The options for the DeKalb County Secondary Schools Planning and Feasibility Study are out for public review and comment. The big question in the minds of many thoughtful people is “Which option is best for DeKalb?” I wish I could write with 100% certainty, but unfortunately this issue is quite complex. However, I do hope that by reviewing the different options, we are able to collectively gain a better understanding of the proposals.

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Originally I had argued quite vehemently in favor of a Doraville-area high school (which has become manifest in Option A). After much consideration and conversation with community members, school advocates, board members, students, and teachers/administrators, I have come to believe that there may still be a better option, one which hasn’t been fully suggested by the planners.

I want to walk us through the options, sharing a couple of the concerns that I have heard about each.

Option A Concerns

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  1. What’s going to happen to the Cross Keys High School building?

First of all, my major concern – and one which is shared by many other individuals – is that if we build a 2400-student high school in the Doraville area, and if we build a new middle school on the Briarcliff property, then Cross Keys High School will once again be overlooked.

Yes, we would address the overcrowding in CKHS, but we will leave many students to attend a crumbling, old facility (with maybe a new auditorium) while their friends go off to Chamblee Charter HS and the new Doraville-area HS. This is not conscionable given that this school has continued to decay while every other high school in the county has gotten a new building or a major renovation/addition.

Because so many promises have been made to the families of Cross Keys over the years, only to later be broken or postponed, the Cross Keys community is concerned that the county will find it difficult to fund a significant renovation to CKHS while simultaneously building a new high school, a new middle school, and two new elementary schools.

  1. Why is the Briarcliff Campus being considered as a location for a middle school?

In Option A, the proposal includes retaining Cross Keys as a high school while simultaneously building a middle school on the Briarcliff site (located off North Druid Hills Road in Unincorporated DeKalb). To me, it makes more sense to use the Briarcliff campus as a new, centrally located high school to relieve overcrowding at Lakeside, North Druid Hills, Cross Keys, and eventually Chamblee.

The Briarcliff property is also a large piece of land with an existing stadium, something traditionally considered by high schools – not middle schools. I believe that using this property for a middle school is not an efficient use of the land, and as such, should be considered for a potential high school to replace Cross Keys. This would also address the legitimate concern that Cross Keys would be the only high school in Region 1 to not be fully replaced or significantly renovated with additions.

Option B Concerns

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  1. The City of Brookhaven needs to annex the land comprising the Briarcliff property and the adjacent Quicktrip to ensure that, should Druid Hills attempt to join Emory in its Atlanta annexation efforts, this high school remains open to students within DeKalb County for years to come.

Emory has announced that it plans to seek annexation into Atlanta this year. What does this mean? That Emory would no longer be located in “unincorporated DeKalb” (which means “not in an actual city, but still within DeKalb County”). This could potentially trigger a snowball effect, causing other communities surrounding Emory (i.e. Druid Hills) to also seek annexation into Atlanta.

We saw this a year and a half ago when Druid Hills (located in unincorporated DeKalb) tried to join the city of Atlanta. This would have been significant because it would have taken with it any DeKalb County Schools located in the proposed area, including Druid Hills High School. Not only would the school building then have been located within the city of Atlanta, but it also would have become a part of Atlanta Public Schools – not DeKalb County Schools. The hundreds of students who attended Druid Hills area schools (and who did not live within the proposed area) would have then been forced to find another school.

Why is this significant? Because the Briarcliff property –even if it only has a 1 in 10 chance of being annexed into Atlanta – poses significant risks for DeKalb County Schools as long as it is located in unincorporated DeKalb. I don’t imagine the county wants to spend millions in dollars on a property, just to watch it dissolve into Atlanta. Besides the monetary waste, the waste of time concerns me.

How do we fix this? There are only two properties between the City of Brookhaven and the Briarcliff property: the Quicktrip gas station and the John D. Lewis Elementary (owned by DCSD). If both the QT property owner and DCSD agreed to seek annexation into Brookhaven, and if Brookhaven agreed to annex that property, then the county’s interests would be protected.

By annexing into Brookhaven (which doesn’t have its own school system – a key detail when comparing this annexation to annexation into Atlanta), DeKalb County Schools would be able to ensure that their future high school and $80 million investment would be able to serve the students of DeKalb County.

Unless this issue is addressed, I don’t see how it would be wise for DeKalb County Schools to pursue any construction on this site.

  1. Why does this option necessarily have to include split feeder systems?

For those of us not well-versed in public school lingo, here is a brief explanation: in DeKalb County, several elementary schools feed into 1 middle school which feeds into 1 high school. This is called a “1-to-1 feeder” model. A split feeder model would mean that some students at certain elementary schools might feed into 2 different middle schools. It might also mean that 1 middle school could feed into 2 different high schools.  Many parents say this would “wreak havoc on communities.”(I won’t directly address this concern, but I will say that while this model has never been used in DeKalb, Gwinnett County Public Schools has used this model with success.)

In this option, Education Planners have stated that split feeder systems would be necessary. I would like an explanation as to why? In my mind, a split feeder system could be avoided – it might just take some outside-the-box thinking.

Option C Concerns

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Where is the magnet program going to be located?

At the community input meeting last night, our room said that any concerns with option A are also concerns with option C, with one major addition to the list of concerns: the magnet program would move to an “unknown” location within the county.

This concern is pretty self-explanatory. Many parents in Region 1 feel that the program would suffer tremendously if it were to move to another region in DeKalb. The two reasons for opposition include:

-South DeKalb already has a high-achievers magnet program – why would we move another high-achievers magnet program to the same region?

-If the magnet program moves to South DeKalb, many parents would find the distance prohibitive.

In my mind, some combination of all three of these options should be considered. I will be following up with that analysis in my next post. In the meantime, you can view the official documents from the DeKalb County website by clicking the following links:

http://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/documents/secondary-school-study/options-handout.pdf

http://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/documents/secondary-school-study/presentation.pdf

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdmomF29DlfNrO1O9EoOqPReXAeb6s-3Q5wGEBUdkBWIlpkvQ/viewform?c=0&w=1

My blog is titled “The Georgian Educator.” I realize some of my readers might often feel that the focus is more on DeKalb County schools than on education in Georgia. However, I maintain that even though I spend much of my time blogging about issues within DeKalb County, the underlying premises and themes still hold true throughout the state.

Education in Georgia is complex, and many of the issues that arise within my county system are simultaneously occurring in other school systems. Therefore, my hope is that when my readers read about specific instances within DCSD, that they are extrapolating some sort of method or idea from the circumstances that I write about. I hope that they are able to draw connections to issues that are present within their own school or community, and that perhaps they are able to arrive at a better understanding of their own specific issues.