Many Dunwoody parents praised the DeKalb County School District’s staff-recommended redistricting plan at a Nov. 20 meeting, saying it provides relief to the cluster and reduces the number of portable classrooms. But overcrowding is not a temporary problem, parents said as they continued to push the district for a long-term solution.

“For the county as a whole, there is a not a long-term plan,” one parent said. “We are going to be back here in two years from being overcrowded again.”

The DeKalb Schools staff-recommended redistricting plan for the new Austin Elementary School. (Special)

The meeting, held at Dunwoody High School, was the last of three public meetings for residents to comment on the redistricting in facilitated small groups. The district plans to send its final recommendation to the Board of Education in January with a vote scheduled for February.

The redistricting is for the new 950-seat Austin Elementary School in the Dunwoody cluster opening in January 2020 at 5321 Roberts Drive. The new districts will be in effect in August 2020. The district originally planned to use the current Austin site at 5435 Roberts Drive, but now says it is infeasible.

The surrounding elementary schools currently over capacity are Chesnut, Dunwoody, Hightower and Vanderlyn. The redistricting process of changing school attendance zones could impact any of the Dunwoody Cluster elementary schools, the district says.

At the meeting, most parents agreed that the overcrowding relief provided to Dunwoody Elementary, which currently has the largest number of students in any Dunwoody cluster elementary school, is one of the top pros in the staff-recommended plan because it aligns with the redistricting criteria.

Parents also praised reducing the overall number of portable classrooms from 49 to 32 and opening the new elementary school with four trailers, making the share as equitable as possible.

“All schools have portables,” one parent said. “We are sharing the load.”

Many DeKalb schools are currently using portable classrooms in the form of trailers to house students and teachers no longer able to fit into the main school buildings.

Dunwoody parents and residents have been locked in a years-long battle with DeKalb Schools officials criticizing the use of trailers as the solution for schools being over capacity.

Dunwoody parents inspect the Dekalb Schools staff-recommended redistricting plan for the new Austin Elementary School at a Nov. 20 meeting. (Hannah Greco)

Overall, parents expressed their concern with the lack of long-term solutions to the projected growth of the Dunwoody cluster and urged the district to open another new school.

“Long term capacity is still a major problem,” one parent said.

“I just want to state the obvious that all this growth in the elementary schools is heading right towards Peachtree Middle and Dunwoody High School,” another parent said. “There needs to be a solution for that.”

In the long term, additional seats will be needed for overcrowding issues, the district says, but there are no plans or timelines for more new schools.

Some parents questioned the legitimacy of the projected growth data and called for more transparency from the district.

“We don’t understand or trust their enrollment numbers so there needs to be some transparency there,” one parent said.

Dunwoody parents inspect the Dekalb Schools Dunwoody cluster elementary 2021 projected enrollment map at a Nov. 20 meeting. (Hannah Greco)

The staff-recommended plan would move 106 students from Dunwoody to Austin and 78 students from Vanderlyn to Austin. The plan also would move 90 Dunwoody students to Vanderlyn; 40 Dunwoody students to Chesnut; 21 Vanderlyn students to Kingsley; 65 Hightower students to Kingsley; 2 Kingsley students to Vanderlyn; 6 Dunwoody students to Chesnut; and 17 Chesnut students to Hightower.

The staff-recommended plan also adds 106 Hightower students into the Doraville cluster at the new 950-seat Doraville United Elementary School opening in August 2020, which many Dunwoody parents praised. The students would return to the Dunwoody cluster for middle school and high school at Peachtree Middle and Dunwoody High.

“It reduces the amount of students in the cluster by moving some to the Doraville United school,” one resident said. “That initially was not on the table but it works.”

In a group presentation before the parents were split into small group sessions, Hans Williams, the director of planning in the operations division for DeKalb Schools, read a statement from Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson that said she has not had time to review or endorse the staff-recommended plan and would be considering additional public comments before making a final recommendation. An online survey to make comments is available through Dec. 8.

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.