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Decatur School Board receives update on enrollment, temporary member sworn in

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Decatur School Board receives update on enrollment, temporary member sworn in

Left to right: Judge Matt McCoyd swears in Marc Wisniewski while board attorney Robert Wilson looks on. Photo by Sara Amis.
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By Sara Amis, contributor 

Decatur School Board members at their Aug. 13 meeting received an update on student enrollment and learned that the district’s growth has slowed.

Research and Analytics Director Heidi Whatley gave a presentation on enrollment. The preliminary enrollment report indicates that the CSD system continues to grow, but the rate of growth has declined. For the past six years CSD added between 250 and 406 students each year from August to August.  This year CSD added 176 students from August 2018 to August 2019.

The report notes that these numbers will likely change and is intended to provide a “snapshot” of enrollment from August to August.

Rapid growth of the school system has been a matter of ongoing concern.

The senior homestead tax exemption which was put in place to slow the rate of growth turned out to cost more than anticipated.  Dr. Dude met with the researchers at Georgia State which the board hired to conduct a study on the exemption and said that they hope to present the results at the September board meeting in time to plan for the 2020 legislative session.

In other board business:

– Marc Wisniewski was sworn in as a City Schools of Decatur board member at the board’s August 13 meeting by board attorney Robert Wilson and the Honorable Matt McCoyd, Magistrate Court Judge in DeKalb County.

Wisniewski, who has held a position on the school board previously, was appointed by the board to fill Annie Caiola’s at-large position until a new member can be elected. Caiola resigned her position on the School Board effective Aug. 1.

– Dr. Lillie Huddleston. Executive Director of Equity and Student Support, presented a monitoring report on board policy 2.4, which is the non-discrimination statement in the board policy manual.

The policy says, “The City Schools of Decatur celebrates diversity and is committed to ensuring that all students have equal opportunities and feel protected, respected, and valued. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, religion, sex, gender identity, disability, age, marital status, or sexual orientation will not be tolerated.”

“We interpret [the first part of] this policy to mean that the district will implement practices that foster a welcoming community where all students feel accepted and included regardless of race, background, or other cultural characteristics,” said Huddleston.  “The second part of the policy is focused on the district’s prevention of and response to unfair treatment based on sub-group membership.”

Huddleston listed ways to evaluate whether the goals described in the policy are being met, including data about discipline and participation in extracurricular activities, and noted that there is significant overlap with the information being gathered as part of the district’s equity action plan.

New Equity Coordinator Dr. Mari Anne Banks gave a presentation on her understanding of her role which she described as shaping teaching approaches, policy and practice within the school district, plus engagement with the community.

Banks holds a PhD in Multicultural Education from Emory University and was formerly director of Clayton State University’s Center for Student Success.

Board member Tasha White asked about the work Banks had already done with parents and students in City Schools of Decatur.

Banks responded, “I am hearing two things. They are really happy and pleased with the way that Decatur is trying to be proactive, but they also feel that there’s more to be done.”

She added that African American parents were concerned about the school system’s ability to meet their particular students’ needs.

Banks described CSD as “a forerunner” for its acknowledgement of racial disparities and willingness to address them but pointed out that “CSD did not get to a place of disproportionate outcomes overnight or student by student. These problems are deep, systemic and sadly they exist across the United States. Systemic problems require systemic solutions…Thus my work as Equity Coordinator. I’m happy to be here and I’m looking forward to this work.”

– In public comments, CSD parent Kecia Howson expressed concern about the length of the school year.

The number of school days, when school is supposed to begin and end, and when breaks are scheduled has been a topic of lively commentary from parents, whose preferences are somewhat different than teachers’ preferences.

In response, Superintendent David Dude created a chart that shows existing school schedules beginning in 2009 to the present, and tentative future schedules through 2036.

“I planned it out until I retire,” Dude said.

The chart allows quick comparisons between previous schedules, current ones, and plans for the future.

“I think this may be the most thorough calendar study that has ever been done,” said School Board Heather Tell.

“I’m going to send it to all of the other superintendents,” said Dude.

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