minimize the distance non-choice students travel to school
  • Support community cohesion by minimizing split feeder patterns and maintaining intact neighborhoods
  • Operate school buildings that create safe and healthy learning environments and support educational programs
  • Improve utilization of school facilities
Did I miss anything in the DCSS materials that they presented - did someone forget to mention why Theme Schools are off the table?

Here's why I care. DCSS currently proposes to send Pleasantdale students to Evansdale Elementary and Livsey Elementary, even though it means causing both schools to go over capacity, change elementary schools, and change high school feeder patterns. Oakcliff Theme Elementary School was created to relieve overcapacity schools - Pleasantdale, Dresden, and Carey Reynolds. Oakcliff is currently at 90% capacity. I have to ask why is DCSS allowing Oakcliff to remain undercapacity? According to a recent news article, Oakcliff has received over $200,000 in cash and technology support from various sponsors. Oakcliff was the 2009 Intel School of Distinction -

DCSS already provides a bus route for the Pleasantdale neighborhood to Oakcliff. or - click on school maps and the red bus route.

When evaluating the pros and cons of redistricting, I have to wonder why DCSS did not include Oakcliff in their options. Oakcliff is at 90% capacity - the same as Evansdale; and 2.5 miles from Pleasantdale, same as Evansdale. Yet, the school is not even considered. I realize that Theme Schools require parent participation, but if DCSS really wants to alleviate overcrowded schools, then a simple paper exercise is the logical decision vs. disrupting successful programs and neighborhoods, and overcrowding other schools. It seems that DCSS is being arbitrary and capricious. I would imagine further examination of Theme Schools and their enrollment is merited.

The DeKalb County School System has seven traditional theme schools including Edward L. Bouie, Sr., Marbut, Narvie J. Harris, Oakcliff, Robert Shaw, Wynbrooke Traditional Theme Elementary Schools and Champion Traditional Theme Middle School located in various areas of DeKalb County, Georgia.


themommy said...

There is another issue. As I understand it, not making Arabia Mt. a neighborhood school means that additions will have to be completed at two nearby high schools that are overcrowded.

Remember that the planning department and consultants have changed capacity upwards for almost every school in the system. So, when Oakcliff's numbers were set last year for enrollment this year, they used different figures. Does that make sense.

I asked why not convert Oakcliff to a neighborhood school and I was told that the overcrowding at the Cross Keys feeders would simply get worse. There are hundreds of students at Oakcliff from those schools.

I think the kinds of changes you are asking about are going to be in Phase II.

Anonymous said...

We can't afford to wait for Phase II. This is happening now. My neighborhood school is about to go to hell in a handbasket by being pushed to 113% of capacity when we take in over 100 Pleasantdale students.

EIP Reading was eliminated at Evansdale last year because we had to lose a teacher due to budget cuts. I can't imagine that 100+ children coming from a Title I school that has the additional funding to pay for remedial reading help won't be needing it when they come to Evansdale. Let's not forget that most of them are not native English speakers so the challenge of teaching them to read at grade level has an extra layer of difficulty.

The burden of helping reduce overcrowding at a failing school shouldn't mean that a successful neighborhood school goes down the tubes by being forced to carry that burden largely alone. Livsey will share in it, but not to the great extent that Evansdale will.

The rules can be relaxed to allow Oakcliff to receive some Pleasantdale children. It is unfair to ask one neighborhood to shoulder so much of this alone. To not even consider calling this an educational crisis and using what would equate as an executive order to change or relax the rules is just being stubbon for stubborness' sake.

A school can be a neighborhood school and be excellent. I think it's becoming increasingly clear that DCSS does not care about having excellent schools. They are blinded or misguided and simply want to create some notion of "fairness" where they arbitrarily shift good students to failing schools (Druid Hills to Clarkston) while moving students from failing schools to good schools (Pleasantdale to Evansdale) so that the bad schools get a little better and the good schools get a whole lot worse and then look...everyone goes to a mediocre (at best) school and there's no difference in the north and south sides of the county. Look how fair and equitable education in DeKalb County is!

