Smaller Schools Are Better Schools

Research shows that smaller schools reduce the effects of poverty, are safer, reduce violence, increase parental involvement and student academic achievement.

Meeting In Dunwoody To Discuss Overcrowding

There will be a special purpose meeting hosted by the Peachtree Gateway Council on Schools to discuss Dunwoody overcrowding. Dan Drake, DeKalb County School District COO will be in attendance. This could be a good opportunity to hear the county’s perspective and to share ours. Details of the meeting with Dan Drake (DCSD COO):

Kingsley Elementary – Cafeteria
2051 Brendon Dr, Dunwoody, GA 30338
Wed, Feb 20, 2019
6:00pm

Redistrict and Overcrowding

In Commissioner Nancy Jester’s post, Redistrict and Consolidate DeKalb Schools High Schools, she writes, “DeKalb Schools has 6,167 high school seats not being used. There are 10 high schools at less than 80% utilization. McNair is only 41% utilized. We can redistrict all the schools with overcrowding for free and still have 4,862 high school seats not being used.”

Are Smaller Schools Better Schools?

“Reforming public education may be as simple as creating smaller schools. The results of two recent studies indicate that small schools may be the remedy for lots of what is wrong with public education. Small schools can reduce the negative effects of poverty, reduce violence, and increase parent involvement and student accountability” says EducationWorld. The following is gleened from that article and their research.

The Rural School and Community Trust, a national nonprofit organization, asked researchers Craig Howley, of Ohio University and the Appalachia Educational Laboratory, and Robert Bickel, of Marshall University, to study School Size, Poverty, and Student Achievement in Georgia among a couple other states. The study included 13,600 urban, suburban, and rural schools in 2,290 school districts.

They found that at least one-third of the schools serving moderate- to low-income communities in Georgia are too large for students to achieve top performance.

Size Matters
Howley and Bickel found that poor students from relatively smaller schools outperform poor students from larger schools.

Test Scores Drop In Large Schools
In Georgia, achievement scores in schools serving children from poorer communities fell on 27 of 29 test scores as the school size increased.

Teacher Satisfaction Goes Up
The researchers found that student achievement was greater in the small schools than in the larger schools. Students, parents, teachers, and community volunteers reported greater satisfaction because they felt more connected to one another


Kingsley PGCS Meeting Summary

Updated: 2/21/2019 @ 10:23am
Please share your thoughts on the meeting. Here are mine …

All in all, I think coach Mike Nash’s sentiments summarized the feelings of those in attendance. He said this school is busting at the seems. Dunwoody HS, with 2000+ students, is given the same resources as all the other high schools with less than 1000 students. We don’t have enough space for anything and what we do have is getting worn down much faster than the current maintenance cycle is providing for.

Redistricting
Redistricting is the most emotional issue on the table. One Latino man stood up in the middle of the meeting and passionately expressed that he does not want to be redistricted to Cross Keys.

Drake was clear that the current plan is to keep the cluster together saying that the Dunwoody community was clear that they want to stay together. I think he conflated the City of Dunwoody and the Dunwoody School Cluster. The residents of Dunwoody are clear that citizens of Dunwoody should go to school in Dunwoody. That doesn’t hold true about the Dunwoody School Cluster.

Common Spaces & Facilities
Drake punted on space and maintenance saying he would listen to the concerns of the CAC and community.

Peachtree Gateway Council on Schools
I have a number of concerns about PGCS. They want to be the conduit to the administration for all PTAs, School Councils, Foundations and other parent organizations. But they have meetings with the administration and actively try to prevent the public from going. They have a closed facebook group. I’ve reached out to them and have never received a response. They have never reached out to me. I can only assume something nefarious is going on here.

35 responses to “Smaller Schools Are Better Schools

  1. What are the barriers to redistrciting?

    I am new to ATL, but one seems to be location of the schools versus population centers. Is it truly feasible to ‘shift’ all cluster lines south and really fill empty seats?

  2. Barrier? The biggest barrier is that everybody likes the school they go to now.

    Is it feasible? Look at Nancy’s post. Half the Druid Hills HS population lives closer to other high schools. This would be a cheap fix until we can build schools with gyms, fields and cafeterias in areas that are way overcrowded.

  3. DSW2Contributor

    “Half the Druid Hills HS population lives closer to other high schools.”

    That’s a fact that I’m sure that the City of Atlanta and APS when cite when they begin annexing Druid Hills!

