Whirlwind Decatur visit for President Obama and city residents

President Obama is getting a warm welcome in the City of Decatur where he prevailed in both elections.

President Obama is getting a warm welcome in the City of Decatur where he prevailed in both elections even while Georgia went for the other guys.

Much of Obama’s 16 minute speech in Decatur today echoed what he said in his State of the Union address on the importance of early childhood education.

He praised the City of Decatur Schools early childhood program, which he visited this morning. “I want to thank all the teachers and the parents and the administrators of Decatur City Schools, because behind every child who is doing great there is a great teacher, and I’m proud of every single one of you for the work that you do here today,” he said.

At Decatur’s College Heights Early Learning Center, the President said he built towers with the kids and learned patterns. And he sang songs. He applauded the school’s inclusion model.

“And, look, I’ve got to admit, I was not always the fastest guy on some of this stuff,” President Obama said. “The kids were beating me to the punch.  But through this interactive learning, they’re learning math, writing, how to tell stories.”

He thanked Decatur teacher Mary McMahon for his introduction and for  “teaching me how to count earlier today.”

Obama talked about the struggles that he and his wife Michelle had in finding affordable preschool, noting, “The size of  your paycheck shouldn’t determine your child’s future.”

“We are not doing enough to give all of our kids that chance.  The kids we saw today that I had a chance to spend time with in Mary’s classroom, they’re some of the lucky ones — because fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program,” he said. “This is not babysitting.”

He also joked that all that early childhood investment leads children to grow and up and leave, kidding that his girls are now more interested in sleepovers and dates than in him.

He joked with the crowd, too, about spending Valentine’s day in Decatur with the press. Michelle, he said, made him promise to be back home tonight in time for their date. “That’s important,” he said.

But the president was serious about the need to expand pre-k nationwide. Fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. he said.

And it is out of reach for the poor kids who need help the most. “These are the citizens who are going to write that next great chapter in America’s future,” Obama said.

Here is my earlier live blog.

1:25: President Obama is being introduced by College Heights teacher Mary McMahon. “What a day. Obviously this is huge, I just talked to the president,” she said.  “I hope he had as much fun as we did. We had a blast.

President Obama entered the Decatur Recreation Center to applause so resounding that Gov. Deal – who skipped the gala  — may have heard it even six miles away in the Gold Dome. (State school chief John Barge was not on hand; he was not invited, according to the DOE spokesman. That is disappointing to hear.)

The 600 or so people jammed into the Decatur Recreation Center in downtown Decatur are clearly fans. The applause just kept coming. Folks were on their feet a full 30 minutes before he arrived, including 65 Decatur teachers positioned on the risers behind the president.  (Not a day for bad knees.)

Preceding him into the gym were U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed,  Georgia pre-k Commissioner Bobby Cagle, new DeKalb school chief Michael Thurmond and a host of other big shots from state and local governments.

1:20: The Decatur Board of Education hastily left the rec center presumably to greet President Obama as he arrives here from College Heights. (Former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland just arrived.)

1:04: The President will be introduced by pre-k teacher Mary McMahon, Teacher of the Year for Decatur’s College Heights. She is an intervention specialist.

12:51: Now, we are listening to “Stand By Me,” an appropriate tune since the Decatur teachers are still standing on the risers waiting to be a backdrop for the President’s speech on education and early childhood programs. Most of the audience members are now on their feet, expecting the president to arrive any minute.

Saying the Pledge of Allegiance, led by my son’s connections class teacher in leadership this year, Sgt.Phyllis Primus.

And now, my daughter’s Renfroe Middle School chorus teacher is singing the National Anthem. Monica Nelson is having a baby very soon. She is doing a great job on this challenging song. (By the way, she is a Spelman grad) She just hit that high note. (My poor Becca tried to come down to see the President drive by but she was too late. Police had closed the streets and she could not enter downtown Decatur.)

12:46: So, at least 65 teachers are standing on those risers behind the President’s podium.. They will be standing a while as President Obama is not supposed to speak until 1:20. They have dozens of TV camera pointed at them. Lovely moment to see hardworking teachers get their moment in the sun. And they are having a blast with the attention. Also great to see the student press here. Teens with notebooks and cameras in hand.