Anonymous said...

It appears that charter and magnet and theme schools are open for NCLB transfers as far as Obama is concerned, and there is even money for these schools:

"Expanding Options for Parents and Children

The No Child Left Behind Act significantly expands educational choice for parents and children. In many school districts, however, there are too few alternatives for parents seeking quality educational options. The President's 2009 budget reflects his commitment to expanding options for parents by including funding for programs such as:

Charter Schools

* The President's 2009 budget provides $236 million to continue the Charter School Program, which increases public school choice options by supporting the planning, development, and initial implementation of public charter schools. In 2008, more than 1.2 million students are being educated in 4,300 public charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia.
* NCLB specifically includes public charter schools as an option for families deciding to transfer their children from a school identified for improvement.

Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program

* This program supports competitive grants to public and nonprofit entities to help charter schools finance their facilities through such means as providing loan guarantees, insuring debt and other activities to encourage private lending. The President's FY 2009 budget requested $36.6 million for Credit Enhancement.

Magnet Schools

* Magnet schools provide distinctive educational programs that attract diverse student populations. The President has requested $104.8 million for this program in his 2009 budget.
* In the 2007-2008 school year, 175 schools from 41 districts took advantage of this program, benefiting 128,000 students.

Voluntary Public School Choice Program

* The President's 2009 budget provides $25.8 million for this program, which offers grants to states and school districts to establish or expand innovative public school choice programs. Viable public school choices for NCLB transfers include magnet, charter, virtual, alternative, specialized, and thematic school programs."


Anonymous said...

Anon 8:30 am

The services will follow the children. That is why Evansdale lost the reading teacher, because enough of the students didn't qualify for the services.

If those students are sent to Evansdale, a reading and probably a math specialist would be added as well.

Anonymous said...

Here's the information to contact the federal government regarding transfers to all of these "choice" schools in DCSSS:

General Inquiries

Questions about the Department (ED) or NCLB

Please see our frequently asked questions (preguntas y respuestas frequentes).
Phone: 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327)
Spanish speakers available (se habla español)
TTY: 1-800-437-0833

ED Phonebook and Organizational Directory

Use our electronic phonebook to find phone numbers and room numbers of ED staff, or call 1-800-872-5327 (202-401-2000 in the D.C. metropolitan area).

The ED Organizational Directory lists phone numbers, managers, and other information for ED offices. Download files PDF (461K) | Word (1.4M)
Media Contacts

Reporters and education writers may contact the U.S. Department of Education press office by phone at (202) 401-1576 or by mail at U.S. Department of Education Press Office, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, 7E-247, Washington, DC 20202.


Anonymous said...

The real issue is that the system needs larger elementary schools and still probably needs one more elementary school in the Doraville area. Oakcliff is not a very large school.

Unlike the majority of the theme schools, which were new and built larger, this was an old elementary school with few students that was made into a theme school to try to relieve overcrowding around it.

Anonymous said...

Audria Berry's group in the Office of School Improvement should be addressing these concerns about NCLB transfers to magnet, charter, and theme schools. Here is Audria Berry's contact information:
678-676-0305 (phone)
678-676-0304 (fax)

Paula Caldarella said...

If we're talking about DCSS conversion charter schools - they do take AYP transfers.

The magnets do not, even though, if a student qualifies, they should imo.

Anonymous said...

When it came to redistricting every school from magnet, theme to specialty school should have been included in the equation. I do not believe that charter conversion schools could have been apart of the equation because of the how charters are written, but if there were eligible for the redistricting, than they should have been on the block as well.

I feel that the district is not coming up with the most cost effective plan that they could-typical DCSS. Unless the new superintendent has balls of steal and doesn't care what other people think, do or say and do what is right for all of the children in DCSS.

I am so tired of the children being the last to be thought of and the adults taking care of pet projects, family members, and friends.

