Fernbank Science Center: Probably Sustainable as an Independent 501(c)(3)

Here is a suggested proposal provided to Crawford Lewis in 2006 regarding Fernbank Science Center (FSC).  This was created as a result of work done by the Institutional Development Sub-committee that was part of an overall committee set up by Lewis to look at the future of FSC.  This proposal was intended to be a discussion starting point

Lewis did nothing with the proposal.  Just like he ignored the written warning in 2006 that FSC was going to lose Fernbank Forest in 2012 if he did not act.

Things have changed now — at FSC and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  So, some of this proposal will read as very dated.  However, the important thing is that it provides a roadmap to FSC’s sustainability as a non-profit organization.   It is very sustainable through outside funding.  The late Dr. Ralph Buice wrote many successful grant applications to help fund FSC’s work.  FSC should also have a foundation to manage grant funds and seek more.

Scientific Tools and Techniques


Fernbank Science Center

delivered to all of DCSS and statewide through Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Scientific Tools and Techniques® (STT) Program at Fernbank Science Center (FSC) is an innovative magnet program available to 9th grade students in DeKalb County who show a special interest in mathematics and science.  STT® enrolls 180 DeKalb 9th graders each year; these students spend several hours a day for one semester immersed in science at FSC.  This unique program in science education incorporates classroom instruction, laboratory research, field trips, and individual study. Topics covered include aerospace, animal ecology, astronomy, chemistry, computer science, electron microscopy, geology, meteorology, microbiology, ornithology, physics, physiology, and plant ecology.  Classes for STT are held in both the Naturalist Center of the new Fernbank Museum of Natural History and Fernbank Science Center. The Fernbank complex is a unique partnership of the DeKalb County School System and Fernbank Inc., a non-profit corporation that oversees the operation of Fernbank Museum and leases the use of Fernbank Forest to DCSS.


Fernbank Science Center was founded in 1967 as a partnership between DeKalb County

Schools and Fernbank Foundation, a 501(C) (3) non-profit.  FSC is a unique application of

formal and informal science education. As far as can be determined, there is no other science program of this magnitude involving a partnership between a nationally recognized museum and a school system in the United States.

Academic evidence indicates that the STT program could serve as a model for enhanced science education. Fernbank Science Center’s STT program was shown in the early 1990s to improve students’ grade point averages, increase the number of science courses taken in high school, and create greater likelihood of pursuing further study or careers in science-related fields.

Fernbank produces extensive educational programs ranging from vocational horticulture to aerospace education. Fernbank is a curriculum-producing partner with NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) and produces curriculum for the program. As part of the SEMAA program, Fernbank pioneered the Parents Café program to involve parents in SEMAA activities while their child attends class. Parents Café provides continuing education in science and life and parenting skills.


Fernbank Science Center has more than 60 professional scientists and educators on staff; more than 2/3 of them have advanced degrees in one or more of the following disciplines: aerospace education, archeology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, ecology, entomology, environmental science, forestry, genetics, geology, the history of science, horticulture, meteorology, microbiology, neuroscience, ornithology, paleontology, physiology, physics, and science.

Critical Turning Point

However, FSC has reached a critical turning point precipitated by funding cuts, increasing costs of field trips for all students and transportation for STT students, lack of adequate instructional space and the growing realization that STT serves far too few students – only 2% — an average of about 9 students per high school — in a school system with more than 9,000 9th grade students.

Resolving the Crisis with Telecommunications

Digital telecommunications at Georgia Public Broadcasting can resolve this crisis and enable Fernbank Science Center’s STT program to be available to all DCSS 9th grade students, as well as offer STT instruction throughout all of Georgia.  What could say “Premier DeKalb” better than providing premier science instruction statewide?

Fernbank offers 12 units of instruction in STT – each unit approximately 9 days long, 2-1/2 hours per day.  Georgia Public Broadcasting could tape and edit each unit into engaging daily segments of instruction delivered via satellite and/or Internet webcasting by the highly qualified instructors on staff at Fernbank.  In the receiving classrooms, certified teachers would serve as facilitators / lab managers.  On-site teacher/facilitators would be assisted by teacher guides and classroom guides, containing lesson plans and labs, correlated to the Georgia Performance Standards and prepared jointly by Fernbank instructors and the certified educators on staff at GPB.

