Big Renovations For Decatur High and Renfroe Will Require Bond Referendum, School Board Vote Tuesday

CSD is currently projecting 1,891 students enrolled at Decatur High School and 1,666 at Renfroe Middle School by 2018.  If these numbers came to fruition, it means that a major renovation must take place at Decatur High School and Renfroe Middle School before then to accommodate all these upper-level students.

The Decatur School Board is scheduled to vote this Tuesday on a renovation plan for both schools.  (In terms of K-3, CSD now believes it can accommodate K-3 students through 2018 with Westchester reopening and the following new assumptions: that there WON’T be a large-scale annexation in that period and that they “maximize capacity” instead of attempting to meet GA DOE requirements.)

Three options are currently on the table for DHS and Renfroe – as you can see in this giant Master Plan presentation – with the administration currently favoring option #3.

For DHS (renovation timeline 2014-2017) Option #3 includes the following features, among others:

  • accommodates 95% of the projected students enrolled
  • repurposes the career academy and the main building
  • main building renovations are delayed until Phase II
  • three floor addition added to commons building

DHS

For Renfroe (renovation timeline 2014-2015) Option #3 includes the following features, among others:

  • accommodates 90% of all the of projected students enrolled
  • only renovates the kitchen and cafeteria in Phase 1
  • Expands the gym
  • Phase 2 would demolish the existing Middle School and provide an entirely new facility.

renfroe reno

To pay for these huge renovations, costing upwards of $58 million, the CSD administration states that there is no other option but to hold a bond referendum on November 5th.

h/t: Patch

107 thoughts on “Big Renovations For Decatur High and Renfroe Will Require Bond Referendum, School Board Vote Tuesday”


  1. What does “maximize capacity” mean? If I had little ones coming up in the system, I’d want to know.

  2. Looks like the School Board is doing everything in secret so that the neighbors get no input whatsoever. I live on Kings Hwy and two of the three proposals have the NEW Renfroe lining my Historic street instead of College Avenue. I am also a parent and recognize that we need to account for growth but the School Board ask for and accepts NO INPUT from parents or neighbors. SHAME ON YOU!

  3. Hmmm…maybe we should have upgraded the academic facilities at both DHS and RMS before proceeding with the athletic facilities. And if the RMS gym needs to be expanded already then whoever undertook the renovation 2 years ago did not do a good job of planning.

    1. Yeah, this is the thing that kinda chaps my hide a little bit. Now, I really do think that we should have nice things and I definitely don’t think that the schools should be on a shoe string, and even though we don’t have kids, I don’t think we would ever begrudge our tax money going to the schools and the teachers, but I put organized varsity athletics not all that high on the list of priorities. So, having a beautiful stadium just didn’t seem to me to be the next item on the ‘needs’ list.

      Related to expansion, is there any kind of movement in school design that allows for easily repurposing space and shifting walls to accommodate variations in enrollment? It seems that there will always be some volatility and year to year enrollment, so if you do a major expansion, can the additional space be reconfigured for years when enrollment is down?

    2. Well that still doesn’t beat the expansion happening at FAVE one-year(!?) after the building of a new school.

      As for moveable walls, the FAVE expansion does have that. Multi-purpose rooms planned in the new expansion can be re-purposed into part of the cafeteria when needed later on.

      Then to comment on the no-communication aspect – the principal switch of FAVE and Renfroe is happening. Not that any parents have been notified by CSD yet.

        1. The current FAVE and Renfroe principals are switching places next year.
          So, Roeden to Renfroe and Thomas to FAVE.

      1. So Mr. Thomas is moving to FAVE and Mr. Roaden is going back to Renfroe? Is that going to happen this fall? I’ve heard the rumor but how do you know it’s official? And when was CSD planning on letting us know?

  4. I have an idea–“School to Condo”. It’s kind of a riff on “Farm to Table”. It comes from my aversion to closing schools, especially good, well-attended, high-functioning schools. We go ahead and build all this new capacity even though at some point all these babies will grow up and leave behind a lot of empty nesters who won’t need all this classroom capacity. But we build in a modular form such that, as soon as this boom of children matures and moves on, we take the extra capacity and voila……..revenue-positive condos! If the capacity is needed again, wait for a few seniors to pass on, and then voila…more modular units to be converted back to classrooms.

    1. I know you’re joking, but the high school I attended was actually turned into condos. I wonder sometimes about the people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in the building that so many of us public school kids would have paid any sum to leave.

  5. Why does the school board continue to hide behind a cloak of secrecy on plans of this magnitude? I’m proud to live in a community that values education so much that we are willing to have the highest tax rates in the state, but I can’t understand why the superintentant doesn’t feel the need to engage the community. Having one business day notice is a slap on the face.

