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Foreclosures not the reason for enrollment drops in South DeKalb

March 2, 2011 2 comments

Would someone please inform the AJC that unless they have done the research, to stop insinuating that the high number of foreclosures in South DeKalb is the reason why school enrollment is down. There is no doubt that some students who leave a particular school has done so because their parents were forced out of their home, but enrollment in many South DeKalb schools has been declining for almost a decade. Here are a few examples from this year alone of the AJC making it a point to blame foreclosures for the recent enrollment drops. Here are a few examples:

 

From March 1st

Many speakers at the hearing accused the board of pandering to the interest of parents in affluent north DeKalb neighborhoods, while targeting schools in the south. However neighborhoods in south DeKalb are some of the hardest hit by foreclosures

 

In a story jan. 13th

Most of the schools slated to close are in south DeKalb, which has been hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Children from those schools would move to schools in other areas of the county

 

This from Feb 7th

However, south DeKalb houses some of the neighborhoods in metro Atlanta hardest hit by the housing slump and foreclosures.

 

I did some cursory research on school enrollment at a few schools in South DeKalb, and found that the schools scheduled to close were losing kids years before the foreclosure crisis. In fact during the recent foreclosure mess and economic downturn, some schools have been able to maintained their enrollment levels. I decided to go back to the 2003-2004 school year. That was when I purchased my home, and I remember that people were still high on real estate and foreclosure was unheard of. Her is what I found:

 

Atherton Elementary Had 466 students in the 03/04 school year. Two years later(05/06) they had fallen to 438. Two years after that, it was down to 419, and by the 2009-2010 school year, Atherton had 399 students. Gresham Park fared far worse, going from 400 students in 02-03 to under 300 by the 09-10 school year. Both schools had massive drops that started long before the economic downturn and the resulting spate of foreclosures

 

Contrast that to A couple of larger schools in newer areas of South DeKalb. Oakview, opened in 2005, started out with 876 students by 2010 they had 828, a loss of 48 students, still one of the largest elementary schools in the county. Chapel Hill had 784 students in 2003, and 763 by 2010. Both schools loss less than six percent of their students.

 

My point is simply this; Without any hard numbers, making assumptions that foreclosures are the reasons for these school’s falling enrollment is misleading and lazy. If the reporter had a simple knowledge of the area, they would know that demographics is playing the largest role in enrollment decline. Unlike in other parts of the county, some areas in South DeKalb are not replacing students at a high enough clip for these schools to maintain normal enrollment numbers. In other areas of South DeKalb you have schools that are. These phenomenon are nothing new. In the 90’s, schools in South DeKalb that were outside 285 experienced such rapid growth that new schools had to be built to accommodate the influx of students. A decade or so from now, the declining enrollment at schools inside 285 will probably spread to those outside 285 in South DeKalb. It is a shift in demographics. Unless young people with young children move into South DeKalb, you are going to see this play out several more times in the near future.

 

DeKalb schools listens to parents; two South DeKalb schools stay open

February 7, 2011 8 comments

The recommendations are out and South DeKalb neighborhoods fared better than expected. Two schools, Bob Mathis and Toney elemetary were spared the axe in a proposal by interim superintendent Ramona Tyson. Bob Mathis will have its attendance lines redrawn to take in students from Chapel Hill Elemetary, and Oak View will gain students from Chapel Hill as well. I did not see any information on changes, if any, at Toney ES. It seems Toney came out of this unscathed for now. Several schools in South DeKalb will be closed as a result of last nights proposal. Glen Haven, Sky Haven, Atherton, Peachcrest and Gresham Park will all be consolidated into other schools in the area. Columbia and Towers High schools will be getting students from Avondale High, which will continue to house the DeKalb School of the Arts. Columbia High will also pull students from McNair and Southwest DeKalb. Magnet schools will remain as they are, which was a core issue for many parents in the system. Livsey ES, the only North DeKalb school slated for complete closure, was spared. Some schools that got a last minute stay are not completely out of the woods. Tyson indicated that some of those schools could be closed after the next school year. Given the scope of how deep the school closures could have been, this seems to have been a compromise that benefits as many people as possible. Instead of 14 schools being closed only 8 were recommended for closure. Roughly 9000 students will be affected as opposed to the 16000 that were projected. South DeKalb will feel the brunt of the affected students, but that was to be expected considering the number of schools that were underutilized. One thing I did notice in this process was the level of parental involvement. Parents county wide were against the merging of the magnet programs. This seemed to have an affect on the decision not to consolidate those programs. Two schools, Livsey and Bob Mathis, had a vocal contingent that made clear it did not want its schools closed. Those desires did not fall on deaf ears. Save Toney ES, I cannot recall any of the schools slated for closure being vocal about saving their schools. If they were, they were drowned out by more vocal parents from other schools. Now the recommendations will go to public hearings and a vote by the board. I am sure there will be plenty of parents from schools scheduled to be closed who will beat down on the board and toss around accusations of fairness and the dreaded racism charge, but like I said earlier, schools with parental support seemed to have won the day. This should be a lesson for those of us in South DeKalb; get involved early and stay involved. There are going to be more issues that affect parents system wide, and those who stay involved throughout stand a far better chance of having their voices heard. Now it is time to see if the system can somehow improve the performance of its under-achieving schools. Here again is where parental involvement will be paramount. See the redistricting proposals here

