Decatur City Schools’ strategic planning committee will not decide whether Decatur has one or two high schools.
But the 40-member group will provide “vital information” the board will use to make a decision, which should come before this summer, Superintendent Ed Nichols said.
His comment came Wednesday morning as the committee met for the first time at Calhoun Community College with consultant Tony Arasi, of the Georgia School Boards Association.
The board is paying Arasi, GSBA policy development director, $13,000 to help develop a five-year strategic plan.
Nichols said he needs to address the high school issue “up front” because it’s “the big issue everyone is talking about.”
“Will we build a new one or remodel two,” he asked. “We’re not sure yet.
“But we’re starting the process to look at the big rocks we want to focus on in our school district.”
A facilities and enrollment study the school board commissioned recommends one high school and two middle schools.
Arasi said every school system can be improved because education is an “imperfect business.” He said Decatur is taking the right approach by involving the community on the front end.
“It doesn’t matter what the problems are, you have to get the community to buy in if you want change,” Arasi said.
Declining enrollment and Decatur’s increasing student poverty rate are two reasons some committee members said the school system must change.
In four community meetings in December, as the school system was preparing the facilities and enrollment study, the school’s 62-percent poverty rate was a recurring subject.
“There are so many other issues associated with poverty,” board president Karen Duke said in her focus group Wednesday. “It’s not pleasant for a child that comes to school hungry.”
Decatur High freshman Maggie Cushing said, “The privileged have to realize that we have a lot of students in unfortunate situations.”
Arasi divided the committee into five groups and gave them assignments. They were asked to identify what is unique about Decatur schools and to brand the system.
Regardless of the plan’s outcome, Austin student Brandon Watkins said he doesn’t want schools to lose their sense of family. He said he had teachers in elementary school who still remember him by name.
“The school community feels like family,” said Watkins, one of two students on the committee. “I go home to my parents, but it’s a good feeling to also be able to go to my teachers.”
Arasi challenged committee members to label the system. One group identified it as an Oldsmobile.
“My grandfather owns one, and it runs fine. But when it goes down the road, it does not turn any heads,” said Dwight Satterfield, director of safety for Decatur schools.
Another group labeled the system a Timex watch that has “taken a licking and kept on ticking,” Ellen Didier said.
But some people no longer use watches, and the demographics of the school systems have changed, she said.
“There’s a lot more community pressure on the schools,” Didier said.
Arasi said he will complete his work in two to three months. His next step is to take what the committee discussed and meet with principals and central office staff.
“We can’t stay where we are,” Nichols said. “Good is easy, but we have to sacrifice to be great.”
Deangelo McDaniel can be reached at 256-340-2469 or email@example.com.
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