    1. I could not agree more TinMan. This plan has clearly been worked on for some time and they are rushing it to vote with NO input from the community they serve. This is the way the Dr. Edwards conducts all school business. I am beginning to feel that more transparency is required and if she will not comply then we need to consider other options. It is OUR school district, not HERS!

    2. Much of this material was presented at School Board meeting a few weeks ago in a power point. A small handful of people were present. I’m guessing all the materials were posted online.

  6. Somebody please tell me this is an April Fool’s Joke. I am having cascading panic attacks. I am way too gullible for this!

  7. How about instead of building completely new facilities, the City refurbishes the old DeVry Institute campus (off Arcadia), moves Renfroe to the existing DHS campus, then uses the existing Renfroe campus for its central offices (and perhaps brings back the daycare/early childhood learning center, too)? Would cost some $$$, for sure, but not $58 MILLION!!! Or would trying to save some of our money just make too much sense?

      1. 4/5 academy cannot be switched to an elementary school because there are no bathrooms in classrooms for K students. It’s unfortunate because all the little ones live in that neighborhood!

    1. On a quick read of the plans, option 3 proposes renovating portions of Renfroe in Phase 1 then tearing the entire thing down and building a new middle school as part of Phase 2. The presentation is kind of vague, so maybe I’m reading it wrong. But if that is what they are proposing, it would seem to be a shocking waste of money and there is no chance whatsoever that it could all be done within the proposed $58 million bond issuance.

  8. I don’t think this is an elaborate April hoax. Several days ago I was talking to a teacher who mentioned major renovation in the next couple of years. The teacher was startled that I was startled. I assumed I had not been paying attention, not that there was a cloak of secrecy.

    As to athletic facilities, my impression at Renfroe is that the wonderful new gym serves all PE students and was a much needed addition. The DHS field seems to be in constant use and rental by a wide variety of users and I wonder if it comes close to paying for itself. Anyone know?

  9. I assumed this was a hoax (an incredibly cruel one) as well. If it’s not, I have to say, I am really trying hard to support the folks planning the future of the school system I love, but I am starting to have a hard time doing it. We can’t keep running around spending this kind of money on projects that we have to redo in one or two years. I understand that we are in a period of explosive growth, and that few could have predicted the implosions in both Dekalb County and Atlanta Pubic schools and the effect that they could have on CSD– but still.

    1. You said it all . . .”we are in a period of explosive growth . . .that few could have predicted.” So, “but still” what? How clear is their crystal ball supposed to be? If you could not have predicted what was going to happen, then you have to find realistic solutions to what is happening. That seems like where we are.

      1. I guess I’m thinking I would not spend $60 million to renovate schools when I have a more pressing enrollment problem to address… case in point, the 4/5 academy, which I can’t personally speak for, but which I understand is already overcrowded and the subject of reconfiguration discussions just a couple years after it opened. I just have a hard time trusting the board to make such enormous capital investments when they may prove to have been wasted in just a few years.

        1. They built FAVE to open for the # of kids we had then. It had an option for an additional wing for expansion, as needed. They are now using that option. At the time, as you said, no one predicted that they would need to expand so quickly – I sat in all the meetings, there was no inclination among anyone that it would happen this quickly. Thankfully, they were looking ahead enough to have this current expansion possibility. It just doesn’t make sense to blame all of this on the administration. They’re doing what they can with what they have. Remember, they were the ones at the helm while our schools became so desirable.

          1. They were darn desirable before that, just with one weak link (Renfroe) and less yuppie housing available (until Oakhurst, College Heights, downtown, and Sycamore were gentrified) and some neglected schools on the southside (according to people who were there then). Those of us who chose CSD vs. private schools or outer surburbia were not total fools. Now the weak link(s) has/have moved and gentrification is about complete so CSD enrollment is burgeoning. Some CSD schools were quite desirable in the old days, especially if you liked small schools, small classes, and the original style Expeditionary Learning. I don’t think they are substantially more desirable now. A lot of folks still opt for Paideia, Woodward, Westminster, the Friends School, St. Thomas More instead of, or after a few years in, CSD. But there’s more kiddies here because of gentrification and the overall popularity of intown, plus the abject failure of APS and DCSS which make about anything but corruption and fraud look desirable.

            1. OK – I’m with you there – well put. But my point is, that this thing where we’re bursting at the seams should not be something “blamed” on the administration. Why does everyone have to find someone to blame for everything when it comes to the schools? We have something we have to deal with, let’s work together to get it dealt with.

