Druid Hills votes to submit a charter petition

On Monday, Druid Hills High School cluster of voters decided to submit a charter petition to DeKalb County schools: Druid Hills charter cluster wins in a big way. What’s next?

On Friday, [Today] the petition, the first of its kind under an untested state law, goes to the DeKalb school board for an up or down vote in coming weeks or months. If the school board approves the cluster, it will go to the state for final approval.

The petitioners seek to establish their own governance board that would hire an administrator and oversee operations at Druid Hills High and its six feeder schools. State officials say if the charter is approved, it could be a model that gets repeated elsewhere.

Parents and teachers thronged the gym of Druid Hills High School Tuesday to cast ballots in an unprecedented vote that could reverberate across the state.

“Anything that gets us a little autonomy from DeKalb County is a good thing,” said Debra Turner, who got one vote because her daughter is a sophomore at Druid Hills High.

The organizers are the first to harness an untested state law that allows groups of schools to break away from school district bureaucracies.

The county school board and the state must approve the charter for it to become official, but the enthusiasm outside the school gym during this first big step was obvious. Teachers said they felt overworked and demoralized, and parents said they felt their neighborhood schools were not performing as well as they could.

More >>> From MyAJC and Get Schooled blog:

The organizers of the DruidHillsCharterCluster will officially present their petition to the DeKalb County School District Friday, initiating a lengthy review process.

Before introducing the Carey op-ed, here is an excerpt from an MyAJC.com story about Tuesday’s election and the turnout. Of the 1,130 votes cast, 92 percent favored the charter cluster. The story was written by AJC DeKalb schools reporter Ty Tagami:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calculated Tuesday’s turnout at 20 percent — less than the percentage calculated by the petitioners. The 3 percentage point difference likely resulted from different enrollment figures provided by the school district at different points in time. Enrollment typically grows each day at the beginning of the school year as parents register their children, and the student count provided to the AJC Wednesday contained about 500 more students than the number used by the petitioners to calculate turnout.

It may be an imperfect comparison, but the turnout in the local school board race last year at precincts mostly within the cluster was higher than both numbers, about 26 percent.

Matthew Lewis, the lead organizer and potential governing board member, said that wasn’t a very big difference, though, especially since these were volunteer parents with little funding while an official election campaign is driven by candidates with backing from donors.

“A large and interested group of parents and teachers voted — by any measure and in excess of every prediction made to us by those who follow these things,” he said.

Lewis said cluster supporters have a vested interest in ensuring high quality at all the schools within it. If any one school fails to reach its performance goals, he said, the entire cluster could lose its charter.


Some say the vote was not legal. Read about it here >> Political scientist: Druid Hills charter cluster vote was neither fair nor legal

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29 Responses to Druid Hills votes to submit a charter petition

  1. Don McChesney has a blog post on the subject (this was his region – he lost his board seat to Marshall Orson in the last election) …


  2. howdy1942 says:

    I also support this cluster. I live in Tucker and knew about this vote, where it was being held, the times of the vote, and what was at stake. This thing was all over the paper and television. There is simply no excuse for pleading ignorance or for not voting. Voting is sometimes inconvenient but that inconvenience pales in comparison to what many sacrificed so that one may have the opportunity to vote. It certainly wasn’t convenient for them to do what they did!

    Marshall Orson is a staunch supporter of Fernbank and maybe he can address any concerns of his fellow board members. Like Don McChesney,however, I don’t think that Mr. Thurmond will support it nor do I think a majority of the vote will. When it comes to all matters involving the DCSS Board, I tend to set my sights rather low and, sadly, I’ve been right more often than not.

    I strongly support anyone seeking independence from the Dekalb County School Board. Given the shenanigans of Eugene Walker and his four companions, I’ve lost hope in the Dekalb County School Board ever getting it right. I had hoped at one time that we could fix the Board and the administration to the benefit of all our students and teachers, but that hope has faded since January. We need smaller districts that are more community-oriented that derive greater support, input, and resources from the community. The DCSS School Board is “in the way” and we need to find another way that does not involve the DCSS Board. To that end, I will support the creation of new school systems through legislative involvement, financial support of new city movements, and work in our community to make that happen.

  3. Maureen Downey at the AJC had an earlier blog post that explained the cluster concept and Druid Hills plans —

    Druid Hills charter cluster vote: Proceed — but with caution

  4. dsw2contributor says:

    Maureen Downey’s column says: “The vote Tuesday under a never-before-exercised state law is for parents of children who either are enrolled at, or live within the attendance zones of, the schools — and for the teachers and administrators who work at them.”

