Decatur Superintendent To Consider Other Locations for Pre-K Classes

UPDATE: Dr. Phyllis Edwards official response to the concerned parents can be read HERE. Of particular note, she says that one of the ECLC sites cannot be used for trailers because that proposed piece of property must be used to expand and upgrade the playground.

A week after receiving a letter from a group of concerned parents about the recent decision by Superintendent Phyllis Edwards to move three pre-K classes to the Clairemont Elementary School campus, CSD Communications Director Bruce Roaden tells DM that the Superintendent is “exploring options for where we will place the pre-kindergarten students (if not at Clairemont).”

The letter, written and signed by eight CSD parents, asked the Superintendent to reconsider her recent decision to move two pre-K classes at Decatur High School and one at Oakhurst Elementary to Clairemont’s campus, citing worries that adding classrooms will lead to future overcrowding at the elementary school and wouldn’t be in the best interests of CSD’s long-term development plans.

The CSD parents go on to list possible alternatives to adding a second portable classroom to the Clairemont campus, including locating pre-K at CSD’s Westchester administration offices or adding a trailer at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center.  More specifically regarding ECLC, the group identified “considerable space inside the rear property line” of the ECLC “and a particularly intriguing space that extended a bit outside the line (to McKoy Park)”.

In a meeting with Superintendent Edwards last week about their concerns, both parties advocated more mutual trust between parents and the CSD administration, according to resident Don Calder.  But it wasn’t until this morning that I received word from Mr. Roaden that the Superintendent would actually be considering other pre-K location options.

According to Mr. Roaden, Superintendent Edwards will officially reply to the parents with a letter of her own in the coming days and when we receive that, perhaps it will become even clearer which options are still on the table and when we may hear a decision.  (“Classroom use”, including portables, are part of the Superintendent’s operational responsibility, according to Roaden.)

In the mean time, hats off to the parents for succinctly stating their concerns and proposing alternatives AND to the Superintendent for taking the time to hear and consider these ideas.

Stay tuned.

31 thoughts on “Decatur Superintendent To Consider Other Locations for Pre-K Classes”

  1. Let’s face it, trailers are ugly and are they safe? And there are other options. My daughter will go to College Heights but I would be very upset if she were housed in a trailer. That’s no way to start out learning.

  2. As you can probably guess, my humble opinion is that it’s shameful for our administrators to be housed in an elementary school built for little people, while our little people are breathing in poorly-circulated possibly-toxic air inside trailers.

    1. It’s so clear that Westchester is the obvious answer. My children went to Pre-K at Westchester and it was amazing. Fields, woods playgrounds right outside the back door. The idiodic move not use this beautiful, renovated school for what it was intended is why I left the system. Pay my city taxes and private school fees and loving it the private school. No regrets. No longer dealing with the insanity that is CSD. During the time that Westchester was a K-5 it was an amazing school but was screwed up by politics and poor decisions. Put Admins in Trailers and see how quickly they’ll find a new building.

      1. Obviously, you are passionate about this issue. I can only guess how the closure of Westchester could be very upsetting to you and your family. I’m sure it was a terrible loss to your immediate neighborhood. What I don’t get is why the closure of one school caused you to feel that private school is a better option. Closing Westchester didn’t ruin the entire Decatur school system. And yes, the CSD has it’s fair share of problems but it’s also very open and listens with interest to the concerns of parents. They’re not evil, political people. Difficult decisions must me made and they are forced to make them.

  3. Here’s a wild, wacky idea: why not use Westchester for what it was designed and renovated for, a school! Duh!

    How about the CSD Administrative Offices moving to other facilities, perhaps leased space in downtown Decatur? The use of Westchester for a school would relieve a lot of overcrowding. Better still, move the CSD Admin staff in to trailers.

  4. My son is among those 60 children who now has no place to go to school in the fall because of this ridiculous situation. I understand the Clairemont parents who are upset at the prospect of another trailer behind the school. There isn’t enough room. But, Dr. Edwards is right, also. The economy is terrible and schools are closing and teachers are getting fired and we all have to make sacrifices. So, someone needs to step up and make the hard decisions and stick to the decisions once they are made. My concern is that the people making these decisions appear to be twisting in the wind at the first sign of discontent among vocal factions of parents. Just speaking for myself, I will not be happy if my son is put in a trailer behind the ELC. I think Westchester is a better option and especially because the majority of the pre-K children who were originally placed at Clairemont are districted for Clairemont. I’d rather my son be at Clairemont, but I’ll take classrooms at Westchester over a trailer behind the ELC any day. The bottom line is that someone needs to tell us where our children are going to school in two months!

  5. Since the Westchester thing keeps coming up, I’ve got to say…Westchester is actually a real option here, folks! The Superintendent is actually looking at this as one of the options under consideration. I think that if the community continues to make its voices heard, Dr. Edwards may actually be more open to the idea than people might have initially thought.