              1. I think folks are trying to work with the school system and vice versa. But it seems to take a long, long, long, long, long, long time. IMHO, the SLTs are way underused–both by CSD Admin and School Board and by parents/high school students. I understand why–CSD is worried about them opening the door to total chaos, pandemonium, and the end of the civilized world as we know it. School Board members have to watch their legal ps and qs and sometimes it seems easiest to just avoid public settings other than football games. Parents/students find SLT meetings dry, boring, overstructured, with little chance for true dialogue and discussion. But other school systems are using SLTs for all sorts of issues and finding them useful. We just need to get the hang of doing it without scaring the principals and boring the populace. I think that an understanding of SLTs and commitment to using them in every possible way should be a major factor in selecting senior administrators and principals and electing Board members.

  10. Wait, schools have massive capital needs they did not bother to address through ESPLOST? That’s unpossible. I am now recalling the mantra of ESPLOST supports: vote yes or city taxes go up! And now they’re likely going up anyway.

    1. At least this time they are asking before they spend the money. WIth E-Splost they had already acted under the assumption that E-Splost would be renewed.

      There is no way of quantifying an answer, but will this proposal itself help curb the growth in enrollment? This makes it very clear that unless something changes 1) we have a problem and 2) the solution will be expensive. Maybe CSD will appear a little less desirable.

  11. As a parent & a taxpayer, I want our school system to be successful. And we may well need to make a significant capital investment into our facilities to ensure the continued quality of education we expect from CSD. However, I’m not yet convinced that is the case…I won’t rehash things others have said that I agree with (bottom line is that the administration has a long way to go in transparency and community engagement), but here are a couple of things that I think need to be addressed as part of this conversation:

    1. The needs are predicated on projected enrollment. I’d like to understand the assumptions behind the projections. CSD’s recent history of enrollment projections do not inspire confidence, and as the other recent DM post highlights, what they do share seem to be “pseudo-projections” at best. I don’t have any illusions that they’ll get it 100% right (nobody will), but we should at least be able to have a conversation about the underlying assumptions to be able to challenge, improve & ultimately feel comfortable with them.

    2. There is no mention of projected instructional or operations & maintenance (O&M) costs for these new facilities. The ultimate taxpayer burden is a combination of all of these things, and we’re not considering the full picture by just looking at the millage impact of issuing GO bonds. Assuming that the projected enrollment & capital needs are spot-on (see point #1), this presentation portends a significantly increased tax burden.

    3. Related, if we do need to build, I sincerely hope that the CSD administration has gotten over their short-sightedness about green building. It galls me that FAVE eschewed things like more efficient HVAC because the payback was projected to take longer than 2-3 years. CSD seems to treat its capital and operating budgets completely separately. While they are legally different, there is no reason to save a few bucks on a capital project and lock in excess O&M costs – money that should be going to teachers – for years, especially when there are cost-effective ways to reduce O&M expenses when a facility is built.

    4. I’d like to understand what Plan B is. Surely the administration has developed some thinking around what happens if voters reject a GO bond (or maybe not…they assumed voters would re-up ESPLOST 4x when they issued those bonds…).

    I was already planning on attending tomorrow’s School Board meeting to support the adoption of a district-wide anti-idling policy for busses (= good for our children’s lungs!), but I guess this adds one more reason for me to attend.

  12. Um, we are a charter school system with a mechanism already in place to allow a constant flow of information down to school leadership teams then down to parents and the community and and back up. If that’s not happening, then we are not using our system charter mechanisms enough and should look for other models, practices, and attitudes that are working in other charter school systems. Everyone bears some responsibility here, new folks and old. CSD top leadership should be attending at least one SLT meeting a month, or more if needed, to keep its finger on the pulse of the school community. Ditto for School Board members; I know they have to be mindful of open meetings law but other systems have it figured out. SLTs need to be soliciting parent input actively, not just passively–Renfroe just did that successfully recently regarding the annual school improvement plan revision. Parents and the community should bring issues to SLTs and press for them to pushed up the line and then press for information to go back out to the community. There’s a book coming out soon describing system charter practices around Georgia. If CSD is in a tight situation with exploding enrollment and ever limited resources and the threat of impacts on taxes, every possible mechanism should be invoked to keep the process smooth, evidence-based, transparent, and reassuring to the community. This is not a good time to have trust issues.

    1. So, does anyone know when the next SLT meeting is at FAVE?
      It’s not listed on the eBoard in the last meeting’s minutes. I don’t see it on the calendar either.
      The reports and minutes linked to that site do not provide much information either.

      I think SLT is a great idea in theory, but doesn’t seem to be working as intended.

