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

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

  1. educator90 says:

    When you’re at least $73 million dollars in the red, every million saved counts. A few million here, a few million there, all add up to $73 million, and no more extra kids in classes or raised taxes. Chop away!!!!

  2. dekalbite2 says:

    You need to write Dr. Atkinson and ALL of the BOE members and let them know your how you feel about cuts being made in DeKalb, taxes being raised and yes – even your feelings about continuing with Fernbank Science Center. Here is a link to the DCSS website that allows you to click on each BOE member and let them know how you feel.

  3. dekalbite2 says:

    “I tried to show you that they are an important and hardworking part of the staff that helps to stretch the effectiveness of the small FSC instructor corps of scientists”

    I thought we employed science teachers not scientists.

  4. Dave says:

    It isn’t so bad to see Dekalb County Schools bleeding to death. Public education was a bad idea to begin with and at best only indoctrinates our children into godless liberals with blind allegiance to the so-called “scientific experts.” Someone has to stand up to these un-American godless “experts” who teach hogwash like global warming and evolution. (We saw recently what happened when the un-American Obama “evolves” and wasn’t that an ugly thing!) Glad to see the Science Center on the chopping block. And if the corrupt school board members vote to increase my taxes to avoid such cuts, I for one will appeal.

  5. dekalbite2 says:

    @ Ned
    “Don’t let the BOE throw FSC away 100% just so they can save $ for some of the crap they’re doing.”

    Fernbank Science Center’s value resides not in the building or its location in the middle of the lovely Fernbank community or in its administration and support personnel. It resides in the teachers that teach the science programs and the students who are taught. Close the building (which needs millions in renovations to be a viable, up to date science facility) and house those teachers in the schools throughout DeKalb County that actually have much more up to date science facilities than Fernbank Science Center. There are some fairly new high schools in South DeKalb that have much better facilities than the musty old building that is Fernbank Science Center, and with SPLOST IV there will also be buildings in Central and North Dekalb that have facilities that are so much more appropriate.

    The forest is gone. The SEMAA program funded by NASA is gone. All that is left is an aging building with some great instructors. Save what is best from Fernbank – the instructional staff and many of the special programs they provide – and let this dinosaur (no pun intended on the FSC exhibit) from the 1950s go.

  6. Franklin says:

    I agree with you, Dave. Besides the fact that any tax increase will send us into a deeper depression, a school tax increase for the sole purpose of preaching, and yes, it is religion, things like global warming, evolution and gay rights would be the height of ignorance and corruption.

  7. Alan says:

    @Dave and Franklin, your comments about science education and public education in general make me wonder what exactly you would like for our children to be taught.

    Leaving that aside, I might point out that a millage increase is not the same as a tax increase. By way of demonstration, consider an economy in which real estate values are continually on the rise. In such an economy, property taxes will go up along with real estate values, and the populace would reasonably expect the school board, and county to reduce millage rates to avoid collecting more money than is needed to operate. If the Dekalb school board did not reduce the millage rate when they should have, say ten years ago, and instead allowed the system to become bloated with unnecessary positions and unreasonably high salaries, does this mean we should punish the children of today for the adult excesses of yesterday?

    Dekalb schools has cut personel each year for the last few years, this year included. Maybe they’ve cut enough people already. Could the budget be balanced by lowering salaries that should never have been as high as they are? If the most valuable employees are the teachers, and if $50,000 is a proper salary for a good teacher, then what about across the board cuts in salaries for all staff making more than $50,000? I would like to see the board at least crunch the numbers to see if such adjustments in salaries could result in a balanced budget.

  8. educator90 says:

    Oh I have been and plan on attending Wednesday’s meeting in person with kids in tow.

  9. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Ease up a little. Take a breath and do a little homework. Look at a few current weather records, maybe. Read a little history. Take a look in the Scriptures and see if you can find anywhere that the word “evolution” or a Hebrew or Greek equivalent is mentioned. It is not! And more significantly that is certainly not what the Scriptures are all about. Scriptures do say a great deal about loving folks, (even your enemies), being slow to anger and slow to make judgements, helping your neighbors, stuff like that.
    Also, public education is one of the fundamentals that our founding fathers (yup, those guys) put in place and has served this country very well for the past several hundred years. However, I do agree that public education is now in trouble and really needs help. That is why I gave myself the title “itsbrokeletsfixit”.

  10. dekalbite2 says:

    Was a special salary schedule created for these instructors because they cannot be on the Teachers Salary Schedule if they are not certified. In addition, according to the Georgia Teacher Certification site, the Librarian ($90,541) has a Media Specialist certificate that expired in 1984. So what schedule is this employee paid on?

  11. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Guess you don’t have school age children. Would you want to send your kids to school where teachers can’t earn over $50K, even if the teachers have 20+years of experience? Of course, many folks out there don’t feel like teaching is a real job anyway.
    One thought for you: We are always one generation away from losing the civilized society we live in. Public education, such as it is, and those teachers you do not regard as professionals stand in that gap.

  12. dekalbite2 says:


    So what salary schedule are the uncertified teahers who are listed as teachers placed on? Does the job description say they must be a certified employee? Where is the job description and educational and certification requirements listed? Where is the salary schedule posted? This is a huge problem in DeKalb. Job descriptions, requirements and salary schedules are not posted except for the Teacher Salary Schedule. Job descriptions will require licensing and certification, yet there will be individuals without certification or licensing. How can this happen? Since 8,500 of our employees out of 15,000 are not teachers, there is no information on salary schedules for personnel. EVERY other metro school system posts this information.

  13. Ned says:

    @dekalbite (8:01 pm)
    I think we are finally understanding each other. There is much here to save. The observatory obviously is less than mobile, but the knowledge and skills are not. And they need not sit in one hyper-privileged neighborhood.
    Thinking outside the box and completely off the top of my head, what if these science teachers–and some of the staff–served the entirety of DCSS through additional means besides being relocated to schools? We have an overpriced and underused television system. Perhaps FSC teachers could teach through this medium, and PDS-24 (is that right?) could be an educational tool rather than a propaganda vehicle.

    Thinking politically, the BOE must be laughing at all of us, expending so much energy debating saving FSC and having our energy diverted from where the real savings can occur.

  14. Miss Management says:

    To take your point a step further, for those whose property values have fallen, a millage increase will put your tax bill back where it was or maybe still a little less. For those whose property values have remained steady or even increased a little (ie: Dunwoody), your tax bill will go up a good notch. When good times return and property values begin to rise again, watch the spending go wild!

    The county did this with the water department. When we all cut back consumption during the drought, they raised our rates to bring in the necessary revenue to fund that bloated department. Difference is: the school tax accounts for almost 70% of your property tax bill. You’ll feel this increase a lot more.

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