The Truth from Don McChesney … He’s The Real Deal

The message below appeared in Don McChesney’s blog and we are re-printing it here.  One of our DSW blog volunteers was very aware of the critical, behind-the-scenes role, played by Don McChesney in keeping Fernbank Science Center alive enough to be attractive to potential funders.  As a board member, Don walks a very fine line because, according to SACS, “meddling” by board members is not allowed.

Don knew that just keeping Fernbank Science Center on life-support would not achieve the end goal of a public-private partnership.  Through its exceptional teachers and unique programs, internal and external, FSC served more than 1,200 students per day.  That must continue. But, we had to wait to say anything until Don was willing to “go public” with his work on behalf of Fernbank Science Center.

“Memo from Don McChesney

“Just before the election and I see my opponent is working overtime in the rumor mill. Let me respond.

Fernbank Science Center:  My opponent wants everyone to believe he is Fernbank Science Center’s savior. Well, that would be an error. I usually try to work behind the scenes. I am not a publicity hound, but it is now time to tell everyone what I have done in regard to [Fernbank] Science Center.

“I personally asked the superintendent to increase the budget from the proposed $1.5 million to the current $2.9 million. I am aware that the Fernbank budget needed to come down like everyone else’s but I asked for more than the budget of $1.5 million which would only have put Fernbank Science Center on life support.

“I also have been meeting with a group trying to arrange private financing which will cement Fernbank’s future as a viable entity. The group prefers to remain anonymous so I cannot discuss the details. If you think this is just another election ploy, speak with Doug Hrabe (FSC Director) or Loraine Tomassi (a longtime friend of Fernbank) and confirm what I’m saying here.

“My opponent’s impact on getting funding for Fernbank is ZERO. He has not brought together the community, the school district and private funding sources. I have.”

Next rumor:  “My opponent says my ‘super secret probation’ story is that I am moving to get Druid Hills High closed. Another board member suggested some time ago that the property should be sold to an interested group in the area. I have never agreed with or promoted the idea that DHHS should be relocated.”

There you have it. Invest your vote in reason and deliberate, positive action with Don McChesney — or you can go for manipulation and lies with his opponent.

Quite frankly, we have no confidence in Orson Welles … uh, we mean Marshall Orson and his gang of Thought Police (see 1984 by George Orwell).

DeKalb School Watch continues to endorse Don McChesney for DCSS School Board, District 2.

DSW also continues to endorse Jim McMahan for District 4; Denise McGill for District 6 and Pam Speaks for District 8.

Remember to vote on Tuesday, July 31.  Polls are open from 7 AM – 7PM.


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"
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21 Responses to The Truth from Don McChesney … He’s The Real Deal

  1. FWIW, it’s been Paul Womack who has wanted to close Druid Hills HS and reopen it on the North Druid Hills (old Briarcliff HS) property. He has told many people of this idea.

  2. checksbalance says:

    Let’s get serious people. We have real problems and we need to help fix them. Schools aren’t ready to open, no bus schedules, no balanced budget and a School Board who won’t compromise for the good of our children! I can’t sell my house and I can’t afford private school!

  3. Pumpkin says:

    Don voted against the budget that included the $2.9 million for Fernbank Scoence Center.

  4. Jimmy says:

    Wish Don would have been at Coralwood today for the meeting with IEP parents. He’s my Board Member and I support him. Lots of great information shared from parents, educators and board members Paul Womack and Nancy Jester who understand the issues concerning special needs families. Here are pictures from the event.

  5. cigi says:

    I am not against Fernbank, I am asking for the data that it serves 1,200 students a day. I have never seen a teacher from Fernbank at my school teaching or working with students, I have been at my school, which is located on the northside of DeKalb for many years. We have had students take the afternoon classes. The classes were great. But they were small with maybe 10 students in them. Many students took one of them after another, It also afforded them the chance to leave school early to get their. I have had students attend the SST program.It is a great program. Please understand. I am not against Fernbank, but did anyone speak on behalf of the paras and media clerks that lost their jobs?

    I know that one of my friends that lives in Cobb County went on a Field Trip to Fernbank with her daugther’s class. Fernbank must begin to keep documentation, Who, what, where, when why. How are the great things being done by the staff being translated into real help for students having trouble with Science.

    Mr. McChesney is a good man, but his comments seem to focus on how he sought help for Fernbank. Did anyone speak up for the paras that lost their jobs?I am sure that 200 paras worked with more than 1, 200 students a day. Yes, it is important to advocate for your district, But, I agree with ‘checks and balances.’ Schools are going to open very soon. Is anyone going to speak on behalf of the students and staff that are going to have large classes with fewer resources.