      1. The next SLT meeting at F.AVE is on Monday, 4/15. Our meetings are on the school calendar and are published at least one week in advance. They are also published in our school newsletter (available on the school website). They are the 2nd Monday of every month at 5pm. For April, it is moved to the 15th because of Spring Break. We would love to have community members there.

  13. So, it’s looking like our three kids will all be finishing their school years in a constant fog of construction dust…. and constant hum of power equipment…… seriously, constant….. for half a decade?

    1. Actually, 3/4 of a decade. Construction started at Clairemont in the spring of 2005, less than a year after two schools were closed. To be fair, folks really did think then that it would be one-time construction to serve the smaller, consolidated “declining” school population. But we always seem to think that we are just about to get it right with whatever we’re building.

    2. What about the generations of kids who went through DHS without a proper gym and with no auditorium? Think they would have traded a little dust for some better facilities? I do.

  14. I’m with the poster who is for moving the whole shebang over to the DeVry property. Can that building be re-purposed and added on to in order to accommodate maybe junior high and high school? Then maybe make all the smaller schools, including Renfroe, K-6 schools because the academy has gotten insanely huge, and 6th graders have no business in middle school anyway.

    Alternatively, can we move the kids at Renfroe and DHS to DeVry (lease the space from the owner) while all this construction goes on so the kids don’t have to deal with this for years on end while they are trying to learn?

    I think that these proposals are too small and inside the box and our problem if very huge and outside the box.

  15. April Fools! The enrollment projections are clearly a joke intended to stir people up, but I’m laughing out loud. Growth in Decatur’s enrollment has been “organic”, with higher enrolling K classes every year but stable after that.

    According to the DM post just a couple down below this one, enrollment for the cohort that will make up Renfroe’s population in 2017-1018 (this year’s 1st through 3rd graders) is 993. Somehow almost 700 kids in these grades are going to move into Decatur in the next 4+ years.

    Ditto the high school projections. There are 1,114 right now in grades 4-7. This will magically increase by almost 800 students by the time they get to high school.

    They almost got all of us. Nice try.

    1. Ah, I see you’ve discovered the power of compound interest!

      In all seriousness, I hope to spend some time digging through the enrollment committee’s numbers this evening. At first glance, their report seems to have some holes, but I haven’t had time to fire up the ol’ spreadsheet yet.

      1. I looked through the Enrollment Committee reports and didn’t find any projections beyond the current school year.

        I’m still incredulous at the 2018 projections. I really want to know where they came from, and what assumptions they are based on. Bottom line, those projections are the entire case for a huge bond and building plan, and need to be validated.

        1. Here’s an email I sent to the board:

          To the board,

          I am concerned about the apparent rush to approve Plan 3 of the consultant’s recommendations for expanding DHS and (in particular) Renfroe at tomorrow night’s meeting. In piecing together the timeline and reviewing board meeting minutes, it appears that:

          • There have been plans or public discussions in progress for some time to replace Renfroe’s old gym with 7 classrooms and other space.
          • The consultant developed two new plans based on extremely high enrollment projections.
          • The Superintendent suggested a third option and on March 19th the Board held a work session to look at this plan, which is now the “preferred” option.
          • The Board wants to vote to approve this third plan tomorrow night in order to move the process forward.

          My issues with this process are as follows:

          • The enrollment projections for 2018 are nowhere to be found on the eboard site or any meeting minutes.
          • The enrollment projections for 2018 seem to be much higher than recent trends indicate.
          o For example, Renfroe enrollment is projected to be 1,666 in 2018. The current enrollment for grades K-2, which will be at Renfroe in 2018, is 1,065.
           Decatur’s own enrollment projections for next year show these three grades growing to 1,118 students, about a 5% increase.
           Projecting a 5% increase for 5 more years, which is a pretty aggressive growth projection, yields a total Renfroe enrollment in 2018 of 1,425:
          Year Enrollment
          2012/13 1,065
          2013/14 1,118
          2014/15 1,174
          2015/16 1,232
          2016/17 1,293
          2017/18 1,358
          2018/19 1,425

           This is about 240 students (~15 IUs) less than the projections that the Board is using as a basis for planning a $50-90 million plan.
          • The “Plan 3” for Renfroe that is apparently favored by the board has not had any time to be reviewed by the public.
          • “Plan 3” is the most disruptive to the MAK neighborhood, which is on the National Historic Register, and likely to meet the most resistance.

          1. Additionally, back in July of last year, the Asst. Superintendent admitted that 2018 projections were “sketchy”. Quoting from this post: http://www.decaturmetro.com/2012/07/09/discussing-decatur-school-enrollment-today-and-into-the-future/#more-23894

            “We have done some enrollment modeling through 2018 (with the full knowledge that demographic predicting that far out with the growth we have experienced certainly is sketchy), and with the opening of Westchester slated for 2014-2015, our five K-3 schools (Clairemont, Glennwood, Oakhurst, Westchester, Winnona Park) can handle the large classes coming up.”

