The conversation about what to do about overcrowding in Regions 1 and 2 of DeKalb County continues. As people begin to consider the different options, I believe a few key aspects must be considered before we move forward, and those are: proposed school capacity, annexation, and the magnet program.

Proposed School Capacity

As the planners have proposed Option B, the Region 1 & 2 high schools will be at or overcapacity within one or two years of being built. This does not strike me as smart planning. By analyzing the “Summary of Results of Secondary School Options,” the data show that we will have barely enough seats for our Region 1 students if we select Option B as is. In all options, Region 2 is at or overcapacity.

  Option A Option B Option C
Region 1 Projected Enrollment 7,307 6,957 6,788
Region 1 Projected Capacity 7,621 7,015 7,221
Region 2 Projected Enrollment 5,305 5,655 5,312
Region 2 Projected Capacity 5,328 5,678 5,328

To address this issue, I think we need to amend Option B by suggesting that we build the new Cross Keys High School (at the Briarcliff location or at the current CKHS location) as a 3000-student high school. Not only would this take care of the capacity issue, but it would also provide our community with the school numbers necessary to offer a wide range of AP, IB, and language immersion programs.

It’s much more difficult and expensive to offer the amount of special programs at a smaller school. For example, if 10 kids wanted to take AP Calculus B/C, the school wouldn’t be able to offer the class. However, if 18 kids wanted to take Calculus B/C, then the school would be able to offer the course with a qualified teacher. As we think about the idea of a bigger school – much like what Gwinnett and Cobb counties already do – I think we must consider the benefits to both the finances and the quality of the course offerings of the school.

Not only do we need to increase capacity in Option B, but in Option A, Cross Keys HS should receive a rebuild and expansion to comfortably educate 3000+ students. While the projected enrollment for Region 1 in Option A is 7307 and the capacity is 7621, the schools in Region 2 will be right at capacity. If we make the new Cross Keys HS a 3000-student high school, we can also provide relief to the schools in Region 2.

If large high schools still seem unappealing, then perhaps we as a district need to be okay with the fact that we are going to need to redistrict every couple of years in order to balance enrollment. Gwinnett does it, and it works for them. Why can’t it work in DeKalb? On the other hand, if frequent redistricting doesn’t appeal to you, then perhaps we need to be open to building bigger schools.

Annexation Concerns

The Briarcliff site must be annexed into Brookhaven before any major investment occurs on that site (to eliminate the risk of the property being annexed into Atlanta Public Schools should Druid Hills pursue that option in the near future).

As I articulated in my previous post, this issue could prove incredibly costly in both time and money, should Druid Hills decide to pursue and secure annexation into the city of Atlanta. Because Atlanta has their own school system, this annexation (unlike other DeKalb annexations) would mean that DeKalb County Schools would lose the property to APS. Even though a financial deal would be made (in the event that this happens), this would still create yet another disruption to students and their education.

All I can say is that I hope that Brookhaven, DCSD, and the owner of the QuickTrip are having some good conversations about this. If not, then we need to seriously reconsider any option that pours money into this property.

The Magnet Program

The Chamblee magnet program may have to move to another location. I hate to say it, but this program may have served its purpose in Chamblee. The original purpose of magnet programs was to promote integration, without explicitly stating the fact. For Chamblee High School, it not only provided integration, but it also kept the school from closing. If it weren’t for the magnet program, Chamblee’s numbers would have been so low that it would have been shuttered years ago. However, with the magnet program’s inception and with its location at Chamblee High School, the community was able to hang onto their neighborhood school building.

Now we are in an entirely different situation. The magnet has not only contributed to the revitalization of Chamblee Charter High School, but it has also buoyed the community as a whole. However, now that the community is growing at an incredible rate, the magnet is taking seats away from neighborhood kids.

While it is not convenient, it might also not be prudent to continue to keep the magnet program housed at CCHS. Perhaps another school and another community that is struggling would benefit – in the same way that the city of Chamblee was able to benefit – from the magnet program relocating to another school.

I’m not suggesting we move it to Southwest DeKalb HS, where a similar program exists, but we should at least consider sites that would be more centrally located. If we don’t like the idea of the magnet moving, then we need to seriously evaluate an option that includes high schools that have capacity for 3000 students – especially in Regions 1 and 2.

For what it’s worth, I think the fact that we are finally doing something to address the problems created by overcrowding indicates that people are fed up with the status quo. I’ve been encouraged to see people from completely different neighborhoods working together to try to find common ground and a workable solution.

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the opposite.

As we continue to wrestle through these issues, let’s be mindful that in working for the good of our surrounding neighborhoods and the county as a whole, we are indirectly impacting ourselves – for better or worse.