12:44: Decatur City Schools teachers arrive to applause as they are led to stage to stand behind president. Katy Perry again on the speakers. “Baby, you’re a firework.” Just saw my children’s amazing social studies teacher Penny Ratliff as she passed to join her colleagues on stage. About 60 teachers crowded on the risers behind where Obama will speak. Lots of waving to the crowd.

12:35: So, I asked my AJC colleague Nancy Badertscher, seated next to me here at Decatur Recreation Center awaiting President Obama, if Gov. Nathan Deal was supposed to be here.

She emailed Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. His answer to whether the governor would be here with the President. “Nope.”

12:25: More lawmakers on hand. State Sens. Donzella  James and Vincent Fort are in the house. Speakers now playing  Van Halen’s “Jump.” Volume turned down a bit. Either that or the crowd is getting louder. (We are in a musical time warp with the choices playing right now but the old stuff works for me.)

12:20; President at College Heights. Apparently, he waved to the governor as he sped by the Gold Dome en route to Decatur. Crowd is loud and lively here at rec center. Packed house. Now, people are being directed to the new walking track above the gym floor. Best view in the house. But no seats.

Noon: Lawmakers showing up. Among them: State Sen. Steven Henson, D-Tucker, state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus.

11:47: President exited plane at 11:38. Probably take him 30 minutes to get to Decatur from Dobbins given that the traffic is parted.

Decatur teachers just found out that the White House wants them on stage to stand behind President at some point during his speech here at the rec center. Some of them have been pulled aside for the moment in front of the cameras. This is a surprise so I am sure some of them are wishing for a more comfortable pair of shoes.

Also found out that some teachers at the pre-k where Obama is headed now came back from vacation to lead their reconvened vacations. It was volunteer but teachers did not want to miss a visit to their school by President Obama. Apparently, most kids also returned today.

11:33 a.m.: The eagle has landed. The president’s plane is on the ground at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. He will soon be on route to College Heights early Childhood Learning Center where the school is eagerly awaiting him.

Back here in Decatur Rec, Katy Perry blaring on the loudspeakers  — “Make ‘em go, oh, oh, oh.”

I heard that the students and teachers at College Heights are anxious but excited. One class did a wonderful welcome display that I hope to share once I get the photo sent to me.

Earlier, parents dropping off their kids — some of whom came back from vacation to show up for school since Decatur pre-k through high school students are out this week on break — had to go through metal detectors and then were told to depart quickly.

The Decatur Recreation Center is about a mile from my house and I walked to cover the Obama speech today at 1:30 as I knew parking, always terrible in downtown, would be impossible. The police presence was awe-inspiring but necessary given how exposed the rec center is. It is not an easy building to secure.

I lost count after two dozen marked police cars and many more unmarked, some stationed a half mile away down College Avenue near Columbia. I kidded one officer that I would love to see this much firepower to slow down the speeders who make my left turn every day onto College Avenue during rush hour a leap of faith.

The walking route was already full of people, some carrying “We love the President” signs. Others had Obama’s face attached to lacrosse sticks — the gang across from the Dairy Queen near the railroad tracks. There were lots of kids — Decatur schools are out this week, but my kids are still sleeping — out and about, taking photos of themselves around the rec center.

I reached my seat at 1o:58 and the line of invited guests waiting to be admitted already snaked down Sycamore. Many dignitaries but also lots of regular folks in line, all in good spirits. (Keep in mind that Decatur is Obama territory; he handily won the city.)

Inside the newly renovated rec center — it reopened earlier this month — there are dozens of reporters and camera crews.  And there is also lots of ordinary folks snapping photos.

A bright banner, “Preschool for all,” adorns one wall.

Sitting next to Nancy Badertscher, my AJC colleague and a former AJC colleague now with USA Today.

Trying to figure out who all these folks are. Seeing city officials and their kids. Many teachers and the Decatur kids who won the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Awards for the Decatur schools.

Stay tuned.

–Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

67 comments Add your comment

concernedmom30329

February 14th, 2013
11:25 am

Hey Maureen

Is this his only stop?