            Now I understand that they must act now if they’re going to be ready for a 2018 that looks like the projections. You gotta work with what you have. My impression is that they’ve broken up the renovation into phases to hedge against these volatile projections. But as someone else pointed out, everything is being planned out based on that projection, so it should be available for all to review.

            Also, for everyone who believed that there was no harm in brow-beating the hell out of CSD for missing the enrollment increase in 2003, this may be your repayment. I imagine the last thing they want to do now is underestimate enrollment.

            1. Totally agree with your last point, I thought about it but held my fire yesterday. People have been so completely relentless in their criticism of the 2003 enrollment projections that I don’t blame the Board for overreacting and overprojecting this time. But it just goes to show how counterproductive “community input” can be if it takes our elected leadership off track.

            2. It was more a lack of counting than a lack of projection back in 2003! You can’t project if you don’t count!

              Erring on the side of an overcount is probably wiser than undercounting. The latter affects the daily life of students trying to learn. Overcapacity can be used–as office space, workrooms, exercise rooms, or even as community space. For a long time, Renfroe had a huge, comfortable teacher lounge. Now that the space is needed, it’s being used as a classroom.

              1. Disagree on which side to err. Over estimating leads to higher fixed operating costs, as all of the additional space needs to be financed, heated, cooled, cleaned, and maintained. Under estimating leads to lower fixed operating costs, with the option of trailers filling the need for added capacity during enrollment peaks.

                1. I’m not personally against trailers but boy do they cause havoc at elementary schools. Maybe parents will tolerate them more at the middle and high school levels. And trailers can’t address issues like the adequate cafeteria, PE, assembly, library/media center, computer lab, science labs, career/technical labs, etc. space. For example, if special classes, meetings, and events have to occur in the media center, then that resource is off limits to other students needing to use it. If there’s not enough science labs, then AP/IB science course options may be more limited. And there is an upper limit to the feasible number of trailers. My high school had so many at one point that we asked if roller skates and skateboards could be permitted so we could get to class on time. 🙂

      2. Okay, having spent some time with the enrollment numbers & my favorite spreadsheet, I’m going to go out on a limb here and call BS on the 2018 enrollment numbers.

        Based on the numbers presented in the report & the current enrollment by grade, I get the following compound annual growth rates (i.e., the growth rate at which – if it happens every year – you’d arrive at the 2018 enrollment):

        RMS: 10.9%
        DHS: 11.2%
        System: 10.8%

        The RMS & DHS numbers are based on the current grade 1-3 and 4-7 enrollments while the system is based on current systemwide enrollment (hard to calculate a CAGR for a cohort that has just been born).

        For comparison, I calculated the CAGR for school-age children between 2000 and 2010 (based on Census data) in the city’s SW and NE quadrants – the two that had the largest percentage growth during that decade – and here are the results:

        SW 0-5 years: 6.2%
        NE 5-9 years: 8.1%

        So, essentially, the 2018 enrollment numbers are assuming greater growth each year for the next 5 years than some of the highest growth areas of our city experienced over a decade. Or, put another way, the 2018 enrollment numbers assume annual enrollment growth nearly on the order of the 2010-11 enrollment spike each year for the next 5 years.

        I do think that CSD should plan its facilities with some excess capacity so that we don’t end up with a FAVE situation again, but I can’t fathom the enrollment numbers that are underpinning this significant expansion proposal. I’d be happy to be convinced otherwise, but would need to fully understand the assumptions & methodology.

        1. I think they are trying account for the Arlene Dean factor. (take a drive around Oakhurst some time and you will understand what this means)

  16. I share some of the concerns already stated here. I would add that if we are building (setting aside the overall question for a moment), I don’t understand why we would build a school that will accommodate 90% of projected enrollment. As others have noted, I understand we can’t expect perfection from these projections. But building less than what we anticipate needing doesn’t make sense to me, especially considering we have a recent track record of exceeding enrollment projections. If there’s to be a margin for error, it seems wiser to build a school that would accommodate 110% of projected enrollment. Looks like we’ll have another FAVE here with these shiny, new schools that are too small from the get-go.

    1. Choosing the cheapest option which meets only 90-95% projected needs is foolhardy…especially based upon the Board’s poor track record on enrollment projections. Without a cushion, we’ve seen a string of miscalculations result in wasteful moves nearly every year.

