(View these photos full size at our Flickr page by clicking here.)
At the May 2010 board meeting, the DeKalb School board voted to close the following schools: Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Peachcrest, Medlock and Sky Haven elementary schools, Avondale Middle School and Avondale High School. Smartly, Medlock was promptly leased and re-opened by the International Community School, a DCSS charter. Spared on the first go-round were Livsey, Rock Chapel, Bob Mathis, Toney, Wadsworth Magnet and Kittredge Magnet. However, those schools — and others — could close as early as summer 2012, interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said at the time. Read this article at the AJC for details:
Many south DeKalb parents rallied at the time, tearfully imploring the school board not to close their neighborhood schools. As it is, DeKalb county has suffered one of the worst drops in property values and highest number of foreclosures in the country—mostly in the south end. But the board did not listen and chose to shutter eight schools, causing severe damage and blight to their neighborhoods.
Add the above recently shuttered schools to the list of schools that have already been sitting empty for quite some time, and we have quite a long list of large vacant buildings thanks to our school board. Although the massive, vacant Druid Hills property and the former administration buildings are each on a busy, densely-used state route, literally all of the closed elementary schools like Heritage, Atherton, Gresham Park and Forrest Hills are older, but solidly-built facilities located smack in the middle of the very neighborhoods they serve. Most have gymnasiums built with SPLOST I dollars. Many have newer additions.
Having a shuttered, abandoned school out your window not only depresses your property value, it depresses your spirit. In our opinion, the school board and Ramona Tyson acted with callousness when they decided to shutter these neighborhood schools as cost-cutters, rather than digging into the central office and other administrative bloat (recently revealed here). The stated reason at the time was to save money. Ramona Tyson is quoted as saying, ““Is there a plan that makes everyone happy? No,” Tyson said. “These difficult decisions will allow the school system to redirect in the first year alone $12.4 million toward student achievement.”
So, has that money been redirected toward ‘student achievement’? Tyson had better hope so. Student achievement plummeted while students were educated under her leadership. As we reported here on the original School Watch blog, our schools had over a 50% rate of failure to make AYP last year. If you aggregate those test scores, you will see that our Title 1 schools failed at a very high rate. Even when compared to Title 1 schools in other systems as we reported last July, DeKalb’s Title 1 schools completely missed the mark on achievement.
So, with the goal of finding out what became of these closed schools, we took a field trip. We visited all eight of the shuttered schools along with several more that were closed in recent years. We took pictures. We posted these photos of decay, clutter and blight on Flickr, which is what you see in the slideshow above*. The photos clearly illustrate how DeKalb schools have inflicted the mortal blow into these struggling neighborhoods. When, if ever, will these neighborhoods recover? How?
We suggest that this be the goal of SPLOST IV: Heal the Neighborhoods. The school board needs to make restitution for the damage done. The school board created the scenario that set up flight from neighborhood schools by increasing class size, thereby reducing the need for teachers and classrooms, as well as offering an abundance of “choice”, “magnet” and “theme” schools, along with the transportation to and fro, thereby encouraging those persons with ability and awareness to abandon their neighborhood schools for greener pastures. Read our report on this topic: North vs Central vs South – what’s the deal?
The school closure issue last year brought the north-south debate to the fore once again. Parents in the south felt that the north end of the county had their requests granted – at the expense of schools in the south. This letter from the Fernbank community certainly makes one wonder if they could be some truth to that assertion. Fernbank was originally on the list for redistricting, however, after loud outcry from the community, and the formation of a Political Action Committee, Fernbank was not only left alone, they were promised a brand new facility with SPLOST IV money.
Gresham Park is also on the list for a new school with SPLOST IV. Hopefully, our leaders will place this school first on the project list, then consolidate enrollment in the area and raze the unnecessary buildings. McNair Discovery Learning Academy is a terrific example of the kind of school that can replace Gresham and others. Beyond that, some of the gyms could be saved and used as community centers. The rest of the land could serve as parks, walking trails or soccer fields in a joint effort with the county.
Additionally, Austin is listed for a new building. This is odd, as tearing down Austin and/or renovating it to accommodate 900 students will only post a gain of a few hundred seats in the over-crowded Dunwoody cluster, which is the fastest growing cluster in the system. Dunwoody could actually use a whole new additional elementary school to alleviate the current over-crowding as well as predicted growth.
Overall, new schools should only be built where there is growth and over-crowding, or where old buildings can be consolidated and demolished in areas with aging buildings and low enrollment. But just closing them and leaving them to decay is offensive and irresponsible.
Spend time viewing our photo essay and then write or call your board member demanding that these abandoned buildings be sold as parkland to the county, be placed a the top of the list to be torn down and rebuilt or completely renovated and overhauled using SPLOST IV. Our neighborhoods deserve better than these third-world eyesores staring them in their faces.
Schools cannot exist without the community. Wasn’t that the marketing phrase of DeKalb County Schools? What happened? Fix these neighborhoods. Bring them back to life. Build back these schools and make them the heart and soul of the very communities they were originally built to serve.
* We had a technical issue with the camera. It pressed the wrong date on some of the photos. Although they are marked as October, 2011, we actually shot these photos on Thursday, January 19, and Tuesday January 24, 2012.