Being a proponent of public education, I find it difficult to abandon it and look to private schools to be the answer.
Having 11 grandchildren, five of whom have been or are being educated privately, I have seen the terrible financial burden put on a young family to provide such an education. Most families, even if given vouchers to supplement the costs, would not have the financial resources to put their children through private education. Those with more than three children would, for all practical purposes, be shut out completely.
With that as a background, the need to improve and preserve the public sector becomes more and more important.
School systems, like any organizations, have a point at which they function best. These points are marked by: the number of students, the size of the budget, the number of employees, the facilities and the physical area. Any of those, if they become too large, lead to the degradation of efficiency of management.
A system becomes so large that management is forced to move to the middle and distance themselves from the crowd. Understanding of specific and individual needs begin to blur. Contact with decision makers becomes almost impossible, and the student as an individual begins to erode.
On the local level, the everyday professionals in the schoolhouse know the needs of the school community, but are stymied by decisions and directions from the system mountaintop.
Please understand this is not the fault of those on top of the mountain, it is instead the fact that the mountain is too high. I have high respect for the majority of administrators outside of the schoolhouse, and believe they are hard-working professionals. I have always found that to be true. The problem is that you cannot be everything to everyone, and the farther you spread the peanut butter the thinner it gets.
With all that said, although it will be a long difficult road, it is imperative the city of Dunwoody, with the help of State Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody), continues to aggressively fight to get the opportunity to have its own independent school system.
It’s not seceding from the union, it’s putting the education of all children first. We need to downsize the mountain and make it more accessible. We need more than one member on a school board of nine or seven members that understands our community and needs. We need decisions that affect our community and children being made by administrators that we have access to and relationships with. It would be hard for me to believe that any parent in the county would not desire the same.
Because of a constitutional amendment in the 1940s, that is no longer possible. We must work to change that. It is the only hope for communities to begin to make public education in urban areas workable again. If you look around the state, those systems that operate with 40,000 students or less are in most cases the most successful. They can respond more quickly to problems, hone in on them, and make the corrections needed much faster.
Who knew in the ’40s, when the constitution was amended, that DeKalb County’s school system would grow from 4,000 students to 98,000 students, 16,000 employees and 21 high schools spread over 26 square miles? It is unfair for local communities to be placed in this box. It completely changes the definition of local schools.
A prime example of decisions coming from the mountaintop comes from the decision to build a new elementary school in Dunwoody. It is proposed to close Austin Elementary and build a new, larger school closer to the Ashford Dunwoody corridor. This would mean, of course, that all the students currently attending Austin would have to be bused to the new school, adding even more to the current commute and take away their ability to walk to school.
Someone more aware of the community would easily see the advantage of leaving Austin as it is, and building a new facility closer to the needs.
The mountaintop’s decision is based on financial concerns and not on the desires of the local community. Aren’t we as a community more capable of making such decisions? In a system as large as DeKalb, it is impossible to get to those making the decisions, and even harder to find out who they may be.
There is no perfect solution, but moving to a smaller model has proven very effective.
Should not our whole school board be elected by us?
Jim Redovian is a former member of the DeKalb County School Board. He lives in Dunwoody.