    We need to start with a real cost comparison between trailers and Westchester. Trailers can cost anywhere between $25,000-100,000, depending on how many we’re talking about and whether they can be “tacked on” to an existing trailer site. I think we are probably looking at $50,000 minimum to house these three pre-K classes in trailers at any location.

    So…can we retrofit Westchester for 3 classrooms of Pre-K students for about the same that it would cost to put them in trailers…or if not, maybe just a bit more? I think the answer MIGHT be yes.

    Cafeteria equipment is the main concern. In 2005 the CSD Board approved “four new pieces of kitchen equipment (convection oven, freezer, refrigerator, and hot/cold serving line) for Winnona Park Elementary not to exceed $20,000 from capital funds.” Can we outfit Westchester for about the same price?

    School nurse is the other main expense – sharing a nurse as the existing K-3s do costs about $14-16,000 a year. There’s talk of a media center, but I think we could get by with a nice selection of good old fashioned books. I’ll even volunteer to organize a book drive to get those books for free if that helps the bottom line.

    This is all overly simplistic, of course. But Westchester seems like it could be in the same ballpark as trailers when it comes to costs…with a result that has far more benefits. There’s still time for a real analysis if it’s done quickly, and we should be leaving no stone unturned if there’s any chance to work out an option that doesn’t put children in trailers and turn schools into mosh-pits.

  6. I found Dr.Edwards letter to be to be extremely respectful and to the point.

    44 out of 60 Pre-K students that would be going to ECLC at College Heights are zoned for Clairemont Elementary. 75% of these students live in and around the Great Lakes neighborhood… makes perfect sense to send them to that school.

    It also gives me confidence that we have the right person leading our school system.

    1. I second this. Given the nature of discussions about school-related issues here on DM, and the preponderance of commenters who have issues with CSD, a more casual reader could get the idea that that’s a good indicator of our schools and their relationship with the community.

      Not saying it isn’t, of course, depending on where you sit. I just think it’s important to note that, while maybe some people have had disagreements or bad experiences, many have not. I’m one of them. CSD has been an ideal experience as it relates to our child and I’d recommend it to anyone. I have tremendous trust in the system, its administrators and teaching staff because, frankly, they’ve earned that trust with me year after year.

      If there are others out there in DM land who are also happy with CSD, give ’em a shout out.

    2. I’m not trying to take a position on this issue, but I just wanted to point out that the actual # of CSD pre-k students is closer to 180. I think they only have room for 120 pre-k students at the College Heights ECLC, and so 60 of the 180 pre-k students must be placed elsewhere. That’s where the “60” number referenced in Dr. Edward’s letter comes from.

      I’m guessing that they intentionally selected all pre-k students that live in the Clairemont Elementary school zone to attend the pre-k classes at Clairemont. So, future Clairemont students really only represent 44 of 180 pre-k students (not 44 of 60).

      This will mean one less school transition for these 44 kids. Quite a few parents on this board have advocated for pre-k classes at the elementary school their child will ultimately attend, so I’m sure at least some of the Clairemont pre-k parents are pleased.

  7. I sent this letter to the board yesterday….

    Dear Dr. Edwards and Board Members,

    I am writing today because I hope that we can find a wonderful home for the new Pre-K students that we welcome to City Schools of Decatur next school year as well as those being displaced by progress at Decatur High School. I am encouraged, because this is an excellent opportunity for us to use Westchester Elementary for students again. It is thrilling to think that administration could once again share this school with children.
    I urge you to not purchase any more trailers. They are a terrible investment. It is my understanding that a new trailer costs ~$50,000 and to place a new trailer beside an already existing trailer costs ~$24,000. I have been told that the rent is about $500 per month. Additionally, upkeep and maintenance of trailers have costs. I strongly contend that it is wiser to make a long term investment in the Westchester facility. Central Office has stated that trailers will only be needed for one more year. I see no justification for spending that large sum of money to house 60 children for just one year. Instead, an investment in upgrading Westchester would have more benefit long term and would certainly be much more well-received by the community. The public perception is that putting children in trailers is disgraceful when the citizens of Decatur own a school that is not being used for students. Trailers are perceived as a glaring sign of poor planning.

    My opposition to using trailers when other options exist includes my concerns that trailers…

    -Are not as safe as traditional classrooms
    -Are noisier with flimsier walls
    -Have less air circulation and ventilation
    -Expose our children to inclement weather conditions
    -Have been know to have elevated levels of formaldehyde

    The risk of exposure to formaldehyde is a specific concern of mine and others. The Center for Disease (CDC) states that long term exposure to even low levels of formaldehyde has been found to cause the following conditions …

    -Increased headaches
    -Attention deficit
    -Problems with dexterity
    -Mood changes
    -Skin irritations

    The CDC goes on to say that high levels are known to cause:

    -Lung problems
    -Breathing problems
    -Nerve problems

    Even the possibility of a threat to the health and safety of our children is unacceptable to the community when a reasonable alternative exists. Using a modest amount of space at Westchester Elementary is such an alternative.