DeKalb to remove 29 educators

January 27, 2011 1 comment

The CRCT test that has brought down Atlanta Schools has touched DeKalb. 24 teachers are being removed from the classroom according to the AJC. See the initial story here. The teachers removed will be assigned to non-teaching duties while the educators are investigated. Of course timing could not be worse with SACS breathing down our necks. Hopefully the district being out front on this will help the situation. The AJC reports that The 29 employees include five principals and five assistant principals. I have no doubt that a vast majority if not all will come from South DeKalb schools. And so the bad news continues. Here is a link to a story by the AJC that listed the worst schools for suspicious erasure marks. All of those schools were in South DeKalb.

DeKalbs redistricting will not fix an already broken system

January 25, 2011 3 comments

I attended the DeKalb redistricting meeting at McNair High last night and came away convinced that a consensus on what is best for students will never be reached. In the end many parents will be upset with the outcome because there can be no option that will please all. If nothing is done we will all complain about the complacency of the board. If they act they will be accused of acting without thinking. What we have here is a crisis in education where there is no magic bullet. Some of us will end up with the short straw. With that here are a few things I took away from the meeting.

  1. The centralized plan seems to be dead on arrival. Far too many in attendance was down on that option. If the board has any sense at all, that option will be off the table immediatley. I canot think of one group at the meeting who wanted any of the magnet prgrams moved to the ceneter part of the county.
  2. Keeping communities together was a recurrent theme for many last night. For South DeKalb, that is a battle lost. There are just too many neighborhood schools that cannot be kept open without some pain or consquence. I sympathize with citizens in these neighborhoods, but the alternatives are not much better. We cannot continue to support schools that have low enrollment with no foreseeable increase in the future. I talked with several Bob Mathis parents, and they were adamant about keeping their school open. One couple, who have no children in the system, wondered how this empty building would affect their property values. They wanted to know why the board had not considered moving students who are in trailers at Chapel Hill to Bob Mathis. Several people wanted to repurpose the school as a special needs diagnostic school like Coralwood or even add more Pre-K classess to make up for the short enrollment. I think we have to live in the reality of today. This is not 1963 where communities were close and people were raised, grew old and died in the same neighborhood. That is not a reality anymore. Demographic shifts are a determining factor here. If couples with younger kids are not moving into the attendance zone, it is going to be hard to argue to keep Bob Mathis or any of the schools slated for closure open.
  3. I do not get the magnet school concept. Growing up in Indiana, I do not recall special schools for certain educational concentrations. One school that focuses on the sciences, another on the arts. These were programs that were available to all students at every school. Some schools had more students in these programs than others, but it was located in the school where studenst of all abilities attended. I cannot fathom why each school cannot have a “magnet” program, or at the very least each cluster have several schools that offer these specialized offerings. It seems to me that the very idea of magnet schools goes against the belief of fairness that so many seem to espouse. having magnets promotes the us versus them mentality that is one of the core problems in the whole redistricting process.
  4. Many in attendance last night wanted to promote a slow down approach to redistricting. Demographic shifts mean that every once in a while lines ahve to be redrawn to accomodate those changes. Unlike fast growing counties, where an infulx of studenst mean new schools and a redistricting process, in Dekalb we face the opposite. Having fewer students means more buildings than we have students to occupy. Someone is going to have to bear that burden. The slow down or stop approach only means that parents, like me with a three year old,  will have to face that process later on down the road. Far too many people countywide have the mentality of don’t upset my comfortable situation, but someone is going to have to make concessions somewhere down the road, be it 2011 or 2017.

