Thursday, November 19, 2015

For DeKalb Schools, A System Of "Charter Clusters" Make Sense

Guest column submitted by Kirk Lunde

DeKalb County Schools new Superintendent, Dr. Green, has a Bambinelli’s sized serving of spaghetti on his “plate” and working through it is going to create a legacy he will take with him into retirement. I believe he is the right man, in the right place, at the right time 

The district needs to make a decision regarding which flexibility option it will use going forward. There is also a school capacity crisis in the Cross Keys cluster which needs to be addressed. Additionally, the district is preparing an eSPLOST  project list for the BOE to vote on in May or June. If approved, citizens will vote on it next November. eSPLOST is the mechanism DCSD uses to pay for capital programs. The district has dubbed the preparation of the project list Building S.P.A.C.E.S.
I find it impossible to consider any one of these separately from the others. Every decision requires funding. If you solve the Cross Keys capacity crisis, why not do it in such a way as to integrate with the flexibility option?
Page 33 of the district’s current flexibility petition states, “Unlike many large, urban school districts DeKalb has created high school clusters that have almost complete alignment among the elementary, middle and high school attendance zones, with each cluster including one high school, one middle school, and an average of four elementary schools. As a result, clusters serve students with similar needs and demographic characteristics.”  This lends credence to the idea of choosing to become a System of Charter Clusters.
One of the concerns repeated over and over by Trenton Arnold is the lack of capacity some schools have to develop a local governance council. Why choose an option such as the proposed Charter System -- which requires more than 130 governance councils -- when a system of charter clusters would require (approximately) 18? 
A System of Charter Clusters will allow local autonomy which should should give some satisfaction to stakeholders who want their own schools
A System of Charter Clusters can provide school choice options within a cluster, opening up many more options which are accessible to students. The Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition showed how that can be done. 
Another advantage demonstrated by the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) petition is cluster-wide alignment of curriculum and programs. This is currently done to a very limited extent, but the DHCC petitioners have created a plan to expand alignments. This can be replicated without having to start from scratch. It is possible some of the DHCC people could serve as consultants to other clusters as they prepare their petitions. 
One of the most attractive benefits of a System of Charter Clusters is the opportunity for each cluster to explore cost savings. A cluster would have more bargaining power than individual schools, greater economies of scale. The areas where this can be significant are the areas where DeKalb County Schools’ service levels are lowest, transportation and maintenance. This is one way local autonomy can lead to cost savings and improved service levels. 
Clearly, DCSD has failed to listen to stakeholders for years. Dr. Green is going to improve all aspects of the central office, but the long history of mismanagement requires a flexibility option which removes as much authority from the central office as possible. The friends-and-family educrats need to be made as insignificant as possible. A System of Charter Clusters does that AND creates clusters of excellence which have a much better chance to be sustainable than any individual school. 


  1. It was my opinion that the Druid Hills Charter Cluster was a win for both the DH Area and DCSD. If the Charter Cluster idea was successful, then bravo to the DHCC and kudos to DCSD for being innovative enough to allow these schools to try something new and different in an effort to provide the best education possible for their children. If the DHCC did not succeed then those schools simply went back under the governance auspices of DCSD. I did not and do not understand the negativity toward this venture. Of course, the fact that DCSD would have to actually fund these schools properly probably played into that decision.

  2. I am confused. Has DCSD selected a System of Charter Clusters as the flexibility option it will present to the BOE? Or is this post part informational and part advocacy? I'm certainly not opposed to a System of Charter Clusters, but the only thing I have heard discussed lately is Strategic Waiver School System (SWSS), which used to be called IE2.

    Is there anything on the DCSD website about this?

    Thanks so much for posting this.

  3. Anonymous,

    No. DCSD has not selected a flexibility option yet (that I know of). This post was meant to be informative and to promote a System of Charter Clusters.

    Nancy Jester sent me a link to a very good description a couple years ago, but I can't find it.


  4. On December 7, the administration will request the board send a letter of intent to the GaDOE to become a Strategic Waiver School System (SWSS).

    This post gives a brief summary of the various options and links to a couple more presentations that go into more depth.