    I realize that there are challenges in making Westchester available for students again. But the community has many good ideas to facilitate putting our smallest and most vulnerable students in the safest place next year. It would be my honor to work with you on solving any issues that are potential roadblocks to putting our Pre-K at Westchester next year. I sincerely reach out to you and hope we can work together to make this happen.

    Thank you for your consideration,
    Tammie Cummings

  8. Dr. Edwards letter was well written and on point. This is the second letter from concerned parents that I have seen discussed on here this year (the first in objection to the 5th ave solution). Frankly, this boggles my mind. As a community we seem to welcome upfront involvement in decision making much more than most, yet people do not get involved enough early on or cannot let it go when their choice is not the final resolution. This is sad. Further, the tactic of utilizing a public forum to distribute one sided letter rather than engaging in a respectful and adult conversation/debate when that avenue is available is amateurish and lacks the spirit that I think our community represents.

    1. I can’t speak to the 5th Ave. letter you reference, but here there was no opportunity whatsoever for “upfront involvement” in this decision. Dr. Edwards made the decision on her own, without input from the faculty, school leadership team, or school board. It came down in a way that very much surprised parents, faculty, and SLTs. Do not blame people for “not getting involved early enough on” when the decisions are made without any opportunity to get involved.

      Letter-writing and blog posts are the best you can do when the Superintendent declines requests to place this on the Board’s meeting agenda and/or to work with the SLT or System Council Leadership Team. Any of those options would have been open forums with opportunity for reasoned discussion and debate.

      The good news is that there is a dialogue going on with her office now, but it took letters like this to get it going.

  9. I agree this is sad — because it’s so predictable. The schools blind-side Clairemont with a decision, then apologists say get over it — the whiners should have acted more quickly (when exactly?) and its bad form to air dirty laundry. Just keep things nice and hush-hush and off the community radar. Unbelievable.

    And the schools play the wild card by turning parents against each other. Parents that don’t want their pre-k kids in trailers complain that Clairemont parents need to buck up and accept reality — I guess that means, so their pre-k kid can be in the building at Clairemont while someone else’s kids (1 or 2 years older) get evicted and stuck in a trailer. Nice move BTW highlighting how many kids are zoned for Clairemont so this turns into neighbor against neighbor — couldn’t the exact same argument by used to put more trailers at Winnona and Oakhurst? Last time I checked, pre-k kids are going to end up there too.

  10. The issues with the central office and the elementary schools have stayed the same even though the parents of elementary children now are mostly different from those who were there 6 years ago. For example, six years ago we told the superintendent there would be overcrowding even before they voted on which schools would be closed. There was huge concern it would lead to larger class size. That’s why the board members and superintendent said class size would never be larger than 25.

  11. Scott – here’s a “shout out” to CSD!!
    I have no doubt our school system is in capable hands and we are lucky to have as much input as we do. If this is all we have to complain about, we are fortunate people.

  12. Just feel that it is worth repeating that only 44 of the 180 pre-K students for next year are zoned for Clairemont. Clairemont was not a logical choice on that basis, therefore, given that so many more students are zoned for either Winnona Park or Oakhurst. (I’m certain that Central Office has the exact numbers, but if the 136 remaining students were split equally between the two schools that would mean 68 students for each)

    I agree that there should be a serious and pubic review of Westchester as an option for the 60 homeless pre-K students. With an emphasis on the public, because the more people who are able to brainstorm about this, the better. If this is supposed to be just a one-year stop gap solution until the new 4/5 is open to relieve crowding, then adding additional trailers now may not be the most cost effective option. The upfront cost for trailers is prohibitive – it seems that they only make sense if they are to be used for the long term. Any money put into refurbishing Westchester would be beneficial if (as seems extremely likely) the school needs to reopen in the future.

    I applaud Don and all of those who worked on the letter to Dr. Edwards. The letter was respectful, thoughtful, and needed. I, also, applaud Dr. Edwards for meeting with some parents and responding to the letter. I truly appreciate that she is listening to the community.

    Since BethK put it so well, I’ll close by quoting her: “There’s still time for a real analysis if it’s done quickly, and we should be leaving no stone unturned if there’s any chance to work out an option that doesn’t put children in trailers and turn schools into mosh-pits.”

