DeKalb Schools presented two options for Brookhaven redistricting needed to accommodate the new John Lewis Elementary and relieve overcrowding at other elementary schools in the city at an Oct. 24 meeting. Many residents said they were in support of the overall ideas, but some questioned the methodology behind some choices and expressed concern about longer travel distances and splitting up neighborhoods.
Lewis Elementary has over 500 open seats, vacancies that the school district hopes to use to curb overcrowding at nearby schools in the Cross Keys cluster. Named for the congressman and civil rights leader, the school is currently operating in a temporary location on North Druid Hills Road and will open in a new building on Skyland Drive in August 2019.
Over 200 people packed the gym at Cross Keys High for a presentation on the two options before splitting off into small groups to provide input on the redistricting around the new school. One option focuses on redistricting students to the school closest to them, while the other attempts to keep neighborhoods together as much as possible, according to the presentation.
The first would shift 743 students. The second would shift 702, according to the presentation. Both would eliminate 19 “portable” classrooms.
Both the options would shift students from almost all elementary schools and improve, but not completely alleviate, overcrowding. Some students from both Brookhaven middle and high schools would be shifted.
The redistricting mainly focuses on relieving overcrowding at Montclair and Woodward elementary schools. Over 200 students from Fernbank Elementary would also be shifted to Lewis Elementary.
One resident said she was concerned about the hundreds of students that live along the Buford Highway corridor, many in apartments, that would be redistricted from the nearby Montclair and Woodward schools to Lewis Elementary. Buford Highway is dangerous for pedestrians, she said.
“Our communities are being seperated all throughout and I just don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “Why are we going to bus kids all the way down Buford Highway when there are schools right there?”
A resident in the same small group argued that that is necessary to provide relief from the overcrowding. If all the students are able to stay, overcrowding would remain a problem, he said.
Another resident said the plan that would keep neighborhoods together doesn’t go far enough. In some cases, only a few houses get redistricted to a new school, she said.
“It’s the cherry picking that bothers me,” she said. “If I can’t stay in my school, I don’t want to be the only family that’s not.”
Several people in another small group argued that some of the redistricting seems to not serve a point. In both plans, about the same number students shift from Ashford Park to Lewis as are shifted from Woodward to Ashford Park. The residents did not understand why the students need to leave Ashford Park if the net effect is the same, they said.
Dresden Elementary, which also part of the Cross Keys cluster, was hoped to be addressed somewhat in this redistricting, but the district was unable to provide substantial relief, said Hanz Williams, DeKalb Schools’ director of planning. Addressing Dresden, as well as Ashford Park Elementary, will come in later rounds, he said.
DeKalb Board of Education approval is expected in February 2019, and any redistricting adjustments are planned to take effect at the beginning of the 2019 school year in August, according to the presentation.
The final public meeting is set for Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. in Cross Keys High, 1626 North Druid Hills. The school district will present one redistricting option that will take account the public input provided and combine the best parts of both options, Williams said. A final version will be created after that public meeting.
For meeting document downloads, including maps of the redistricting options, visit dekalbschools.org/redistricting.