For schools that prefer to receive the instructional programs via satellite, media specialists are used to setting up their VCRs to tape and save programming.  Those who choose Internet webcasting and have a broadband connection can obtain the programs directly in their classrooms on demand.  Further, webcasting can be interactive, allows students to review lesson segments and enables students who missed a class to catch up – all on demand, via the Internet.  No taping or storage required.  All storage is in the GPB Digital Library.

Because each STT unit at FSC can stand alone, there is an opportunity to divide DCSS into 13 STT “clusters”, based on 9th grade sizes within each high school, and group classes in a central location within each cluster when specialized equipment must be used.  Students from each cluster might also make one or two trips to Fernbank Science Center for using highly specialized, non-transportable, expensive equipment or for instruction in Fernbank Forest or at Arabia Mountain.  Because each cluster would be studying a different unit, Fernbank instructors could amplify the instruction in person – at the cluster location or at FSC.  Also, because each cluster would be studying a different unit, some equipment could move from place to place, following the units. For example, during Weeks 1 and 2, the Ornithology unit might be taught in Cluster 1, while microbiology is taught in Cluster 2, geology is taught in Cluster 3, and so on.  At the end of the unit (approximately 2 weeks), clusters would rotate into new units of study.  So, for example, Cluster 1 might then study computer science, while Cluster 2 studies ornithology, Cluster 3 studies microbiology, Cluster 4 picks up geology, and so on.


For the most part, however, the equipment used by FSC in their labs is not particularly costly.  A lab in each school could contain all of the equipment necessary for considerably less than the burgeoning costs of diesel, school buses and bus drivers – and serve far more students, as well.  Meanwhile, effectively utilizing telecommunications and the Internet, the irreplaceable FSC instructors would also reach far more students – not just with FSC instruction, but also with information – for interested students – about independent study opportunities, SEMAA, and other extracurricular science education offerings.

Meanwhile, other Georgia counties could also receive the benefit of electronic instruction along with the prepared teacher guides and classroom guides, including lesson plans and labs.

The costs of making STT available to all DCSS 9th grade students would be well within the current costs to serve only 2% of a single grade, yet far more students would receive this instruction.  Further, if the costs for creating STT in this manner are absorbed by DCSS as the STT costs most certainly are now, then DCSS could recover some or all of their expenses by charging tuition for use by students outside of DeKalb County.  Further, because STT episodes would be “evergreen”, FSC instructors could look at expanding their program by creating STT for earlier grade levels.

GPB Education & Technology Services:  More Than You Can Imagine!

 Prepared by Sandy Spruill

February 17, 2006

About dekalbschoolwatch

Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

134 Responses to Fernbank Science Center: Probably Sustainable as an Independent 501(c)(3)

  1. Dekalbite says:

    Fernbank Science Center is still on the DCSS payroll consuming almost $7,000,000 in science education dollars while science teachers in the high schools have 35 per class and virtually NO budget for equipment and supplies. DeKalb science teachers are still spending out of their now emptier pockets to buy science equipment and supplies.

    Fernbank Science Center has NO incentive to seek “external support” as long as DCSS continues to fund it. Funding this center is draining science education dollars from the schools that are responsible for science achievement. Have you seen the science achievement scores for DCSS (see below)? For $7,000,000 invested in the science center, we deserve to have some Return on Investment. Perhaps there is a reason no other school system has a science center as they invest in the regular science classrooms. The other metro systems with no science centers certainly have better science achievement than DeKalb including demographically similar systems.

    The BOE needs to look at Return on Investment for ALL cost centers. For far too long we have elected BOE members who have NOT looked at a Return on Investment in terms of achievement for ALL of our students:
    Look at the 2011 science scores for DeKalb:
    Science % FAILED by Grade Level
    3rd grade – 30.9%
    4th grade – 33.6%
    5th grade – 35.2%
    6th grade – 42.2%
    7th grade – 31.9%
    8th grade – 49.9%
    Almost half of our 8th graders do not know the most basic concepts in science. We have experienced a steep decline in science achievement.

    See below for a comparison of our science scores with other metro systems (Clayton is the only system that is lower in science achievement than DeKalb):

  2. justwatch says:

    Dr. Lewis didn’t do anything with this report and its recommendations because he was afraid of the community pushback. Now the Science Center is struggling to figure out its role in the future, with the loss of both the forest and storage for its unused exhibits. They should have been better positioned for the future.