In the end, we have to ask ourselves; what is going to make for a better overall school system? Redistricting is not going to bring about wholesale failure or success to DeKalb schools. What is going to be needed, and will be much more painfull, is a change in the way we do business. We need to challenge students and parents, especially those of us in South DeKalb, to become more involved in the school where our children attend. We neeed to show that mediocre standards are not acceptable and hold everybody accountable including teachers and administrators. Schools should be about education not a pipeline to failure. Good teachers should be appreciated, and great teachers should be rewarded. Students and parents who don’t take ownership of their education should be left to deal with their failure. The whole idea of teaching to the least needs to be scrapped and replaced with the idea of punishing those who cannot meet minimum standards and by punishment I mean failing those who do not meet minimum standards. Trying to ensure that all children succeed no matter the consequences only brings failure to all. It is a cruel sentiment but it is one we have to accept. We cannot save each and every student. We can only provide an atmosphere that is conducive to success. If you don’t take advanatge of that then you are responsible, not the schools and not society. When this whole redistrciting mess is over and is only remembered by a few of us, we are still going to have to own up to the fact that far too many of our schools are failing. That is a fact that will have more and far reaching consequences than this redistricting process.

Blogging live from DeKalb public input meeting

January 25, 2011 Comments off

I will be blogging live from the DeKalb County redistricting public input meeting at McNair High school tonight. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30 pm. Click here to follow the meetup as it happens. Click here for the meeting handout. If you wish to follow, please check that the link above is working for you. If you have problems please e-mail southdekalbnow@gmail.com and let me know what problem you are having. I encourage you to go to the DeKalb BOE and fill out the public commet form if you cannot attend one the meetings. Here is a link to the form and the results.

Public Comment Form

Public Comment Results

Fight over DeKalb redistricting will be ugly

January 21, 2011 5 comments

Check out this post and the comments at the Dekalb School watch blog. Apparently, Fernbank area parents are very well organized and determined to have their voices heard during what will be a contentious debate over redistricting of DeKalb schools. It seems that an e-mail circulated with talking points about how and what to say during the public input meetings happening this month. Here are the talking points:

Process Points to Follow:
1. Be on time, or better yet, be early.
2. Sit at a table (8-12 roundtops) with 1/3-1/2 Fernbank people.
3. Control the pen, control the mike, or better yet, both. Each table will have a “scribe” — be it. Each table will have a “reporter,” who will speak for 2 min. — be it.
4. When you get to “Option 3,” be clear and concise. Use Fernbank as an example of the larger theme — e.g., not breaking up long-established neighborhoods, moving kids to different programs, supporting larger schools.
5. When you hear a point that is consistent with our position, go ahead and applaud.

Substance Points to Follow:
1. We need a clear strategic vision first, before we implement redistricting for fewer, bigger schools.
2. With that vision in place, follow the Board’s own goals:
— don’t split in half historic neighborhoods, like Fernbank, where the building has supported the same neighborhood for 50+ years and the school’s many buildings have served Druid Hills for 90+ years.
— don’t move children from one kind of educational program to another, like IB. The IB program should be available to more students, not fewer. We support a larger school of 900 and providing more access to IB.
— the plan must account for future growth. Construction on hundreds of residences for Emory and CDC families is breaking ground this year. According to the Board’s own goals, those residences should be zoned to Briar Vista.
— the plan must provide safe, walkable environments and pay attention to traffic patterns, and not further clog the Clifton Corridor.
— decisions should be based on actual cost benefits, not on speculation.

Response on smaller issues:
1. We have no official position on location of magnets. If conversation at your table focuses on that, incorporate that concern into your points and MOVE ON.
2. If anyone suggests making Briar Vista a PK-K or PK-1 campus for Fernbank’s children, talk about 1100 students and families with multiple children driving back and forth and back and forth along Clifton Road during the morning rush hour. Enough said.
Finally, schools from our cluster will be there tonight in DROVES. Be there — for your friends, your neighbors, your children, and OUR school.

There were many comments to this post that were generally critical of the Fernbank parents and in particular of the talking points. I for one have no problem with it. I would much rather see people well prepared to deliver their argument, for or against, than showing up and ranting and raving based on emotions and no facts. South DeKalb parents who have a beef with the redistricting process would do well to draft a similar memo. It seems to me Fernbank parents will definitely be in the back of the minds of the school board when final decisions are made.

Here is a list of the remaining public meetings. Please try to attend one even if you don’t have a list of talking points.

