DeKalb parents blast plan to shift students

Dunwoody Elementary School in Dunwoody, Georgia, on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. North DeKalb parents are riled by a redistricting plan that would move about 800 students into new school zones, beginning the process of alleviating overcrowding in many north county schools and reduce the need for portable classrooms. District officials presented the plan during DeKalb's monthly school board meeting and say it is necessary to lighten the load for those schools.
Dunwoody Elementary School in Dunwoody, Georgia, on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. North DeKalb parents are riled by a redistricting plan that would move about 800 students into new school zones, beginning the process of alleviating overcrowding in many north county schools and reduce the need for portable classrooms. District officials presented the plan during DeKalb's monthly school board meeting and say it is necessary to lighten the load for those schools.

A district plan that would move 100 students out of Dunwoody Elementary School barely addresses the school’s overcrowding problem, say parents outraged over a plan to move 800 elementary school students out of several DeKalb schools they attend now.

Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson unveiled the interim redistricting plan during Monday's DeKalb County Board of Education meeting and said it sought to begin providing relief to the district's overcrowded schools in a way that would let families feel minimal disruption.

Megan Cann said that after parents eagerly participated in "engagement" meetings with district officials hoping to resolve overcrowding, the plan felt like a slap in the face.

“I’m concerned it moves so few students,” said Cann, president of Dunwoody Elementary’s Parent Advisory Council who has two children attending DeKalb County schools.

Tyson said the plan's goals are to begin providing relief to overcrowded schools in several school clusters — elementary, middle and high schools in the same attendance zone — while populating the new Doraville United Elementary School and committing to a comprehensive master plan for alleviating the overcrowding. Doraville United is scheduled to open in August and can hold up to 950 students.

“I’ve been laboring with the staff on this for seven weeks,” she said. “I do not take your angst lightly. The guiding light must always be do what’s in the best interest of children, and I will stand by that. This … probably isn’t the solution that some want.”

The district’s plan sends 102 students from Dunwoody Elementary to Austin Elementary, 108 students from Hightower Elementary to the new Doraville United, 381 from Dresden Elementary to the new Doraville United and 209 students from Cary Reynolds to the new Doraville United. More than 30 portable classrooms would be removed in the plan, officials said.

Tyson said much research went into the proposal and its guiding principles included balancing school facility utilization, establishing clear feeder patterns and continuity, accounting for future growth, minimizing impact on students and considering economic, cultural and ethnic diversity. She said the group that prepared the plan did so with a realistic timeline in mind while embracing collaboration and community engagement. During the presentation, she rattled off names of parents and teachers who sent emails and other notes. Some of the suggestions, she said, were used in the proposal.

“I want you to know we listened,” she said. “And while the solution may not hit the mark … in the long term, I believe we will mark every check that will need to be marked, but in the appropriate way.”

Some Dunwoody-area parents said they felt they attended DeKalb Schools engagement meetings for months without ever being heard.

“They have sought so much community input and feedback and it seems like they didn’t listen to it and instead are not providing the relief to the overcrowding that we have,” said Hela Sheth, who has a first-grader at Dunwoody Elementary. “Kids are going to suffer because of that.”

About 1,175 students are currently enrolled at Dunwoody Elementary School, in a school district region where much of DeKalb County's recent growth is taking place. The current building is fitted for just 955 students. The entire third-grade class attends classes in portable classrooms behind the main school building. A portable bathroom sits near the off-shoot classrooms, parents said, calling it an eyesore for anyone who visits the area.

The school community took part in the engagement meetings as well as meetings held by DeKalb County Board of Education member Stan Jester, whose district includes Dunwoody Elementary, and were presented with several plans to which they provided input, including several that looked to immediately resolve the school’s overcrowding by sending hundreds of students away to the new Austin Elementary School.

“Dunwoody Elementary is in a bit of a crisis,” said Kim Schneller, who has students at the school in kindergarten and first grade. “Of all the options presented, the superintendent plan gives Dunwoody Elementary the least amount of relief.

“Meanwhile, empty seats are going to sit in a building two miles away.”

Elementary Schools Over Capacity

As of October 2019

School Enrollment Building Capacity Percentage Over Capacity

Ashford Park ES 734 549 134%

Austin ES 708 500 142%

Cary Reynolds ES 784 587 134%

Chestnut ES 458 358 128%

Dresden ES 1,020 747 137%

Dunwoody ES 1,177 955 123%

Evansdale ES 625 549 114%

Hawthorne ES 370 325 114%

Henderson Mill 537 476 113%

Hightower ES 752 568 132%

Huntley Hills ES 508 460 110%

Idlewood ES 959 750 128%

Indian Creek ES 962 750 128%

Jolly ES 753 675 112%

Livsey ES 352 313 112%

Montgomery ES 826 660 125%

Pleasantdale ES 623 550 113%

Sagamore Hills ES 439 378 116%

Stoneview ES 831 700 119%

Vanderlyn ES 695 516 135%

Woodridge ES 523 463 113%

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