It is a tragedy and a disservice to children that the public drama and self-serving maneuvering in, on and around the DeKalb County School District board is focused on the antics of adults and not the district’s nearly 100,000 students.
The emphasis in DeKalb needs to be on the schoolhouse, not the courthouse.
The priority in the state’s third-largest school district needs to immediately return to the tall challenges of offering a better education to the children who fill its classrooms.
That can’t happen with a lame-duck school board that’s flailing about in a legal quicksand entirely of its own making. The remaining hanger-on members should go, voluntarily or otherwise.
Yes, constitutional issues around voting are important and will ultimately be decided by attorneys arguing about imperfect laws. But we cannot continue to fail the innocent children who have the most to lose by continued delays in rectifying the DeKalb district’s problems.
The foremost issue in need of redress should be whether DeKalb’s children are receiving the “adequate” public education spelled out in Georgia’s constitution as a primary obligation in this state. It is clear they are not, so rapid, thorough change is in order and it should continue until real improvement in educational quality and operational efficiency is at least visible on the horizon.
This, after all, is about the children — especially the ones from meager means and below who have no one to speak soundly for them. A robust education, matched with grit and ambition, represents their best shot toward attaining their version of the American Dream.
These children are not hard to find. Some board yellow school buses stopping at working-class apartment complexes along busy Lawrence-ville Highway or winding stretches of Bouldercrest Road. Others leave from modest homes in varying states of repair in older neighborhoods where security bars may shield doors and windows.
The campus of Ronald E. McNair High School sits along Bouldercrest in South DeKalb. The school’s named for the late space shuttle astronaut who, literally, aimed for the stars, living up to his fraternity’s Cardinal Principles of “Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift” in the process.
More than 8 in 10 of McNair’s students were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals in 2010- 11.
That statistic indicates many of its students might fall under the sweeping category of “at-risk” of falling short of life’s great potential. Yet students walking through McNair’s front doors pass under an array of university pennants. Georgia. North Carolina. Yale. Auburn. Tennessee. Cornell.
The flags offer a silent push to the boundless power of ideas , of planting seeds in the young and praying they take positive root. That is the tough work of educators. It is as American an idea as there ever was, one that should bridge the valleys of race and class that underlie tensions in DeKalb.
The late W.E.B. DuBois, civil rights icon, Atlanta University professor and father of The Niagara Movement, which influenced creation of the NAACP more than a century ago, understood the transformational power of education. Niagara’s recorded resolutions have this to say: “We want our children educated. … They have a right to know, to think, to aspire.” Access to effective schools was the key to unlocking that door, the group believed, noting that “Education is the development of power and ideal.”
That labor of positioning young lives for future success is what should have been Job 1 on the DeKalb County School Board and the district it oversees, not wasting time, money and effort clinging to an elected post paying $18,000 a year.
The real, overshadowed labor of education has now fallen to Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond, Gov. Nathan Deal, the state Board of Education and some brave members of DeKalb’s legislative delegation who have shouldered the politically risky work of trying to move the district ahead.
It’s a shame that the suspended DeKalb school board members can’t in good conscience be included on that list. That can’t hold up progress any longer. Let us now move on, away from a fractured past of political strife and on to the business of repairing public education in DeKalb. We owe the children that much.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.