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Residents talk schools’ future
Dropout rate, technology needs among list of concerns at 1st community meeting
By Deangelo McDaniel
The Decatur Daily

Residents talked about school uniforms, lowering the dropout rate, building stronger partnerships, the need for better technology and the importance of pre-K for every student.

About 80 school supporters gathered at the Turner-Surles Community Resource Center on Thursday night for the first of four community meetings to discuss the future of Decatur City Schools.

“We have to put more emphasis on early childhood,” Mayor Don Kyle said during a breakout group. “If we get them early, this will help eliminate some of the problems we are having with our graduation rate.”

A report released by the Decatur City Schools Foundation showed the graduation rate at 68 percent, one of the lowest in the area and four points below the state average.

The group was split into two teams with moderators and timekeepers. Residents, city officials and school board members brainstormed topics such as what residents like about the city, the school system, where they see the city and school system going within the next five, 10 to 15 years — and how to get there.

There has been talk in recent months about the possibility of one high school — mainly because of infrastructure needs at the aging Decatur and Austin high schools. But the teams in the hour-long sessions spent less than five minutes discussing a possible consolidated school.

Perry Freeman’s call for “one unified high school” in five to 15 years was quickly rebuffed by Decatur Youth Service Director Bruce Jones, who wants to keep both Austin and Decatur.

The only other comment in that group came from engineer Fred Underwood, who said the school system should “modernize existing high schools.”

New facilities were mentioned in the other group with little discussion. That group talked about how Decatur needs to be competitive on a global level, how the district needs to bring diverse groups together, and that the school system will need even more support than it’s getting from city government.

Superintendent Ed Nichols said after the meeting that more about a new high school may be discussed when the meetings move to Decatur and Austin high schools next week. The next meeting is 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Decatur High School auditorium.

The goal of the meetings is to get 1,000 city residents to help the board formulate the school system’s strategic plan. Attendance Thursday was considered low, but Nichols said he was not surprised because “so many other things are going on.”

He said he was pleased with what he heard, especially comments about the need for Decatur to become a community that expects excellence.

“I think we’ve got some momentum going to build upon,” said Nichols, who is in his first year as superintendent.

Meeting times

The remaining “We Know We Can” community meetings will be 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Decatur High School auditorium; 11 a.m. Tuesday at the BBVA Compass downtown branch; and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Austin High School auditorium.

What they said

  • Question: What do you like about Decatur?
  • Responses: Friendly people; good place to live; job opportunities; school system continues to try to improve; the city’s potential; smallness; people fit in; location near river and interstate; people take care of one another; strong roots, family and faith; low property taxes.
  • Question: What do you like about the schools in Decatur?
  • Responses: Quality teachers; teachers involved with students and parents; diversity in programs; educational opportunities; teachers treat kids like family; extracurricular events; robotics and sports programs.
  • Question: What do you want Decatur to look like in five, 10 or 15 years?
  • Responses: Dilapidated houses replaced; Sixth Avenue eliminated; bigger youth service building; more affordable housing; entertainment choices that are not based on dining; more jobs; thriving downtown; new civic center.
  • Question: What do you want the Decatur City Schools to look like in five, 10 or 15 years?
  • Responses: One high school; two high schools; modernized facilities; separate technical school; fully funded pre-K program; new stadium; lower dropout rate; reduction in juvenile crime; after-school learning center; schools that bring people to Decatur; high-performing schools; school uniforms; more parental involvement.
  • Question: What will it take to get all these things we want in our community and for our schools?
  • Responses: Strong partnership between city and schools; providing students what they need; more parental involvement; steady source of financing; complete transparency about where the schools and city spend tax dollars; totally released from desegregation order; unified community; diverse groups working together; stop living in past; visionary leadership; a clear vision; more emphasis on early childhood; better teacher recruitment.
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