People lined up in a hot, stuffy cafeteria on Friday, Feb. 25, but no food was being served. Instead, community members waited for a turn at the microphone to voice their opinions and express concerns about the proposed closing of Avondale High School and Avondale Middle School.
The meeting, which took place in the Avondale High School cafeteria, was organized by the Mayor Pro-Tem of Avondale Estates David Milliron and DeKalb County School Board members Sarah Copelin-Wood and Donna Edler.
“The city has deep-seated roots in this school…and the purpose of this meeting is to explain to the community the options that the school board is considering and allow the community to have some dialogue with the meeting’s organizers,” Milliron said.
The schools are both slated to close as part of interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson’s redistricting plan, which would close eight schools in DeKalb County, pared down from a list of 14.
Wood, who represents Avondale Elementary and Avondale High, said that she was unaware that the schools were on the chopping block until a board meeting on Feb. 7.
“I didn’t know at all that these [schools] were to be closed until last month, that’s why we have to move very quickly…One thing about this meeting is that there are only two board members here; the nine board members who are going to make the decision are the ones that need to hear you,” Wood said, urging attendees to contact all nine board members.
Some community members were concerned about what would happen to the buildings if the schools were closed and became inactive. Estelle Ford-Williamson expressed disappointment that Avondale Middle School may close and fall into disrepair.
“What I want to address is, what’s the tenor from here moving forward? Is [Avondale Middle School] going to be a beautiful place that remains shuttered and then we have to go talk to you about the broken fences there?” Williamson said.
According to Walter Woods, a spokesman for DeKalb County Schools, Avondale High School has 589 students who would be redistricted to Druid Hills, Towers and Clarkston high schools if the Board of Education (BOE) approves the redistricting plan. DeKalb School of the Arts would still operate in part of the high school.
Avondale Middle School has 522 students that would be redistricted to Bethune, Druid Hills and Freedom middle schools. Both buildings would fall under inactive status until the 2020 Vision schools facilities master plan is approved in August, when a new use could be identified for the buildings.
“This will save DeKalb Schools about $1 million per school in utilities and administrative costs,” Woods said. “[There’s] an important distinction between ‘decommissioned buildings’ and ‘inactive’ buildings; decommissioned means it’s unlikely a facility will get a new use in the future and inactive is more akin to the building being mothballed until a better use can be determined at a later date.”
Jill Forte, who has a senior at Avondale High School, said that she feels there is a disconnect between the interim superintendent and the school board, and the board members to the public.
“It’s very frustrating because all of us can’t go to you individually and be heard…It seems as if they’re going to move forward with this plan either way; that’s just the general feeling,” Forte said.
Although many of the community members at the meeting wanted the schools to remain open, some, like Lawrence Shaw, were in favor of the redistricting plan.
“I think that vision has to be taken with the backdrop of reality and the fact is that this school has been failing for such a long time and sometimes you have to start over,” Shaw said. He also stated that he thought the school board owed the community an apology. “Clearly if the voices here require nine members to be here and they don’t take the time to be [present], the message is being sent that they don’t care about our voice.”
Avondale High School students Jada Henderson and Imaan Watts said that not enough focus was being put on the students. Henderson, who is president of her senior class and Watts, who is vice president, both said they are proof that Avondale High School still has hope.
“Imaan and I have been accepted to over six or seven schools, we have high GPA’s…I feel like [you’re] not really caring about the students right now. Have you walked the halls and asked us how we feel about Avondale High School closing or about education?” Henderson said.
Watts said that she feels Avondale High School is being looked over and that the school lacks proper leadership. However, she said that there are still a lot of benefits to being a student there, one being the small class size.
“Our counseling department works really hard to make sure all of the students get everything they need…I wouldn’t get this one on one connection with my counselor if I went to a school like Southwest DeKalb with over 300 seniors in their graduating class,” Watts said.
Public hearings were held March 1 and 3 for community members to again express their concerns to board members about the proposed redistricting plan; the official vote will take place on March 7.