  6. Please understand: The reason why paras and media specialists and media clerks were let go is a direct result of Atkinson refusing the cut the Palace staff to the bare minimum because it would mean cutting friends-and-family.

    Go to and download to Excel all of the employees for any year from 2008 through 2011. Sort the resulting spreadsheet by job title. You will be shocked at the number of secretaries, for example. Sort by salary and see how many Palace employees make more than $100,000.

    Fernbank Science Center has documentation. Call or e-mail Doug Hrabe, FSC director, and ask for one or more of Fernbank’s daily schedules. When Fernbank teachers come to a school, they do so without a whole lot of fanfare, they don’t have a “posse” and they are going to specific classes. But it is documented. We aren’t sure why that documentation has not been shared with the public.

  7. Great photos! Thanks for sharing! Was anyone at the Coralwood meeting today who would do a little write-up of the agenda and what was said? If so, please send it to us at We will publish it.

  8. We have said this repeatedly: Atkinson has not deigned to give the board a budget. NO budget had been produced before the vote. All she has done is supposedly cut here and cut there, but it is all coming to the board piecemeal. And, what we found is that Atkinson is hiring her high-priced buddies and bringing back, in different made-up roles the friends-and-family who were supposedly-but-not=really cut. If Don voted against anything, it was voting against the haphazard “cuts” because — read my lips — Atkinson did NOT give the board a budget. Nancy Jester publicly stated this as one of her reasons for voting down the cuts.

    There are now budgets posted online in full and by department. You can access them under our FILES tab, Budgets & Audits. Or at the school system’s website link below:

  9. justwatch says:

    I am curious how the crisis is being defined and what solutions were proposed. I believe that DCSS is making staffing changes that they will ultimately have to undo, probably fairly quickly after school starts. For example, one of my schools lost a special ed position, but I don’t think the percentage of special needs kids changed, and I think that once school starts, the system will have to have that position. (I also would love to know how the meeting was publicized. Was it just for Coralwood parents?)
    On the other hand, at another of our schools, a special ed position was lost, but I think the number of special needs kids has dropped for next year.

  10. justwatch says:

    I believe that Dr. Lewis’ desire to sell the NDH property is one of the main reasons Womack ran. He was outraged that such a thing could be considered.

  11. What was discussed at the meeting? Isn’t Coralwood a special program for mostly preschoolers? Doesn’t their funding come from other sources (not part of the regular k-12 state/local funds?) Please file a report for us so that we can all understand Coralwood’s programs and concerns about staffing.

  12. That and the fact that Gene Walker won a December special election to finish the term for Elizabeth Andrews who died while in office.

  13. cigi says:

    Thank you for your your answer. The benefits that Fernbank can offer may be greater with the Fernbank teachers actually working in the schools with the lowest science scores for a period of time. Even if they spend half a day every day teaching at a school, and the other half teaching at Fernbank. Look at our test scores. As a system we would be remiss not to explore options to help all students. A visit by a dynamic educator or a trip to Fernbank is not the same as the teachers being in a school each and every day. I am not trying to take anything away from anyone. Until our school system really starts trying to find solutions that help all students, we are going to remain a system that is not doing well. If we cannot attract families to all parts of the school system, we are not going to be able to have the tax base from property taxes that we need. This may be something to explore. Let some of those teachers teach in schools and bring science alive for all students.

  14. SA says:

    Again, Mr. McChesney is NOT involved, has not been involved, in any efforts to save FSC. He openly called for a budget that closed it. That he cannot even get the dollar figure for which he allegedly advocated correct shows this is yet another case of changing his version of the truth to reflect what he believes the voters want to hear.

    Mr. McChesney is misrepresenting his role. Again. I should know; I chair this committee. Mr. McChesney has not even contacted me or anyone at FSC to be involved in this committee.

    Mr. McChesney DID purposefully exclude any women from our district from his special delegation to meet with our new Superintendent when she first arrived; he wanted to keep away from the “emotional issues”. His own words, which cannot be changed, refuted, or otherwise denied; they’re in writing from his DCSD email account.

    Please, stop perpetrating these falsehoods being spread by Don and his few, few supporters. Vote for real change in this Board on Tuesday.

    – Susan Anne MacKenna (nope, not afraid of using my name!)