  3. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    Good work Sandy! Teya Ryan and Nancy Zintak at GBP should take a closer look at this and pitch Atkinson. Just think maybe we could actually have some education programs on PDS-24 produced by GPB, PDS-24 and other systems throughout the state, maybe even students. I never see classes on PDS-24. I do see meetings, band concerts, some poorly produced interviews and the graphics/music. The best programming usual comes from the students. There could be Interactive classes with students conversing and learning throughout the state, country and world. With the world wide resources of CNN/Turner, GPB/PBS/NPR, and other technology companies headquartered in Atlanta, we wouldn’t need the huge corporations I mentioned on another thread. Again Sandy thanks!

  4. Dekalbite says:

    I see my comment detailing the DCSS science scores are in moderation. The facts are solid with links to credible sources.

  5. If this could be available to school systems statewide, the key is being able to charge for making the programming and corollary materials available. In that way, Fernbank becomes self-sustaining. The reality is, with today’s technology, it is possible for schools anywhere — not just in Georgia — to subscribe to FSC programming and access the expertise of FSC’s instructors.

  6. wiserthanmyself says:

    The FSC model is out of date, but without competent science education leadership in DCSS, it’s doubtful that any meaningful forward movement will occur for the Center. The Common Core Standards, slated to come in next fall, don’t include science standards at all except (briefly) a page on science literacy. Attention for the next several years will be (ho-hum) on math and ELA. No one is running the science show in DCSS, the Science Coordinator is a joke and dislikes the FSC teachers, and bottom line, FSC is basically just another group of teachers without any clout. So, who would organize and deliver these wonderful programs throughout the county to students whose teachers don’t have a mandatte to teach them science? Who will bring the students up to speed in math, measurement, and lab techniques? It’s all about the leadership.

  7. Sorry. I guess it is just me online tonight and I got involved in something away from my computer. I don’t think there is ever any question about the facts you present, Dekalbite.

  8. Gardenerontheside says:

    In theory this sounds like a great cost saving idea, but there are some big holes. One of the big advantages of STT at FSC is that they have (oops had) the Forest. Videos about a person talking about geology and ornothology would put the best of us to sleep. Many of the schools do not have good places to go birdwatch or rock walk. A teacher facilitator at the school that can convey the enthusiasm of geology and ornithology like the FSC intstructors do would be very rare and the STT students would be bored. Really good video instruction is not easy to do. In addition technology in the schools needs to catch up. Streaming video from the internet is always a lesson in patience and flexibility. Flexibility meaning, ok that isn’t working let’s do this instead. I love the FSC instructors and the variety that they bring to my classroom with the outreach program.

  9. justwatch says:

    What bothers me most about FSC and its supporters is this: Twice in the last decade the entire center has been on the chopping block. Twice, a warning shot has been fired across the bow, but no one has stepped up to use the “second and third chance” to make changes that would make FSC financially viable and sustainable.

  10. Miss Management says:

    ooh! I have a great idea! Since outdoor learning is important, why not have the school system buy Brook Run Park in Dunwoody? They could fully staff and maintain it. They could use the gardens and greenhouses as learning environments. They could bus kids in from all around the county every morning door to door and bring them to this wonderful program (those lucky enough to get a seat of course). We could put our best teachers there and employ an additional couple of dozen people to build displays, mow the grass and answer the phones! Yeah!

  11. dekalbmom says:

    there is no money. period. this county is TOO big to bus kids around. elementary schools science students would be much better served to have gardens/composting areas, etc at their own school. It does not take much space.

  12. dekalbmom says:

    The FSC does not serve enough students, it does not accomodate high school students on some schedules, and it is too expensive to bus students there. If DeKalb school system wants to keep the building (which is pretty run down), they should minimally staff it as purely a teacher training/resource facility. Get rid of the museum and move most the teachers to the classroom. Use it as a resource to train science teachers during summer and evening/weekend programs.
    I know I am cynical from too many years of horrible DeKalb programs and my children received minimal science education in middle and high school. (Two kids and FSC NEVER once showed up at their science classes). I think hands on science instruction could be supplemented by high quality, creative science education delivered via internet but I would never advocate for DeKalb county to develop its own programs. What a joke! Instead use something like Kahn academy for math. The state of Ga should partner with Ga Tech or purchase nationally developed high quality programs.

