DeKalb has a few what they call, ‘high-achiever’ magnet schools that parents beat a path to in order to apply for a seat for their ‘high-achieving’ child. In reality, these magnets are on-par with many ‘regular’ schools in other, more high-performing states, but here, a seat at a ‘high-achiever’ magnet is special and worth enduring a myriad of testing, a lengthy application and a nail-biting lottery.
The thing is, most DeKalb parents do not understand the history of the original intent or the current related thought by school leaders regarding these programs. Have you been frustrated that your very high-test-scoring child has not ever been able to ‘win’ a seat in one of these exclusive lotteries? Maureen Downey wondered and opined on the subject this past January in her post, ‘Public school magnet lotteries: Why do we have winners and losers?’
In truth, Kittredge, Wadsworth and their associated middle and high school programs are not about truly serving the needs of the best and brightest–that would be called a gifted magnet, because you would need to score in the actual, legally-defined gifted range in order to bag a seat – and that would only include at most, the top 5% of DeKalb students. These programs are called ‘high achiever’ and in reality, although may are gifted, students can score as low as in the 75th percentile to ‘win’ a seat. Why so low? Because the main mission of these programs is not achievement, it is integration. The Kittredge program was created as one response to the 1968 federal mandate to integrate DeKalb schools that ruled over us for the following three and a half decades. And the only way to lure folks to integrate was to convince them that it was an elite program.
We have been chatting about this issue with well-meaning parents for years on this blog and we have a bit of a different viewpoint from those who see Kittredge as a program for the gifted. For example, just take a look at Kittredge back when Johnny Brown became superintendent. Brown decided that the lottery should return to its roots of taking two students from each school – and regardless of whether or not they had applied, he went out and selected these students. If you came from a school where a dozen or more students applied, you still were only allowed to choose two. If you had zero apply, then the principal chose two. This was the original way the selection process was handled, and, like busing and other programs, it was part of DeKalb’s written plan to move the system into becoming fully integrated and to satisfy the demands of the federal court order to desegregate.
You see, although the program has morphed a bit since it was created, DCSS leaders hold on to that history of mandated integration and still don’t view Kittredge as a true program for gifted/high-achievers as many of today’s parents assume – they view it as a specialty-boutique-type program allowing access to a decent education in classrooms full of integrated, motivated students with highly involved parents for those who wish to escape bad schools around the county. It’s a way to grease squeaky wheels. When you keep this paradigm in mind, their actions will make sense.
We were given “unitary status” back in 1985* [mainly because the system became a majority minority] and court supervision was phased out over the next decade or so. Today, we have a need and a desire for programs specifically for the gifted – and the number of students who actually qualify as gifted is low enough that we have seats available to accommodate. However, unless and until DeKalb leaders are willing to create a program for the truly gifted (and test scores would sort students, reducing the demand from its current high-achievers level) then we will continue to have this issue of inequity for gifted students who are awarded extra funding by the state, but who often do not receive extra services regardless of funding or law.
Again, these programs were originally designed to satisfy the federal judge’s mandate that DeKalb integrate its schools. DCSS leaders still view it as such. And as such, your requests for participation, programs, equity and access for the gifted, logical as they may be, will fall on deaf ears – with no explanation. We will give J. Brown credit – he was up-front in his reasoning. He saw high-achiever magnets as a race issue. [He also would not even consider vocational schools as he thought they would only serve to place black students on a low-achieving track, but I digress.]
Today’s school system leaders handle these kinds of issues quite differently; they just do not speak or respond to those who have a difference of opinion.
To read more on the integration of DeKalb County, Georgia Schools as well as the details of the federal court mandate, check out this in-depth series on the issue at this excellent blog by J. Marcus Patton.
Also, read this 2007 report by the Georgia Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights; Desegregation of Public School Districts in Georgia:
35 Public School Districts Have Unitary Status, 74 Districts Remain Under Court Jurisdiction
CLICK HERE to read more on the subject at the Encyclopedia of African-American History.