Fundamental change needed for schools

6/13/2014, 4:17 p.m.

By Atticus LeBlanc

I had the honor of attending a candidate forum hosted by the DeKalb NAACP last weekend during which my incumbent opponent, Michael Erwin, cited progress in the county since his appointment by [Gov. Nathan] Deal and asked for continued patience from 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.

With all due respect to my opponent, it doesn’t matter how you measure DeKalb’s performance ... it’s terrible.

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?

And what are we waiting for?

Since the new board was appointed, there hasn’t been one 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 parents and neighborhoods that are being ignored.

We are still losing great teachers at alarming rates.

While KIPP and other charters outperform the vast majority of schools in the state and serve as models of achievement, our School Board has done nothing to either attract more of these schools to South 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 percent graduation rate compared to 93 percent for KIPP, and the demographic and socio-economic breakdown of the student body is virtually identical, shouldn’t we 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?

Mr. Erwin should understand the value of charters, since he is a parent of a child at the GLOBE Academy Charter. But I simply don’t understand how someone justifies sending their own child to a charter school while at the same time denying the same opportunities to thousands of other kids in the district he serves. When wait lists for charter school enrollment in DeKalb exceed the actual enrollment of those schools, shouldn’t our board and administration 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 and will continue to ignore our parents and teachers.

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?”

I don’t think we can wait any longer.

Atticus LeBlanc is a businessman with ownership interest in multiple real estate and construction management and investment firms. He serves on the DeKalb District 3 Community Council and is a soccer coach. This is his first run for public office.