  13. Dekalbite says:

    I love(d) the forest as well, know students who went through STT, and had outreach programs for my students. Currently, we transport these 90 students a semester from all over the county to the science center on buses at taxpayer expense for STT. However, STT is not dependent on the science center. STT can be housed and run in various schools throughout the county more geographically available to all students at a much lower cost than we incur currently – think 34 less admin and support salaries with benefits. That annual figure alone could ensure STT is placed in numerous schools and can reach many more students. The physical “center” is not necessary for outreach programs, and in truth it is just a small building now that the forest is gone. It’s really disconcerting that while Fernbank teachers are doing more outreach in the schools, there is still the same millions being spent on admin and support overhead at the science center.

  14. Dekalbite says:

    Sounds like a great arrangement for Dunwoody. Now you see why the Fernbank community fights so hard to keep DCSS funding Fernbank Science Center.

  15. Dekalbite says:

    The Fernbank community is arguably the most powerful group in the metro area. They have lobbied in public and private to ensure FSC has had NO budget cuts while neighborhood schools are closed, science teacher positions in the schools are eliminated, students are packed up to 35 into science labs, and the budget for the entire county for science equipment and supplies was cut to $55,000 for the entire year for 95,000+ students. Then we wonder why our science achievement is the lowest in the metro (except for Clayton County – god bless ’em) and half of our 8th graders don’t even know the most basic science concepts.

  16. Anonymous says:

    In times of prosperity, it is great to fun many special programs. But when times are lean, one should cut the ‘fat.’ Our focus should be on improving individual schools where we would impact the majority of students. Say “good bye” to FBSC, Gateway, DOLA, Truancy School, Transition School, Callaway Leadership Prep and Callaway Destiny, Early College, and probably someothers. Focus on the schoolhouse!

  17. wiserthanmyself says:

    In other words…just do away with any County programs that address academic issues other than the “normal” as defined by…who? Kick out those kids who are science-excelling, learning disabled, poor-but-high-achieving, regular-but-extra-motivated, very disadvantaged, badly behaved or even on-the-way-to-being criminal…and cater to the 95% of students who are just average! Teach to the “majority”, on the assumption that somehow that concept doesn’t include all of the above. Welcome to Lake Wobegone, where ALL the kids are above average.

    Do the math. It’s a diverse county. You won’t make it better by eliminating the programs that have a reasonable teacher-student ratio: better you should work to make all the programs like those you listed.

  18. @ Gardenerontheside

    What you are forgetting about is the expertise of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Education Division in terms of creating really good video instruction. All you know if the disaster that is DCSS television. GPB has the amazing Steve Carey. GPB is run by the equally amazing Teya Ryan. DCSS has no one with professional skills, experience or notable accomplishments.

    There is a lot more to FSC than the Forest. Crawford Lewis knew about losing the Forest 6 years in advance. He did nothing. It makes me wonder how much he was paid to let the Forest revert to Fernbank Museum.

    And this is not just about cost-savings, but about developing financial sustainability by selling, via subscription and online delivery, the knowledge and professionalism of FSC’s highly qualified instructors to other school systems who cannot even begin to provide the same things to their students.

  19. Yes, in fact, we did step up to propose changes that would make FSC financially viable and sustainable. Please see the post on this topic. But, our efforts were blocked by Crawford Lewis.

  20. @ dekalbmom

    You cannot claim that FSC never once showed up in your kids middle school and high school science classes unless (1) they never missed a day of school during their middle school and high school years and (2) you can document that their science teachers tried to schedule FSC instructors, but were unable to do so.

    I am amazed at the number of people who are unable to think beyond the confines of DCSS in terms of FSC — and other programs for that matter. Georgia Tech, for example, has an amazing summer program for middle school girls. Georgia Tech’s CEISMC offers many programs for middle school and high school. Further, Georgia Tech and Georgia Public Broadcasting have a history of successful collaboration.

    Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Education Division is paid for with your tax dollars (the Radio and Television divisions are not and they rely on contributions from listeners and viewers). Georgia Public Broadcasting is a State of Georgia entity (Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission) and is Georgia’s only statewide public radio, public television and education agency. So, maybe it is time to stop saying what can’t be done and look at how you can facilitate the development of self-sustaining, top flight science education for all DCSS students that can be made available statewide and beyond via subscription.

  21. Dekalbite — you usually give good statistics, but I believe you are incorrect about the number of students who are in STT. Those are old numbers back from when students went to STT for the entire school day for a whole semester. That has changed, I believe. Would you check on and document your numbers, please? Also, please obtain the number of students who participate in Science Night Out, SEMAA and other continuing education programs offered to DCSS students outside school hours at FSC.

