Parents of Dunwoody public school students got an update Sunday from the group that is pursuing three potential paths to greater independence from the DeKalb County school system. One of them, they learned, has been delayed for a year.
Allegra Johnson, speaking for the effort to petition the school system for a charter cluster, said the failure of one school council to sign the letter of intent means no letter will be submitted this year by the eight schools envisioned in the cluster. The Vanderlyn school council raised questions that delayed the effort at the April 30 deadline.
Johnson and Pam Tallmadge said the Dunwoody schools will have another chance to submit a petition in February. In the meantime, the Druid Hills and Lakeside high school clusters have petitioned the school board and will be the test cases.
Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education is farther along in its quest to seek dual accreditation for Dunwoody High. The effort led by City Councilman Terry Nall has been stalled by the interim school superintendent Michael Thurmond.
”It shouldn’t be a political battle,” Nall said, “but unfortunately it is.”
Nall explained that accreditation for Dunwoody High is a safety net for unforeseen events. He said that while the head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has told the DeKalb board loss of accreditation is highly unlikely, the Georgia Supreme Court could overturn the law that cost six members of the DeKalb board their jobs (see related story page 1).
While SACS told Nall verbally and in a letter that it had no objection to high schools seeking dual accreditation, “the superintendent has not acted and is an unresponsive mode.”
Nall said board members representing Lakeside and Druid Hill are trying to pass a resolution for dual accreditation or declare it a formal board policy change, a maneuver that takes two months. The Georgia Accrediting Commission meets Sept. 8 and March 9, 2014.
The ultimate goal of the parents’ group is an independent Dunwoody school system. Robert Wittenstein spoke of progress on that front.
With the Dunwoody City Council agreeing to pay for a feasibility study, the parents’ group has solicited proposals and has chosen one from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation in partnership with Dr. Christine Reis, a professor of economics at Georgia Tech. A contract with the city and the parent group was to be signed this week.
Wittenstein emphasized that passing a constitutional amendment through the General Assembly with a two-thirds majority was a tough row to hoe. But a feasibility study ready by late fall would be a major step. If it passed the legislature, it would go to voters statewide in November, 2014.
Under repeated questioning, primarily from a Vanderlyn representative, Wittenstein summed up the group’s three-pronged approach.
“These are insurance policies for our students, one against the other.”
Town Hall Meeting
by Parents for Quality Education in Dunwoody
Dunwoody United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall
5 – 6 PM
- Get the latest info on accreditation, legislation for a city school system, and charter cluster school system option
- Sign up for working committees – let’s build a framework for quality education in Dunwoody
- Share your ideas for quality education solutions
Since February, community volunteers, public education advocates, Dunwoody City Council, state representatives, and Dunwoody School Councils have discussed ways to improve the quality of education in Dunwoody. Volunteers have gathered information about dual accreditation, charter clusters, initiatives by other high school clusters in DeKalb County, and the legislative process for creating a new school system, and other options.
During meetings with each School Council in Dunwoody, volunteers shared information about Charter Clusters, presented a Letter of Intent to petition DeKalb County to approve a Dunwoody Charter Cluster, and listened to School Council concerns.
This idea has moved very quickly. A May 1 deadline for the Letter of Intent and Fall deadline for the charter petition have driven a sense of urgency.Nonetheless, the charter cluster option is too important and complex to press forward without a community forum.
During a Town Hall meeting, let’s discuss the Charter Cluster option, the pros and cons of a Charter Cluster structure for Dunwoody schools, and the Letter of Intent.
1. Should Dunwoody school councils press forward with the Fall 2013 deadline?
2. Or should our community slow down, wait a year, to work more deliberately toward a Fall 2014 petition presentation?
3. How might the charter petition process provide structure to a possible City of Dunwoody school system?
We will also share updates of the dual accreditation option for Dunwoody High School, the feasibility study for a City of Dunwoody School System, and other information.
We are inviting representatives of each School Council to join the volunteer steering committee as we begin to build critical bridges among our elementary, middle, and high schools.
Sign-up forms will be available for volunteers to form working committees that will begin to define what a Dunwoody school cluster or system should be.
If you can’t attend the Town Hall meeting, let us know where you’d like to volunteer and any concerns or questions you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please join us.