  4. Original Dekalb Design

    Only way to accomplish this is to go back to K-8 schools, and convert middle schools back into high schools. Build a second story on top of every elementary school in Dekalb. Let cities run schools – not counties.

  5. I don’t believe most elementary schools were built structurally to handle a second floor on top of them. The Georgia state constitution says no new independent school districts shall be formed.

  6. We just need to get rid of middle schools altogether and convert to smaller schools. I feel like we will have better test scores if we do so. The main problem with the high schools is that the sports division is determined by the size of the schools, so that can be the problem.

  7. Other counties have no issue redistributing. Why is DCSD ok with upsetting people all the time, but it hesitant to redistrict?

  8. If we are going back to smaller schools then go back to DeKalb in the 60’s and 70’s (when I went to DeKalb Schools, or even the 50’s). At that time it was 1-7 elementary, 8-12 high school. The adjustment would be to add the K for K-7! Now that was the hey day for DeKalb! Way to go Jim Cherry!

  9. This is an interesting study, but I wonder if the smaller schools were predominantly located in non-urban areas.

    I grew up in a small town and the schools were the only source of sports and a lot of the arts. Over 500 people would attend football games, basketball games, and wrestling matches in a town of less than 2,000.

    Also, in small towns there is no anonymity. Everybody knows all the students, their parents, and frequently grandparents. If you caused trouble in school, the kind that would get you sent to the principal’s office, the whole town knew by the next day, including your grandparents. (Please don’t ask me how I know, just trust me.) That kind of accountability is not found in urban schools, even Tucker, which is a large, small town.

    What I am saying is that correlation is not causation. Since I didn’t read the research, did the investigators look at the location of the school compared to “student performance?” Do small towns and rural districts also correlate with higher “performance” for students in poverty?

  10. The links to the studies located in the article do not work.

    I thought 8-12 was actually really nice. It allowed one to adjust to the school for one year without those grades counting for GPA. My town had 1st to 7th together but in two separate buildings that were side by side. Which is sort of what this article suggests (schools within schools). You only needed one gym which was in between. Education consultants really get into fads, 8-12 , then 9-12, then back to 8-12, then 10-12. Bunch of hooey in my book.

  11. The last city I lived in also had a population boon problem. One solution used was to have ‘transition schools’ where one grade was in a separate facility. They are some ages that it seems would benefit from being separated from the older kids (maybe 7th or 8th grade) and their influences.

    We have overcrowding at every level, so shifting 6th graders down to elementary won’t work, shifting 9th graders down to middle won’t work, but having extra space to pull a cohort out of the existing buildings might work.

    What about finding existing space that is not a school but can be modified? An empty mall? (Northlake). Could one anchor store space be used to house all the, say 8th and 9th graders int he Lakeside cluster (how much space would that need and free up in both middle and hs). Or pull all of one grade from places like Tucker and Lakeside and for another site from Chamblee and Dunwoody. It would create a need for busing for after school activities?

  12. Michelle Fincher

    Stan – How do we find the real email addresses for Sherry Johnson and Dan Drake (rather than the prompted form from the district website)?

    Kirk – I agree this article is not the best argument in support of smaller schools as it relates to Dekalb, but one very important aspect that does apply is the section Where Everybody Knows Your Name, “Although a variety of factors affect student achievement, the greatest factor was the reduction of anonymity — going to a school where someone knows you and your name. Being known by your teachers and peers makes a difference, Wasley noted.
    The study found that small schools are also safer for this reason. “We really think that size does have to do with the reduction of anonymity and isolation of students, which reduces fighting and violence,” Wasley explained.
    Students took more responsibility for their behavior and the behavior of their classmates in small schools. They told researchers they fought less because they knew one another.”

    There are truant kids roaming around private areas of our neighborhood, which surrounds Dunwoody High, on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. I don’t know them from our community – schools, sports, church, etc. If I did, I would let their parents know for certain. I have spoken to a few of these students, and no, they are not on their way to classes at GSU. Hanging out, walking without purpose in the wrong direction. It is sad that their parents must think they are at school all day, assuming they have taken the bus (as they are not walking to cars).

    I also encourage people to google the top school systems in the country and see what they have in common – the systems, as well as the schools, are smaller – One High School, one middle school, and about 4 elementary schools.

