09/09/2013 – Public Comments


Recap of Public Comments
Public Comments – New Rule
Once at the podium, acknowledge that you are speaking on an individual basis or as a group. If it’s a group, only one group is allowed to speak. Multiple individuals are allowed to speak.

David Schutten
Thank you to the organizers of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster for starting a valuable conversation on meeting the educational needs for the students of DeKalb. I’m not opposed to charter schools, however the petition clearly misses the mark in many areas.

  • The voting was problematic, held for 4 hours at a location that wasn’t easily accessible to public transportation.
  • Of the potential voters, voter turnout was 16%. 80% of the student population is minority, I observed the voting for 90 minutes and saw that over 90% of the voters was white.
  • While only 18% of the student population is white, 57% of the board is white. All 3 minority members of the board live outside the cluster attendance area, including one who lives in Gwinnett. Is it appropriate to have a resident of Gwinnett as a member of the board, controlling taxpayer dollars.
  • The cluster petition was only available for 3 weeks prior to the vote.
  • In addition to the requested state board and DeKalb board policies, the petition requests 54 Title XX waivers of state law. The petition says the cluster will follow certain policies, but it then requests waivers for those very policies. Examples: remedial and alternative education and class size.
  • Petition was written from a template.

The devil is in the details, especially regarding the waivers.

Mary Lindsey Lewis
Taxpayer with deep concerns about the charter.

  • The petition has a shallow understanding of the complexities of education.
  • The names of the board were buried at the bottom of the petition.
  • The number of waivers and duties requested to be transferred from elected board the charter board are troubling.
  • Voter turnout was low. Some people were not allowed to vote while others had multiple votes. A successful charter needs the support of the entire community.
  • The voices of the teachers were silent

Reject the charter and focus your energies on educating all the students

Ruth Prim
Resident of DeKalb for 34 years. The proposed Druid Hills Charter Cluster is not who we are. 16% participation is not community participation

Orvia Kushny
We are speaking on behalf of my son and all the other students inside the proposed charter cluster with disabilities. There is a special education program housed at every cluster school. We have grave concerns about the survival of these programs within the cluster. The cluster proposal does not allow for the inclusion of these programs. They plan on setting up a separate program. Many kids are transfers from other schools because their home school can not provide the required services.

Loraine Booker Brown
It’s been a while since I’ve graced this board. My greatest concern is nepotism at the system.

Matt Lewis
Parent of 2 kids and past president of Druid Hills council. I’m here to talk about a community of 7 schools. A community that puts aside years of bickering over attendance lines and preferential school treatment and works together for a common goal. A community that values and respects its diversity, invites participation and balances view points with a practical insistence of putting teachers and students first. A community that recognizes principals and teachers need to be free to teach and lead and to decide and to act at the schoolhouse level if we expect results at the desktop level. A community that understands the needs for parents to be involved and is willing to help, to teach, and to model and to mentor that involvement for all schools and all parents and create advocates for students who have not had advocates in the past. A community that sees an understanding of individual school finances as a central element of trust among its constituents.
Hold us accountable. One school cannot succeed without the other. Ladies and gentleman, the Druid Hills Charter Cluster is that community. The charter petition is our declaration.

Kathleen Mathers
Taxpayer and a would be governing board member of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster. Extensively worked with education. Charters are more likely to adopt and sustain best practices. They often make college prep more accessible to minority and low income students. More likely to adopt academic reforms. More likely to be responsive to family preferences and needs. The flexibility you grant through the charter will result in innovative instructional pathways, IB, Montessori and STEAM.