  22. Miss Management says:

    My comment was tongue-in-cheek. I was hoping to point out the absurdity of such a ‘special’ and expensive program. Because we all know that the same thing would never be tolerated if it were located in Dunwoody.

  23. Dekalbite says:

    @ wiserthanmuself

    Very good point.

    However, the way DCSS has set up these “choices” and special programs ensures class sizes for the MAJORITY of students are to the point that regular education teachers cannot give students the individual help they need on either end of the spectrum.

    Your idea to “make all the programs like those you listed” is sound. But this cannot be done with the current configuration and budget. Changes must be made to ensure the majority of students master the content they will need to succeed in life and that students with special needs or interest are also served. Staying the same will only ensure the same results.

    MOST of our employees certified to teach should be in the classrooms teaching, yet 1 out of 6 are not. The 7,500 non certified personnel (as contrasted to 6,100 full time and 400+ part time teachers) should be rightsized in number and compensation so that money can go to reducing class sizes and ensuring every child has a competent teacher. Magnet programs (e.g. science, technology, high achiever, arts, etc.) should cost no more per pupil than regular education programs. Magnet programs should not be in expensive stand alone buildings with a full complement of highly paid admin and support personnel. They can achieve the same advantages by being discreet, separate programs within schools all over the county so MORE children can take advantage of special programs. Why should a child have to “win the lottery” in order to be served in a program that he/she qualifies for?

    We have grown used to special programs, schools and services being established like fiefdoms, separate from the schools where the majority of students spend their days. Bureaucracies have built up around these special programs, schools, and services with the concomitant bureaucratic costs. There is much to be admired about offering program differentiation to students. However, sharing resources such as admin and support, savings on transportation costs, and ensuring students do not depend on “the luck of the draw” is more equitable and cost effective IMHO.

  24. Gardenerontheside says:

    Irregardless of the talent of GPB, video based science instruction is often insufficient. Quality science instruction is best delivered with a qualified, enthusiastic guide. Even the Kahn academy much touted by those wishing to cut education costs more is insufficient to meet the needs of a diverse classroom. Disagree? Please watch his photosynthesis video and decide if you understand what he is talking about. Does video help education? Of course, but only as a supplement

  25. Dekalbite says:

    The numbers for STT are the most accurate I have. Your post stated 180 as well (90 a semester). You must know of a change based on your statement “I believe you are incorrect about the number of students who are in STT.” If you know of a change, please post the number of STT students and provide a link to your source. That would be illuminating to readers and commenters, myself included.

    I do not have access to the number of children who participate in SEMAA or Science Night Out, nor did I address those programs. Perhaps a Fernbank staffer would like to publish these numbers on the Fernbank Science Center website since no attendance numbers are listed on the Fernbank website for the general public.

    The programs you name are quality science programs. But are they worth the $7,000,000 in science education dollars spent for Fernbank? Science achievement scores have been declining in DeKalb compared to other demographically similar school systems. Science classes in the schools have been increasing because the budget cannot accommodate reasonably sized classes, and science funding for equipment and supplies in the schools has been decreasing.

    My statement is – Fernbank Science Center is a cost center consuming millions of DCSS science education dollars.

    My question is – Is there a more cost effective way to provide the educational services of FSC so that a portion of those millions of science education dollars can be invested in the regular science classrooms to improve student achievement in science?

  26. Dekalbite says:

    This is a wonderful plan. What person or what entity do you envision moving this plan forward and implementing it? Can the superintendent or the Board of Education take any actions to make FSC financially self sustaining?

    IMO – cost savings still must be paramount because science achievement is very low in DeKalb. When half of DCSS 8th graders do not understand basic science concepts while science class sizes are increasing and science funding in the schools is decreasing, the expenditure of science education dollars becomes paramount for the students of DeKalb.

  27. Dekalbite says:

    @ Gardenerontheside
    As a former middle school science teacher (6th and 7th grade), I agree. Nothing can achieve mastery of science content like daily science instruction by a motivated and qualified teacher engaging students in experiential and observational activities. Science is a unique subject in the that the body of material constantly changes with new scientific research and observation, data collection and experimentation are essential for the effective teaching and learning of science.