McNair High School, Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Bethune Middle School, Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Stone Mountain Middle School, Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Georgia tuition hikes coming for 2011

January 19, 2011 Comments off

Ah, where to start today. It has been a whirlwind of reports about the sad state of affairs in our education system. Atlanta schools are serverd a healthy dose of reality by SACS through accreditation probation, Moving APS closer to revocation. A teacher at DeKalb Schools writes a stinging rebuke of DeKalb schools and its reliance on top administrators and its inability to produce productive and competent members of society. DeKalb decided to increase the superintendents pay in a time of cutbacks and sagging revenues. But I wanted to tackle a different education issue. One that affects people statewide. The head of the University System of Georgia told a a group of legislators the following

Chancellor Erroll Davis told state budget writers Tuesday that it would take a 30 percent tuition increase to offset all of the expect cuts to higher education budgets, but Davis promised that wouldn’t happen. Instead, Davis told a joint hearing of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, the system will look for other cuts and ways to increase efficiencies to lower the hit to students and families.

Still, Davis said students and parents will likely be paying more for college by fall.

It is that last sentence that will likely have you paying more for a college education in Georgia. It seems that every year, parents and students are asked to take on a heavier burden to pay for college. I know some would rather see a tuition hike instead of a fee increase because tuition is covered by scholarships and some grants, but in the end, too many parents end up in debt and too many students leave college already in a deep hole financially. Many students could actually find themselves in financial ruin before they find a job coming out of college. So what do we do? Should we limit the number of students in our research and regional universities? This would take the pressure off those schools, but it may trickle down to the smaller schools. Maybe we should encourage more students to enter into community college for their first two years. Two year schools cost less to operate so costs could be contained and any student who fulfills his or her obligation at a two year institution can move to any four year school in Georgia without loss of credit provided you don’t make drastic changes to your major. Maybe raising standards at the the state’s universities will cull the number of  students thereby reducing costs for everyone.  With rising tuition, many students who work hard to maintain a solid GPA and do all the extra-curricular activities in high school that make their college application look good will find themselves unable to afford to take the next step in their educational careers. With tuition rising 79 percent in the past decade, it will be hard for low-income and lower middle-class folks to keep up. It may be wise for parents to go ahead and have heir child do community college first. It will save them a ton of money over the course of 4-5 years.

See a list of tuition costs at Georgia Schools

A few thoughts: The snowbound edition

January 13, 2011 9 comments

South+WinterWeather=BAD

I get it and I totally understand the fact that Southerners and those of us who transplanted here many moons ago do not do well in bad winter weather. In fact I sympathize with the South because we get trounced as unprepared and unsophisticated because we have a difficult time dealing with and cleaning up bad snow weather. Citizens and visitors alike have to understand that we are just not prepared to handle what is basically a once a decade thing. If we were, we would have a bunch of equipment that sits around and gets outdated before it gets hardly any use. I am probably in the minority but I feel the state and the counties did about a good a job as they could have considering the circumstances. DeKalb reportedly has less than ten salt and sand spreaders and only two snow removal devices. Other counties in the metro are in the same boat. This is one time where I am not going to rail so hard on the county or the state for not being prepared. After all, if the county purchased more snow equipment we all would be howling how much the county squanders our tax dollars. Though I was surprised that by Thursday, there was still ice on some parts of the freeways, I was not complaining like so many around me. I guess I have come to resign myself to the fact that when we have atrocious winter weather this is the response we can expect. And we are not out of the woods yet.

I Love MARTA, but…

Why oh why did MARTA have limited bus service on Wednesday and today. Most people found a way to make it to work. I think that shortened routs or redirected routes would be preferable to nothing at all. The decision makers at MARTA must realize that the bus is a vital link for many folks to get not only to jobs, but to medical appointments, grocery stores and just to be able to get around. Monday and Tuesdays decision to cut bus service was reasonable, but Wednesday Could have been limited to major thoroughfares and retail districts. Most major roads on Wednesday were completely passable by then. I really have to wonder how much of this was MARTA employees not coming in to work because the road were “too bad” and how much was a concern for safety. Of all the people driving on the roads I put more faith in the ability of bus drivers and truck drivers than I do ordinary citizens. I also want to take MARTA to task for its rail schedule. The service was erratic even on Wednesday when MARTA should have been able to get a full complement of train operators. 20-25 minute waits on a train, a transfer and then another 10- 15 minute wait is horrible. This has not been a shining moment for MARTA, and add to that the two murders and the cut in service last year, MARTA is eroding what little public support it has remaining among those of us who have been solid supporters of MARTA over the years.

C’mon DeKalb Schools, make a decision already

DeKalb is always the last system to announce it will be closed because of bad weather. What are they contemplating? Are you afraid to be the first to close? I remember years ago when the school system closed based on a forecast of possible light snow/rain. They were the only system in the metro to close, and people questioned why they pulled the trigger to close schools before the weather event happened. It did not snow, it was a light cold rain. Check the conditions and if they do not meet your criteria for safety close the schools. A bad decision is a bad decision, you made it, you move on. I would not be at all surprised if that bad decision is still in the back of some people heads. By the way, I drove past two schools on my way to work, and both had parking lots with nothing but ice and the roads leading to them were nothing but ice. That decision could have been made early this morning.

