For many Dunwoody parents, the GLASS is half-full.
Erika Harris, co-chair of Georgians for Local Area School Systems, or GLASS, says upcoming months will be about fundraising and educating lawmakers.
Dunwoody’s hopeful lobbyists want state lawmakers to call a vote to amend the state Constitution and allow local school districts in places such as Dunwoody.
But they’ve watched legislation stall during the past two years. This year, they hope to convince state lawmakers to pass the bill, known as HR 4.
Tom Taylor, who wrote HR 4, said he plans to bring it up for a vote this year. “We want to bring it to the floor as early as we can,” he said.
Taylor also said a Senate version of the bill may move forward, if HR 4 stalls in the House. GLASS’s focus, he said, will be advocating for the legislation while he is working on the “procedural stuff to get the bill through.”
Heyward Wescott said GLASS needs to get information in front of every legislator.
“We’ve got to spell it out for them,” he said. “This is statewide, and many legislators might not realize this is coming down the pipe.”
Wescott said he came to Dunwoody like other parents “to build a nest” and only after moving in did he start to look closely at the schools.
He said Dunwoody has a “perfect footprint” for a Dunwoody school system with several elementary schools feeding into middle and then a single high school.
“We’re excited,” he said. “It’s a major uphill task, but right now it’s one of the best options the state has in improving the education system.”
He described Harris as somebody who “drills down to the issues.”
Harris is a mother of four and a master teacher who earned a graduate degree to teach elementary through middle schools in California. After her family moved to Georgia, she said she started asking questions.
“I didn’t understand why there weren’t smaller school systems,” she said.
She said she quickly learned 49 of the 50 states have flexibility in creating smaller school systems, but even when DeKalb County nearly lost its accreditation recently, Dunwoody was prevented by the state Constitution from creating its own system.
“DeKalb County was unable to meet the individual needs of its students,” she said. “You’d hear a lot of chatter without any effort put into solving the real problems, and with a district this big, they were solving it from a top-down approach, and that’s not going to work.”
In a district with 100 schools, meeting the needs of the students is impossible, she said.
“DeKalb has a one-size-fits-all policy and that’s frustrating,” she said.
The curriculum in DeKalb County Schools failed to meet the needs for Harris’ daughters, she said. One daughter is gifted and the other has dyslexia.
“We had a choice of two curriculums to meet 100,000 students’ needs,” Harris said, and her daughters had unique needs that would have been met in a smaller school system, she said.
Harris recently pulled her girls out of public school and began home-schooling them so she could give them her 100 percent attention, she said. She plans to enroll her 5-year-old twin boys in public school and “see how it goes,” she said.
“Historically, the top-ranked school systems in the state are city school systems,” Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis said. “We know what works, so why not support and educate people on a potential bill which promotes quality education and system improvements?”
Opponents cite increased bureaucracy and increased cost, but Harris said a right-sized system is most beneficial financially.
“If you have a right-sized school system you actually see an economic benefit,” she said. “There is such a thing as too large, where you lose the financial advocacy.”
GLASS plans to use donations contributed to an online fundraising platform at gofundme.com to create and distribute information to legislators, Wescott said. A fundraiser also is scheduled for McKendrick’s Steak House in August.
“Across the board, people are starting to understand that business as usual in Georgia is not good business,” Harris said. “And right now education needs to be at the forefront of our policy decisions.”