Parents and teachers in north DeKalb County shared their ideas for improving the struggling school system as part of a reboot of the district’s five-year plan.

During a brainstorming session at Cross Keys High School on Oct. 29, stakeholders gave their input on the five strategic goals that have been identified for the school system: student success; staff efficacy and excellence; stakeholder engagement; internal/external communication; and operational and organizational effectiveness and efficiency.

The Georgia School Boards Association began the five-year strategic planning process with DeKalb in 2010, but upheaval in the school district’s administration shelved the process. The Oct. 29 meeting was held for stakeholders in Region 1 of the DeKalb County School System, which includes the Cross Keys High, Chamblee Charter High and Dunwoody High school clusters.

Laura Reilly, a consultant with the GSBA who let the meeting, said suggestions from parents during the 2010 process were used as a starting point this year. “We actually used all that input we had gotten to come up with these five strategic goal areas,” Reilly said.

Reilly said Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond believes very strongly in the need for a five-year plan.

“There’s been a sea change of leadership here in DeKalb County,” Reilly said.

Parents expressed frustration over the lack of action from the school system.

Allegra Johnson of Dunwoody told Reilly it may be difficult to engage parents in the planning process. Those who were involved in the past but have seen no results from their efforts.

“We went through it with [former Superintendent Cheryl] Atkinson, we went through it with [former Superintendent Crawford] Lewis, and now we’re going through it again. The third time is not a charm,” Johnson said.

Several students were included in the discussion as well. Their ideas ranged from the relatively simple – make sure there are enough textbooks for every class – to the more ideological, such as moving away from teaching to standardized tests and including more enrichment opportunities during the school day.

All agreed that more nurses, more social workers and more counselors are needed in DeKalb schools. The group said more counselors are particularly needed at the high school level to help students plan better for their futures after graduation and to help them work through personal issues in their lives.

“We have families in crisis and those children come to our schools every day,” said Terry Segovis, principal of DeKalb International Student Center. “Without wrap-around services, it’s just not going to be successful.”

Kim Gokce, president of the Cross Keys Foundation, said the school system needs to do a much better job of sharing information with the community through proactive, targeted communications efforts.

“I give us an ‘F’ on communicating to stakeholders who don’t walk into this building every day,” Gokce said.

Reilly said she is holding meetings in each of the five regions in the DeKalb County School District to get input on issues and how to address them to “come up with workable solutions to address these five goal areas.”

This information will be sent to action teams, who will create plans to address issues and measure success, Reilly said.

Page Olson of Dunwoody recommended bringing the planning process to the cluster level – each high school and its feeder middle and elementary schools. She said DeKalb County has such diverse schools that the needs of one don’t necessarily apply to the others, even in the same region.

“They’re going to get lost in this whole system-wide recommendation process,” Olson said.

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