Atticus LeBlanc is a community leader and activist. He ran for the DeKalb County Board of Education District 3 seat last year, which represents Avondale Estates. He lost to the incumbent, Dr. Michael Erwin, but the following excerpts are from a piece he wrote at the time on DeKalb charter schools.
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Subject: DeKalb has waited long enough
By: Atticus LeBlanc
I think parents have been waiting far too long for DeKalb’s elected leaders and school administrators to demonstrate their commitment to actually improving student outcomes. With all due respect to my opponent, it doesn’t matter how you measure DeKalb’s performance. . . it’s terrible. (See our latest grades and scores from the state here) The challenges facing our school system may indeed be great, and we cannot expect drastically different outcomes overnight, but how can we expect to actually improve those outcomes if we aren’t changing the way we are operating our schools?
Since the new board was appointed [in March of 2013], there hasn’t been a single policy change affecting the management structure of our schools. We still have high level administrators at the top delegating down to the local schools. We still have just as many amazing parents that are being ignored. We are still losing great teachers at alarming rates.
With the notable exception of Tapestry Charter School (which focuses on autistic students, and whose debate at BOE was still unnecessarily contentious), our board has still not given our children any additional opportunities to improve their education. While KIPP, Drew Charter, and The Museum School continue to outperform the vast majority of schools in the state and serve as models of student achievement, our Board has done nothing to either bring more of these types of schools to DeKalb, or to even attempt to model the best practices from these or other successful schools in our own public education system.
When McNair High School has a 44% graduation rate compared to 93% for KIPP, and the demographic and socioeconomic breakdown of the student body is virtually identical, shouldn’t we as stakeholders expect our Board of Education to at least start to make fundamental policy changes to address these disparities? Or should we continue to “be patient” while more students fall through the cracks?
I simply don’t understand how [Dr. Erwin] can justify sending their own child to a charter school because of the excellent education it provides, while at the same time denying the same opportunities to thousands of other kids in the District he serves. I also fail to understand how, when wait lists for charter school enrollment in DeKalb exceed the actual enrollment of those schools, our Board and administration cannot see we have pent-up demand for more of these schools.
While I’m intrigued by the superintendent’s announcement that DeKalb will pursue status as a “Charter System” as one of the three options that must be selected by Districts before the summer of 2015, please forgive my cynicism for suggesting that a “Charter System” under the current administration will look a lot like the broken system we already have. (Coincidentally, a Charter System under the state’s definition also provides the most funding, with the fewest regulations.)
We have not seen any indication from [the administration] that they have any desire to empower local parents, principals, or teachers, and I don’t know why we should expect that to change. The DHCC petition represents a great litmus test for their attitudes regarding local control, and they both fought to deny the petition in November, and continue to stifle or ignore dialogue regarding how to work together toward a mutually agreeable solution. Although the DHCC leaders met with staff on multiple occasions after the vote, and re-submitted the petition in time for the May BOE meeting, the resubmittal was excluded from the agenda on both the May and June meetings.
So while Mr. Erwin continues to ask for our patience, I am asking: “What is stopping us from pursuing fundamental change to our school system now?” Unfortunately for all of us, we can’t afford to wait any longer.