DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — DeKalb County Schools Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson presented a redistricting plan Jan. 13 that significantly differs from previous staff plans discussed with the School Board.
Tyson said the goal of her plan was to minimize disruption to families until a long-term solution can be implemented to address overcrowding. But, some Dunwoody parents have criticized the plan for not doing enough.
“This district needs a comprehensive master plan,” Tyson said. “The Dunwoody cluster is overcrowded and what it’s going to take to fix it is not an overnight bullet. It’s going to take phases to get it done.”
The plan provides some relief to Dunwoody and Hightower elementary schools, the two most overcrowded schools in the Dunwoody cluster. About 100 students would be moved from Dunwoody to the new Austin Elementary School, and about 100 would be moved from Hightower outside the cluster to Doraville United.
In plans presented by the school district for public input last fall, all Dunwoody cluster schools were impacted to some degree. Under Tyson’s plan, only Austin, Dunwoody and Hightower would be.
Megan Cann, chair of the Principal’s Advisory Council of Dunwoody Elementary School, said some parents felt blindsided by Tyson’s plan.
“When the map came out on Monday, especially the Dunwoody Elementary community was outraged,” she said. “We felt like we had done what was asked of us with community input sessions — done the surveys, shown up to the meetings, looked at lines and maps and numbers — and it feels like all that effort was in vain.”
Across the district, 800 students would be moved, about 50 portable classrooms would be eliminated and student moves would be minimized. There would be no portables at Austin, but they would remain at Dunwoody and Hightower.
“It’ not an ideal learning environment for our students,” Cann said. “It makes it difficult for the teachers. We have 8-year-old kids who are going to a portable bathroom outside. I just feel like we could do better for our students in America in 2020.”
Cann said if the school district could move an addition 100 to 150 students from Dunwoody Elementary to another school, all of its core classes could be taught in the school building. She also noted that the area zoned for Dunwoody will see more development in the coming years than other areas of the city, potentially exacerbating the unequal distribution of overcrowding.
“I feel like they took the path of least resistance by moving a minimum number of students, but it just didn’t achieve the goal of relieving the overcrowding and distributing the burden of overcrowding,” she said
To better understand those enrollment and development projections, Tyson recommended contracting with a third party to develop a comprehensive master plan, which would include looking at future redistricting.
“We need to slow down and do it the right way,” Tyson said. “We don’t want to move people two, three times.”
Tyson also said the district needs to start work on a new elementary school for the Dunwoody and Chamblee clusters. Cann appreciated Tyson’s call to start working toward long-term solutions, but said parents are skeptical that those changes will happen efficiently given DeKalb Schools track record.
“We listened,” Tyson said. “While this solution won’t hit every mark, and board members, I won’t make you happy with everything you wanted, in the long term I believe we will mark every check that needs to be marked.”
Stan Jester, who represents Dunwoody on the School Board, thanked Tyson for a “thoughtful” plan but said some details may need to be changed.