As Decatur City Schools goes, so goes the city of Decatur.
A series of public meetings conducted by Decatur City Schools this month produced dozens of ideas on how the school system can improve.
More importantly, the meetings reflected a widespread recognition that public schools are central to the city’s success or failure.
This is the case not just because we want students to have the skills and education needed to push our city forward, but because Decatur competes with neighboring communities for residents.
Employers attending the meetings said their employees live elsewhere because of negative perceptions about Decatur schools.
Developers said demand for housing is weak, in part because prospective residents gravitate toward neighboring communities with modern school facilities and higher test scores.
Decatur, successful at luring job-creating industries, has failed to attract new residents.
Recommendations from the public were diverse. Residents appeared unanimous in their view that many of the older schools need extensive renovations or replacement. Some favored a consolidated high school, but others preferred the benefits — including the rivalry — that come with two high schools.
Many emphasized the need for a career-technology school. Some pushed for more neighborhood schools. Others want pre-kindergarten programs and parenting classes. Most were horrified by the district’s graduation rate, which is below the state average and well below that of most neighboring school districts.
The active participation of Mayor Don Kyle and most City Council members was a good sign. The recognition that the city’s future is tied to that of the school system has budgetary implications. The city invests heavily in attracting industry but loses many of the benefits because so many of the highest-paid workers commute to Decatur.
The comment of one resident seemed to sum up both the expectations of the public and the challenge facing school officials as they prepare a strategic plan:
“Right now, people are staying away from Decatur because of its schools. What we want in the future is a school system so impressive that it attracts new residents.”
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