Firm hears public input on Cross Keys Cluster overcrowding, E-SPLOST projects
More than 500 students, parents, teachers and community leaders gathered at Cross Keys High School Aug. 25 to voice opinions on how to address overcrowded middle and high schools in DeKalb County School District (DCSD).
Officially titled the Secondary Schools Facility Planning & Feasibility Study, the public meeting featured representatives from Education Planners, a consultant firm collecting data, opinions and suggestions for DCSD.
A similar meeting—attracting 300 attendees— took place at Clarkston High School on Aug. 23.
The Cross Keys meeting marked the 21st time Education Planners representatives have met with DeKalb County residents to obtain input on overcrowding, renovation, capacity and how to spend E-SPLOST funds.
The meetings were commissioned by DCSD in March 2016 and will conclude September 27 with a final recommendation to DCSD.
The meeting began with an overall explanation about the Feasibility Study from James Wilson, a consultant with Education Planners. Following Wilson’s explanation, the attendees split into classrooms and provided the firm written and vocal feedback.
According to Wilson, Education Planners was originally hired in September 2015 to make recommendations specifically related to overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster. When it was found that six other clusters—Dunwoody, Chamblee, Lakeside, Tucker, Druid Hills and Clarkston—are also experiencing similar issues, the study expanded to include all regions in the district.
“The desire is for all schools to be within their capacity,” Wilson said. “But we have to understand the problem to find a solution.”
Education Planners project 3,853 high school seats and 1,791 middle school seats will be needed by the 2022-2023 school year. The consultant firm said the district is facing a projected shortage of 5,644 seats by the same year.
“All of the schools are projected to be overcrowded,” Wilson said. “Many are overcrowded now.”
Education Planners developed three options for the public to consider, discuss and provide feedback on. Each option involves repurposing the former Briarcliff High School, located on North Druid Hills Road.
“Option A” involves building a new Sequoyah area high school with 2,400 seats at a site yet to be determined and a new Cross Keys area middle school with 1,400 seats at the former Briarcliff High School site.
Additions to five existing secondary schools are also involved, creating 6,500 total seats and costing $247 million. This option keeps the feeder system within the district.
“Option B” involves a new 2,500-seat Cross Keys High School at the former Briarcliff High School site and additions to five secondary schools.
In addition, the present Cross Keys High School site will be converted to a 1,500 seat middle school. This plan, estimated to create 4,950 seats, will also split DeKalb’s feeder schools between Regions 1, 2 and 3, meaning students who would typically attend middle and high school together will instead be split. Option B is estimated to cost $163 million.
“Option C” involves a new 2,000-seat high school in the Sequoyah area and a 1,400 seat middle school at the former Briarcliff High School site.
Additions will also be made to certain secondary schools, amounting to a total of 6,928 seats and a $224 million price tag. This option does not split feeder schools but does move the magnet program away from Chamblee Charter High School.
According to Wilson, where the magnet program would relocate remains unknown.
Attendees gave mixed input when split into classrooms. Certain participants felt strongly about the Chamblee magnet program remaining at Chamblee while others felt freeing up seats at the facility for Chamblee residents should be a higher priority.
“Chamblee’s achievement will not go down just because the magnet is no longer there,” said a DeKalb County teacher who wished to remain unidentified. “That’s so unrealistic and misinformed. Every school is dying to have students sign up for [Advanced Placement] classes. They want to look good.”
“Where we’re putting the magnet school, you may as well say we’re getting rid of the magnet school,” said another attendee in response. “Those people are not going to travel to a new place. It’s a con to move the magnet program.”
Cross Keys High School teacher Rebekah Morris said the magnet program has been beneficial for Chamblee Charter but should be more accessible to the rest of the county.
“The magnet has not only contributed to the revitalization of Chamblee Charter High School, but it has also buoyed the community as a whole,” Morris said. “However, now that the community is growing at an incredible rate, the magnet is taking seats away from neighborhood kids.”
Some attendees suggested options such as creating a new high school rather than a new middle school at the Briarcliff High School site due to the existing stadium.
Other attendees questioned where DCSD would find available land in Brookhaven, Chamblee, Druid Hills and Briarcliff areas considered to be booming by district and county officials.
“Where are you going to find 20 to 40 acres?” asked one attendee. “They need to use the resources and sites they have, unless they think they have so much E-SPLOST money they can afford to go purchase 20 to 40 acres.”
DeKalb County residents have until Sept. 17 to complete Education Planner’s online survey. Access to the survey can be found here.