Thousands to redistrict in Cross Keys cluster

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Hundreds attended DeKalb County School District’s public input meeting March 7.

More than 1,700 DeKalb County students can expect to attend a different school next year, following a regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting.

On March 7, DeKalb County School District (DCSD) unanimously agreed to temporarily redistrict an area ranging from Ponce de Leon Avenue to the most northeastern portion of I-285 due to overcrowding. Following the decision, an estimated 1,469 elementary and 232 high school students can expect to attend a different school at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

While the plan was referred to as “short term” and heralded by DeKalb officials, Cross Keys students and community members arrived at the meeting to voice their concerns.

The plan, recommended by Superintendent Stephen Green, will see 61 elementary school students move from Woodward to Briar Vista; 269 from Montclair to Fernbank; 394 from Montclair to the former International Student Center; 444 from Dresden to Montclair; and 301 from Cary Reynolds to Dresden.

In addition, 232 high school students will move from Cross Keys to Chamblee.

“We’re chasing a growth pattern that’s already heading to other schools,” Green said. “This is the first step. We’re going to be wrestling with this for quite some time.”

Joshua Williams, chief operations officer in the district’s division of operations, presented the plan to the board during an afternoon work session held on March 7. He explained the staff-proposed plan was arrived upon following four community meetings from September 2015 to February 2016. The district states attendance at these meetings, in which various plans were proposed, numbered more than 1,900 community members who voiced 1,400 comments.

“While we heard comments arguing for the district to do nothing, simply doing nothing or maintaining the status quo is not an acceptable option given the current and future overcrowding concerns we’re facing in this area,” Williams said.

Superintendent Redistricting Plan_Page_1

Board member Marshall Orson, who represents the majority of the affected area in District 2, championed the idea. While he admitted the issue was “emotional,” he stated Briar Vista and Fernbank’s leadership expressed willingness in being part of the temporary solution.

“It’s important to note this has been a long standing issue in the Cross Keys cluster,” Orson said. “It’s gone unaddressed by all of our predecessors for a very long time. The need to take action is really palpable. The fact we haven’t done anything as a district is really reprehensible.”

James McMahan, another board member who represents District 4, echoed Orson’s support.

“I look forward to our budget process for next year. This was another wrinkle,” McMahan said. “I look forward to addressing this issue that’s 20 years overdue.”

DeKalb officials said long-term solutions being considered include two new elementary schools as well as the “feasibility” of more middle and high schools.

A community outcry was not heard until the public input portion of DCSD’s monthly meeting. Kelvin Gonzalez, a junior at Cross Keys High School, said redistricting would not be effective as outlined. The Cross Keys junior said focusing on a long-term solution was much more favorable to the community.

“Parents of students, many of them cannot voice their opinion on the situation due to language barriers and transportation issues,” Gonzalez said. “Many of them won’t have any idea what’s happening to students or schools. Most of the students at both schools are not happy about it, mostly being juniors and seniors because they want to graduate at the school they’re most comfortable with.” 

Victoria Huynh, a graduate of Cross Keys High School who followed Gonzalez’s lead, said similar considerations should be taken when considering short-term redistricting. This included ensuring language support systems were in place so parents could voice their opinions during public meetings, alleviating transportation issues, and knowing similar programs are available at different schools, such as child care and enrichment.

“Children who are being moved are being taken away from programs and services that are right down the street,” Huynh said.

Cross Keys community member Kim Gokce provided the board with reluctant support. While Gokce voiced his appreciation to board members first, he also warned them of not causing parents to “vote with their feet” and move out of districts.

“The Cross Keys community has been looking for relief and focus on this matter for some time,” Gokce said. “Your support and response is very welcome. The situation is highly complex and the challenge has been years in the making. There should be more time to deliberate and there isn’t. There should be more options, there aren’t. There should be a cost and pain free way of moving forward, there isn’t. This recommendation is the worst, except for all the alternatives.” 

Superintendent Redistricting Plan_Page_2

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