By Terry Nall
As an elected official and active community participant, I am regularly asked about our collective vision for the city over the next quarter century. Any answer to that question should include doing what it takes to build and maintain a high-quality infrastructure that will last well into the future for the benefit of all citizens, both today and the next generation.
One important component of our municipal infrastructure extends beyond the basics of repaving, intersection improvements, storm water systems, parks and public safety. The critical piece I’m referring to is our public schools.
Parents have an obligation to educate their children. While the public school system is not the only avenue for that education, it is an important foundation block that helps define a high-quality city.
When the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools issued its earlier warnings and more recently, the probationary status to the DeKalb County School District, many Dunwoody residents (parents of school children and empty-nest homeowners) all realized a critical threat to our infrastructure had been breached.
These accumulated warnings not only served as a wake-up call for many in Dunwoody, but also as a catalyst for Dunwoody City Council to push the exploration of an independent school district for Dunwoody to the top of Council’s 2013 legislative agenda.
Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) shouldered the responsibility of creating and submitting House Resolution 486 to allow new cities to form their own school systems. This resolution may open the door to the creation of a Dunwoody school district as a potential solution to possible accreditation failures and improving the quality of public education for every student in Dunwoody.
Representative Taylor’s resolution was further supported by City Council when we agreed in principle to allocate up to $50,000 to help fund a feasibility study of a Dunwoody city school system.
This is a positive step forward in helping achieve our vision, but the road ahead on this initiative is long and filled with many obstacles to overcome. The earliest a new school system could be created would be well after any student now in high school graduates.
City Council’s legislative agenda and Representative Taylor’s introduction of HR 486 coincided with the formation of the community 501(c)3 Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education – concerned parents and residents who are similarly passionate and concerned about the state of our schools and our control over their fate. We must explore and exhaust all our available options.
As an elected leader and parent of a Dunwoody High School sophomore, I am part of a community neither willing to wait idly on the sidelines, nor gamble that the remote possibility of uncontrollable events will not occur.
In addition to the city partnering with Representative Taylor and citizens forming exploratory organizations, I have also worked with the Dunwoody High School Council and other influential individuals to make inroads with Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond as well as several newly-appointed school board members.
Specifically, these outreach requests are about securing optional, dual accreditation of Dunwoody High School to provide a safety net for our graduating high school students to protect against the worst case scenario of SACS.
DeKalb college-bound students need this additional protection. Securing approval from the superintendent and/or school board on this optional, additional accreditation for DeKalb County high schools, including Dunwoody High, is critical.
We strongly believe that all DeKalb high school communities, through their school councils, should pursue optional, additional accreditation on a single-school basis, such as through the Georgia Accrediting Commission. No central office funds or central office involvement is required, beyond the superintendent’s approval allowing the high school principals to proceed, for this to happen.
As this optional, single-school accreditation involves only local high schools, it will not interfere or impede the broader school district governance issues under way with SACS. Plus, it is not uncommon for schools across the state to hold more than one accreditation.
Our schools are important – for economical, personal and societal reasons. Schools help form the foundation of young minds and provide the tools for future generations of leaders. A high-quality school system also leads to improved economic development in our business areas and supports property values for all in the city.
While what we are in the process of accomplishing is daunting and inherently challenging, this mirrors why we became a city four years ago. We wanted local control over our very precious resources. That is why it’s important to act now and together pledge to affect relevant and considerable change.
Not too long ago many residents and politicians said city government couldn’t “really” affect the schools. I’m happy to say that this City Council and its individual members are working hard to change that paradigm. And that change will help us all realize a vision for achieving the high-quality infrastructure we expect.
Terry Nall is an At-Large member of Dunwoody City Council. He is a CPA and a financial services industry executive.