Anonymous said...

@ Dunwoody Mom

Maybe DCSS has taken magnet, theme and charter schools off the NCLB transfer table, but the federal government has not:
"Viable public school choices for NCLB transfers include magnet, charter, virtual, alternative, specialized, and thematic school programs."

What is Dr. Berry's group doing with the federal money to promote this? Have they even applied for it?

Paula Caldarella said...

Charter schools have always taken AYP transfers. Chamblee Charter and Peachtree Middle School have/are receiving AYP transfers.

You don't recall the furor at the beginning of this past school year when they were going to overload Chamblee with AYP transfers?

Anonymous said...

Dunwoody Mom is correct. Chamblee Charter HS has taken tons of AYP school choice transfer students EVERY year. In fact the county transfers these students to CCHS and prevents students on the charter lottery waitlist from getting in. IMO this is wrong.

Of course DSA does not have to take any transfer students. And despite many empty seats at Arabia Mtn for the last two years, no students were placed on its campus.

Anonymous said...

Quick question: Should a "magnet" school - or other type - theme, charter, etc - receive any kind of special funding if it is a neighborhood school versus a school for the entire county population.

Here is where I'm going with this. Say we have a school with a magnet included in the building. Do a specified number of slots go to the kids zoned into that school? Say, 50%? So, with redistricting, the goal is to fill that school, right, so that it is now at capacity. How does that affect the openness of that magnet program? Does 50% now get reduced? If so, hasn't it essentially been converted to a "neighborhood magnet"? As such, if there is no read ability for people outside this new zone, can we justify additional funding for the "magnet/them/etc" aspect of the school?

Is a possible consequence of redistricting the removal of real choice, and the false labeling of a "choice" school - and receipt of special points/funding - now being redirected at specific neighborhood schools? How is this being considered in the redistricting efforts, does anyone know?

Anonymous said...

Arabia is a perfect example of why meeting minutes need to be online.

EVERYONE WHO READS THIS BLOG: Please contact your BOE rep. and demand that meeting minutes are posted online again, as they were through last July.

I remember when Arabia was presented, adn part of the reason was to releive overcrowding at SWD HS and I believe MLK High.

But then it switched.

DCSS pulled a Vernon Jones bait and switch. Present one thing to the public, and when no one is looking, change it without noitce or explanation.

If anyone can find meeting minutes related to Arabia Mt. HS, please post them here on the blog.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:58, that's not true.

My son was in EIP reading and when I found it was being eliminated I spoke with the principal and he told me that they had to decide between eliminating a classroom teacher and the EIP program and that although there were plenty of kids in our school who needed EIP, they needed a kindergarten teacher more because of the number of kindergarteners coming into the school. The EIP teacher became the new K teacher (replacing a K teacher who retired) and all the new K students who tested as qualifying for EIP were placed in her class (or at least that's what I was told).

Students beyond kindergarten who need additional help with reading get none unless their parents can afford tutors. And frankly, I think that's a shame.

I'm the room mom for my son's class and I can assure there are plenty of students who need the help.

Anonymous said...

Please don't get me wrong, because I believe that every school should have what they need.

Just so you understand, I have no doubt that there are children at every school that need reading support. However, just like with gifted funding, there is a state funding formula. Based on last years test data, which of course doesn't reflect kindergarten, Evansdale has fewer than 12 students score level 1 on the CRCT in reading.

That is how EIP teachers are earned -- the higher percentage of Level 1 students the great the need.

I think DCSS should have itinerant teachers that travel to schools with pockets of need.

They have done this in the past with ESOL and Discovery. Thinking outside the box seems to be difficult for DCSS.

Evansdale could have easily shared a teacher with another school in a similar situation.

Anonymous said...

Arabia--once again, think bigger.
While you watch schhool issues--I watch County Zoning issues.
There at least 2 large (city-size mixed use proposals already proposed along the South River--and generally speaking the Souht River may be the first time the Dekalb Development Authority (Genie again)has coordintaed with the school system.
It's the greatest kept secret for the next 20 years.