Finally…

I don’t know about you, but I actually enjoyed the couple of days off this week. My wife and I had to use every bit of imagination to keep our 3 year old entertained. In this fast paced world of career and social media and just an overall sense of being busy, it was a time for all three of us to enjoy some time together. Although I think we do a pretty good job otherwise, it was refreshing that we had two days with just us three. Games, sledding, playing in the snow, movies and video games and even some flash cards made the two days go by quite well, and at the end of each day our three year old was ready to go to bed. Daycare has never been successful at doing that.

DeKalb school closure list revealed

January 4, 2011 11 comments
Updated this morning

DeKalb Schools has released possible attendance zones on its site as well as other documents pertaining to closures and redistricting. See them here. If you read the presentation, you should have a pretty good idea of what is proposed to change. The DeKalb site has been slow today, so you can  see the presentation here

The list is out and as expected South DeKalb could see many of it’s older schools shuttered. The AJC reported that 14 total schools are being considered for closing . The schools are Livsey, Medlock, Rock Chapel, Bob Mathis, Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Sky Haven, Toney, Peachcrest, Wadsworth and Kittredge, Avondale High, and Avondale Middle, with the last two to be used as magnet schools. So let the arguing begin. Lets be fair here. Most of the schools that are on the list are in what I call “old” South DeKalb. No schools From the newer areas of South Dekalb, like River Raod, or Flat Shoals Parkway were affected.  These were schools built long before many of us were here. I hate to see so many South DeKalb schools on the list, but lets face it, those schools are not pulling their weight. They are under-used and are costing the county million to keep open. I say lets not dwell on the fact that we are losing some schools, but focus on making those that survive better. Don’t come to public hearings complaining that you want your school to remain open. Instead become more active in the school that your children will be assigned to. That will be more productive than screaming about how the process is unfair. The one thing that does bother me is that these buildings will be empty within the year and they will become eyesores to communities that have more than their fair share of dilapidated and broke down buildings. I hope the county will off set these losses to the community by either selling or auctioning off these surplus buildings. I would hate to see so many schools end up like the old Hooper-Alexander school with overgrown grass and a detriorating exterior. That to me would be a slap in the face to all of us in South Dekalb. Closing these schools will be a fleeting moment, but to allow them to become dilapidated and havens for criminal activity will have far reaching effects. let me know what you think. We know most of these schools will be closing, how should the county deal with this surplus inventory?

DeKalb schools spotlighted six years ago in USA Today

December 6, 2010 5 comments

This article was sent by a reader recently, and I just had to share it just in case people had not read the comments from my last post. Here are a few quotes from the article.

This year(2004) at Vanderlyn, in a quiet DeKalb County suburb northeast of Atlanta, the PTA raised an eye-popping $133,166 and is lavishing it on the kids: $12,000 for the library, $12,500 for the gym, $4,000 for landscaping, $2,250 for “student incentives.”

Then to be contrasted with this statement:

Toney boasts a successful “Treasure Chest” program that rewards kids and parents who read books. Read a book, take home a prize: toothbrushes, soap, deodorant, blankets, canned goods. “Everything that they may be too proud to ask for,”

Basic necessities  are given as rewards! What’s worst, is that the reward system applies to parents as well as students. This an awful way to start life.

Addressing poverty and ignorance seems to be an elusive goal in education. Poverty is more entrenched and more dangerous than society wants to admit.

Experts say the effects of poverty fall squarely on minority students. John Logan, a demographic researcher at State University of New York-Albany, has found that the average black or Hispanic student attends an elementary school in which about two-thirds of classmates are poor; for whites, fewer than a third of classmates are poor.

Education is suppose to be the path out of poverty, but too many poor families are stuck in a cycle of poverty, poor education and a society unwilling to admit that poor students may need more resources.

Even middle-class minority students aren’t exempt: The average black family with an income of more than $60,000 lives in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than the average white family earning less than $30,000, he says.

This could explain why schools with solid middle class students are still suffering

Recent research also shows that poor students, who are least likely to find help at home, are least likely to find it at school. Poorly prepared, uncertified teachers are concentrated in urban and rural school districts, says Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University. “It all adds up,” she says.

Resources that are most needed in urban classrooms are not there.

This article sums up not only what is wrong in DeKalb, but5 what is also wrong in our education system in general. The sad part is that This article could have been written in 2010 with the same schools, and the facts would remain absolutely the same.,