It also leaves all middle schools that feed into Southwest DeKalb High School as they are, until officials can hold public meetings on the matter and scrapped expanding elementary schools to the sixth grade.
Before the 6-3 vote, Chief Operating Officer Stephen Wilkins told the board that the district was under pressure to report the list of 130 schools it will operate by the 2016-2017 school years to the state in a timely fashion. Wilkins said the school district has to produce the list to become eligible for $40 million in capital outlay funds from the state for school improvements.
The district plans to spend $496 million on the schools over the next five years under SPLOST IV.
“It’s a budgeting tool, not redistricting,” Wilkins said of the organization plan.
The brief public session was the board’s first since members faced a Jan. 17 suspension hearing before the Georgia Board of Education in the wake of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools putting the district on probation. State officials voted to delay the hearing until Feb. 21.
Keith Sailor, who has a child at Chapel Hill Middle School and another at Southwest DeKalb, said he was relieved that the county will leave middle schools in the Southwest DeKalb High area as they are, for now. A large number of parents opposed the idea and had pledged to fight it.
Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson proposed the controversial “organization” plan in November without public input and with a speedy timetable for approval.
Under the “theme” concept, parents are required to sign a contract with the school. It includes items like a uniform code of dress, behavioral expectations and parental reinforcement of the instructional program. It also requires parents to volunteer 20 hours per year in the school.
Sailor said that a theme school program would block many of the neighborhood children from attending Chapel Hill.
“Theme schools are a great idea because they show results in helping kids improve their grades,” Sailor said. “But in that area, at Chapel Hill Middle School, it disenfranchises that community. If they don’t make that cut, they have to be bused to another community to go to school and that eliminates all the vertical alignment with the high school.”
Chapel Hill is a feeder school for Southwest DeKalb and its nationally recognized magnet program. If the Chapel Hill neighborhood kids are bused out of their area, Sailor said they wind up in a different area’s feeder system.
“What happens is that great magnet program at Southwest DeKalb bleeds out in a few years because they no longer have a direct feeder,” he said.
Parents are looking forward to meeting with school officials and getting direct input on the matter. Administrators believe they had good reasons to consider the idea – there’s only one theme middle school in the county.
Wilkins said Champion Theme School in Stone Mountain has been oversubscribed.
“There’s a waiting list to get into that school,” he said. “So the community has expressed the need for another.”
Wilkins said the district has asked planners to continue engaging the public on the theme school concept. So far, no dates have been set for public hearings.