    How is this not “Taxation without Representation”? (Taxpayers who live in the attendance zone do not get to vote if they do not currently have a child enrolled in DCS.)

  5. whyaminotsurprised says:

    If it is proven that the poll workers were wearing those t-shirts advocating one side of the issue, just on that alone the whole vote could be invalidated. That would be a real pity – a small group of dedicated people overstep their bounds and the votes go right down the drain.

  6. Dekalbite2 says:

    From Get Schooled – Ms. Downey’s comment:

    The lead organizer of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster voter sent me a note about the election. Matt Lewis wrote:
    I thought a few facts regarding the DHCC vote might be meaningful to your followers:
    – voter eligibility was a function of the enabling statute, which we followed to the letter and validated with the state and county ahead of time
    – the voting procedures were also vetted with state and county ahead of time
    – we provided all communications in print and online, including carpool duties at each school, posters, office packets and calling posts. We translated materials into Spanish, Nepali, Burmese and Hindi
    – the vote is required to be a confidential ballot, so we don’t have the ability to parse too finely, but every category – teacher, enrolled student, eligible but un enrolled student, exceeded the 60 % threshold.
    – we did not track or profile ethnicity of the voters

  7. educator90 says:

    Is the 60% threshold the number of parents/teachers that showed up, or actual parents/teachers in the cluster?

    I wish that the parents that were pushing this Charter Cluster, would have put this time and energy into learning more about Common Core and what it will mean to their children, even if they are in a Charter School.

    Having read the charter, 2 things jumped out at me: 1. taking away PE time and giving kids remediation. This has never worked in any school that has tried this. Our gets don’t get enough time to run and play as it is, and taking this time away from many children, will hurt them further. 2. There is already Montessori and IB in this cluster, and parents can apply for a spot, if any are available already. STEAM, sounds like other initiatives that have been tried over the years, just with a different name and maybe a small tweak. Not seeing anything Innovative or exciting in the Charter written.

  8. According to the Druid Hills Charter Facebook page:

    Total Ballots Cast: 1,172
    Provisional Ballots: 42 (which can be qualified later)
    Total Qualified Ballots: 1,130
    Total Qualified “Yes” Ballots: 1,036 or 92%
    Total Qualified “No” Ballots: 94 or 8%

    Thank you to all who came out to vote and share their opinion on the most important task a community is charged with: the education of each and every child who comes through the doors of its schools. Regardless of how one voted today, together we have demonstrated that neighborhoods can work together, schools can work together, and parents can work together to find a new way forward in public education. Thank you again!

    And yes, there are pictures there of plenty of people wearing the charter shirts with the new leaf logo – they appear to be there to answer questions.

    There is a comment from Mary Kay Woodworth, organizer of the City of Lakeside:

    Mary Kay Woodworth
    Congratulations on the positive outcome! Watching closely for the Lakeside community!
    August 14 at 6:22pm

    Looks like they may be next!! Hopefully followed by Cities of Dunwoody and Brookhaven Schools — All good, in our opinion.

    The Patch also has a good article about it –

  9. Dekalbite2 says:

    Regarding the lessening pf PE

    Perhaps they want to give schools the leeway to have more recess rather than structured PE. Fernbank Elementary parents fought for recess (called by a euphemism) and guard that time zealously as they felt unstructured time was something students needed. As an old teacher from the 70s we had recess for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon because we did not have PE every day. That was great for kids because they got to move around, socialize, run, play, form their own activities and groups, blow off steam so to speak. They are more focused when they return to the classroom.

    I don’t think they are saying take away their PE and make them stay at their desks to study. I think there are two separate issues.

    One is that students that are behind academically need remediation by direct instruction in small groups or one on one, not more Coaches telling teachers they can provide individualized instruction in a class of 34 fourth graders. That’s the current structure, and it most definitely does not work when we look at the academic achievement data (although Thurmond and Tyson are obviously not looking at that data as they have hired MORE Coaches and less teachers).

    PE vs. unstructured time:
    Wile PE instruction has much value, unstructured time at one point gave away completely to a structured PE environment. The bringing back of recess is something everyone should applaud. Children need this as well. Having the leeway to choose the blend of structured PE and unstructured movement time that works for your students seems perfectly reasonable as long as the administration is held accountable for student progress.