Seen the water rate increase--great secret--under publicized for a reason--most of the cost is planned upgrade in capacity of thwo wastewater plants (not overflows and corrective spills).
All of the capacity is planned South River massives.

The school system must keep its empty seats in preparation. Fools tho they are--no kids move into city centers and commercial centers--idiots.

BTW--the proposers of the mixed-use projects pulled their applications (because they jumped the gun and got hell for it.)
Even Atlanta leaders are in on this--which may explains the Genies and Lewie's membership in the Commerce Club

You keep ing improving schools people--leave the regional development and power base watch to me.

Anonymous said...

@Dunwoody Mom 10:14 - Do you mean that AYP transfer kids should take magnet spots instead of those who applied but are on waiting lists?

Anonymous said...

I think she meant that they ARE, not that they should be. That becomes the issue. As does filling a magnet program with neighborhood kids......there's really no difference. Any specially funded programs should be available to all, not just the kids in the neighborhood or AYP transfers. Fix what's broken, please, DCSS; please see the entire picture.

No Duh said...

It is inexcusable that nearby Oakcliff is not being considered to help relieve overcrowding at Pleasantdale. While Evansdale can and will help relieve its neighboring school's overflow, it clearly doesn't need to be stuffed full when empty seats are equi-distant at Oakcliff.

Just one point of clarification for Anon 8:30. Pleasantdale is an OVERCROWDED school. It is not a FAILING school. I believe they have consistently made AYP. But, correct me if I'm wrong.

And to note some classy action from Evansdale, if I may...

Proving once again that it takes a village, the EES community has already started forming a welcoming committee -- for lack of a better term -- as they prepare to welcome and acclimate the students DCSS is going to send from Pleasantdale. It won't be long before our new students feel right at home. As it should be.

No Duh said...

Checked the stats. Indeed, Pleasantdale has met AYP four years in a row and is designated "distinguished" in improvement. The same designation as Evansdale.

Anonymous said...

Please understand that as of a few weeks ago Oakcliff probably didn't have any empty seats. And this should bother us all.

The planning staff has enlarged capacities based on filling every seat in every classroom, leaving little to no room for elementary specials.

All the Cross Keys feeder elementary schools are overcrowded. It is probably time to look at adding more seats to Oakcliff but those seats need to be fertilized to relieve overcrowding at all the schools that feed into it.

Ella Smith said...

Why not the theme schools?

The school board is extremely protective of Arabian Mountain. I do not see this changing anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

We need to work to change the way DCSS funds the schools -- Fulton (I think I have this right) lets their principals operate their schools as mini-businesses -- they get their dollars per pupil --no points -- dollars -- they don't convert state funds for IEPs and gifted and per pupil into points, they just get good ole dollars. It's harder to play games when the school has x number of kids times y number of dollars. Plus whatever "up ticks" there are for gifted and IEP and anything else. With the point system, DCSS gets to play games and the children get robbed.

Anonymous said...

If you have Title I kids in your school, you get funding. Heads up! Oakcliff already takes a significant number of students from the Pleasantdale attendance area. Then you need to keep in mind that not every low income child is behind academically. Some are very bright and capable.

Anonymous said...

"Checked the stats. Indeed, Pleasantdale has met AYP four years in a row and is designated "distinguished" in improvement. The same designation as Evansdale."

Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

The dog ate our audit!!

Insider said...

If you notice in both the Centralized and Decentralized plans, the them program at Bouie is proposed to move to Flat Rock, with Bouie becoming a neighborhood school. This will allow for lessened transport times for many students, and increase the number of students that can be enrolled in that theme.

Anonymous said...

The auditors E&Y will have a copy of the audit. DCSS only needs to ask for it.

No Duh said...

Anon 7:00. LOL EXACTLY my reaction. And same for Anon 11:03.

My God, they really do think our turnip truck just turned the corner...

Anonymous said...

new birth.