    While videos are excellent resources, read the position statement of the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) on effective teaching of science content and research on class sizes as related to student safety in laboratory settings:

  28. Dekalbite — look at your 11:07 AM comment. You are the one who said “90.” Not me. And, I think that when you talk about Fernbank Science Center, you absolutely must include the activities that engage students of all ages with science and other STEM activities outside of the classroom.

    Yes, there is a more cost-effective way to distribute the educational services of FSC — and make FSC financially self-sustaining. It was proposed to Crawford Lewis in 2006. Debbie Loeb also knew about it. And, now it has been published — albeit somewhat outdated technologically — on this blog.

  29. Actually, Georgia Public Broadcasting offers — at no charge to Georgia schools — a chemistry course and a physics course. It is generally utilized by those schools who are unable to obtain high quality teachers certified in those areas. Those courses are extremely well-received.

  30. Just FYI …

    From the Warranty Deed, August 16, 1966, between Fernbank, Inc. selling four acres of land (Land Lot 244) to Dekalb Board of Education:

    “This Deed is executed upon the condition that in the event the above described property is not used for a science center or cultural center, the above described property shall revert to the Grantor herein, its successors or assigns in as full and complete a manner as if this deed had never been executed.”

  31. More Historical Information on Fernbank Science Center:

    Fernbank Science Center was constructed on the edge of the 65 acre primeval forest on 4 acres of land which was deeded to the DeKalb County Board of Education from Fernbank, Inc. for that purpose. Fernbank Forest was purchased from Col. Z. D. Harrison in 1937 by a group of citizens who were interested in conservation and the preservation of this forest area for science education. In 1964, the Fernbank Trustees developed a 48-year lease which was accepted by the DeKalb County Board of Education. This lease provides for the forest to be used by all citizens of the state and southeast and stipulates that it be protected and maintained by the Board of Education in as near its natural state as possible. This lease required that the forest be fenced and all entry and use controlled and stipulated that no plants or animals be removed. While the lease is for a 48-year period, it is reviewed each year and renewed at 8 year intervals.

    The Science Center building was completed and dedicated in December 1967. The cost was approximately one million dollars which was provided for in a school bond issue. The original equipment in the Science Center cost approximately 2 million dollars and was purchased for the most part with NDEA matching funds (half federal and half local). The operational budget for the first three years, which ended on June 30, 1969, was supplied from funds under a grant from Title III, ESEA from the US Office of Education. The Science Center now operates on a budget from the DeKalb County School System. At the present time there are 81 employees. [This last sentence may be incorrect. It came from an old brochure produced by the DeKalb Visitors and Convention Bureau. We have always wondered, but have been unable to determine, if the number of FSC employees include those at Fernbank Museum, as well.]

    In 1989, the special relationship, which had existed for many years between Fernbank Science Center and Fernbank, Inc., was formalized in a public ceremony during which both groups were designated as Partners-in-Education. In October 1992 Fernbank, Inc., opened the new and spectacular Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The additional resources provided by the 160,000 square foot facility have ensured that the partnership between Fernbank Science Center and Fernbank, Inc., continues to offer an innovative and exemplary educational opportunity to all citizens.

  32. justwatch says:

    So what happens to the kids who aren’t picked for such programs?

    Go visit schools in Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett. Go see how few special programs they have (and all are pretty darn diverse systems), go see how much more access students have in their schools to the resources they need to have their needs met, go see what happens in a system that focuses on the needs of all students over the needs of just a few….

    Check out the science test scores while you are at it. The other systems in metro Atlanta don’t have a FSC and yet their scores are far better than DeKalb. Cost-benefit analysis anyone?

  33. Dekalbite says:

    @ dekalbwatch
    “Dekalbite — look at your 11:07 AM comment. You are the one who said “90.” Not me.”

    So sorry. You did say 180 students a year. I extrapolated because the 180 students served each year attend for only one semester. 180 divided by 2 semesters = 90 per semester.

    “The Scientific Tools and Techniques Program (STT) is a semester-long course designed to familiarize students with the tools and techniques of scientific inquiry.”

    “Students enter the program through their Middle Schools during the Spring of the eighth grade year and attend STT for one semester during the ninth grade year”

    Click to access sttbrochure.pdf

  34. Dekalbite says:

    @ justwatch
    That’s my point exactly. The students in the other metro systems do not have a science center, but their students demonstrate a much better grasp of basic science concepts – even when comparing demographically comparable school systems with a high number of low income students and Title 1 schools.

