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Concerns raised about DeKalb County Schools charter policy

Annexation, new cities Avondale Estates Kirkwood and East Lake Metro ATL

Concerns raised about DeKalb County Schools charter policy

R. Stephen Green. Source: http://kcpublicschools.org/

R. Stephen Green. Source: http://kcpublicschools.org/

There’s growing concern in DeKalb County regarding Superintendent Stephen Green’s approach to charter schools.

A letter form the Georgia Charter Schools Association is raising concerns about the new policy recently adopted by the School Board. Also, Avondale Estates City Commissioner Terry Giager said he was concerned about the superintendent’s approach to charters. Giager said Green was asked a question about the subject after giving a speech to local elected officials.

The superintendent’s feelings on the subject are of interest to many in the Avondale community because their children attend a local charter, the Museum School.

“We also have a new superintendent in DeKalb County who I was fortunate enough to listen to his presentation to all the mayors and elected officials, and to be honest with you I was pretty surprised,” Giager said during a Sept. 16 work session. “He was asked how he felt about charter schools. His answer was, ‘I will only support charter schools if they form a partnership with a public school in DeKalb County.'”

The letter from GCSA says that the new charter policy “is at odds with the State Board of Education and could be in violation of state law.”

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“We’re also fearful this signals decreasing support for start-up charter schools at a time when the district wants to become a charter system,” the letter from GCSA says.

The policy has been criticized by DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester, who previously served on the School Board until she was removed by Gov. Nathan Deal along with five other members.  Stan Jester, her husband, ran unopposed for the District 1 Board of Education seat and won in May.

Jester wrote in her blog that the school system administration withheld a letter sent by the Department of Education requesting revisions to the policy.

She writes, “The DeKalb Board of Education passed the charter policy without ever being provided the Georgia DOE’s letter containing requested revisions and guidance on its charter policy. DeKalb passed the charter policy without including any of the changes requested by the state DOE. Of particular importance is the very first revision that the GADOE noted in their 8-page letter.”

The first paragraph says, “Please remove ‘unique’ and ‘innovative’ from the initial paragraph of the proposed DCSS Policy in which it is stated that DCSS seeks to authorize high quality charter schools with ‘innovative, unique…academic programs’.”

The letter goes onto says the no state laws or guidelines require charters to be unique or innovative.

“Therefore, requiring ‘innovative, unique’ academic programs in a new charter school or one seeking renewal places a greater burden on charter schools than is legally required,” the letter says.

Green provided a statement about the new policy to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He says the revised policy replaced one that was “woefully out of date” and that the recommended DOE changes could be adopted at any future School Board meeting.

“I have requested a meeting with charter staff of the GaDOE and our attorneys and charter staff to discuss suggested changes to the District policy on charter schools,” Green’s statement says. “The meeting is tentatively scheduled for early October. We take seriously our public obligation to offer the best possible education experience for all of our 102,000 students.”

The concerns about Green’s feelings on charters have broader implications for education in the metro area. Green’s predecessor, Michael Thurmond, was vehemently opposed to an effort to create a Druid Hills Charter cluster that would’ve included Avondale Elementary, Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary, Laurel Ridge Elementary, McLendon Elementary, Druid Hills Middle School and Druid Hills High School. DeKalb County Schools’ refusal to consider that petition was the spark that ignited an effort by parents in the cluster to annex Druid Hills, including the high school, Briar Vista and Fernbank Elementary Schools, into the city of Atlanta.

The annexation effort failed this year, but could be revisited in the 2016 session of the state General Assembly. If the annexation passes, it could bring these schools into the Atlanta Public School system. Prior to Thurmond’s departure, he recommended the School Board set aside millions to fight the proposed annexation in court.

Here is the full letter from GCSA to Green.

September 23, 2015
Dr. Melvin Johnson

DeKalb County School Board Chair

1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd.

Stone Mountain, GA 30083


Dr. Stephen Green

CEO and Superintendent

DeKalb County School District

1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd.

Stone Mountain, GA 30083


DeKalb County Board of Education

1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd.

Stone Mountain, GA 30083


Dear Dr. Johnson, Dr. Green and School Board Members,

The Georgia Charter Schools Association is writing this open letter to express our deep concern regarding the new charter policy adopted by the DeKalb County School Board on September 14, 2015. We believe the district’s new policy is at odds with the State Board of Education and could be in violation of state law. We’re also fearful this signals decreasing support for start-up charter schools at a time when the district wants to become a charter system.

We echo the suggested changes to the board’s policy stated by Lou Erste of the Georgia Department of Education, especially with regards to the standard that charter schools must be “innovative” to be approved. The proposed changes were mentioned in a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial by Maureen Downey and DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester’s blog.

As we have seen in the past, districts that have included a requirement that charter schools be “innovative” have often used it as an excuse to deny charter school petitions.  Unfortunately, in many of these cases the definition used for “innovative” is impossible to attain: the school must propose something that has never been offered or never done by anyone, anywhere. Some districts have even reasoned that if other schools in the district could possibly duplicate what the charter school proposes in its petition, then the idea is not considered “innovative.”

Charter schools, at their best, may indeed be innovative. However, the primary consideration should not be whether the proposed school offers some novel approach to learning, but if they have the capacity to meet student needs and raise student achievement and graduation rates.

Even though Lou Erste’s letter with 36 proposed corrections was received by district officials prior to last week’s vote, it was not made available to board members. The Association believes this was irresponsible and cannot fathom why such guidance was “withheld.” It caused the board to vote without being fully informed.

The Association strongly urges the board to reconsider its new charter policy, so the DeKalb County School District can fully align the policy with state statute, State Board of Education rules and Georgia Department of Education guidelines. We believe that DeKalb’s charter schools have contributed greatly to student success and have high hopes that the district will continue to see their value.


Tony Roberts, President/CEO

Georgia Charter Schools Association