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Parents tell DeKalb County Schools they want better communication from the district

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Parents tell DeKalb County Schools they want better communication from the district

DeKalb County School District Bus. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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By Sara Amis, contributor 

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County School District held two meetings for parents and community stakeholders on June 23, to identify needs in the district and seek input from the community. The meetings were held via Zoom at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

While promoted in an announcement on June 17 as “a comprehensive needs assessment review and input regarding the District’s future and strategic goals,” the structure of the meetings is focused exclusively on Federally funded programs.

The meetings were conducted by Myisha Warren, Executive Director of Federal Programs for DCSD, and other members of the Federal Programs staff. Specific topics on which the district is seeking feedback are student success, equity and access, stakeholder engagement and communication, staff effectiveness, and culture and climate.

The meetings are part of a comprehensive needs assessment process mandated at both the state and Federal level. Guidelines for needs assessment and templates for reports are provided by the Georgia Department of Education’s Office of School Improvement.

Decaturish was present at the 10 a.m. meeting, which was well-attended. A strong showing by Briarlake Elementary School teachers and parent organization members included Parent Teacher Association president Diana Hardy and Briarlake Elementary Foundation president Tonja Holder. Briarlake ES has become a focus of concerns about teacher turnover and what some parents and teachers characterize as unprofessional behavior by Principal Jamela Harris. Briarlake parent organizations held a town hall meeting with Harris and Region 2 Superintendent Trenton Arnold on June 9.

Several Briarlake parents pointed out that Briarlake was not included in some of the surveys that the district was using to seek feedback.

Many parents expressed general concerns about the need to improve and expand science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. There were also concerns about excessive testing, and accessibility for children who lack technology at home, speak English as a second language or have disabilities. One parent pointed out that her child had to stay in the building at recess because the path to the playground was not wheelchair accessible.

Other parents expressed concerns about staff reductions in DeKalb County Schools due to the drop in enrollment. Some worried that existing programs at schools could not be maintained, while others felt that rather than reducing staff the district should use the opportunity to reduce class sizes.

Hardy, echoing some of the issues raised at the town hall with Arnold, said, “We are concerned that our teachers are not being heard when they express concerns. All the money spent on retention will do nothing without addressing teachers’ concerns.”

Lysa Moore stated that she felt that the district lacked accountability and internal checks and balances.

She said that she felt that the main problem overall is not what programs the district proposes but follow up on their decisions and actions.

“The district does not follow up to make sure the programs are working or, in some cases, even being implemented,” said Moore.

When parents were asked about family engagement, many expressed frustrations including criticism of the regimented structure of the meeting. Some wondered what the district does with the information it gathers, citing a lack of follow-up.

Others, including Megan Cayes, spoke of a general lack of responsiveness and communication with parents.  “This webinar is a perfect case in point of the district just rattling off their talking points without listening or engaging with parents,” said Cayes.

Warren and her staff assured parents several times that their comments were appreciated and would be considered.

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