  13. I played roles in writing open letters re the 4/5 Academy and pre-K trailer(s), and would like to address the concern that it was inapt to compose/publish such letters when Dr Edwards was available to meet privately. (Thanks, BethK, for summarizing how we arrived at this point in our dialogue re pre-K.) Short answer: I prefer to deal with public matters out in the open, and was very pleased to meet with Dr Edwards when the terms of our conversations were in plain view.

    Open letters were shared publicly, including here at DM, so both supporters and opponents alike could see what was being asked of CSD — and why. Everyone then could decide whether to engage, or not. Decisions made in this context, in my opinion, have more legitimacy than those that may be perceived as special treatment resulting from private access.

  14. For the record, as of last week there were reportedly 180 pre-k students enrolled with an additional 16 parents on a resident pre-k waiting list. Should that waiting list ever get exhausted there is another waiting list with about 18 CSD employees/parents, followed by yet another list for out-of-district applicants. Regardless of where the students eventually are located, it appears CSD is going to have a bumper crop of students moving through the system in the coming years.

    1. You’re right, Brian, and this is why I take issue with Dr. Edwards’ assertion in her letter that “In the past, not as many of our residents took advantage of [the Pre-K] program.” She goes on to say, “Now, every slot that we can offer is filled by residents of the City of Decatur.”

      Again with the blinders that admin are wearing! They refuse to look at real enrollment numbers. What she said above is bunk–it wasn’t that residents were not “choosing” to take advantage of Pre-K. It was that enrollment/population has soared and we all knew this was going to happen six years ago.

      We already have a bumper crop of students moving through CSD–our schools are busting at the seams. We have trailers at every elementary school: CHECLC, Clairemont, Winnona Park, Oakhurst, and Glennwood. All the while, our admin uses a perfectly good elementary school as office space. This is shameful and not something we should put up with.

      If you question whether or not another trailer should be placed at Clairemont, then go walk the site for yourself. Meanwhile, let’s just do away with trailers period at our elementary schools.

  15. It’s amazing to me how much trouble has resulted from one set of faulty enrollment projections. In 2003-2004, the CSD Board and brand-new Superintendant believed that the school population was declining and they had a couple of schools on the south side that were either almost empty (<100 kids) or already closed and in bad need of repair. A Board member said to me at the time that, if a south side school was closed, a north side school had to be closed too. Many, many community members, including Oakhurst residents, tried to point out that the infant, toddler, and preschool population was booming all over town, north and south side, but that information was perceived as sour grapes or inadequate. Some folks tried to present a compromise position of incremental change, keeping five elementaries open, instead of just four, then seeing which way enrollment went. But it was considered better to just swallow the bitter pill whole all at once.

    I really wish we had gone for incremental change–made College Heights into the ECLC but kept Westchester open, held the already-closed Fifth Avenue in reserve, done less building, less trailers, and then when it became evident that we needed even more space, not less, renovated Fifth Avenue. If enrollment had gone the other way, there was still infinite time to close one more elementary school.

    It's so easy to make brilliant choices in hindsight!

  16. Actually, I wrote to the school board before any schools were closed recommending a 4 PreK-3, 1 4/5 configuration so you could try the 4/5 without doing construction. So, the choice was there.

  17. Must give credit where due: Dr Edwards hit a home-run tonight.

    Tension at the board meeting was palpable, as folks waited to voice positions re placement of pre-K trailer(s). Dr Edwards defused the tension by re-sequencing the meeting. She gave her superintendent’s report BEFORE public comments, and used the time IMHO to candidly and comprehensively present options under consideration: ECLC, Westchester and Clairemont. When it was time for public comments, the mood in the room was considerably lighter. Though a majority opposed trailer(s) at Clairemont (8-9 of 13), all the speakers spoke respectfully with a collaborative tone — they weren’t combative at all, and none waved a pitchfork (rhetorical or otherwise).

    By far, this was one of the best meetings I’ve witnessed. (If I get any more effusive, this will creep dangerously into valentine-status.) Bravo to Dr Edwards, as well as to all who offered public comments.

  18. I agree with Don. It was one of the best board meetings that I have attended as well. Dr. Edwards did a great job of explaining her position and seemed open to public opinion. I am encouraged that Westchester is actually on the board as a potential home for the 3 pre-k classes next year. I see using Westchester in this transitional manner as a win-win situation for central office and the community. It is a less expensive and far more prudent long-term investment in a traditional school building than is spending another $75K-$100k (at bare minimum) short t-term investment in a portable one-year solution.
    The community and the school system have a real opportunity here to work together and to provide safer and healthier classrooms for our pre-k kids. We have traditional classrooms at Westchester. We do not have to lease anymore trailers.

  19. I still wish CSD would just admit what a freakin’ lousy job their consultant did with the reconfiguration and move on. I still feel tehre is some reluctance just to admit this. Maybe I am wrong. And there are great “trailer” alternatives – look at these “Katrina Houses” that schools can configure for their use

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