      This option also predicts DHS will be overcrowded in 2016 before the new classrooms come online…AND the K-3 will be “maximizing” capacity vs meeting GA DOE guidelines.

      If I were cynical, I’d say the Board is figuring that having larger classes in elementary grades and in the high school will cut down on enrollment by pushing more families to opt for private schools. If I were not cynical, I’d say the Board is trying to operate as economically as possible hoping for a smaller enrollment growth rate. Either way, this option seems flawed. Larger classes are likely to make it harder to attract/keep the better teachers, which will negatively impact the quality of instruction and tarnish one of Decatur’s jewels.

      1. I’ve been sitting here not sure if I’ve been incredibly gullible and totally bamboozled by an April Fool’s Day joke or whether this is all as scarey as it sounds. As bad as it makes me look, I’d prefer the former.

      2. Yeah… I guess the school system would be nuts (and probably acting illegally) if they posted this stuff on their e-board. I just clicked through the school website independently of the links here and got to the same plan. Holy cow! This really came out of the blue for me!

        Sorry, DM, I’m suspicious after my daughter texted me from high school this morning saying she was in the office and that I needed to come ASAP because she was going to be arrested. She let me text her back in a panic and then April Fooled me. Then she did it to her dad. Took a year off my life, easy….

        So glad she’s focusing on her studies while at school.

  17. Maybe after all this, I’ll take Nellie’s suggestion seriously and run for the school board in the next election. Don’t ask if that’s an April Fool’s joke because I’m not sure myself…

    1. No slight intended to you J_T but I would vote for just about anybody who is not currently a sitting member of the board. You have my vote.

      1. If only we could get the folks who preceded the current board, and whose legacy of positive change was considerably less impressive. Then, under a renewed regime of average leadership, the quality of our system could decline and all these enrollment concerns would fade away.

        1. Well that settles it. I WILL run. I can definitely live down to expectations if it means my taxes don’t go up 😉

        2. Scott, the reason behind us becoming a Charter School district was to improve our schools because we would have a greater say in what happens. Is that what is going on? I feel like the parents and the community get the fuzzy end of the stick every time the board makes a decision. I seem to recall two neighboring school districts with boards that didn’t listen to the parents or the communities that are now in a tailspin. Academics are exceedingly important but so are transparency and cooperation. We need to teach the board that lesson.

          1. I’m certainly not making an argument that we don’t have challenges, or that CSD excels (or even performs adequately) from a communications standpoint. I just disagree that we don’t have a say in what happens or that the board is inaccessible. Every time I’ve felt strongly about a school issue (granted, my wants are modest), I’ve been able to speak to my school board member directly and share my views. I’ve not always gotten what I wanted but it was always for a legitimate reason. And besides, I don’t think giving everyone what they want is necessarily a good indicator of leadership.

            My point is that I’m a CSD parent and I’ve always felt heard. That’s not saying we don’t have things to work on but, for the most part, those things are challenges associated with success. And I don’t think people — especially neighbor servants in thankless roles — should be penalized for success.

            1. Agree with Scott here. Think there is a lot of room for improvement in communication, that’s been a constant for a long time, but I find the board, our thankless neighbors, very accessible when I’ve wanted access. To add to what Scott said, it’s not just the Board who I feel has heard me, I have felt that Dr. Edwards and staff have heard me, too.

            2. Scott, I agree with you on one point – whenever I have reached out to Board members, they have always responded to me. However, this needs to be a two-way street, CSD needs to reach out to the community when it has important information to share.

              The MAK neighborhood found out about the last two construction projects at Renfroe via zoning notices and blogs (thanks to DM and Patch!). When we were blindsided by the new gym expansion schedule, CSD staff responded with a comment that the schedule was posted on their website. It was, but it took quite a bit of clicking and searching to find it, even after I knew it existed. Come on, how hard is it to send a few e-mails via the schools? Lord knows they have no problem sending multiple e-mails about Sally Fosters sales.

              1. I don’t disagree at all that CSD can often border on incompetence when it comes to both their consistency and dissemination of information. I was only responding to Karen’s apparent favor for replacing board members, who I don’t think should be held responsible for that particular issue.

        3. I’m sure that Susan Cobleigh, Sara Turnipseed and Jason Uchitel appreciate your comments about their tenure on the Board. These schools were terrific 15 to 20 years ago (and in fact in some ways better) and our increasing enrollment then prompted a multi-year round of renovations and expansion. Do you all really think this just happened?

          1. It’s the narrative fallacy of newcomers finding Decatur and CSD and then deciding it’s their own brilliance and insight that discovered (or even created!) such a great find, not that folks started working 30 years ago to develop it. I love the expression “narrative fallacy”. it explains so much.

