Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education in Dunwoody held a second Town Hall meeting on April 28, 2013 at Dunwoody United Methodist Church. The purpose of the meeting was to update the community about options for improving public education in our community, including a City of Dunwoody school system, an independent Charter Cluster, and dual accreditation for Dunwoody High School.
None of the nine members on the DeKalb School Board has ever set a public budget and property tax rate before. But as the brand-new board began the process of public meetings to decide exactly how much the school system will levy and spend next year, questions about the board’s legal status remain unresolved.
The status of the former member from Dunwoody and Brookhaven, Nancy Jester, is uncertain. And then there is the matter of elections next year that might feature all or a few of the former board. In next year’s elections, the board will shrink to seven members, with two at-large seats eliminated.
Five of the six former board members suspended by Gov. Deal have re-applied for their positions on the school board, and former board chair Eugene Walker has also filed a lawsuit challenging the law that gave the governor the authority to remove them in the first place. Read more >>
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.”
A parents’ group has decided against submitting this month a letter of intent to try to start a charter school cluster in Dunwoody next school year.
Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education had discussed submitting to county and state officials by the April 30 deadline a letter of intent to start a charter cluster. But at the group’s April 28 meeting, organizers said they couldn’t get agreement on the plan from representatives of all Dunwoody’s schools, so they decided to wait.
“It was impractical to try to do it at the speed we were trying to do it,” Dunwoody Parents organizer Robert Wittenstein said. “This is a more sane approach.”
The group’s chairwoman, Allegra Johnson, said Dunwoody Parents now will try to help organize another group to take over the charter cluster effort. That group should include elected representatives from all of Dunwoody’s schools, Wittenstein said
“We’re going to try get it started .. but we will not be in charge,” he said. “It has to be done by folks who are put in charge by the schools.”
The earliest the new group could submit a request for a charter system would be in 2014, he said.
Charter schools clusters are groups of public schools are governed by local councils and freed from some state and county controls in return for improved performance. Some Dunwoody parents want to make the city’s schools a charter cluster.
Dunwoody parents also back legislative efforts that would allow the city to start its own school system separate from the county.
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.
From the Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education Facebook Page:
Who is DunwoodyParents.org and how did they become a steering committee?
We’re a group of Dunwoody parents, business owners, homeowners, and taxpayers concerned about quality education, people who came together in a shared vision that it was time to do something about public education in Dunwoody. We have different ideas, opinions, and perspectives, but we’re united in the belief that our children deserve a quality education. Our mandate? To gather and share information and ideas across the community.
Right now, we are reaching out to the school councils, PTO/PTA/PTSOs of each school in the Dunwoody cluster to begin a dialogue about the opportunities and challenges facing each one. Those meetings will be the beginning of a community-wide discussion through public forums, working committees, and other engagement opportunities.
Right now, school councils are reviewing a Letter of Intent to CONSIDER a charter school cluster option (not a commitment and certainly not a petition). Two community volunteers are shepherding the Letter to each school. If it’s approved, representatives of each school will head up the effort, with volunteers staffing each working committee.
Right now, Tom Taylor is networking his Legislation providing for the creation of a City of Dunwoody School System, a process that picks up next fall when the legislature reconvenes. (The Charter Cluster effort and the City of Dunwoody School System option actually complement each other – the work for the Charter Cluster can directly translate into the structure of the City School System.)
Right now, Dunwoody’s City Council is investigating the costs of a feasibility study for a City of Dunwoody School System AND appealing to Superintendent Thurmond to allow dual accreditation for Dunwoody High School.
Right now, many things are happening. Stay tuned. Like this page. Share it with your friends.
We’re all in this together!
The great news is that people in Dunwoody are deeply engaged in the issues affecting quality public education in our community. Dunwoody Talk, one of many local blogs, engaged in a discussion about the pros and cons of the charter cluster option, one of several considered in the community.
Knowledge is power. And getting up to date information about the various initiatives keeps us all in the loop. Here’s what DunwoodyParents.org had to say in response to posted questions and concerns (read the entire response by clicking the link below):
We are pursuing multiple avenues for Dunwoody educational independence. These are not separate groups with competing agendas. And, rather than sabotage each other, these two initiatives are actually complementary. Let us explain why.
Getting the legislature and the voters of Georgia to give us the opportunity to form our own school system is a long process with a very uncertain outcome. Our state reps have told us that this is a huge mountain to climb and that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in this basket. That said, we are fully committed to pushing forward with this as the ultimate goal.
