Dear Decaturish – DeKalb has waited long enough

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 5, 2014

Editor’s note: Atticus LeBlanc is running for the DeKalb County Board of Education District 3 seat, which represents Avondale Estates. His opponent is incumbent Michael Erwin. Decaturish reached out to Erwin and offered him an opportunity to respond to this letter. His response will be printed when it is received. Send your letters to the editor to

Atticus LeBlanc

Atticus LeBlanc

I had the honor of attending a candidate’s forum hosted by the NAACP last weekend, during which my incumbent opponent, Michael Erwin, cited progress in the county since his appointment by the Governor, and asked for continued patience from the parents and stakeholders in the audience. He asked for more time to improve the state of DeKalb schools, and he cited the state formulas for calculating graduation rates as a reason for DeKalb’s performance seeming worse than it actually is.

I think parents have been waiting far too long for DeKalb’s elected leaders and school administrators to demonstrate their commitment to actually improving student outcomes. With all due respect to my opponent, it doesn’t matter how you measure DeKalb’s performance. . . it’s terrible. (See our latest grades and scores from the state here.) The challenges facing our school system may indeed be great, and we cannot expect drastically different outcomes overnight, but how can we expect to actually improve those outcomes if we aren’t changing the way we are operating our schools?

Since the new board was appointed 16 months ago, there hasn’t been a single policy change affecting the management structure of our schools. We still have high level administrators at the top delegating down to the local schools. We still have just as many amazing parents that are being ignored. We are still losing great teachers at alarming rates.

With the notable exception of Tapestry Charter School (which focuses on autistic students, and whose debate at BOE was still unnecessarily contentious), our board has still not given our children any additional opportunities to improve their education. While KIPP, Drew Charter, and The Museum School continue to outperform the vast majority of schools in the state and serve as models of student achievement, our Board has done nothing to either bring more of these types of schools to DeKalb, or to even attempt to model the best practices from these or other successful schools in our own public education system.

When McNair High School has a 44% graduation rate compared to 93% for KIPP, and the demographic and socioeconomic breakdown of the student body is virtually identical, shouldn’t we as stakeholders expect our Board of Education to at least start to make fundamental policy changes to address these disparities? Or should we continue to “be patient” while more students fall through the cracks?

When the incumbent says we “need to make all schools better,” how long should we expect that process to take? Were the previous board members for the last 20 years trying to make our schools worse? I certainly hope not. And I’m not willing to accept excuses for why we haven’t pursued fundamental changes already.

At the NAACP forum, among a primarily anti-charter crowd, Mr. Erwin was vocal about his opposition to the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (“DHCC”) and criticized charters in general for taking funding away from other county schools. But regardless of how anyone feels about charters, the money should still follow the student regardless of where they attend public school. And Mr. Erwin should understand the potential benefits of charters as well as anyone, since he was previously a parent of a child at the Museum School, and now is a parent of a child at The GLOBE Academy Charter. I simply don’t understand how a person can justify sending their own child to a charter school because of the excellent education it provides, while at the same time denying the same opportunities to thousands of other kids in the District he serves. I also fail to understand how, when wait lists for charter school enrollment in DeKalb exceed the actual enrollment of those schools, our Board and administration cannot see we have pent-up demand for more of these schools.

While I’m intrigued by the superintendent’s announcement that DeKalb will pursue status as a “Charter System” as one of the three options that must be selected by Districts before the summer of 2015, please forgive my cynicism for suggesting that a “Charter System” under the current administration will look a lot like the broken system we already have. (Coincidentally, a Charter System under the state’s definition also provides the most funding, with the fewest regulations.)

We have not seen any indication from either Mr. Erwin or the superintendent that they have any desire to empower local parents, principals, or teachers, and I don’t know why we should expect that to change. The DHCC petition represents a great litmus test for their attitudes regarding local control, and they both fought to deny the petition in November, and continue to stifle or ignore dialogue regarding how to work together toward a mutually agreeable solution. Although the DHCC leaders met with staff on multiple occasions after the vote, and re-submitted the petition in time for the May BOE meeting, the resubmittal was excluded from the agenda on both the May and June meetings.

So while Mr. Erwin continues to ask for our patience, I am asking: “What is stopping us from pursuing fundamental change to our school system now?” Unfortunately for all of us, we can’t afford to wait any longer.

– Atticus LeBlanc, candidate for DeKalb County Board of Education District 3

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • System vs School Charter

    Agree with Mr. Atticus’s skepticism about the ability of a system charter to change the course of DeKalb County Schools. A system charter is completely different from a school charter. It in no way increases the number or influence of charter schools. It gives more independence from the State to the SYSTEM, not more control to local schools, parents, communities, or teachers. A good example of a system charter is City Schools of Decatur which has extremely centralized and strong systemwide control of its schools. That can be good or bad or both but it’s clear that CSD schools are nothing like charter schools. Supposedly, the CSD system charter gives some local school governance to school leadership teams but that authority is quite limited. The system retains control over anything it claims is systemically-based vs. local school-based. Not surprisingly, almost everything is defined as systemic.