  15. lovesscience says:

    Thank you DSW. That documentation has been shared over and over and over. These numbers have been kept on the computer scheduling system that FSC uses for many many years. Just because “cigi” hasn’t seen a FSC teacher at their school doesn’t mean that they haven’t been there. Schools are allotted numbers of programs based on their enrollment based on the the number of programs that the FSC teachers offer. The teachers schedule these classrooms in the fall and the spring. Most schools only get 2 outreach programs each per semester, but EVERY child in that grade level receives the instruction, which includes a hands-on science lesson of some sort that is GPS appropriate. In elementary school that is often one of the only hands-on science lessons of this type that students will have, as science is not taught on a daily basis. There used to be many more outreach classes offered per school, but as all schools have suffered budget cuts and lost personnel, so has FSC over the last 10 years. We have lost at least 6-8 teaching positions…(not sure of the exact number so don’t quote me on that)

    Mr. Hrabe would be happy to share any statistics with you that you would like. As to why that documentation has never been shared with the public, FSC has published a yearly summary every year and given it to the board. Where exactly are they supposed to “share” this?

  16. Murphey says:

    I also support FSC but their lack of data drives me crazy. They should be keeping data on program delivery as well as AP scores for students who take AP classes in their Advanced Studies program. They also need to track Biology EOCT scores for STT students. I understand that these last two statistics would require some manual calculation but I feel certain it could be done in less than 4 hours.

    ALSO, how about making the FSC Yearly Summary available on the DCSD website? Not doing that makes people suspicious, although it does go along with the pervasive data poor (not data rich) environment of DCSD.

    Come on, Dr. Hrabe, let us know how FSC is impacting our students

  17. Wow, just look at the “diversity” in the Coralwood audience (NOT!). At a time when pre-K teachers are being cut, or their salaries are being lowered at every school in the county, at a time when we are being asked to cut back to “just what the state pays,” here’s Coralwood, a publically funded pre-school that takes in some children with mental and physical disabilities, but also allows the immediate area of Oak Grove to send their children for preschool, pre-K and kindergarten.

    And, does Atkinson even recognize that in the description of “Success for All,” it is mentioned that the critical years to ensure the program will work are those of pre-K and Kindergarten. It makes no sense whatsoever to implement that program while cutting back your committment to pre-K.

    “Success for All is influenced by the Title I program that believes in preventing failure of any reader by creating successful preschool and kindergarten curriculum for reading. Early intervention means that supplementary instructional services are provided early in students’ schooling and that they are intensive enough to bring at-risk students quickly to a level at which they can profit from high quality classroom instruction.” From:

    Coralwood is being rennovated by $10.6 million of our E-SPLOST funds ( and according to one website, it serves a student body of 218 children, 70% of whom are white. Womack owns a home in this neighborhood which is very near Lakeside High.

    He also owns one in the Briarlake community which we expect will not get a tower, either, judging from their sudden disappearance from cell tower advocacy and from their lack of a current FCC permit (they do have an outdated one that appears to have not been built upon when another tower company went under and was later bought by T-mobile.).

    While nearby Margaret Harris School, which takes care of the most severely disabled children countywide from Pre-K through High School, and happens to be 80% African-American in its demographics, and is literally about a mile to a mile and a half away, has been selected by Womack and his crew to be one of the cell tower schools. How wrong is that??

    Not trying to fan any black/white flames here, but the stats are what they are. Womack is not good for anyone, esp. those of us hoping to truly become “One DeKalb.”

  18. Curious says:

    My kindergarten class had their Chemical Abracadabra program rescheduled twice this year. We were told it was because the instructor had no dry ice. What would happen if I cancelled my class because I didn’t have supplies? The kids never got their visit from Fernbank. By the way, elementary teachers provide their students with many hands-on science activities throughout the school year.

  19. teacher/taxpayer says:

    We need to get our priorities straight. My students and I enjoyed Fernbank field trips or outreach programs once or twice a year. But I need to communicate with Hispanic parents regularly, and our interpreter/trusted parent liaison/source of family histories/ is now gone. As far as I am concerned, Fernbank’s value is nothing compared to the value of this amazing woman whose credibility, dedication, and experience were invaluable assets. And she only cost the taxpayers about $30K a year.

  20. cigi says:

    Dear loveofscience,

    Please post the numbers so that all of us may see them. Keeping them on the FSC Computer does not allow everyone to be informed. Murphy has an excellent point about the need to see the benefit of Fernbank to students that have attended their program. This could be a part of their website. Why should people be criticized for wanting the same accountability from Fernbank that other schools are required to provide?

  21. Whoshelpingthekids says:

    That’s right- Coralwood is getting $10.6 million so their 3-5 yr olds (over half of which are regular ed students) can have a therapeutic pool – even though the schools they will feed into (Hawthorne, Henderson Middle) don’t have the basics for their needs like handicapped access and even though the BOE’s responsibility is the education of K-12 students which we are failing to educate.

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