It is worth noting that in the hearing on Representative Taylor’s constitutional amendment that took place in the House subcommittee on Education on March 20, one of the skeptical members of the House asked us why we hadn’t pursued a Charter Cluster designation and pointed out that state law already provided a mechanism for granting autonomy. Our chances of success in the House improve if we can point to attempts to avail ourselves of the avenues that already exist.
Those of us working on the Charter Cluster concept are agreed that the governance model must include a structure that has the Cluster non-profit corporation as the employer of the teachers and principals. We will not be satisfied with, or push for approval of, a Charter Cluster contract that does not give us true educational autonomy. We must have (as you put it) a checkbook. The Cluster needs to be able to hire educators, reward great ones, and remove lousy ones. The DeKalb teachers in Dunwoody will have a tough decision about whether or not to leave the County’s employment and accept jobs with the Cluster. We expect the good ones to welcome the change, which will be empowering and rewarding.
We don’t know if we can get five members of the new DeKalb Board of Education to give us this autonomy, but that is what we will ask for. If they say ‘no’, then we have an answer for the skeptics in the Legislature.
We need to make three other points. First, the community discussion and work that would be required to submit a petition to the County for a Charter Cluster is the exact same effort we would have to undertake to start our own school system. Getting community-wide work groups together to define what—and how—to teach in an autonomous Dunwoody must be done regardless of whether or not we are asking the County for a Charter Cluster or the Legislature and the State Board of Ed for an independent system. Everything we put into a Charter Petition is reusable when we get our own system.
Second, our current efforts to submit a Letter of Intent are entirely non-binding. We are not committing the community to anything, only trying to secure an opportunity for us to decide whether or not to pursue a Charter Cluster Petition. We will only go down the petition path if there is strong community support, but to get to that point, we need a Letter of Intent.
Allegra Johnson (President)
Robert Wittenstein (Steering Committee Representative)
Dunwoody Charter Cluster
A group led by Pam Tallmadge and Jim Redovian is exploring the Charter Cluster model as a possible local control option for Dunwoody area public schools. The first step of the exploration is a non-binding Letter of Intent to be filed with the State and County Boards of Education.
The Letter of Intent proclaims that the community will consider, research, and petition for Charter School Cluster status during the next year. To that end, working committees will form to address all the considerations of a locally controlled cluster. The Letter of Intent is not specific to the structure and goals of a charter cluster, merely a proclamation that the community wishes to consider this avenue.
Here’s the Letter of Intent:
Dunwoody High School
5035 Vermack Road
Dunwoody, Georgia 30338
—and its feeder schools—
Peachtree Charter Middle School▪Austin Elementary▪ Chesnut Charter Elementary ▪Dunwoody Elementary ▪ Hightower Elementary▪Kingsley Charter Elementary ▪VanderlynElementary
Georgia Department of Education DeKalb County Board of Education
Charter Schools Division Office of Charter Schools
2053 Twin Towers East Administrative and Instructional Complex
205 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive SE 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Atlanta, Georgia 30334 Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083
Re: Letter of Intent to Submit Petition for High School Cluster Charter
In accordance with Georgia State Board of Education Rule 160-4-9-.04, please accept this letter of intent to submit a Petition for the Dunwoody High School Charter Cluster, within the DeKalb County School District.
It will be the mission of the proposed Dunwoody High School Charter Cluster to work with all stakeholders to provide a variety of educational opportunities and challenges in a safe learning environment that will allow all students to acquire the critical thinking skills, knowledge, and values found at their highest potential, and to become self-assured, responsible citizens of our ever-changing global society.
The schools within the DHSCC would serve students in pre-K through the twelfth (12th) grades. Each of the constituent elementary schools — Austin Elementary,Chesnut Charter Elementary, Dunwoody Elementary,Hightower Elementary, Kingsley Charter Elementary and Vanderlyn Elementary — would serve pre-K through fifth (5th) grades; Peachtree Charter Middle School would serve the cluster’s sixth (6th) through eighth (8th) grades; and Dunwoody High School would serve the cluster’s ninth (9th) through twelfth (12th) grades.
The proposed opening date for the Dunwoody High School Charter Cluster would be on or about August 1, 2014. The opening date would coincide with the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
We look forward to working with you as we explore the benefits that a conversion charter cluster would bring to the students and stakeholders in the Dunwoody High School Cluster. We will be working diligently to develop and complete our Petition in the time prescribed by DCSD. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
(List of School Council and Charter Council chairs as signers)
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.