Friday, December 17, 2010

What Does $20 Million Buy?

$20 million buys a nice school, most of the time.  But in DeKalb County, where some in positions of 'leadership' appear to be lacking the necessary skills to perform their duties, $20 million buys a school with many shortcomings right out of the box.

Dunwoody Elementary School, opened three years ago, is currently at 65% capacity hosting 4th and 5th graders.  Next year, after redistricting, this school will be at 100% capacity with grades K-5.  How will the school handle a full load? Probably not as well as it should. The cafeteria is too small, many classrooms do not meet the required size guidelines, and noise form the music rooms disturbs regular classes (yes, these kids are lucky to have a music program).  You'd expect these types of inadequacies in a school built in 1967,  but not one built in 2005.

Who is to blame for the $20 million dollar error?  You first have to start with Pat Pope, former construction guru with the school system.  She is no longer employed by the school system.  The engineers hired for the buil dof this school should be banned from future work in the county as well. Next blame former superintendent Lewis and our school board members.  None of them took the initiative to make sure the classrooms and other amenities were built to meet standards and 1000+ kids. And what about our local volunteer review committee?  Were they given the tools needed to make sure this school was built correctly?

Teachers at Dunwoody Elementary are planting the seeds with the students, telling them that the school is great with 4th and 5th graders only.  Staff warns the students (like the students even care or have any power to take action) that the cafeteria can barely handle 65% and will be a disaster if put at 100%.  From a teacher/administrator perspective, having a specialized school with only two grades is great.  Easier to manage the kids, plenty of resources (other teachers) to 'share' lesson plans, etc.  But is having 9 & 10 year-olds in a mini middle school a good idea for the children?

Today the school system released finding from school inspections.  I was expecting the worst for some of our older elementary schools, but had no idea how bad our 'leaders', 'planners' and 'design review' folks blew it on the community's newest school. Any surprise that three of the people most responsible for this blunder are either off the county payroll now or will be by January 3rd?  The poor design is a big deal to us in Dunwoody, but a drop in the bucket of poor decision making across the county.

Here are notes from the recent school inspection of Dunwoody Elementary School on Womack Road:

Suitability - Elementary
Dunwoody Elementary was built in 2005 as a K-5 school, but houses only grades 4-5. The site has several classes that are appropriate for kindergarten.

The school is traditional with a focus on math and science and has gifted and special education programs.

Suitability - Elementary->Site-->Traffic
The parent and bus drop zones conflict with parking and the parents back up onto the main road in the mornings.

Suitability - Elementary->Site-->Pedestrian Traffic
The pedestrians from parking lot cross the parent and bus zones without a designated crosswalk. The site also lacks adequate space outside the fire lanes for the students during an evacuation The site lacks sidewalks behind the building.

Suitability - Elementary->Site-->Playground
One of the two play structures is for lower grade level students and two play structures are inadequate for a school of this size. Structures are on wood chips.

Suitability - Elementary->Safety and Security-->Signage & Way Finding
Rooms are marked, but the site lacks wayfinding signage.

Suitability - Elementary->General Classrooms-->Size
Some classes are smaller than the size guidelines.

Suitability - Elementary->General Classrooms-->Adjacencies
There is not sufficient acoustic separation between first and second floors, especially under the music room.

Suitability - Elementary->General Classrooms-->Storage\Fixed Equip.
Rooms have inadequate backpack storage for the kids, but deemed acceptable. Other concerns noted that there are inadequate electrical outlets near the teachers desk and that the east side upper windows need blinds for the mornings, but deemed okay.

Suitability - Elementary->Library-->Size
The library is below the DCSS size guideline.

Suitability - Elementary->P.E.-->Storage\Fixed Equip.
Complaints about the two small doors for egress and the acoustics noted, but deemed adequate.

Suitability - Elementary->Music-->Size
All four of the music rooms are below the DCSS size guidelines and the band and strings classes are both in a regular classroom.

Suitability - Elementary->Music-->Adjacencies
All are isolated near each other, but are near regular classes and noise permeates the classes below on the 1st floor.

Suitability - Elementary->Performing Arts\Auditorium-->Size
The drama space is appropriate, but the stage area is small.

Suitability - Elementary->Performing Arts\Auditorium-->Storage\Fixed Equip.
The stage sound is poor and the curtains and lights are mounted near the back of the stage, decreasing the utility.

Suitability - Elementary->Kindergarten
The school has about 10 classes that are suitable for kindergarten.

Suitability - Elementary->Administration-->Adjacencies
Sight line to entrance is a little obscured, but deemed acceptable.

Suitability - Elementary->Restrooms (Student)
Boys urinals lacked privacy partitions, but excellent otherwise.

Suitability - Elementary->Cafeteria
The cafeteria is below the DCSS guideline, making circulation difficult.

Suitability - Elementary->Food Prep
The kitchen was a little small for a school of this size, but kitchen staff reported it was good.

Suitability - Elementary->Custodial & Maintenance
When the hot water is used in custodial closets, the fire alarms go off.

You can review the report online here  Hopefully we'll have some real experts and real review committees in place when Chamblee High School is built.

Next we'll take a look at the 2nd lowest rated elementary school in the entire county - AUSTIN ELEMENTARY

Back to Dunwoody Elementary for a minute or so. In less than a month the school system will reveal two options for redistricting.  The superintendent will make her selection from the two, then the new school board will vote on that selection.  I have little doubt that Dunwoody Elementary will become a K-5 school in both plans.  The school will be at 100% capacity with many homes zoned out of their current elementary school. 

I think Dunwoody Elementary will become 'the' premier elementary school in the cluster.  It will have the newest facility (even with the faults shown above, it it a much better building than the other elementary schools in Dunwoody) and will have the same kids in it that now attend Austin and Vanderlyn.  Test scores at the school will be equal to those of Austin and Vanderlyn.  No more parking on the streets for special events.  No rowdy car pool lines, no trailers or 'modulars'.

Side Note on Modulars: The modular trailers at Vanderlyn DO NOT count toward the school's capacity.  Although they have plumbing and bathrooms and cost eight times more a month to rent than the trailers at our other schools, they are still trailers.  Call them modulars, call them classrooms, call them what you want.  But they are not permanent.

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