2014 Letter to Superintendent Michael Thurmond

Letter to Superintendent Michael Thurmond
From the Board of the Emory LaVista Parent Council

September 2, 2014

Superintendent Michael Thurmond
DeKalb County School District
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083

Dear Mr. Thurmond:

The Emory LaVista Parent Council (“ELPC”) has always enjoyed a strong relationship with DeKalb County School District (“DCSD”) which allows us to share concerns and ask questions so that all stakeholders can work for the best interests of all children in DeKalb County schools. Prior to the Governor appointing school board members, DCSD had a reputation for lack of transparency and disregard for stakeholder concerns. This reputation has diminished as the new school board and superintendent worked hard to get DCSD on the right path to full accreditation.

ELPC held our first meeting of the year on Wednesday August 27, 2014. The topic for the meeting was the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (“DHCC”) Petition, and a representative from DHCC and a representative from DCSD were invited to speak and answer questions about the proposed charter cluster. The meeting was scheduled in response to community requests for accurate information regarding the petition and the possibility of City of Atlanta annexation of a portion of the Druid Hills cluster. ELPC officers explained to DHCC leaders and DCSD staff that the intent of the meeting was only to provide accurate information to the community--not to provoke arguments for or against the petition.

At the meeting, parents were very disappointed by the DCSD representative’s unwillingness to discuss the charter petition or answer any questions. Dr. Frazer seemed to be a lovely person and handled the situation with grace. However, it was evident to everyone in the room that she was either unprepared to speak on the meeting topic or instructed not to speak on the meeting topic. This lack of communication by DCSD undermines the belief that DCSD is interested in collaborative community engagement. Further, it demonstrates to many of us that DCSD is not interested in a fair and transparent review of parental concerns and initiatives. It is possible that you have good reasons for recommending that the Board deny the refiled DHCC petition. However, we were left without knowing what these reasons are, or whether they exist. We were also left without answers to questions regarding DCSD's knowledge of, and response to, the City of Atlanta annexation movement. Many attendees at our meeting voiced concern that the positive strides made by DCSD under your leadership were fleeting, and we are moving back to “business as usual” for DCSD.

The ELPC executive board left the meeting Wednesday both disappointed and embarrassed.
We had hoped to present our members with objective information so they could make their own decisions and advocate for their children as they think best. Our members are not able to do that.

There is much discussion of potential changes in our county and schools. Cityhood movements abound. Annexation looms. DCSD has indicated that they hope to obtain charter system status in the future. As parents and stakeholders, we would like to be able to work with DCSD in addressing these challenging issues. When parents perceive DCSD as being evasive or opaque, the option of all stakeholders working together seems less likely. The ELPC meeting outcome saddened those of us who have hopes of working collaboratively and openly with DCSD.

We remain optimistic that DCSD can move forward for the benefit of all children in the school system, but this movement must be open and transparent. We invite you to explain the DCSD position on the refiled DHCC petition to the ELPC members in writing, and we hope that the parent questions sent with Dr. Frazer will be answered. We expect this explanation to take place in advance of any Board decision about the charter cluster so that our members have time to form their own opinions and communicate their thoughts and concerns.

The Board of the Emory LaVista Parent Council

Allyson Gevertz, Co-President
Nancy Moore, Co-President
Ellen Schwartz, Vice President
Lisa Brown, Community Relations
Randy Faigin David, Recording Secretary
Julia Byrne, Corresponding Secretary

DeKalb County School District BOE
Mr. John W. Coleman, District 1
Mr. Marshall D. Orson, District 2
Dr. Michael Erwin, District 3
Mr. James L. "Jim" McMahan, District 4
Mr. David Campbell, District 5
Dr. Melvin Johnson, District 6,
Dr. Joyce Morley, District 7
Ms. Karen W. Carter, District 8
Mr. Thaddeus Mayfield, District 9