Schools in the northern part of DeKalb County would feel a relatively small impact from a sweeping plan to close schools and redraw attendance boundaries next year, under a plan recommended to the Board of Education by Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson.
Under Tyson’s recommendation, all of the high-achiever magnet schools in the northern part of the county would remain intact, instead of moving about 15 miles to Avondale High School and Avondale Middle School.
The list includes well-regarded programs at Chamblee High School and Chamblee Middle School and a magnet school at Kittredge Elementary School.
Dunwoody Elementary School, for its part, would change from a fourth-and-fifth grade academy to a kindergarten-through-fifth grade school that would draw more than 900 students from three elementary schools in the Dunwoody cluster of schools.
Around 440 students would come from Vanderlyn Elementary, 312 from Austin Elementary and 218 from Chesnut Elementary schools.
The plan would pull about 100 fewer students from Vanderlyn than the district had originally proposed under a “decentralized plan.”
Tyson, at a Feb. 7 Board of Education meeting, said district administrators have put in “countless hours” and have listened to thousands of comments from parents before her recommendation, she said.
What Tyson recommended was a slight alternative to the “decentralized” option that largely leaves the magnet schools unchanged. The list of elementary schools to be closed across the district was pared to 8 from 14.
“It is about putting the puzzle pieces together,” Tyson said.
The overall rationale for redistricting for the next school year was to eliminate the more than 11,000 seats that are unfilled across district facilities.
The number of unoccupied seats in the district makes it more expensive to run the school system and it reduces the amount of state and federal funding available to build and repair schools.
According to district estimates, the district would reap $12.4 million during the next school year.
The plan recommended by Tyson would fill 5,125 seats, leaving 6,185 open for the next school year.
Tyson’s plan also reduces the number of students who will be transferred due to redistricting. Less than 9,000 students will be transferred compared to 15,000 students under earlier proposals.
Tyson made the highly anticipated recommendations in front of an overflow crowd. Parents and student had to watch from a holding area outside the district’s large board room after it reached capacity.
Not everyone was in favor of selecting the “decentralized” option. Deidre Pierce argued that the “centralized” option, which could move the magnet programs to Avondale high and middle schools created fair access.
“The plan provides easy accessibility for all,” she said. “I believe if you will consider these components it will help every child in DeKalb County.”
Molly Bardsley, for her part, urged the school board to follow through on the redistricting plan. The district has dropped plans in the past to reorganize schools, and “earns a very small return on its investment,” she said.
She said closing schools — as the district is proposing — is never the popular choice.
“Many of the surrounding districts are getting more bang for their educational buck,” Bardsley said. “Every dollar spent on a half-empty building is a dollar wasted.”
Marney Mayo said the superintendent’s recommendation is not as important as the Board of Education’s next step.
“There is a step after this step,” Mayo said. “We won’t get to where want to be in one step.”