  13. Kingsley PGCS Meeting Summary
    Please share your thoughts on the meeting. Here are mine …

    All in all, I think coach Mike Nash’s sentiments summarized the feelings of those in attendance. He said this school is busting at the seems. Dunwoody HS, with 2000+ students, is given the same resources as all the other high schools with less than 1000 students. We don’t have enough space for anything and what we do have is getting worn down much faster than the current maintenance cycle is providing for.

    Redistricting
    Redistricting is the most emotional issue on the table. One Latino man stood up in the middle of the meeting and passionately expressed that he does not want to be redistricted to Cross Keys.

    Drake was clear that the current plan is to keep the cluster together saying that the Dunwoody community was clear that they want to stay together. I think he conflated the City of Dunwoody and the Dunwoody School Cluster. The residents of Dunwoody are clear that citizens of Dunwoody should go to school in Dunwoody. That doesn’t hold true about the Dunwoody School Cluster.

    Common Spaces & Facilities
    Drake punted on space and maintenance saying he would listen to the concerns of the CAC and community.

    Peachtree Gateway Council on Schools
    I have a number of concerns about PGCS. They want to be the conduit to the administration for all PTAs, School Councils, Foundations and other parent organizations. But they have meetings with the administration and actively try to prevent the public from going. They have a closed facebook group. I’ve reached out to them and have never received a response. They have never reached out to me. I can only assume something nefarious is going on here.

  14. Hello @Michelle. As you can imagine, Johnson and Drake get a lot of emails. I believe they have only one email address each:
    Sherry Johnson: Sherry_Johnson@dekalbschoolsga.org
    Dan Drake: Daniel_Drake@dekalbschoolsga.org

    The best way to engage them is before or after public meetings like the one at Kingsley last night or the all day meeting coming up this Saturday (Note: board will meet Friday evening, but most administrators won’t be there):

    BOARD RETREAT AGENDA
    Location: Evergreen Resort, Stone Mountain Park

    Saturday, February 23
    8:00 AM Breakfast
    ***ACTION ITEM (Waive Privileged Status)***
    8:30 AM School Resource Allocation Assessment
    9:00 AM Procurement Assessment
    10:15-10:30 Break
    10:30 AM MAP Assessment Results
    12:00 PM Lunch
    1:00 PM Education Foundation
    2:00 PM Executive Session
    4:00 PM Wrap-Up

  15. @PDparent, I know many in the Lakeside community are pushing for some sort of satellite campus. Buying land will be the biggest hurdle due to E-SPLOST monetary constraints. A majority of DeKalb won’t go for it when they can add classrooms to LHS and stuff more kids into the existing space.

  16. Stan,

    Why would you assume something nefarious is going on with the PGCS? That is a pretty dark view.

    The Tucker Parent Council Facebook page is a closed group. That is more of an administrative block on spam than anything else.

  17. Kirk … I gave multiple reasons. PGCS closed group isn’t a spam block. It’s to keep people out as far as I can tell. They claim to represent school leadership and the Dunwoody community and then don’t let people in the group. They tell us to stop telling people about their public meeting with the administration. Something is fishy with this group.

  18. This is very similar to the park committees that develop. It’s a vehicle for people to have credibility with the city council. Which is fine as most people typically agree on what needs to be done with a park and the city council can say they got community feedback. But the issue is when the people are really just using the vehicle to forward their own agenda and there are real disagreements within the community. This happened with Brookhaven Park and it was an absolute mess.

    I’m a member of the Peachtree Gateway Council on Schools facebook page. It seems pretty mundane, but I think Stan has legitimate concerns that the leadership of this organization can use this to push an agenda outside their mission statement. But I think their old statement did say something about advocating to the administration and they changed that. It’s really the job of the administration and school board to understand that their views aren’t necessarily reflective of the whole community.

    “Statement of Purpose
    PGCS provides educational events for parents and the community at large to learn more about policy and planning issues affecting schools in the DeKalb County School District. PGCS also shares knowledge of activities and successful practices in Region 1 schools.

    PGCS collaborates with the Parent Councils of other DeKalb regions.

    PGCS is a non-partisan organization.”

  19. Chad, that’s a fair assessment. At the Kingsley meeting the PGCS said they want to get the parent leadership groups together, gather their opinions and be the representatives of the community to the administration.

    So, from what I can tell, their purpose hasn’t changed. They just don’t admit it in writing.

