"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom," Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British aristocrat, philosopher, historian and social critics.
I was born in DeKalb County, educated in our public schools, and graduated from Lakeside High School. I'm among thousands who graduated from the DeKalb County School District during its glory days. So it is hard not to look at the current quagmire enveloping the leadership of the system with a mix of pity, despair and disgust. How does a school system, with annual revenues approaching $1-billion, nearly 100,000 students and so many things going for it...get so screwed up?
The DeKalb County School District is facing multiple challenges, many of them are real, some are reversible, and some are trends outside of the system's control. Still having a daughter currently enrolled in the system, I can say that I regularly witness or hear about a point of pride, major or minor accomplishment by a student or educator and daily demonstrations of excellence emanating from several of our nearly 150 schools and centers in the DCSD.
DeKalb County governance is troubled on many levels, admittedly some businesses and individual families will begin the process of bailing out. Clayton County experienced an outward bound flood of this nature after its school system lost accreditation. But whether you are reading these thoughts in Ellenwood, Dunwoody, Stone Mountain, Chamblee or downtown Decatur...don't kid yourself. Further sub-dividing our county or its school system into a series of fiefdoms is no guaranteed path to success. And creating new schools systems in Georgia will require an amendment to the Georgia Constitution. Creating a new Dunwoody School District or City of Lakeside will not improve student outcomes in those clusters, it will only ADD costs, in exchange for less fear and a perception of greater 'local control.'
Four of Georgia's perpetually highest performing school systems are Forsyth County, Fayette County, Trion City and City of Decatur Schools. Smallness is not their similarity, or path to greatness. Participation and community leadership is their key. Look at the school boards of those systems, as well as their senior administration staff. Read the resumes. You see achievement, academics and educators with proven track records, civic, community and business leaders of standing...(the bank or hospital president, head of the Chamber of Commerce), business and education professionals and occasionally a parent activist. What you don't see are superintendents on a downward professional spiral having left their prior system under a cloud, board members who are extremely parochial or who often have no other source of income or employment...or who began their service as a community activist or retired educator.
Splitting our DCSD into three our four smaller systems is guaranteed only to increase costs, with no guarantee of improved results...and only the potential possibility of greater 'local control.' In communities where the leadership, families, churches and schools are fully vested...those schools are already successful. If you look at the historic divide and complaints of disproportionate resources being spent on DeKalb's schools on the north side, what you will actually find are parents, teachers, coaches, students and siblings invested in those schools. PTA's, booster clubs and community businesses routinely sponsor school teams and events in Dunwoody, Lakeside, Druid Hills, Chamblee and elsewhere. The same dollars per student are appropriated by the county and the state to schools on the south side, but that other support is not identical...and over-time the gap widens.
Dunwoody school parents already have some pretty good tools at their disposal in the new Charter Schools amendment which voters passed last year. There are also methods in place, as well as opportunities for school accreditation without school system accreditation. However, if the folks pushing the City of Lakeside and for a new Dunwoody School District want to move full speed ahead, they might want to take note that those school buildings now, as well as their surrounding grounds still belong to the people of DeKalb County and the DCSD. The Lakeside campus just completed in excess of $20-million in improvements last year. Perhaps the way out of DCSD's deficit hole and towards creating a nice tidy surplus would be to sell the Dunwoody and Lakeside clusters to these two new systems for say...$200-million. That's a whole lot of band candy folks.
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