  • JudgeBrandeis

    One of the reasons that statistics favor Charter Schools is that the Charter’s don’t have to educate every student as the Public Schools do. Charters can, and do “cherry pick” the best students and the most involved parents from the Public Schools. Shame on Mr. Atticus for obfuscating this fact.

    • TheDude

      Lottery=cherry picking? Brilliant. Will you please cherry pick some Powerball numbers for me?

      • Henry P

        This is from a post a mom in Kirkwood about the Drew Charter “Lottery”. “My take-away (no one said this, it is my personal deduction): Drew has overfilled its Tier A/1 feeder pipeline. They are required to accept this tier and as a result, I’d imagine they are now over-enrolled. Yes, a handful of tier 2 kids may get in via wait list but it’s not something to count on. Bottom line, Drew is no longer a realistic option for Tier 2 (Kirkwood and East Lake) unless you go through a feeder daycare or luck out on the wait list somehow.” In a second post she writes, “Drew sold KWD and EL a premise when we supported its founding and expansion. Their vision at that time was to serve the Villages AND the surrounding community (KWD and EL). WE provided the crucial community support and signed petitions for the original charter and expansions, at the expense of our own neighborhood traditional schools. We did so because we had faith that Drew’s product would be an option for our own kids, and that we stood a decent chance at getting in. Now, 14 years after its founding, Drew has evolved into serving Villages and a collection of special interests, with the door all but locked to KWD and EL. This is NOT what we signed up for, and I guess the joke’s on us for undermining Toomer and Coan to serve an exclusive club that no longer includes us.”

  • Chris Billingsley

    I agree with SvSC’s description of CSD and support Mr. LeBlanc and other candidates who want to provide greater educational choices to parents. I believe that independent and semi-independent charter schools are PART of the solution that will help the DeKalb County system improve. Both DeKalb and Decatur systems need to have more respect for the expectations of parents. If parents are dissatisfied with poor student discipline, spending discrimination, and programs that de-value the American experience, and the decision is made to transfer the student to another public or private school that supports the values and expectations of the parents, then SOME of the state and local funds should follow the student to the new school. I wish Mr. LeBlanc and other candidates that support his ideas the best of luck.

  • A mom

    I wonder if Mr. LeBlanc would support changes to the charter law that required charters to provide transportation and have open, district wide, enrollment. His child’s school, the Museum School, succeeds in part because it has an economically homogeneous population, apparently having NO students who qualify for free and or reduced lunch.

    I believe in school choice, but believe that if there are to be taxpayer dollars used, then access should be available to all, not just those parents who can jump through the hoops to enroll their child.

    • TheDude

      I’m sure if you asked him, Mr. LeBlanc would be happy to answer your questions.

    • Robert

      The statistics on the website that you site must be incomplete; they list Decatur HS among many other schools as having 0 reduced or free lunch participants. While it is likely that the percentage of free/reduced lunch students is lower at the Museum School than the students’ designated schools I doubt it is zero. I think a greater obstacle than economics is parental involvement. Just applying and getting into a charter school requires a level of parental involvement that is not present in the most troubled households.

  • Henry P

    The reason CSD of works is they have one HS and one MS. Once a child hits 6th grade the whole city is pulling for them. Decatur model is similar to the northern states like Connecticut, Vermont, etc that are all small town run schools. That is why Decatur is #2 in the state and CT, VT & MA are always in the top 10 in the country. What is being proposed in GA resembles New Orleans with 90% charter schools. This is great because LA ranks 49th on HS graduation rate in the US. Mr LeBlanc needs to do some more homework.

    • TheDude

      “What is being proposed in GA resembles New Orleans with 90% charter schools.”

      Please elaborate. I haven’t heard Mr. LeBlanc propose ANY percentage of charter schools, (or charter clusters), other than having the *option to have that choice*.

      • Henry P

        Didn’t say he proposed percentages. The difference between education in GA, LA and the New England states is that they are managed by small municipalities. Like Decatur. Not Counties and Large Cities, like DeKalb and City of Atlanta. If GA keeps going the way DeKalb and SE Atlanta are heading we will end up more like LA and less like the national leaders: MA, VT, CT. As for choice, I don’t think a lottery ticket is really a choice. It is putting a lot of hope in being lucky and not hard work. Not an ethos I want to pass onto to my children.

  • Kevin Polite

    The Druid Hill Cluster didn’t allow much parental involvelment in the administration/Board. The organizers would be the administration and each succeeding year they would decide the admin. There would never be a vote like the one we’re having July 22. My other concern was with this new “choice” those that are for DHCC that live in Avondale Elem district will not send their children there and there are not enough spots in Fernbank.

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