By Jason Massad

The Chamblee Charter High School started the school year in the midst of uncertainty.

As one of the DeKalb County Schools’ best-performing high schools, a wave of 250 incoming freshman wanted to transfer into the facility located at 3688 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.

The problem: the school’s 1,400-plus student body was already at capacity. School district officials first hauled in trailers in anticipation of housing the massive influx of new students and scrambled to prepare as the school year began.

By late August, a few weeks after school started, the plan to allow all freshmen from around the district who requested to attend Chamblee was off the table, as district officials decided to house the newcomers 17 miles away at a newly established Chamblee annex facility located in Stone Mountain.

The plan was a relief to some parents of students already attending the school, even while they sympathized with the frustrations of the parents of students awaiting enrollment.

Linda Podger-Williams was one of a number of those parents concerned enough to start an e-mail campaign to let others know what could occur in a plan developed by the district late in the summer.

Chamblee has been accepting students that transfer from other schools for some time, but this year only three high schools in the district – including one that’s an online academy – could accept students from schools deemed to be performing poorly.

The result, of course, was a major spike in the number of students awaiting enrollment at Chamblee.

“This year they didn’t stop at a certain number. That was the problem. They let everyone come to Chamblee.”

– Linda Podger-Williams concerned parent

For this school year, a conundrum that has roots in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation has been solved.

But for Chamblee High School, which is the default institution for some high school students who live in Brookhaven, something similar could happen at the start of every school year.

“Since the kids didn’t come this year it didn’t impact classes and class sizes,” said Podger- Williams, a parent of a senior at Chamblee. “Will they fold them into the high school next year?”

School district officials say there are a number of options on the table to deal with the issue of students who exercise their right to transfer from poorly performing schools.

Under the guidelines of No Child Left Behind, a student who attends a high school that is ranked as failing for two years can transfer to a school that’s performing well, such as Chamblee.

The long-term solution, said Robert Moseley, deputy chief superintendent for the county school system, is to raise performance levels in all county schools so that students would have no need to transfer out of their own area school.

A high school’s performance is largely based on exit exam performance, but is also scored on factors such as the dropout rate and student attendance for tests.

Moseley acknowledged that for the near term, transfers are going to occur. To deal with the issue in the future, the district could open a new school to accept students who decide to transfer, more annex schools could be created, and some schools could operate on split sessions to accommodate two shifts of students – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

“We’re getting ready to start planning that in the fall. We’re going to have to look at some creative options,” Moseley said.

When the county decided to create an annexation for Chamblee High School in Stone Mountain, student demand dropped from a whopping 250 to a little more than the 100 students that now attend school there.

“Many of the kids that didn’t make the transfer stayed in their home districts,” he said, adding some probably didn’t make the transfer because they were not going to be on a unified campus and some probably couldn’t – or didn’t want to – travel to Stone Mountain.

Karen Ruffin, co-president of the Chamblee High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association, said it’s tough integrating a campus when part of your student body is 17 miles away.

This year, a split was necessary because the school is already at capacity. But since students will likely continue to choose to transfer to Chamblee, something needs to be done about the campus, which is one of the oldest in the county, she said.

“I don’t see any indication that we wouldn’t be dealing with the same thing next year, which is one of them main reasons that we need a new building,” said Ruffin, a parent to two graduates of Chamblee and a current junior. “Chamblee needs a new building.”

We want for any child that wants to attend Chamblee and is willing to uphold the academic standards to be able to come here. And that can’t be done right now.”