Saturday, December 18, 2010

Music Hall of Fame Documents

Proposals for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame have found their way online.  No, Julina Assange had nothing to do with it.  The Athens Banner-Herald newspaper made an opens record request for the proposals.  All the proposals are viewable here, except for Macon.  Macon is fighting in court the release of their proposal.  Not sure what they have to hide.  Either their proposal is very weak or it suggests using more public funds than have been reported to Macon residents.

But we here at DunwoodyTalk could care less about Macon's proposal. Macon residents have shown over the past decade that they could care less about the music museum.  Were it not for school kids visiting the current Macon site the floors inside would have a foot of dust.  Macon had its chance and blew it.  Time for another community to give it a go.

I've read through the documents and the Dunwoody plan looks great.  Biased?  A little.  But keep in mind i was 100% opposed to the Hall coming here until I studied it.  It makes sense for the Hall, and for local residents.

Dunwoody's efforts to bring the Hall here is led by a newly created non-profit called The Dunwoody Music Conservancy, Inc.  This group has some heavy hitters as part of its leadership team.  They include Danny Ross, Robert Kinsley, William McCahan, Bryan Tate, Brad Sturgeon, Bill  Grant, Yvonne Williams, and Del Moon.  Complete resumes for this posse can be found here.

Hall at the Mall
To start, the Dunwoody proposal may seem to have a major weakness in attracting the hall - it does not have a home for it yet.  But the proposal addresses that issue in a clever way.  The GA Music Hall of Fame (GMHF) will be temporarily housed inside Perimeter Mall. Perimeter Mall attracts 18 million visitors a year.  Lots of marketing opportunities exist by having the Hall at the Mall.  Mall anchor stores could easily use the Hall as a marketing tool - offering prepaid passes during sales and for frequent shoppers.

Center for Performing Arts of Dunwoody (C-PAD)
Note: I would prefer it be called Dunwoody Performing Arts Center (D-PAC) 

If the Dunwoody group is successful in bringing the hall here it will take a monumental fund raising effort.  in looking over the resumes of the leadership group, they fave the right folks in place.  I'd estimate $25 million is needed.

D-PAC would be located on Ashford Dunwoody Road, where the Spruill building is now.  That building would stay.  Two separate buildings would be built.  The buildings are connected.  Building #1 is 25,800 square feet.  It would be home to the GMHF and also exhibit space for the Spruill Arts Center.

Building #2 has a 43,200 sq foot footprint and could possibly have a Class A hotel above an art gallery.  Four levels of parking (800 spaces) are part of Building #2.

Dunwoody's proposal is strong.  I think the Woodstock proposal is also attractive.  Both locations tout the potential number of visitors as their strong points.  If you were to ask 1000 random metro Atlantans today if they have more recently been to the Perimeter Mall area or Woodstock area I'd say 75% were in Dunwoody as to Woodstock.  In Woodstock's favor is the city's new amphitheatre being built with SPLOST funds next year. (side note, the Woodstock amphitheater is being designed by Clark Patterson Lee.  Clark Patterson Lee is currently under contract with the City of Dunwoody for various items).  Woodstock's proposal puts the Hall beside this 6000 seat amphitheatre and across the street from a 550 seat performing arts center.  But I think Dunwoody's location is much better.

Both Woodstock and Dunwoody proposals mention schools.  This is a big deal.  Many of Macon's visitors are school kids.  There are thousand and thousands of kids in both Woodstock and Dunwoody.  School tours alone could easily triple Macon's visitor rates. I can see school groups from across the metro area signing up for field trips to such a venue, just like they now go to the Puppetry Arts place and Fernbank.

The Woodstock proposal included some nice bar graphs that not only helped sell Woodstock, but also shows the advantage of Dunwoody.

This is design of Woodstock logo, but not their actual color scheme.  I added the color scheme.  D-CAP can hire me for a large pizza and pitcher of beer from Mellow Mushroom and I'll create a logo for them.

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame Authority will make the decision on where this thing goes.  There will be a political battle behind the scenes to keep it in Macon.  Hopefully the Authority will carefully review all the proposals and make a selection that has the most potential.

Better School Equal Better Education?

Does having a great new school help children learn? Does more money spent on a school improve student performance?

DeKalb School System recently published findings from school inspections.  These inspections are to be used not only for redistricting but hopefully for future improvements.

Chamblee High School scored 32 out of 100 while Lakeside High School scored 22 out of 100.  These scores would be OK if we were talking football (Chamblee's football team won only two games and only scored more than 10 points in a game twice all year, but their math team placed 6th in the UGA math tournament in October and their TEAMS squad was #1 in the state).  But we are not talking football, we are talking School Adequacy ratings based on an independent company conducting site inspections at all DeKalb schools.

Chamblee, a magnet school, had the top SAT scores in DeKalb and ranked 20th in the state.  Lakeside students earned a #25 ranking in the state.  Based on scores of 32 and 22 it's safe to say these schools are in bad shape. It was recently announced that a new Chamblee High School will be built at a cost of close to $70 million dollars.  Hopefully the school system will do better than Pat Pope and Co. in designing the school.  Someone please tell the person in charge of school instruction for DeKalb how big classrooms need to be and how many seats a cafeteria should have.  So Chamblee and Lakeside seem to have the best performing students yet the worst conditions.  Of course many of you already know that no matter how nice a building is, what matters is the effort put forth by not only the students, but also the parents and teachers.  DeKalb can build school shrines all over the place but student performance will not improve until students and parents take it upon themselves to learn.

On the elementary school level Austin Elementary has always had student test scores well above county, state, and national averages.  Yet Austin's School Adequacy score of 32 puts it at the bottom of all elementary schools in the county and second from last overall (only Lakeside High school had a lower score).

Even though the students at some of these run-down schools perform well on standardized tests, the kids deserve better learning environments than is offered currently.

Why has this school (and the others scoring below '40') been ignored by the current school board and central office staff while the school board built a $30 million facility (Mountain Industrial Blvd) for themselves and central office staff that includes $2000 chairs and a wellness center equipped with a weight room, basketball court, Cybex machines, etc. Meanwhile we have 3rd graders in Dunwoody spending the entire school year in trailers. 

Residents in other parts of DeKalb complain that the district spends too much money in the northern section of the county.  Take a look at the map below: (you can click on the map to enlarge)

The light blue colored circles are buildings scoring 90+. You will not find any of those light blue colored circle anywhere close to the north side of the county map.  See those red colored circles?  Those are schools below 50.  A majority are in the mid to north part of the county.  Now that the Board has blown any chance of ever getting another SPLOST approved by beefing up the retirement pay of Ramona Tyson, perhaps they can get around to fixing some schools. Chamblee is slated for a new building. What about Austin, Pleasantdale, Coralwood, and others?

Even if Chamblee, Lakeside, and Austin school buildings were to remain in poor condition, the students would continue to be top-notched learners.  But that's no reason to ignore the situation like the current Board has done for years. 

current school board members

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.