Scott Binder
Waivers do not carry a negative implication. They are necessary to change statutes that would otherwise apply to the board of education to make them apply to the cluster and give the cluster the ability to govern. Waivers are common. The DeKalb Schools Board uses waivers. If given a waiver, the cluster must still meet or exceed all state law requirements for education. The quality can only get better. If it gets worse, the cluster will revert back.
The vote taken by this board on this petition is governed by Georgia law. It is whether this charter is in the public’s best interest and public interest is extremely broadly defined. After this vote it will go on to further review. This is not a vote of whether you like charter schools. You don’t have to believe that this cluster will ultimately succeed to determine that it is at this time in the public interest. As long as the proposed cluster will provide valuable information to this board of education on whether the charter school model makes sense for DeKalb County and what practices work and don’t, then it is in the public interest and under the law generated by the general assembly, you must vote ‘Yes’. Please look at the law and the petition.

Robert Thorpe
I’m the most recent past principal at Druid Hills Middle School and a proposed governing board member. Here are some important parts of this charter. This isn’t criticism about DeKalb Schools, but a new and exciting way of creating a world class school district.
Instruction – I’ve seen many changes in the last 8 years and it undervalues the teacher’s input. The district has spent millions of dollars to improve student success. When the emphasis is on the program and not the process, it is a miscalculation. The proposed cluster has identified 3 processes: STEAM, IM and Montessori. Emphasizing the program is a one size fits all approach. The cluster offers several pathways to fit the community.
Theresa Johnson Bennett
Parent and home schooler. This charter cluster is a ray of hope. The cluster went to great lengths to spread the word and answer questions.
Alexander Fitzhume
I’m here to talk about school uniformity. I’m the president of PTSA Chappel Middle School. Last year the school council voted to be a school of uniformity. We currently have about 15 out of 1000 students that don’t want to conform. Please support the school council and principals in enforcing school uniformity.
Darrel Fund
Parent of a child with autism in DeKalb Schools. More people need to get involved with the special needs programs.
David Roberts
Future board member of the proposed Druid Hills Charter Cluster. We are zoned for Avondale. Our child attends a private school. We are wait listed for the Museum Charter School like so many others that are seeking other options. The cluster petition focuses on principals and teachers. Chance and luck getting into a few select charters determines the future for thousands of children in DeKalb. Hope and luck are not strategies.
Becky Brickman
Mother of 2 daughters that attend Briar Vista. Budget cuts decimated our school. This charter cluster petition brought the community together.
Lance Hammonds
First Vice President of the DeKalb NAACP. Our first objective is to protect the educational rights of our community. Our concern is that this petition is not representative of the 61% black and 7% hispanic and other minorities in the cluster. We believe a small group is driving this cluster.

  • Low voter turnout
  • Vote was not at a good time
  • Vote was counted in secret and a non verifiable method

We feel this petition will re segregate our schools.
Michelle Pencova
Parent of Tucker children. It’s been a long road and we don’t know which board members will be back. We must be innovative even if there is a perceived loss of power. It’s the ultimate in community and parent engagement. I’m not zoned for the cluster, but I support it.
Jay Cunningham
Former board member of DeKalb Schools. It’s become clear that education drives our economic development. It’s a shame that we see here today during the 50th anniversary of the speech on the march on Washington with a contract being presented to the Superintendent with a recommendation to the board to start a charter school cluster.
It’s a start up program for a new school system in DeKalb County. This is wrong. The contract doesn’t even support the 11 action items that we are looking at SACS right now. There’s nothing unique about the contract. If you vote yes, who’s to say you won’t have 17 more petitions here in front of us to start new charter school systems. That means public schools won’t exist because you’ve given the right to a group of people to educate a cluster. They haven’t been voted on by anybody in that cluster. They did what was required by law. You’re talking about a 78% minority cluster. They didn’t even participate.
Have you thought about the conversion plan that already exists? The conversion plan basically gives the right to waivers, but it also holds the school board and the Superintendent accountable for what happens in that school. People say that’s still the case with the cluster because you can take control back. But, you don’t know who’s going to be on the board in the future.
I ask you not to grant this petition until you go back and look at different ways for this to be done. Yes, some things need to be done differently in DeKalb. Charter schools do work, but this particular petition will not work.

Evette Normal Hall

Parent of 3 Columbia High School graduates. I’m here to let you know that we are happy and doing well at Columbia High School.