  10. Lots of support for the Druid Hills cluster. The board would be borderline spiteful to turn them down —

    The DHCC is pleased and gratified that it has earned the formal support of its community neighbor, Emory University. Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Claire Sterk, writes in Emory’s Letter of Support that “the rigorous, inquiry-based, integrated and multidisciplinary approach to learning [the DHCC] proposes would provide an environment in which . . . students can thrive and excel in academic achievement.”

    Thank you, Dr. Sterk and Emory University!

  11. FWIW – In November, 2009, the Board voted to reinstitute recess — so if your school is not having recess, you should let them know that board policy encourages and endorses it and for k-5, mandates it.


    Kudos to the playground ladies!!! The board actually finally (after I swear, a couple of years) approved recess!!! What an innovative, novel idea! The new rule is – students in K-5 must have 15 minutes of unstructured play time every day. AND – the time cannot be taken away as a discipline tactic.

  12. Dekalbite2 says:

    “FWIW – In November, 2009, the Board voted to reinstitute recess”

    Yes. I know about that. But maybe they want 15 minutes twice a day or the ability to have a solid 30 minutes of unstructured time once a week in lieu of PE. Quite frankly by the time you line them up and get them outside and then line them up to come in a lot of that 15 minutes is gone.

  13. Dekalbite2 says:

    Well it helps to read the charter before commenting – something I obviously didn’t do. The PE they are referring to is the additional PE elective high school students are required to take. They would like the option of having Remediation take the place of that PE elective if the student needs the remediation. It’s not clear, but apparently this PE elective is over and above what the state requires for PE and is peculiar to DCSS. (See Quotes and links below). Perhaps the extra PE elective was put into the curriculum because Lewis was a PE teacher. Many of the Central Office and administration members of DeKalb Schools are former PE teachers – for example Tim Freeman and the BOE chair Melvin Johnson.

    From the charter:
    “Graduation requirements meet state requirements but waive the additional PE requirement established by the DCSD to allow for additional remediation for identified students.

    From the DCSS website:
    “All high school students are required to take Health (0.5 Carnegie unit), Personal Fitness (0.5 Carnegie unit) and one additional physical education elective (1.0 Carnegie unit) to meet graduation requirements.”


  14. In addition, I think DeKalb also requires an additional credit in social studies beyond state requirements. This extra SS credit could also be eliminated as required for graduation…

  15. curious says:


    The statute dictates who can “vote” on whether to submit a charter petition to the local board of education.

    Specifically, pertaining to high school cluster petitions, OCGA Section 20-2-2064 (a) (2) provides that a local board cannot act upon a petition unless the petition “has been approved by a majority of the school councils in the high school cluster and has been freely agreed to, by secret ballot, by at least 60 percent of the combined vote of the faculty and instructional staff members of the high school cluster and the parents or guardians of students who reside in the attendance zone of such high school cluster present at a public meeting . . . . ”

    The Get Schooled blog has a raging debate going on about whether this process is an election to which certain election laws applies.

  16. acheolus says:

    The idea behind the extra PE was to entice students to enter sports. All sports, cheer leading, and marching band count towards that second PE credit, and two seasons will eliminate it entirely. It also helped pave the way for a PE structured pathway.

  17. howdy1942 says:

    First, I again commend Druid Hills for charting assuming the lead role to establish a charter school cluster. I wish you every success and will be watching closely because I think that there are so many others that want to follow your example. I’ve read Maureen Downey’s column and her blog regarding that professor at Georgia State who is rather critical of what you have done. All of us want to improve the schools our kids attend and provide an education. All of us want something much better and much more than what the DCSS can provide. That is not the fault of our teachers, but rather it is the failure of those who govern and those who manage our schools.

    I really do wish that this Charter Petition could bypass the DCSS Board and go directly to the State. While it would have had no chance under the former board, it perhaps does have a very small chance with the current board. But the current board will have to override the likely recommendation from Mr. Thurmond. He will find some reason to recommend that the Petition not be approved. The DCSS Board and Superintendent have always been obsessed with control and giving that up is not likely. I hope that I am wrong, but I’ve seen too much lately. Whatever the case, any decision will likely consume the entire 90 days and certainly not until after the Georgia Supreme Court rules on Walker. If it rules for Walker – no chance of approval. If not, no chance of a positive recommendation from Thurmond and only a slight chance of approval by the Board. Maybe Orson can do something.