As an elected official and active community participant, I am regularly asked about our collective vision for the city over the next quarter century. Any answer to that question should include doing what it takes to build and maintain a high-quality infrastructure that will last well into the future for the benefit of all citizens, both today and the next generation.
One important component of our municipal infrastructure extends beyond the basics of repaving, intersection improvements, storm water systems, parks and public safety. The critical piece I’m referring to is our public schools.
Parents have an obligation to educate their children. While the public school system is not the only avenue for that education, it is an important foundation block that helps define a high-quality city.
When the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools issued its earlier warnings and more recently, the probationary status to the DeKalb County School District, many Dunwoody residents (parents of school children and empty-nest homeowners) all realized a critical threat to our infrastructure had been breached.
These accumulated warnings not only served as a wake-up call for many in Dunwoody, but also as a catalyst for Dunwoody City Council to push the exploration of an independent school district for Dunwoody to the top of Council’s 2013 legislative agenda.
Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) shouldered the responsibility of creating and submitting House Resolution 486 to allow new cities to form their own school systems. This resolution may open the door to the creation of a Dunwoody school district as a potential solution to possible accreditation failures and improving the quality of public education for every student in Dunwoody.
Representative Taylor’s resolution was further supported by City Council when we agreed in principle to allocate up to $50,000 to help fund a feasibility study of a Dunwoody city school system.
This is a positive step forward in helping achieve our vision, but the road ahead on this initiative is long and filled with many obstacles to overcome. The earliest a new school system could be created would be well after any student now in high school graduates.
City Council’s legislative agenda and Representative Taylor’s introduction of HR 486 coincided with the formation of the community 501(c)3 Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education – concerned parents and residents who are similarly passionate and concerned about the state of our schools and our control over their fate. We must explore and exhaust all our available options.
As an elected leader and parent of a Dunwoody High School sophomore, I am part of a community neither willing to wait idly on the sidelines, nor gamble that the remote possibility of uncontrollable events will not occur.
In addition to the city partnering with Representative Taylor and citizens forming exploratory organizations, I have also worked with the Dunwoody High School Council and other influential individuals to make inroads with Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond as well as several newly-appointed school board members.
Specifically, these outreach requests are about securing optional, dual accreditation of Dunwoody High School to provide a safety net for our graduating high school students to protect against the worst case scenario of SACS.
DeKalb college-bound students need this additional protection. Securing approval from the superintendent and/or school board on this optional, additional accreditation for DeKalb County high schools, including Dunwoody High, is critical.
We strongly believe that all DeKalb high school communities, through their school councils, should pursue optional, additional accreditation on a single-school basis, such as through the Georgia Accrediting Commission. No central office funds or central office involvement is required, beyond the superintendent’s approval allowing the high school principals to proceed, for this to happen.
As this optional, single-school accreditation involves only local high schools, it will not interfere or impede the broader school district governance issues under way with SACS. Plus, it is not uncommon for schools across the state to hold more than one accreditation.
Our schools are important – for economical, personal and societal reasons. Schools help form the foundation of young minds and provide the tools for future generations of leaders. A high-quality school system also leads to improved economic development in our business areas and supports property values for all in the city.
While what we are in the process of accomplishing is daunting and inherently challenging, this mirrors why we became a city four years ago. We wanted local control over our very precious resources. That is why it’s important to act now and together pledge to affect relevant and considerable change.
Not too long ago many residents and politicians said city government couldn’t “really” affect the schools. I’m happy to say that this City Council and its individual members are working hard to change that paradigm. And that change will help us all realize a vision for achieving the high-quality infrastructure we expect.
Terry Nall is an At-Large member of Dunwoody City Council. He is a CPA and a financial services industry executive.
Happening this week: DunwoodyParents.org is researching the dual accreditation option, reviewing Druid Hills’ charter cluster application, providing information to the group presenting a Dunwoody charter cluster option to School Councils in our community, and preparing a budget for communications and research.
Parents and teachers are working hard to support quality education in Dunwoody. And DunwoodyParents.org is staying on track to create a better public education environment for our community.
The quality of Dunwoody schools affects our students, taxes, economic development … everything that makes Dunwoody a wonderful place to live and work. What can we do to strengthen the quality of public education in our community? Stay engaged and connected with DunwoodyParents.org.