DUNWOODY, Ga. — School staff, elected officials, parents and students shared thanks and celebration at the official ribbon cutting of the new Austin Elementary School Feb. 19.
The 900-seat school, which was built to help ease overcrowding in the district, is located on 10.2 acres of the 28-acre Dunwoody Park and Dunwoody Nature Center property. Originally located up the road at 5435 Roberts Drive, Austin has been open since 1975. Students moved into the new location in January.
As part of the ceremony, three first graders shared their experiences moving to the new building, relating their excitement over the bigger classrooms, new white boards and the rock-climbing wall. They served as a reminder of what it’s all about, Principal Ann Cullbreath said.
“In my eyes this is all about the students,” Cullbreath said. “A house is built of bricks and wooden beams. Our new Austin home is made of love and many dreams.”
The ceremony also included choral and orchestral performances by the students and remarks from Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson, Board of Education Chairman Marshall Orson, Board Member Stan Jester, DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester, Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch and Regional Superintendent Sherry Johnson.
“We know that a school is more than a building … but it does feel good to have a new building,” Orson said. “I think it’s a point of a pride, a marker of our commitment to continuing to improve the school district.”
Though remarks focused on thanks, hanging over the event was the reality that Dunwoody schools’ overcrowding problem is far from solved.
“I’m excited for the children of Austin,” Mayor Deutsch said. “For our community I am grateful. Because I am responsible for my entire city, I hope to do this many more times in the next nearly four years. We have children in grades K through 12 across my community that are not in buildings. They’re in trailers.”
Deutsch said the new building and its location were a shining example of what can be accomplished when the city and the school district work well together.
Earlier this month, the DeKalb County School Board approved an interim redistricting plan, which moves about 100 students to the new Austin site from Dunwoody Elementary.
It also moves about 100 students from Hightower Elementary outside the cluster to Doraville United and relocated Dunwoody Elementary fourth and fifth graders to the Nancy Creek facility currently being used by Kittredge Magnet School.
Megan Cann, chairwoman of the Principal’s Advisory Council of Dunwoody Elementary School, said while she is grateful there will no longer be Dunwoody Elementary students in trailers, she regrets that families and the community will be split.
“This plan is certainly never anything that we advocated for,” Cann said in an interview with The Crier. “When this whole process started, there were different options put forward. Community involvement was encouraged. This option was never presented for feedback until the Friday before the meeting. It feels like it came out of nowhere.”
The plan is designed to be a short-term solution while the district develops a comprehensive facilities and districting plan. Cann said she hopes the master plan process will either genuinely consider community input or not waste their time.
“I think the reason this got so contentious and created animosity in the community is because this needed to be done 10 years ago,” Cann said. “Not only do we need a new school, we need renovations at a lot of existing schools.”
Tyson acknowledged that divisiveness at the ribbon cutting.
“Given all that’s been going on the last couple of weeks, it feels good to smile today,” the interim superintendent said. “When you hear the children singing and you hear from the teachers that support and guide them, this is what it’s all about.”