Maureen Downey

February 14th, 2013
11:39 am

@concerned: One school in Decatur and then here at the rec center for his pre-k proposal speech. Then, a plane to NC.

Maureen.

jarvis

February 14th, 2013
11:42 am

Maureen Downey, if the Feds pick up the cost for Georgia’s Pre-K woud this open up more lottery money for HOPE?

(And by Feds, I mean borrowed Chinese money.)

Maureen Downey

February 14th, 2013
11:44 am

jarvis, Nancy is trying to get the DOE to confirm that. Sound logical. But the increase in kids who would be in pre-k could eat up the federal money. We only serve half the state now in our state-funded pre-k. Since Nancy is sitting next to me here at the Obama speech, showed her your comment
Maureen

Beverly Fraud

February 14th, 2013
11:54 am

Notice that Obama (or lackey Duncan) isn’t going within a million miles of APS this time?

Help

February 14th, 2013
11:57 am

Hi,

When will this end? Help. I need to be in downtown Decatur this afternoon 1pm. Can’t get through roadblocks.

Pam

February 14th, 2013
12:00 pm

Can anyone come hear him speak today at the Rec Center?

Beverly Fraud

February 14th, 2013
12:08 pm

“Decatur teachers just found out that the White House wants them on stage to stand behind President at some point during his speech here at the rec center”

Which of course would be the perfect time to remind that teachers would prefer their profession not continue to be bastardized by monstrosities such as RTTT.

Of course none will, and of course teachers will continue to have abysmal teaching conditions because those in power will take advantage of the teacher mindset that suffers all “for the children” instead of standing up “for the children.”

Of course it’s not all of them; just enough of them.

Beverly Fraud

February 14th, 2013
12:18 pm

“Decatur teachers just found out that the White House wants them on stage to stand behind President”

So after letting themselves be willingly used as a political prop they will trudge back to their classrooms and (long after the high has worn off) wonder why teaching conditions continue to spiral downward.

At what point, do teachers have to take some collective responsibility for being active co-creators in their own misery?

Joe P

February 14th, 2013
12:19 pm

Clueless Twitt visits Atlanta should be the headline.

Maureen Downey

February 14th, 2013
12:23 pm

@Pam. No invite only.

Old timer

February 14th, 2013
12:24 pm

Since our preschools seem to be good….let’s keep the federal government out of it.

Maureen Downey

February 14th, 2013
12:25 pm

@Help. Park on Avery and walk over. Avery is a side street off of College across the tracks from downtown but an easy walk. Or park near Decatur High School and walk. Decatur around rec center will be impossible until the president leaves around 2:40.
Maureen

catlady

February 14th, 2013
12:30 pm

Would be nice if the Pres would appoint some people who have a wide variety of teaching experience, in addition to work in policy analysis. NOT Arne!

MiltonMan

February 14th, 2013
12:32 pm

The “education” president visits a school in perhaps the worst performing county in the state??? Mr. Obama if you truly want to see how a functional school works, head up to North Fulton instead of using this trip to play to your political base.

MiltonMan

February 14th, 2013
12:33 pm

Maybe Obama & Mike Thurmond can figure out how to make DeKalb schools “world class”

liberalefty

February 14th, 2013
12:35 pm

@milton man

i’m with you on that.The best performing school in georgia is one of the predominantly white private schools

liberalefty

February 14th, 2013
12:35 pm

Brit

February 14th, 2013
12:38 pm

Milton, once again he is visiting City of Decatur schools. They have nothing to do with Dekalb County. Get a life.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

February 14th, 2013
12:39 pm

@MiltonMan Decatur City Schools are separate from DCSS and have been quite successful in recent years. Why would Obama travel to North Fulton where 60% of voters do not support him? It’s easy to condemn that which you have very little knowledge of.

Sophie's Choice

February 14th, 2013
12:52 pm

So, the President of the United States is coming to Decatur, a town within 5 miles or so of the Capitol, and the Governor can’t be bothered to greet him? If a Democratic governor snubbed a GOP POTUS, the rightwingers would be frothing at the mouth over the blatant disrespect. Georgia, we can do better than this venal, ill-mannered, short-sighted, cronyistic little despot currently occupying our Governor’s Mansion.