  20. I’m going to throw another idea out there to make schools smaller. What if instead of condensing back to 2 grade bamds we increase up to 4… K-4 elementary, 5-7 middle, 8-9 junior high, 10-12 senior high. One thing since there isn’t really true promotion requirements until high school, this would cause the 9th graders to ensure that they earned their credits to be primoted to 10th grade and senior high or be left behind at the junior high. 9th graders really do need more support than I believe we really give them in high school.

  21. Parent Council United (the umbrella group for Peachtree Gateway Council) has a page on the DCSD website (https://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/parent-council-united/)

    These statements appear on that website:
    –Councils ADVOCATE for larger changes in the school system than parents and staff at one school can accomplish.

    –Parent Councils United of DeKalb (PCU) formed. It was born out of a desire to demonstrate the SHARED CONCERNS and SHARED AGREEMENT throughout the county on many school and educational issues.

    This tells me that advocacy is still a part of their mission.

    But the big issue is what happens when there isn’t “shared agreement” on an issue.

    If Peachtree Gateway Council meetings aren’t open, then how can anyone claim to represent a “shared agreement?”

    But I don’t think anyone associated with Peachtree Gateway Council has a nefarious motive. They are volunteers, for goodness’ sake!

    But I do think that perhaps they overestimated their role in conveying “shared concerns” and “shared agreement” to the District, and underestimated the number of stakeholders who are also willing to invest time and energy to make sure that District decisions for the Dunwoody cluster are the result of more than a handful of folks talking together.

    So let’s stop pointing fingers, and proceed together. Heavens, after that presentation it is obvious that solving the overcrowding in the Dunwoody cluster is a hard problem and needs support from everyone.

  22. Volunteers can’t be nefarious? I think they are intentionally trying to cast themselves as representatives of school leadership and the community.

    PGCS Mission: “Provide a forum for parents in Region 1 clusters of the DCSD to hear from DCSD leadership and School Board Members, and interact with those leaders.”

    Really? PGCS has never returned my emails nor have reached out to me. PGCS was trying to have a closed door meeting with the administration last Wednesday. When the administration insisted the meeting had to be public, they asked Nancy to stop telling people about it. I’m a Dunwoody parent and on the school board, and to date, they still haven’t let me into their closed Facebook page.

    Why the back room meetings with the administration? Why the misleading mission statement? Why the closed facebook page? You tell me … What am I supposed to think about this group?

  23. I think it is reasonable for people who set up a meeting about the Dunwoody cluster to not want a bunch of Cross Keys/Lakeside/Tucker/Chamblee/Clarkston people in attendance who might ask questions not related to the topic of the meeting. I have been to meetings where the host community/school had their meeting hijacked by groups from other parts of the county.

    It comes down to respect.

    If I were to attend a meeting about Dunwoody, I would respect the agenda and not ask questions about Tucker. I would go to listen because of the administration’s history of saying different things at different meetings. Also, because of Dan Drake’s history of not telling the truth. Not everyone would attend for the same reasons. It is entirely reasonable to assume people were going to attend to get answers to questions asked at other schools, but not answered. You know how bad the administration is at answering questions.

    Did you video the meeting?

  24. I imagine there are plenty of people in Dunwoody who would like to ask questions not related to the topic of the meeting. I’ve been to quite a few meetings and rarely do they get off topic and out of control … granted it happens.

    I didn’t record the meeting on Wednesday. It was open to the public and well attended by communities across the district. Everyone was quite respectful. Moving forward, I hope PGCS will commit to being transparent and inclusive; communicating with all parents.

  25. Kirk, I disagree completely!

    Three things:
    1. At the Peachtree Gateway Council meeting, no one was permitted to ask questions except the PGC reps from Dunwoody schools. There was no way that the meeting could have been hijacked. So why the concern about who was in the audience, listening to the presentation and Q&A?

    2. Peachtree Gateway Council is a District supported group. District personnel including the Interim Chief Operating Officer and the Region 1 Superintendent were in attendance at the meeting.

    It is completely against the principle of transparency for the District and a group of self-appointed folks to decide who can attend such a meeting. I use the term “self-appointed” because unlike PACs or PTO/PTSA groups, PGC representatives are not elected. They have no reporting duties.

    However, being “self-appointed” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are “nefarious.” They are volunteers! But if DCSD is using PGC feedback just to “check off” the box that they have consulted with the community, then I could see that it isn’t such a leap to wonder about their motives if the community at large isn’t able to attend. This is similar to the parks committee example that Chad posted about.

