Jan 13, 2022 - News

DeKalb parents push back against proposed school merger

Hawthorne Elementary School in DeKalb County.
Parents whose children attend Hawthorne Elementary School are voicing their opposition to the district's proposal to merge it with Henderson Mill Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Rusty Tanton.

Some DeKalb County parents are concerned about the district’s proposal to consolidate their school with a nearby facility.

The DeKalb County School District’s comprehensive master plan calls for merging several elementary schools: Henderson Mill and Hawthorne; Reynolds and Dresden; Allgood and Dunaire; Stone Mill and Stone Mountain; and Midvale and Livsey.

What they’re saying: Rusty Tanton, a Hawthorne parent, told Axios that fixing plumbing and roofing issues would be a better use of the money DeKalb would spend to build a larger school that would merge with Henderson Mill Elementary School.

  • “How are we going to trust them to consolidate these schools…when they can’t even repair the schools they have?” he asked.

A petition opposing the merger has received more than 800 signatures.

Maike Caudle, another Hawthorne parent, also told Axios she didn’t believe the existing infrastructure could support combining two schools and that students, parents and teachers could lose that sense of community with a larger school.

Details: DeKalb’s comprehensive master plan goes through the state of its buildings with a fine-tooth comb, evaluating each school’s future projected enrollment and their physical conditions.

  • The plan reviews which schools will be overcrowded and under-utilized and which will be in poor condition by the 2030-2031 school year.

Based on the data from the review, the plans calls for:

  • Reconfiguring school clusters to address under enrollment at some facilities.
  • Converting Austin, Smoke Rise and a new elementary school planned for Shallowford Road into K-8 institutions.
  • Constructing new buildings for Cross Keys, Clarkston and Sequoyah high; Sequoyah middle; and Stoneview, Idlewood, Jolly, Hightower, Ashford Park, Fairington and Chapel Hill elementary schools.
  • Building a new Clarkston Middle School.
  • Creating four new early learning centers and three magnet schools.

State of play: The DeKalb County Board of Education on Monday reviewed a presentation of the master plan, which has to be aligned with the district’s capital improvement priorities.

The other side: District spokesperson Carla Parker told Axios in a statement that the proposal to consolidate Hawthorne and Henderson Mill is consistent with other mergers, such as the construction of Peachcrest and Barack Obama elementary schools that each combined three older facilities.

  • Hawthorne also received a full roof replacement in 2011 and construction is set to start in September on a “building system replacement” project, including overhauling the school’s HVAC and plumbing infrastructure, Parker said.

Community organizations are also watching the school district’s plans closely. Andrew Heaton, president of the North Briarcliff Civic Organization, told Axios the group has no official stance, but residents who live near Hawthorne Elementary School want to know more about how traffic will be affected if the schools merge on that site.

  • Heaton also said he’s heard from parents from Henderson Mill who are not pleased with the possible merger.
  • “It seems like an idea is being forced on both communities that no one really wants,” he said.
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