Claudia Stucke

February 14th, 2013
1:03 pm

So glad to see my children’s former teachers on TV, ready to share the screen/stage with President Obama. They deserve this “moment in the sun,” as you called it, Maureen. Wish every deserving teacher could feel the same recognition and support.

Warren Buffett

February 14th, 2013
1:04 pm

@MiltonMan You’re not making a very good statement for the intelligence of folks in N. Fulton. You’ve been told a million times that Decatur schools are not a part of DeKalb Schools. Decatur schools generally perform at levels near most N. Fulton schools, with a much more diverse (in terms of many socio-economic metrics) set of students. The president is here because City Schools of Decatur are a shining example of what works. Now, back under your bridge.

Bernie

February 14th, 2013
1:06 pm

Proably the only Republican present would be Michael Thurmond. Being that is now the In-house council for the Dekalb Board of Education.

Brit

February 14th, 2013
1:07 pm

@Claudia. I can’t find any TV coverage right now? What channel is broadcasting this ( needless to say, I know Fox won’t be showing it).

Claudia Stucke

February 14th, 2013
1:11 pm

Pardon My Blog

February 14th, 2013
1:19 pm

No reason for Governor Deal, Kasim Reed or others to be there, should be focused on the Early Childhood Program and not a public spectical (although he really is). I would think that other than the teachers and the students, the superintendent should be there (kudos to her for doing a great job) and perhaps the Mayor of Decatur.

captguitarman

February 14th, 2013
1:24 pm

As a life time Pub/Con, and one who does not support Barack Obama’s policies (and especially his new imperial governing style, and his now openly stated policies of growing the federal government to control and touch every aspect of American life), I think it was bad form, as the Brits would say (bush league, as they would say in Brooklyn) that Georgia’s governor did not meet and greet him when he visited yesterday. Deal, not the sharpest pencil in the box, passed up a good opportunity to show Georgia’s children that despite our differences, we are all Americans first, and leaders, politicians, and citizens second. Unless there was an already existing conflict of scheduling issue, Deal should have greeted the President of the United States (whose name happens to be Barack Obama) when he visited the State of Georgia, regardless of his party or his politics. It just showed, as we say in Georgia, poor upbringing.

high school teacher

February 14th, 2013
1:25 pm

I’m not exactly what you would call an Obama fan, but I would think that any time the President is in our state, that the Governor would join him, unless he had a schedule conflict. However, I am ignorant on political etiquette.

Don't Tread

February 14th, 2013
1:30 pm

Maybe 0bama can issue an executive order nominating a new leadership team for DeKalb County Schools while he’s there…you know, to “improve” education and all that. Then he can go down to Clayton County and magically fix that mess too.

Thurston Howell IV

February 14th, 2013
1:35 pm

To all you people that want to take a cheap shot at Gov. Deal- He does not owe it to a man who he opposes to be the prop in that man’s show.You don’t even know if he was invited (he may have even asked and been turned down for all you know),but his appearance/non appearance changes nothing.A grip and grin won’t teach one child in that school anything.And you people wonder why he’s not in your corner.Maybe if you had TWO parties working for you in the capitol instead of just one,you’d get some more gravy poured your way.

Claudia Stucke

February 14th, 2013
1:36 pm

I’m more concerned that Barge isn’t there than I am offended by Deal’s absence. I know this event is, among other things, political; but Barge’s appearance would at least be a symbolic gesture of support.

Decatur Resident

February 14th, 2013
1:36 pm

MiltonMan. Decatur City Schools are totally separate from Dekalb County Schools. Decatur City school’s has always out performed any of the other schools in Georgia. So next time get your facts straight before many comments on things you know nothing about.

concernedmom30329

February 14th, 2013
1:36 pm

Thurmond — really? Come on…

cgatlanta

February 14th, 2013
1:42 pm

Maureen, Any idea how Decatur City Schools is going to pay for this? Do they give the teachers an extra day off later? Do they get overtime pay? How about the school lunches (will the Fed pay in their part, or since it’s a day off, the City is on the hook?)