    3. The meeting topic was overcrowding in the Dunwoody cluster. Why shouldn’t folks from adjacent clusters be interested in what solutions are being discussed? These projects are extremely intertwined.

    And, as you mentioned, DCSD has a history of telling one group one thing and telling another group something else. Why shouldn’t folks, mere taxpayers, be able to check up on what’s being said about all of the E-SPLOST-V high school additions? This can’t happen if the meeting is invitation-only.

  26. Anonymous,

    Not allowing questions is the “new normal” for meetings. We are still waiting for answers to questions asked in 2018, 2017, and earlier. Submitting written questions is a waste of time because the administration is, in fact, just checking off boxes most of the time. They never get answered or the answers are non sequiturs.

  27. I attended the meeting and observed that DHS is coping with many of the same problems as LHS: inadequate, poorly-maintained facilities, under constant pressure by far too many students… Students who can’t use lockers or restrooms between classes due to chaotic, stressful, overcrowded hallways that make it difficult to exchange classes on time… Dedicated teachers pushing carts between classrooms and making-do in their trailers. Tax-payers should be outraged! These schools were expanded in a previous SPLOST, based upon DCSD’s incorrect enrollment projections. Now, DCSD has planned to cram hundreds more students onto these already too-small campuses. NOT because it’s best for students or staff, but because allegedly it’s what stakeholders want, based upon poorly attended public input sessions and flawed survey data from years ago. It’s time for DCSD to what is best for students and teachers: smaller, more personal, neighborhood schools, K-7, and 8-12. With all the different levels, wings, and buildings in these schools, most 8th and 9th-graders could attend classes relatively separate from 10-12th-grade students. Instead of additions at DHS, CCHS, and LHS, build a new Doraville High School. Turn middle schools back into high schools, if not District-wide, then at least in the regions where it is needed. We need creative solutions NOW to relieve overcrowding and to avoid forcing thousands of students and teachers to endure 35 or more months of attending/teaching school in construction zones.

  28. Michelle Fincher

    @Sad I was also at the meeting and am as dismayed as you are. I emailed Drake and Johnson, along with a few City of Dunwoody council members (the few who attended the meeting as well). I knew emailing Drake and Johnson would be futile, but did so anyway. The only response I received was from Drake, and he summed up at the end, “The additions to the middle and high schools are the Board-approved solutions/approach for the Dunwoody cluster secondary school enrollment issues, based on input we received from stakeholders.”
    I think parents across the regions need to organize together to attempt to change this.

  29. @Michelle, Whenever you see Johnson and Drake at public meetings, you should go up and talk to them one on one. The are generally sociable and happy to address your questions. Email … That’s commonly a black hole.

  30. Michelle Fincher

    @ Stan – thank you for the suggestion. I did talk to Johnson at the previous Region 1 meeting held at Peachtree a week prior. I agree she is very friendly and seems to truly care about concerns. However, given Drake’s response, both to the crowd at Kingsley and in my email, I’m not sure asking about redistricting in person will change the answer or cause reconsideration of any sort? Maybe if we had a large, organized group showing not all stakeholders were represented in their flawed options survey that would make a difference? I agree sending a trickle of emails is not the best strategy, but not sure what else to do at this point. I wish City of Dunwoody would do something to help from a safety perspective, and to advocate on behalf of their taxpayers. Some of our neighbors are empty nesters, 45+ year residents, and had no idea about the splost options. They very likely do not know the new numbers that are expected either.

  31. @Michelle, DeKalb Commissioners wrote a letter to the school district and it was quite effective. If the city of Dunwoody, DHS, and/or PCMS council would do the same, that would be impactful. Reaching out to them would be a good place to start.

  32. @Stan, DCSD ignored the resolution from the commissioners on re-assessing the 3 high school additions and building a new high school. What letter was effective and why has DCSD chosen to ignore that resolution?

  33. Resolution – DeKalb Commissioners Not A Fan of the E-SPLOST High School Building Additions

    The school board and administration took note of this resolution.

  34. Taking note and seriously re-considering their decisions seem very different. Has DCSD or the BOE regrouped to discuss this resolution and any actions they should consider? Has that been an agenda item, committee of the whole discussion? Has DCSD or the BOE said anything publicly or in writing to respond to this resolution? If so, please share.

  35. I think taking note is a big step towards reconsidering. The Doraville HS is an expensive proposition and would require redistricting. Those are two big hurdles.

    BOE is getting a SPLOST update soon. These things might come up again.

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