Georgia Charter Schools Association

DeKalb County BOE Denies Druid Hills Charter Cluster

This press release was issued by the Druid Hills Charter Cluster:                                                   
DHCC Media Contact: 404-849-2411

Parents and teachers across 7 diverse school communities express dismay and disappointment
and consider appropriate next steps.

Atlanta — By a vote of 5-4, the DeKalb County Board of Education denied the state’s first parent and teacher-driven petition for an autonomous, public charter school cluster. The petition would have granted governance of 7 diverse school communities – five feeder elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school – to a non-profit board sourced from individuals vested in the cluster and its surrounding businesses and organizations.

The seven schools are Avondale Elementary, Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary, Laurel Ridge Elementary, McLendon Elementary, Druid Hills Middle, and Druid Hills High.

Matt Lewis, a parent who led the petition effort, expressed disappointment about the decision. “The Board’s decision is a chilling demonstration of the tyrannical insistence on mediocrity that plagues the DeKalb County public education system leading to underperforming schools that block progress in the vulnerable parts of our communities.  In one vote, the DeKalb Board has disenfranchised the very parental leadership it claims to champion, and committed the education and success of nearly 5,000 students and 400 school personnel to the ash heap of the status quo.”

The cluster petition, developed through an organic grassroots effort largely in response to lagging achievement and the accreditation woes of the district, reflected widespread community dissatisfaction with under-performing, under-resourced, and poorly-managed DeKalb County schools. 

After 7 months of weekly cluster planning meetings – all publicized and open to the public and inclusive of any volunteer who showed up – and countless research and discussion documents posted online, over 1,000 cluster stakeholders turned out and chose to support this new approach to public education by an overwhelming margin of 92% to 8%.  

Moreover, the indisputable merits of the approach would lead to lower class sizes and higher levels of achievement cluster-wide; provide for additional student enrollment from throughout the county at any of the 7 schools with capacity; put principals in charge of schools and teachers in charge of classrooms; use only a portion of existing funds for the 7 schools to provide innovative K-12 learning pathways with integrity; ensure no reduction in funding for any other school in the county; give schools and their communities the opportunity to select governance personnel; value teachers and increase their pay; and provide for independent accreditation.  The cluster’s approach, in short, is in the public interest.

What is clearly not in the public interest is the denial of this petition.  

At the November 11 called Board meeting, DeKalb County Superintendent Thurmond and his staff stated that the petition met all legal requirements for a charter, concurring with the conclusion of the Georgia Department of Education, but advocated that about 1/3 of the per student state required funding for charter cluster students remain with the school district rather than go to cluster classrooms. 

Other events at Monday’s meeting showed an equal disregard for the charter process and public interest.  Thurmond’s Charter Office seemed confused regarding petition approval criteria and reversed its position on key petition issues.  Thurmond’s Charter Office and counsel refused to provide Petition organizers with any information on the district’s recommendation on the petition, and tried to withhold documents provided to Board members in the public Board meeting, attended by hundreds of Petition supporters.    

Ultimately, the petition denial and Superintendent’s refusal to meet with the petition organizers or provide information will generate enormous and additional ill will toward the district from many of the 5,000 students and over 400 personnel in the cluster.  

Furthermore, the district’s lack of transparency and fair dealing combined with the Board’s denial of a petition that would bring greater academic achievement to all within the majority minority community is likely to fuel and give momentum to various alternatives, all of which may well remove students and resources from the district.  It will demonstrate plainly a continued challenge with basic governance at the DeKalb Board level that is counter to the accrediting guidelines from SACS.  

And it will silence the voices of the hundreds of parents, teachers, and community members who committed themselves in good faith to the process of improving public education for students within the cluster and beyond – the same kind of parent involvement and leadership that is necessary to have successful schools 

Theresa Bennett, a parent of an Avondale Elementary student and future cluster governing board member who devoted countless hours towards the development of the petition also reflected on what the denial means to her school community.  “The denial of this petition is very disappointing; I can’t believe the board has told our kids “no” to success and smaller classes.  Do they really want our kids to succeed?”

It’s time for common sense to prevail.   The cluster’s parent and teacher coalition will weigh all of its options to move forward on a path in the best interest of kids and communities. 

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