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Druid Hills annexation: 'Creating more problems than solutions'

A Druid Hills Middle School teacher shared a compelling letter he wrote to legislators about annexation.

Many folks contend the annexation effort is an attempt to pressure DeKalb Schools into reconsidering the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, which was turned down by the school board.

Using a new state law, a group of DeKalb parents and teachers sought to unite seven DeKalb schools into a cluster that would have operated as an independent school system within the larger DeKalb district.

Increasingly, parents in DeKalb unhappy with the direction of the schools are looking for alternatives.

As AJC reporter Ty Tagami wrote in a Saturday AJC story:

Annexation. Incorporation. Charter schools.

People are trying anything to get away from the DeKalb County School District.

The foundering faith in Georgia's third-largest school system stems from years of mismanagement and scandal, and observers expect the situation to either stabilize or deteriorate depending upon whom the school board selects as its next superintendent.

Some Druid Hills charter cluster supporters are now taking a surprising new tack – join the city of Atlanta and put schools under the control of APS.

That anyone wants to join Atlanta Public Schools in the wake of the district’s cheating scandal speaks to the star power of its new Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

Under the annexation plan, APS would absorb three schools that were part of the rejected cluster, including the crown jewel, Druid Hills High. While the high school has 1,386 students, most would be left out of the annexation as their communities are outside the proposed area.

Teacher Thomas Bodnar brings up some good points about the students and schools left behind.

Here is his letter:


Let me start by expressing gratitude to each of you for all the work you do that contributes to the betterment of our governmental, social and economic structures in our area. I am compelled to write to you about the proposed issue of possible annexation of part of the Druid Hills community into the city of Atlanta and the consequent impact that it would have on our local school cluster.

I hope you are aware of how much community backlash there is against this concept.  A small but vocal minority has perpetuated this course of action largely because original proposals to create an autonomous charter cluster district between Druid Hills High School, Druid Hills Middle, Avondale Elementary, Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary, McLendon Elementary and Laurel Ridge Elementary was denied by the school board in November 2013. As a result; other courses of action were pursued to gain independence from DeKalb County Schools.

Unfortunately this new route includes zoning plans that will disrupt and divide a traditional cluster that has thrived and benefited from the diversity of all sides of its community. The proponents for annexation have acted hastily and emotionally out of their frustration from the charter cluster denial to create a hideous plan that will be a train wreck for this community.

To begin, I am a teacher at Druid Hills Middle and a coach for Druid Hills High School. Obviously the possible annexation would impact my possible working situation as well as the student populations serviced at the aforementioned schools. I was a big supporter of the possibility of autonomy for the proposed charter cluster from DeKalb County that was denied last year but that was with the understanding that we would continue to service the same population of students that we currently do.

New proposals will divide that traditional community and ultimately set us back 50 years as annexation boundaries segregate our diverse community. Roughly 80 percent of our current population would be excluded if annexation happens based on the zoning maps that annexation supporters have proposed for referendum.

The other 20 percent in the wealthier neighborhoods of our zone would attend a Druid Hills High that would be part of the new Atlanta Public Schools along with Fernbank and Briar Vista; with both of these now kindergarten-5th grade schools expanding to service students through 8th grade.

Our original cluster of seven would become one of three; with little consideration for how such actions impact Druid Hills Middle, Avondale Elementary, McLendon Elementary and Laurel Ridge Elementary. All of this is set to roll for 2016-2017 if enacted; one and a half years from current.

Civic surveys conducted in potentially impacted neighborhoods show a polarized community on the issue of annexation or remaining part of DeKalb unincorporated.  In fact, far more people strongly disagree with annexation than remaining as part of unincorporated DeKalb.

There are 250 people who responded that they strongly disagree with the annexation option, 28 percent of the total population surveyed.  Only 243 people strongly support annexation; thus the number strongly opposed outweighs the number in favor.  In contrast, 168 people were strongly against remaining in unincorporated DeKalb, 19 percent of the total number of respondents surveyed.  In short, no clear majority has been statistically demonstrated to justify moving forward with annexation when one carefully analyzes the results of survey respondents.

I work at a school where 92 nationalities are present and would argue that our diversity is our biggest asset. I don't think you can quantify what an advantage it is for our students early on to exist in a microcosm of what the world constitutes. It helps prepare them for our increasingly connected and complex global community as adults. This is precious and we need to cherish the asset. I remember a professor of mine saying that "90 plus percent of kids go to school in environments not described statistically as diverse" as far as schooling.

Further, I also don't have as much faith personally in the people whom I once supported the charter cluster district with; the same ones courting Atlanta for annexation.  They have greatly deviated from what they originally proposed for our school community.

In short, I care far more about servicing our continuing population than having autonomy at the expense of losing our diversity in the process. I philosophically can't support people who are suggesting separation in our community.  They are now creating more problems than solutions.

Like many people surveyed in the neighborhoods; I hope we remain as part of DeKalb unincorporated. I hope any ideas that support breaking up the original cluster of seven schools are revisited. I'd also argue that the dialogue about this issue needs to continue and that targeting 2016-2017 for change is too soon. Cooler heads need to prevail and more opinions need to be weighed on these crucial issues.

A mentor of mine loves to say that "adult issues should never interfere in the educating of children" in the school community. In this case, the politics of property value, business and public service shouldn't come at the expense of our school district.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.