Last Wednesday, I attended the first round of the redistricting process for the new Cross Keys North elementary (aka Doraville United Elementary). Because of some of the options being discussed and thrown around, many teachers and parents have contacted me, worried about what is going to happen to their schools. Some have even asked if their school is going to be shut down. I have tried to assure them that with schools being hundreds of students overcapacity, they really shouldn’t have anything to worry about as far as a school being shut down.

Having been involved in local and school politics for quite some time, I know that redistricting and schools are one of the most influential factors for a neighborhood and a city. Therefore, I feel that — as a city council candidate especially — I should be doing what I can to encourage thoughtful dialogue as a community. This is going to affect our communities for decades to come.

As you can see from the schools capacity handout and other meeting materials (click “Cross Keys North”), the redistricting process has the potential to affect many elementary schools and their feeder patterns into middle and high schools. 

As I’ve written about many times, the schools in the Cross Keys, Chamblee, and Dunwoody clusters have suffered from significant overcrowding for some time. The new Cross Keys North elementary will significantly reduce overcrowding at schools like Cary Reynolds and Dresden; however, overcrowding is likely to remain a problem in some Dunwoody and Chamblee cluster schools even after this redistricting. 

Given both a history and a future of overcrowding in these areas, the school district is rightly focused on the goal of making efficient use of school capacity based on projected enrollment. Achieving this goal means the most overcrowding relief for the greatest number of students. 

With the school district considering asking for a tax increase to support more school capacity building and maintenance, it seems we literally cannot afford to have the current redistricting efforts result in schools that are significantly under capacity. 

At last Wednesday’s redistricting meeting on how to reduce overcrowding, one of the small group questions was: “Should any changes to the Oakcliff Theme School be considered as part of the options for redistricting in round 2?” 

Before exploring what I love about Oakcliff and how it potentially relates to overcrowding, I want to provide some background: Oakcliff Traditional Theme School is a DeKalb school that’s part of DeKalb’s school choice program, but it is different from many other choice schools because, with a few small exceptions, it is a choice only for students in the Cary Reynolds and Dreseden attendance areas shown here and in the Pleasantdale attendance area shown here. (Please click on these links as understanding the maps and where Oakcliff draws its students from is very important.)

Because Oakcliff is a DeKalb school and serves a small area, it also provides bus transportation to its students. I understand we should have final October 2019 enrollment numbers soon, but based on the October 2018 data available on DeKalb Schools planning website, here’s the 2018 breakdown of where the students attending Oakcliff came from last school year:oakcliff capacity
At Wednesday’s redistricting meeting I spent time in a few different small group breakout rooms, including both the English and Spanish-speaking rooms, and a number of people also responded that they didn’t want any changes to Oakcliff. It seems they, too, recognize, the high-quality staff and programming at Oakcliff, including its STEM certification and numerous community partnerships. 

But in the small groups, I also heard a few other questions and comments. Like “How can I make sure my children attend the new school?”, “I attend Oakcliff, but I would also be interested in sending my kids to the new school,” or I chose Oakcliff to avoid overcrowding in my neighborhood school.” 

These comments have me asking myself the following:

What will Oakcliff’s enrollment be after the new Cross Keys North and the new Pleasantdale elementary (click here for the new Pleasantdale) schools open in the fall of 2020?

It’s reasonable to assume that some current Oakcliff parents will opt to send their kids to one of the new schools in 2020. Some may also return to their home schools now that they won’t be overcrowded. And what about beyond 2020? What will Oakcliff’s enrollment be? What assumptions underlie these projections? How do these projections change if Oakcliff is transitioned back into a regular neighborhood school with a defined attendance area? What happens to these projections if you expand the area that Oakcliff draws from?

I will be asking the school district to provide the community with detailed answers to these questions about Oakcliff’s projected enrollment in 2020 and beyond.

If projected enrollment at Oakcliff stays strong in 2020 and beyond with no changes, then the answer seems to be easy — no change to Oakcliff. 

However, if projected enrollment at Oakcliff would decline significantly in 2020 and beyond, then the answer becomes much harder because having a school with significant excess capacity when other schools may become overcrowded seems like it undermines the big-picture policy goal of reducing overcrowding at as many schools as possible. Hopefully in the next round we will see some good options from the school district on how to address this scenario.

The bottom line is that from a personal perspective — as a parent of a current Oakcliff student, member of the Oakcliff PTA, and friend to many other Oakcliff parents and students — I don’t want to see any changes to Oakcliff. Dr. Paschall and her staff and teachers do an excellent job, and the school district should do everything they can to retain, empower, and promote them. But if Oakcliff enrollment is projected to decline significantly, evaluating the options becomes much harder given the big-picture goal of reducing overcrowding for as many students as possible.

Please be sure to take the DeKalb County School District online survey regarding this redistricting process before October 6.