    I suspect that given what has happened in Dekalb this year, there is going to be a major effort in the upcoming Legislative session to provide some major efforts to avoid the accreditation issue. That will be especially true if Walker wins his case. If that happens, there will be an outcry and broad support in the Legislature for change. And there will be a movement for change if the Board denies your Petition.

  18. I’d place a bet that the professor at Georgia State who is so critical of the Druid Hills charter does not have a child in DeKalb County Schools.

  19. dekalbite2 says:

    He said his wife got to vote because of their daughter however he didn’t say where she went to school. He said his son goes to Chamblee Charter (sounds like the magnet program since they live in the Druid Hills neighborhood). I guess he is fine with extra money for the magnet programs.

  20. Ok – thanks for the info dekalbite2.

  21. d says:

    @DSW – please tell me that I misread and misunderstood your intentions about the extra social studies credit. The Social Studies are vital in helping students develop critical thinking and reasoning skills – as well as developing the necessary skills to be effective citizens in the 21st century. Mandating the extra credit above and beyond what the state says is necessary is one of the things DeKalb is doing right.

  22. annonymous says:

    With all the talk about charter schools and charter clusters, why has no one mentioned this:

    •Per OCGA §20-2-84.3, by June 30, 2015 each local school system must choose to operate as one of the following:
    –Investing in Educational Excellence School System (IE2)
    –Charter System
    –Status Quo School System
    •Other options include:
    –Strategic School System
    –System of Charter Schools

    Here is the link to the entire PPT from the DOE… Don’t know the original date it was presented. I saw this on a friend’s Facebook page who received it from a realtor in a discussion about choosing a new APS supt.


  23. @d: No, you didn’t misunderstand. I think 3 credits in social studies is fine. If students want another to prep for a certain college application, certainly they can choose to take one more class. However, if a student is an art, music, business, tech or other major, they should be free to juggle their credits as they see fit. Our job is to graduate young people ready for college OR the work world. Not all have to be traditional college-ready. We are failing a lot of young people by creating such a rigid box for them to fit in. Success in life is individualized and diverse.

    I also think that the Move on When Ready idea should be pushed more. Seniors who can spend their day at a college, or tech school should. Students who have most of their credits should be allowed to leave early if they want to work.

  24. d says:

    @dsw – I respectfully disagree. I will say this, we once thought 3 credits of math and science were fine (that was the requirement when I was in high school in the 90s). In fact, they year before I started, it was 2. Social Studies is the one area that can really pull everything together be it math/science, ELA, fine arts, CTAE, whatever.

  25. d says:

    I was rushed off to go do something before I finished my thought – students have either 28 or 32 credits depending on the school – 7 period day or 4×4 block. Taking 18 for academics (4 each for Math, Science, ELA and Social Studies, 2 for World Language) leaves 10 or 14 credits for other purposes. Also, with the career pathways program, work study is usually the “capstone” course – and we, for the most part, aren’t sending students off to work at McDonalds unless they are studying something like food prep. Students are getting real world experience and still having 4 years of Social Studies.

    I have one student who is taking classes joint enrollment at Georgia Perimeter this semester – she gets her core classes and college credit. So I think we are in agreement with other options, but I still believe all students should have the 18 credits in core classes regardless of how they get them.

  26. acheolus says:

    Make that 21 with two PE classes and health.

  27. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Thurmond and Melvin Johnson are already trying this case in the court of public opinion in Ty Tagami’s AJC article.

    “What bothers me is the total control of the money,” [Melvin Johnson, board chairman] said. The cluster board would get authority over 97 percent of the revenue that typically goes to the seven schools, with the ability to hire and fire staff and set pay at whatever level it chooses.” Johnson said he must decide what is best for “the entire school district rather than a selected part.” Across the country “equity is one of the primary issues for tremendous conflict,” he said. “I think it could be very divisive.”

  28. Stan Jester says:

    Mr. Johnson,
    If the Druid Hills Charter Cluster only has control over the fixed budget spent on its schools, how does that affect the entire school district?

    Decentralization is an action item in the Interim Superintendent’s 90 Day Plan. Was that all just empty rhetoric?

    I challenge you to make good on these promises.

  29. d says:

    I forgot about the 2nd PE, but actually, the 1 PE and Health combined are only 1 credit – and if they play a sport or march or ROTC, then they don’t have to have the 2nd PE.

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