The Cross Keys cluster (where I live and teach) are all ridiculously overcrowded. Thankfully we have an incredible new superintendent who apparently means business. DeKalb County Schools has given us a few options to choose from to address the overcrowding issues facing the Cross Keys cluster. Let’s break each one down and then think about where we can go from here. To access the pertinent hand-outs, slideshows, and maps, click here. This is going to be a long post.

Option 1 (Elementary Schools)

In this option (and in Option 2), there is more of a decrease in trailer classrooms than in Option 3. However, there are several concerns I (and the community) have with this option. First of all, there is the issue that Dresden Elementary residents, Briar Vista Elementary residents, and Montclair Elementary residents would all need to leave their neighborhoods (where they are within walking distance from their current elementary school) and travel several miles to another elementary school.

Yes, this decreases trailer classrooms, but it raises additional issues that can be equally frustrating to parents and students. Many parents in the Dresden and Montclair communities depend on being able to walk or take a short taxi ride over to their child’s elementary. If we choose option 1 or 2, these parents will have more expensive, longer taxi rides, substituting one burden (extreme overcrowding) for another (difficult access to school). Anything that decreases parent involvement and adds time-consuming travel for families without transportation, in my opinion, is a trade-off I’m not sure we should make.

For parents in Briar Vista, this raises several concerns as well (as voiced in last night’s public meeting at Druid Hills HS). Currently, the school houses a Montessori choice program that over 200 students in the Briar Vista attendance zone already attend. This means they currently get bus transportation to the school because it is their “home” school. However, under Options 1 and 2, the Briar Vista attendance zone would be redistricted for Fernbank Elementary (which doesn’t have a Montessori program) and if the students currently enrolled in the Montessori program at Briar Vista want to continue in that program, parents would have to provide separate transportation (as many parents already do if their children are in a choice program in DCSD). This also means parents could ostensibly have two elementary-aged children attending two different elementary schools, a burden which can wreak havoc on family schedules.

Option 2 (Elementary Schools)

This option has many of the same issues as Option 1, except this option also includes utilizing the building where Warren Technical School (an incredible high school program for students with special needs that partners with nearby businesses to train students for life in the workforce) is currently located.

In this option, Cary Reynolds Elementary would get no relief during the 2016-2017 school year, but during the 2017-2018 school year, the students living outside of I-285 would be districted for the Warren Technical School. Doing this would do two things — 1) provide the most relief for overcrowding and 2) disrupt the lives of the most people.

Warren Technical School functions so well because it maintains relationships with existing businesses, providing internships, job training, and eventually jobs for its students. If Warren Tech has to relocate to the Terry Mill location, the program could suffer greatly since those business partnerships would be much more difficult to maintain from such a long distance. The cost to convert this technical school to an elementary school (and then to convert Terry Mill to a technical school) would also be costly to the district.

Option 3 (Elementary Schools)

This option produces the least amount of overcrowding relief and the overcrowding issue remains within the Cross Keys cluster. Not only does Woodward Elementary gain 1 more trailer by 2017-2018, but the students are shifted slightly closer to a different elementary school – still not reducing the overcapacity issue by nearly enough. One might also note that the majority of the overcrowding is still limited to the schools that are over 90% Hispanic. The number of trailers in the elementary schools is reduced from 84 down to 65 in this plan, but this is still not enough for our families and their children.

On the other hand, since these are supposed to be temporary solutions, one could argue that Option 3 causes the least disruption while still alleviating the overcrowding (slightly). If the school system truly is going to build 2 new elementary schools during the next 2 years, then perhaps Option 3 could be the “best” option while we wait.

Options 1 (High Schools)

It makes logical sense that the students in the marked area would go to Chamblee Charter HS. Not only is the school within walking distance from those homes, but it would also reduce the overcrowding of Cross Keys HS by 160 students. But we need to do more for our high school students

Options 2 (High Schools)

This option reduces the travel time for the students who are in the designated area outside of I-285 while also reducing the overcrowding of CKHS. However, I would add that since Chamblee Charter HS currently has 300 available seats this year, both Options 1 and 2 (high schools) should be implemented during 2016-2017. I would also add that the portion excluded outside of I-285 from the highlighted section in Option 2 should be included in the final high school attendance zone.

If this would mean that CCHS would need an additional trailer or two (or a quad building), then it would be better than adding the projected 10 trailers/portable classrooms to CKHS (which already has 15 portable classrooms). Only teachers, students, and families can tell you the effects of having a school with dozens of trailers. Not only is it an administrative hassle, but it also affects the mentality of students attending a school with such a large number of trailers.

There are also many factors which I am not sure everyone has considered. In a school (like CKHS) built for 1100-1200 students, that means that not only are there only enough classrooms for that many students, but there is also only a cafeteria made to serve that many students (even now, some students only get five minutes to eat lunch – and that’s with five different lunch periods). There is only technology to serve that many students. There are only enough lockers to serve that many students. If Cross Keys HS expands by the projected 200-300 students next year, our facilities are going to be even more unable to cope with the amount of students.

I also want to add that while CKHS only has 15 trailers this year, we have many teachers who “float.” This means many teachers don’t even have their own trailer classroom, let alone a classroom inside the building. Floater teachers travel to a different room every period, carrying with them their supplies, books, grading, and personal items.

Even if Chamblee Charter HS might need to be a bit over-capacity next year, the students would greatly benefit from the change. Having a couple extra trailers at a school isn’t aesthetically enjoyable, nor is it ideal for educating students. I would argue, however, that 15-25 portables at one school is much worse for students, teachers, and administrators, and we cannot require Cross Keys HS to bear the full weight of overcrowding while Chamblee Charter HS has room to spare.

What about the overcrowded middle school?

Sequoyah Middle School (the CK cluster middle school) has 17 portable classrooms. Chamblee Middle School has 150 available seats and no trailers. The same arguments that I made in favor of moving some of the high school students to CCHS apply in this case as well. The middle schoolers in the areas specified in Options 1 and 2 for the high schools should be zoned for Chamblee MS (or whatever would shift at least 150 students to the middle school).

Next Steps

Every year is important, and our kids cannot continue to be “educated” in overcrowded facilities that deprive our kids of equal opportunity. Obviously it is our job (as teachers) to educate students regardless of the challenges, but I believe we as a community need to do whatever we can to help remove the barriers to student success. And that might mean utilizing open space at schools like Chamblee Charter High School and Chamblee Middle School – and others.

I also want to suggest utilizing the space at Oakcliff Elementary Theme School, right outside of I-285. This school is an incredible place for students, and it could provide relief to Cary Reynolds and Dresden by expanding its attendance zone and adding a couple temporary quad buildings. (Something to consider when planning would be the requirements to attend this school, which includes — among other aspects — an 18-hour annual parent commitment to volunteering at the school.)

It also might mean that DeKalb County Schools might need to begin building those 2 elementary schools as soon as we can secure land (anyone selling?). Perhaps we can find some land in Chamblee or Doraville to relieve the overcrowding at Dresden and Cary Reynolds, but an even more obvious move needs to include a purchase of the former Skyland Elementary building, located right behind Plaza Fiesta.

The question for the elementary schools is this: can we wait for these new elementary schools or should we take the greatest amount of immediate relief by choosing 1 of the 3 options presented by the district?

*If you have any short- or long-term suggestions, please submit articles and ideas to rebekahcmorris@gmail.com and I would be happy to publish a guest perspective on this topic. Again, my only desire in this blog is to promote a healthy, critical discussion on these and other topics, so feel free to share.