Children crowded off buses and rushed through the front doors of Columbia Middle School on Aug. 8. It was the first day of school and traffic was backed up for miles as cars and buses waited in line to drop off students.
This year the DeKalb County School System opened its doors to a projected 98,000 students and, according to Deputy Chief Superintendent Bob Moseley, the system has named 12 new principals and currently employs 6,700 teachers.
City Schools of Decatur on Aug. 2 also began with approximately 3,266 students enrolled and 269 teachers at the system’s eight schools.
Columbia Middle School houses approximately 1,217 students and Principal Stephanie Amey said that her school had a very good first day.
“It’s exciting for the students and exciting for the parents as well. We did receive about 200 new students with the redistricting and they were able to [easily adjust],” Amey said. “We’re also very excited in the fact that we made AYP.”
Amey, who graduated from Chamblee High School and has been working for DeKalb Schools for 30 years—eight at Columbia—said that over the spring and summer a lot of work is done to make sure students transition smoothly from one grade to the next.
“We meet with our feeder schools in the springtime and we have our graduation coach go over and visit with them and they actually come to our school and have a visit where they get to tour the campus,” Amey said.
Social studies teacher Demetrius Waleed said that he had been eager for school to start for the entire week.
“Today is going well. Some of my students had me last year so they’re familiar with me and they can chime in when I go over certain things. Instead of hearing my voice all of the time it allows for some interaction with the new students,” Waleed said.
Waleed, who taught elementary school for several years before coming to Columbia, said that he enjoyed teaching middle school because the students were more developed and challenging to teach.
“They’re older so I expect more from them,” Waleed said.
At Dunwoody Elementary, reading teacher Lauren Phillips said that even she was preparing throughout the summer.
“We’re here a lot throughout the summer setting up our room, meeting with our grade level, meeting with the leadership team and trying to get procedures like arrival plans and dismissal plans [in place], especially with all the new staff,” Phillips said.
This year, Dunwoody Elementary expanded from a fourth and fifth grade school to one that offers kindergarten through fifth grade. Phillips, who has been teaching at Dunwoody for three years, said that the students would recognize a lot of the new staff.
“We made sure that the teachers were following the students. That way, when the kids came the first day they were familiar with the kindergarten, first, second- and third-grade teachers they had at their prior school,” Phillips said.
Last week, as students flooded Dunwoody’s busy halls on orientation day, Nikki Martin stood by the cafeteria door wearing a bright yellow Dunwoody Elementary T-shirt.
“I’m volunteering for registration and I’m also a parent so I did registration as well.
I have a 10 year old that’s going into fourth grade and a six year old who is going into first grade,” Martin said.
Martin said her children were part of Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson’s redistricting plan and last year they attended Chestnut Elementary.
“I love the teachers, principal and the sense of community that they have there but it’s a little dated. So, this is really nice and I’m excited about it, the kids are excited about it, the parents have been great and the [school] is about the same [distance],” Martin said.
In a recent letter welcoming parents and teachers, Tyson described the academic challenges facing the system as “serious,” and said measures were being put in place to address them.
“Our response to the conditions of academics in DeKalb cannot be sugar-coated or swept under the rug,” Tyson said.
The list of remedies includes improving standardized test scores, accountability and performance training for principals, and restructuring the use of federal, state and local dollars to improve low-performing schools.
The letter also mentioned preparing for the renewal of the system’s five-year accreditation from AdvancED, the parent corporation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
However, one of the eight points that AdvancED labeled as a concern was that the system has yet to find a permanent superintendent and the corporation has given the system a deadline of Oct. 31 to hire one.
“It is the board’s desire to have a superintendent in place by then that is right for the district and is willing to step right in and start making things happen,” school board chairman Tom Bowen said.