De-Occupy Dunwoody

Update: Dunwoody voters resoundingly defeated this measure in Tuesday’s election; the bond issue went down by a 2-1 margin. Tax-wary Dunwoody voters–who aren’t as wedded to public education as the rest of the county–also voted against the countywide one-cent SPLOST sales tax for the school improvement projects. Nevertheless, DeKalb County passed the SPLOST extension.


Ah, those pesky Apartment Dwellers. They cause so much trouble. And to make matters worse, sometimes they make their wealthier neighbors look bad when the homeowners are only trying to solve “the problem.”

At the heart of my novel, Chain Gang Elementary, there’s a bitter, divisive split in the Malliford Elementary School community over how to deal with “those people”—whether (A) to exclude them from the community, or, failing that, to segregate, stigmatize, and bullywhip them into shape or (B) to welcome them, treat them as equals, and to assist them when necessary.

At one point, one parent writes in a newsletter article, “The excessive influx of apartment population into Malliford would further skew our demographics, lower test scores, and devalue property. Diversity is one thing, but Section 8 housing is too much!”

The fictional dispute turns into a cage match between the school’s principal and its PTO president. To see who’s taking which side, you’ll have to read the book.

Well, there’s a similar battle playing out in Dunwoody, Georgia a recently incorporated city that’s right next door to me. (I live in DeKalb County, with a Chamblee address.)  There’s a lot of money in Dunwoody, home to two of the highest-achieving elementary schools in the state, Vanderlyn and Austin.  Several years ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Vanderlyn parents thought apartment residents (and I paraphrase) “should have their own school.”  This outraged then-Superintendent Crawford Lewis, who went on to commit some outrages of his own, of course (and is currently under indictment on racketeering charges).

Well, it seems that the city leaders of Dunwoody, newly emboldened with the powers of eminent domain and calling for bond referendums, have come up with a neat solution to “the Apartment Problem”: pass a bond referendum, buy the city’s two lower-income apartment complexes, and turn the land they’re on into sports complexes.

“Those people” (many of them persons of color) would then go wherever such people go, and the wealthy (and mainly white) kids would be free to play on their fields of dreams.  As an added bonus, test scores in local schools will go up, and so, presumably, will property values.

Win-win, right?

Unless it’s lose-lose. Taking away poorer children’s access to good schools so that rich kids can play Little League closer to home seems to some of us to be … what’s the word here … ugly? Racist? An act of class warfare? (Ha! When have the rich ever been guilty of that? Usually it’s only deemed “class warfare” when the poor fight back. But enough of Fox News.)

Much like the police official in Casablanca, Dunwoody’s city fathers are shocked, shocked that anyone would think such things. They are only thinking of the children. And their parents. (Driving to Murphey-Candler Park, the Concorde soccer fields, or the YMCA’s swimming pool can be such a bitch.)

However, the coincidence shouts down their denials.

The plan has draw opposition from some conservatives, who are concerned about the equity issue and also make the common-sense argument that it’s a mistake to destroy property that produces income and replace it with property that doesn’t.

In ironic juxtaposition to the Occupy Atlanta protests, Dunwoody residents prepare to vote on what amounts to an eviction notice for the city’s poorer residents next Tuesday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an article on the dispute. You can read it here.



Atlanta cheating scandal: State moves in on 5 schools

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that five Atlanta schools are being placed under state direction and monitoring as a consequence of the testing scandal.  These schools had achieved adequate yearly progress for several years due to cheating, so that status has been stripped retroactively.

The schools: Parks, Harper-Archer, and Kennedy middle schools; Dobbs and Gideons Elementary schools. Forty other schools had their AYP status stripped for 2009, the year that’s been under investigation by the state.

This is new territory for the state, which has stepped in to assist struggling local schools, about sixty schools. However, the process in those cases was gradual, coming with plenty of warning. The Atlanta schools just plummeted into this category once the widespread cheating was discovered.

There’s also the possibility that these schools will have to refund a million dollars in benefits they received under No Child Left Behind.  Welcome to the hangover, folks.

There’s a lot of information in the article. You can read it here.

According to the newspaper:

In a report delivered to the governor in July, state investigators said 13 educators at Parks Middle School had cheated and seven had confessed. The school’s principal at the time, Christopher Waller, had been lauded by former Superintendent Beverly Hall for turning around the school’s poor academic  performance. Investigators said Parks was one of the most egregious examples of the cheating, with evidence of retaliation against  whistle-blowers, cover-ups and denials.

Some of the most interesting details come at the end of the article, when the newspaper summarizes AYP results:

The state Department of Education released final data Wednesday, showing how many schools made adequate yearly progress, a key benchmark of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Summer graduates and retests on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests helped boost the overall performance of schools for the year, but they still weren’t as good as last year. State officials have attributed the setbacks to a new math test and the increased passage requirements.

Here’s how schools shaped up on the final AYP report.

  • Statewide, 72.71 percent of all schools made AYP in 2011, more than the 63.2 percent reported in this year’s preliminary results, but less than the 77.17 percent that made it last year.
  • 31 schools came off the needs improvement list, including Clayton County’s Pointe South Middle School, DeKalb County’s Dunwoody High School, Atlanta Public Schools’ South Atlanta Law and Social Justice School and Venetian Hills Elementary School.
  • 100 percent of the schools made AYP in 49 school systems.
  • The number of high schools making AYP this year was 41.45 percent, compared with 40.88 percent last year.
  • The number of middle schools making AYP this year was 70.6 percent, compared with 78.53 percent last year.
  • The number of elementary schools making AYP this year was 83.09 percent, compared with 87.87 percent last year.


Atlanta schools’ accreditation no longer in danger

Updates: However, the state has revoked the federal standing of 40 schools under No Child Left Behind in the wake of the cheating scandal, but the good news is that the state Board of Education won’t remove the Atlanta School Board members from office.

Atlanta’s school system has been removed from probation by its accrediting agency and is now on “advisement” status–same as neighboring Cobb and DeKalb counties.

The Atlanta Journal-Consitution reports:

An “elated” school board announced Tuesday the Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools, one of the nation’s top accrediting agencies, has taken the district off probation. APS was downgraded to “advisement” status, meaning the agency will watch to ensure the district’s progress is sustainable over the next year.

For APS students that means no longer worrying about the district  harming their chances of winning scholarships or being admitted to  college. For APS leadership, it means a district stigmatized by both a  massive cheating scandal and a dysfunctional school board has proven it  can rally toward a common goal.

To read more, click here.