Claudia Stucke

February 14th, 2013
1:52 pm

@cgatlanta–School’s out this week for Decatur teachers and students.

Just saying

February 14th, 2013
1:56 pm

I don’t recall “minute-by-minute” AJC coverage in the past when former President Bush came to town.

Brit

February 14th, 2013
1:59 pm

So happy for all our amazing CoD teachers and staff. They really deserved their moment in the spotlight. Agree about Thurmond, not sure what he was doing there other than hoping some shine would rub off on him?

Nathan Deal

February 14th, 2013
2:00 pm

“Probably the only Republican present would be Michael Thurmond” – Bernie

Did he switch parties ?

cgatlanta

February 14th, 2013
2:00 pm

No kidding Claudia. So are they working today for free?

Beverly Fraud

February 14th, 2013
2:00 pm

“They deserve this “moment in the sun,” as you called it, Maureen. Wish every deserving teacher could feel the same recognition and support.”

Yes, but what happens when the sun sets, and RTTT remains? I’d say these teachers deserve a lot more than to be used as a political prop and the sooner they collectively realize it the better off they’d be.

Claudia Stucke

February 14th, 2013
2:04 pm

@cg, I don’t know. Teachers put in lots of “free” days; maybe they’re doing it for the love of the kids and the recognition they and their schools are getting.

MiltonMan

February 14th, 2013
2:11 pm

You “Decaturites” who are really, really intent of defending your schools and strongly “believe” that your schools are superior and in no shape, form or function are entirely independent of DeKalb County are truly ignorant of this little thing called a “fact”.

Here you go from school digger ranking system – your schools are ranked 311 out of 342. So please continue to entertain us with this “Our city schools are great” propoganda – congratulations!

Rank (of 342) City # Ranked Elementary Schools # Ranked Middle Schools # Ranked High Schools # Alt. Schools # Private Schools Rank score*
311 Decatur 26 11 4 1 22 0.211

paulo977

February 14th, 2013
2:12 pm

Joe P

February 14th, 2013
12:19 pm
Clueless Twitt visits Atlanta should be the headline
_________________________________________________________
Oh no that twit mercifully left when this very intelligent one took over !!!!!! Get over it!!

midnight garden

February 14th, 2013
2:26 pm

great inside recap. Thanks Maureen. Feel like I was there.

marm

February 14th, 2013
2:44 pm

…and people wonder why many young people are rude, aggressive and lack respect for others. Most of the comments from the adults on this blog over the last few months are so sophomoric. Rudeness seems to have replaced basic good manners. When did it become a crime for children to have an opportunity to meet their President up close and personal? Oh, I forgot, it’s just this particular President you hate everything about. I’m sure these little ones are more than excited, and so they should be. Stop trying to tarnish everything people.

Educator for Life

February 14th, 2013
2:50 pm

MiltonMan (or Boy), you just gave us The City of Decatur’s stats, which include DeKalb County. When you use School Digger and rank Georgia Cities, you are not viewing the ranking of individual systems. You, dummy, can’t even validate your point with reasonable data. Back to the drawing board! I know this because Decatur City Schools don’t even have 26 Elementary, 11 Middle, and 4 High Schools. Try 1 Middle and 1 High School.

Joe Johnson

February 14th, 2013
2:52 pm

MiltonMan,

You’re presenting false information. The 311 out of 342 represents all schools with a Decatur address, not ones that are in the City of Decatur or part of its school system. The elementary schools in the city currently have no available data, and here’s a paste from the H.S. and M.S. data:

Decatur High School:
4 stars
SchoolDigger Ranks Decatur High School 61st of 367 Georgia public high schools. (See school ranking list.)

Renfroe Middle School:
4 stars
SchoolDigger Ranks Renfroe Middle School 106th of 476 Georgia public middle schools. (See school ranking list.)

Joe in Decatur

Educator for Life

February 14th, 2013
2:52 pm

Decatur High School is ranked 61 out of 367 High Schools!

Decatur on Fire

February 14th, 2013
2:53 pm

Decatur city schools best in state….LMAO. Try Fayette if you actually want the real answer, Decaturite.