          2. I am really glad someone said this finally. It is very true.There was a vibrant Decatur here with a great school system in the 1980s and 1990s. This I know firsthand. It bothers me no end that people think the Brick Store and Phyllis Edwards built the city with little more than beer kegs and dusty erasers.

          3. You’re right that I should have said “boards” rather than “board” because my point, in response to Karen, was basically the same as yours. For some time, as you note, we’ve been headed down a path that has brought results and now we’re increasingly dealing with those results. Continuity in a positive context can be an important stabilizer and I don’t think a “boot ’em” approach is warranted or wise.

            Yes, the schools were great 15-20 years ago, so long as you had the right address. I don’t need to worry about narrative fallacy because I also had the pleasure of being here and seeing that the sense of greatness was dependent on one’s vantage point. We (including the people you mention) have addressed a lot of those glaring disparities between schools, and we’ve continued to deal with the resulting attractiveness of our system overall. The board members who’ve done so throughout the process — who’ve proven their ability to do so and who have a sense of the history that’s brought us to this point — seem more attractive to me than untested replacements.

  18. Maybe it was a bad idea to advertise that CSD wanted to be a top ten school system. Possibly top 100 would have been okay and less attractive!

    1. I think we said “top 20” but even that seemed kind of silly to me. There’s probably 20 school systems just in Westchester and Rockland Counties alone, north of NYC, that we have no chance catching because of their enormous wealth, concentration of upper echelon professional degrees, and high levels of support for education in terms of taxes. I always wondered why we set ourselves up for failure. At work, I always set goals that are doable so I can make big check-marks on our silly project management charts. 🙂 I think that a goal of being in the top 200 school systems would have been honorable and achievable; then we could spend more time on the business of education and less time on selling our story.

      1. +1… I am a cynic but don’t automatically infer bad faith or negative motives or whatever to our school or other officials, but the “top # school” rhetoric smacks of “learning cottage” to me. Ugh.

        The kids in school here now have been subjected to “the constant fog of construction dust” (quoting Mr. FixIt above) but in my experience it doesn’t phase them. It upsets the parents and taxpayers, sure. What has upset the kids (and the parents) are the huge growing pains caused by the shift to IB. It’s the constant and significant changes on several levels I think that gives us intellectual whiplash and, looping back to AHiD’s comment, creates other ways to set ourselves up for failure.

  19. Hmmm this is a lot to digest. I have to say I feel like lots of people have been saying – Hey we need a long term plan on enrollment. While I don’t pay THAT much attention, I pay some, and this is coming to me as a surprise. Surprised that they are this far along on this type of planning, and voting on bonds???? Seems like a few steps before would be good.

    Fog of construction – yuck
    1700 students in middle school – hmm not so nice
    Does the current FAVE renovation even last another two years?
    When will we ask if small schools matter more than our commitment to 4/5?…..

    1. “When will we ask if small schools matter more than our commitment to 4/5?…..”: when Board members and administrators stop feeling defensive about the 4/5 concept, enough to ask questions and discuss pros and cons openly. It’s hard because four of the five of the Board and most of CSD senior administrators have spent years defending the concept, a concept that has merit. But asking questions is not disloyalty to a concept. It’s just good practice in a changing environment.

      1. Now be nice. I don’t think that they would remain glued to a model if that model clearly doesn’t work well anymore. Things have changed a heck of a lot in the past 10 years.

        1. Hope you are right. It’s a whole new group of parents, students, and concerns and I hope hearts and minds are open.

  20. “Strategic Plan 2011-2016”
    “VISION”
    “City Schools of Decatur will be one of the top ten small city school systems in the nation.”

    The stated goal of the school board and the super in the last Plan, too. Other local systems have cheating scandals and giant amounts of fraud and abuse. Why are we surprised our rolls keep swelling? To re-work a well known phrase – If they come, we will build it!

  21. I’m a little confused too as to how we weren’t notified about these plans, both as a neighbor of the school and an RMS parent (hope this isn’t a dangling modifier). Our neighborhood has been aware of the changes planned to the old gym, but I can’t believe that option #3 had been out there in the public.

    I do agree with the previous commenter that CSD is not under any obligation to inform neighbors about plans; they should be notified, however when permits are drawn/construction occurs.

    The “glass is half full” girl that I am posits that these are conceptual drawings and this would be the first opportunity the public has to give input? The actual development/approval/funding process comes next and is a long way away???

  22. Ok I just skimmed through report. FINAL REPORT – have others seen some of this all along?
    Does anyone else note that FAVE and K-3 fall short on space as well – but plans to address aren’t mentioned in any of the options….

