We have long skirted the issue of true equity in DeKalb County, GA. School system (and county) leadership ignore the fact that their decisions, which often enrich themselves personally, can cause irreparable harm to young black students and their parents. Decades after integration, DeKalb County Schools is still a system with unequal access to a quality education and all that accompanies a quality education including multiple career and college opportunities. But due to the fact that school leaders have all been African-American for at least a decade, one can conclude that the lack of equity is economic as well as racial. Today, our poor black students as well as immigrant and Hispanic students are suffering a great lack of equity at the hands of black leaders. All too often, we simply allow the ‘justice system’ to take over where school systems are failing. This does nothing to improve outcomes and in reality, is killing the futures of thousands of young people in DeKalb and Georgia—mostly African-American young men.
It is the job of our schools and school leaders to prepare our young people for success as adults and consequently a better life than enjoyed by their parents and grandparents. Following nearly 30 years of federally enforced integration and a decade of black leadership at the helm, we are failing at properly preparing thousands of young people. DeKalb County Schools is crushing their hopes and dreams for a middle class life.
It’s that creeping implosion of the black “middle class” that’s driving the politics of DeKalb County and DeKalb County Schools. And driving down the opportunity for a competitive world-class education which opens the door to social mobility for all — black, white, Asian, Hispanic, other.
All the data shows widening disparities between black and white incomes, college-completion, overall wealth, home ownership and access to good jobs. In fact, the Washington Post tells us that the income gap hasn’t budged in 50 years for most blacks.
Unfortunately, this “creeping implosion” seems to breed a type of politics that only makes matters worse. Our school leaders, Thurmond, Walker, Johnson, et al are unable — or unwilling — to grasp what is happening, because they have basically set themselves up as slumlords, with no apparent ability — or willingness — to see what is really happening to their increasingly impoverished base. They themselves, however, collect top salaries — at a minimum — and enjoy an upper-middle class life. They themselves, serve as appeasement to the black community by the white power structure of Georgia politics. And sadly, with plenty of money in their own pockets, they are content to serve as such.
True, this is not unique to DeKalb County Schools. But what is unique is that today, a vast majority of our system leaders and administrators are African-American and they are still unable to get the job done. They blame parents, home lives, economics, transiency, special needs and English language learners, along with the white minority in DeKalb County. They won’t even address issues facing Asian or Hispanic students or ELL immigrant students from war-torn Africa and the Mid-East. DCS leaders and senior administrators all too easily place blame everyone else, and therefore, without taking responsibility, never move forward to try to solve the problems. Worse, in their self-aggrandizing way, they exhibit group hugs, cheering and back-slaps for the perceived ‘good job’ they are doing. Yes, small crumbs of success have occurred; like a nudge up the SACS ladder of accreditation and collecting more in tax revenues with an ability to squirrel away a portion of it in reserves–but student achievement is still dismal and many schools are still highly neglected and over-crowded.
The cold, hard fact is, it is their JOB to educate ALL of these students. This requires moving funding from the central office to the classroom, spending more in some of the more needy classrooms than in others, focusing laser-like on removing the hurdles that make learning so very difficult for so many. This their JOB!
DeKalb County Schools senior administrators are paid very well to do their jobs and they have plenty of resources in spite of their public whining. In today’s very diverse society, there is no single method that will work for all.
Ask any successful classroom teacher. Teaching is hard work. It is not “wash, rinse, repeat” day after day. Successful teaching today requires openness to innovation and access to new ideas as well as the materials and technology to bring ideas to life. It requires a support staff. It requires love, patience, kindness, tolerance and energy – loads of it. In today’s world it requires access to technology for all as well as a plentiful bounty of books, supplies, and relevant, current student-achievement data-mining tools.
A new article in the New York Times, “Racial Terror, Fast and Slow” by Michael Eric Dyson shares insight into the terror of the black experience and clues us into the fact that “things” (stereotypes) have not changed much >>
Fast terror is explosive and explicit; it is the spectacle of unwarranted black death at the hands of the state, or displays of violence directed against defenseless bodies.
Slow terror is masked yet malignant; it stalks black people in denied opportunities that others take for granted. Slow terror seeps into every nook and cranny of black existence: black boys and girls being expelled from school at higher rates than their white peers; being harassed by unjust fines by local municipalities; having billions of dollars of black wealth drained off because of shady financial instruments sold to blacks during the mortgage crisis; and being imprisoned out of proportion to our percentage in the population.
Education can be an excruciatingly slow “terror” as described by Dyson for many young people. However, in truth, education is the only pathway to self-reliance and self-pride.
Our educational leadership has had the opportunity to affect change in the public perceptions of young black American citizens and yet they have not moved the needle. Our young citizens deserve a career they can be proud of. They deserve a job that allows them to provide for their families and encourages keeping those families intact. They deserve to walk the streets unafraid. The only way to this reality is to fully bring thousands more young black lives solidly into the middle class. Education is the key to unlocking that door.
DeKalb County Schools, in collaboration with county leaders, have the opportunity to show the rest of the country how its done: regardless of race, income, religion, home country or language. All of our young people can bring something valuable to the American table. We must all sit down together and identify the many pathways to get us there—and the heart, not the skin color of our leaders is what matters in this endeavor.