    Imagine those millions of science education dollars spent in the science classrooms all over DeKalb. Imagine the excellent FSC instructors housed in schools all over DeKalb.

    Fernbank Elementary School believes so strongly in hands-on science for their students that the Fernbank Elementary parents fund the salary for a certified science teacher to provide special hands-on activities for the students in their school.

    Keeping Science Education funding and class sizes exactly as it is currently is not going to improve science achievement in DeKalb.

    A cost benefit analysis should be done for every cost center. The status quo is working for a few and not working for many.

  35. As far as I know, I said nothing about any number of students served. Neither does the STT brochure.

  36. Rae says:

    I attended the STT program in the eighties. My recollections are that is was one of the most memorable programs I participated in. The other was my Discovery class, taught by Gail Humble. The last I heard she was at Kittredge. The Fernbank program is a valuable and historic piece of our school system, and I would hate to see it go.

  37. Dekalbite says:


    Gail Humble became the principal at Kittredge. She is terrific.

    The concern is not about the STT program that serves 180 students a year very well.

    The concerns are:

    1. Inequity
    The inequity of the millions in science education dollars dedicated to Fernbank Science Center while science education in the schools leaves science classrooms packed with 35 students to a class and virtually no funding for science equipment and supplies

    2. Student Achievement
    The extremely low science achievement of DeKalb students as compared to other metro systems including demographically comparable systems.

    Inequity and low student achievement are very real concerns for DeKalb students.

  38. Rae says:

    Yes, but it is a successful program. It led me to a job in environmental chemistry.
    Inequitable? Perhaps, but one could say that of any quality program. Because every child cannot participate in it, it needs to go? I think not.

  39. justwatch says:

    I think that is fantastic Rae, but when there are limited resources and you have to make difficult choices, what do you do? When you build a budget, you start with the have to haves and then go from there.
    Everything else becomes a want.
    I am certain that most environmental chemists who went to public schools across the country in systems that had no Fernbank.

    FSC has allowed our system to focus less and less on high quality science instruction in the school by diverting the most talented students with a carrot. “We know we don’t have what you need at your school, come to Fernbank.” As I have pointed out, science instruction across the board (as measured by standardized tests) is stronger in most every school system in the metro area — and they don’t have a Fernbank.

  40. Dekalbite says:

    @ Rae
    “Perhaps, but one could say that of any quality program. Because every child cannot participate in it, it needs to go?”

    STT should not go. Because it is successful, it needs to be revamped so MORE students can participate in this program. My child was in the high achievers magnet program. She and her peers got an excellent education receiving opportunities she could not receive at her home school. However, her name got “picked out of a hat”. There are many other students that could have benefited and were qualified to have this particular educational experience, but they were “unlucky” in that they didn’t “win the lottery”.

    Magnet programs were originally established to bring white and black students together so DeKalb could get out from under the Consent decree left over from the days of segregation lawsuits. That’s why most of them were in stand alone buildings – to make a statement of – these are our voluntarily integrated schools so let us out from underneath court supervision. That’s why DCSS provided transportation to the magnet programs as well – because of integration concerns – never academic. Stand alone buildings with their own group of admin and support are the most expensive way to go, but again the objective was integration – never academics – and making them the most attractive and easiest for parents that would voluntarily integrate was the objective. The Court decree drove everything that happened in the county from buildings that weren’t built to reams of paperwork to complicated minority to majority busing, etc. and getting out from it was their total focus. We spent almost 20 years with this, and did not come out from under it until Dr. Brown. By then the way we provided magnet program services was totally entrenched. Fernbank Science Center has been around since the 1950s. Talk about entrenched! FSC worked when we were a very rich county with great science achievement so we could use an enrichment center as a resource. That is not the case now. As with all entrenched programs, they have supporters who do not want to look at revamping the way services are delivered against a very different economic and societal backdrop.

    Why should magnet programs not be run within schools all over the county so that students who qualify for their services (science, technology, arts, high achiever, etc.) can enroll in the programs? Why does a good education in DeKalb mean “the luck of the draw”? Why should your name be drawn “out of a hat”? Why are the services FSC offers such as STT ONLY if you come to FSC?

    I’m glad it worked out for you like it worked out for my daughter and her friends, but inequity is the problem. We cannot afford to do “business as usual” with the special programs we have in DeKalb. They are good for a few, but we educate the many.

Comments are closed.