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(It should be noted I'm extremely sensitive to the Hope-Hill complaint that you can't call the school "low-performing" until you've walked its halls and talked to its teachers and students. Test scores can be illustrative, but they can also be bulsh, at times completely failing to capture a school's essence. But that's an entire other story.)
So what's the solution? And once you solve that, how do you solve the concerns of Cabbagetown residents, who painted over the Krog Street tunnel to express their fears of how redistricting will impact their tight-knit community? Or the parents at Brandon Elementary, whose placards plead for APS to "Keep Brandon Brandon"? Or the Summerhill parents who support the Maynard Jackson High School cluster? Or the Kirkwood contingent that wants Mary Lin students — the prettiest girls at the dance, as it were — to go to their elementary and help strengthen their school (and thus their neighborhood, and thus their property values)? And what about the entire southern sector, largely black, poor, and underenrolled, many of whom feel no matter what happens the north side will get (largely) what it wants because they have political clout, while their kids will end up being bused miles and miles away, fraying the few ties that bind them to their schools, their neighbors, and a sense of hope? What will you do to make everyone happy?
Don't answer that. Because, again, it doesn't matter what you'll do, or what has been said to date. All that matters are the thoughts of one man.
The battle between neighborhoods described above is not unique to these areas, but as a microcosm, it's useful to look at Candler Park and Old Fourth Ward, if only to see how much sense each side makes from its own perspective.
It's also good to see the underlying racial and class tensions that bubble under the surface of this debate — often not from the players themselves, who have been respectful and thoughtful. In fact, cries of racism against Candler Park parents (on message board comments and such) have come from white residents in neighboring areas like Kirkwood, say some parents. Although, to be fair, it's usually ascribed to a rogue element that seems to care more about property values than anything else.
But race and class always have something to do with such debates, particularly in a school district that is majority-minority, with high poverty levels throughout, where three-quarters of students qualify for free or cut-rate school meals. (Understood: Low socioeconomic status is not a prescription for school failure, as Capitol View Elementary has proved over the years. We're necessarily talking generalities here.) I've seen it myself in Dallas, a city that is also having to close schools in preparation for next year's budget shortfall. These same debates played out 15 years ago when some schools were closed, when all of them were eventually reopened due to surging enrollment, and now that some are being closed again. It's the ebb and flow of a living organism like a major urban school district.
Still, these decisions are fraught with political danger, and they have real consequences that could scar communities for decades. That is why the final decisions must be made with the greatest transparency possible.
Which brings us to Superintendent Davis.
I fibbed earlier when I said Davis isn't talking. He's talking. He's just not saying anything of value. Which means Davis sits down with the earnest, hard-working stenographers at East Atlanta Patch, or a joint meeting with the deferential members of the Atlanta City Council, and tells them what has happened to date and details the process going forward. All without revealing which way he's leaning.
Why is that so important? Because, the first week in March, he will make a final recommendation to the school board. And, as he has said, he can, and will, take to heart or ignore as much or as little of the information presented to date as he sees fit. (His words were that he'll deal with the recommendations given to him "in ways yet undefined." Oh. Well, then. Jolly good.) In other words, you have no idea what proposal he will make to the board, and you just have to trust him that he knows what he's doing. Although, he promises that once he makes those recommendations, he will hold four community meetings to explain his thinking.
Now, I'm not inherently against the benevolent dictator model. Were I this dictator, I'd be tremendously in favor of it. And I'm not sure if I have a better solution. But I just know that these parents, who have stuck with the system through the cheating scandal and other PR nightmares, deserve to be able to hold someone accountable for these decisions. And because the demographers may be ignored by the superintendent (he says how much he listens to their suggestions is still to be determined), you can't hold them accountable. Even though the school board will vote on it, it's such a politically weakened board in the cheating scandal wake that many fear it will be easy to pass the buck to the superintendent, who is the one who makes the final recommendation to the board. So in that case, it would be nice if he were planning on staying for 10 years, instead of most likely moving on after next year.
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"I'm buying two Hummers."
Keep your sex life to yourself, buddy.