    Don’t we need to re-think our grade spans here? I really don’t love 900 kids in 4/5 and 1700 at middle school! Seems so big.

    Feel like we can’t be making decisions like this without some community input to the objectives before options set.

  23. Still don’t understand why, with all this growth, my house is worth less now than it was when I bought it in 2001. Somebody’s getting a bargain …

  24. Can an old-timer explain to me what the situation was like around 1970 when we had over 4,000 students? Was Renfroe busting at the seams? How was the school system able to accommodate 1,000 more students than it is right now? I understand Westchester and College Heights were in use, but what about the higher grades?

    Second issue is that there doesn’t seem to be an in-depth discussion on peak enrollment from the committee. We need to have a serious discussion about whether we think the numbers will continue to rise, plateau, or drop. In a couple of years when Dekalb and Atlanta schools get straightened out, the price premium for Decatur will become a bigger issue for young families, and I think we will see a drop (or at least a plateau) of K-3 enrollment.

    I hate trailers as much as the next person, but if we build for peak enrollment, we will be paying for peak enrollment, whether it is there or not, for a long time through both bonds and operations.

  25. HELLOOOOO, DM, where are you? It’s 8:25 on Tuesday morning, April SECOND. You can tell us know that this is a joke!

  26. Some math person please help me out. Wouldn’t the k-5 model (totally scrapping the 4/5 academy) at all of the elementary schools allow for more wiggle room with all of the various, fluctuating age groups over the years?

    1. Yes, K-5 is more flexible and able to handle fluctuations of students because an excess or deficit of students is spread out over 5 schools, not concentrated in one. For example, if an excess of 30 students over fourth grade projections existed, it could be spread to five schools, at 6 students per school, or ~2 per classroom, not hard to absorb. Or if one school had a lower census of fourth graders, it could absorb a large proportion of the excess. But a 4/5 school has to take all 30, which is a whole classroom plus some. Either that classroom has to exist in the building or a trailer has to be added. It’s a bit more complicated than what I’ve described because of school zones, but late enrollees have to accept wherever there is space in the system.

      The rationale for a 4/5 as I understand has been:
      1. Mixing of students from different elementary schools at the latency stage before the crazy preteen stage
      2. Fostering collaboration between teachers, co-teaching, giving students a taste of subject-specific classes, e.g. math, reading, or science
      3. Configuration advantages that were specific to the lower enrollment of 2004
      4. Late latency is its own developmental stage
      5. It’s been working reasonably well (although not all would agree with me)

      1. is not happening as much as it could be because 2. isn’t happening as originally envisioned– students are mostly just staying in their classrooms. 3. is no longer relevant. So mostly 4. and 5. are in play now. Are they worth the inflexibility of the model for enrollment? To me, that’s the question.

    2. Here’s an idea. I’m throwing this out there even though it will have no effect on my kids since they will be beyond the 4/5 Academy by the time something like this could be implemented.

      I was a big supporter of the 4/5 Academy back in the day and think that it was a great thing when it was put into play. Grades are so big now and the school system is so well desegregated now that the benefits of the 4/5 academy really no longer exist. In fact, it’s a pretty impersonal place for a 9 year old to be in a building with 700 kids over just two grade spans. I know that teachers can collaborate better if they are in the same building, but we are only 4 square miles. Surely, teachers can find a way to reach out to other teachers in our small town.

      Additionally, from what I see, a lot of the transportation challenges that we have are a result of the 4/5 situation. It seems that we could cut way back on buses if we had a K-5 configuration. We could also more easily handle little population bumps in the road within specific grade levels and within specific neighborhoods with a K-5 configuration.

      Soooooo…..how about this….What if we actually went to a K-6 configuration at our current K-3 schools, perhaps even bringing College Heights online of building another K-6 school. Then house 7-8 at Renfroe and 9-12 and DHS… or 7-9 at Renfroe and 10-12 at DHS, depending on facility needs and grade sizes. Would that save us some of that $56 million by allowing us do do a little less renovation/building? Maybe it wouldn’t but it’s worth a look to see, isn’t it?

      1. I LOVE the idea of K-6! 11 year olds still belong in elementary school IMHO. In sixth grade, the boys can barely tie their shoes and the girls could stand another year of childhood before they go boy-crazy. And they both can be role models for the younger kids before they get too jaded to care. I was for K-6 even before I knew what CSD stands for, even when the estimable Ms. Kuebler ruled the World of Westchester, even when Mr. Roaden handed out books on the advantages of middle schools vs. junior high schools.

  27. The plans for expanding the new high school propose paving over most of the DHS Community Garden for a parking lot, and the school will likely need portables over there in the 2014-2015 school year.

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