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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

School boardmember resigns — and asks why Atlanta 'sold out a generation of children'

Khaatim El waves goodbye to Atlanta
Atlanta Public Schools Boardmember Khaatim El last night announced he was resigning from his position to take a position with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's foundation to spend $100 million improving Newark, N.J.'s schools. (We're sure that will be a cakewalk.)

In a statement sent to supporters last night, El — one of the so-called "Furious Five" who pushed back against a boardmember bloc considered supportive of former Superintendent Beverly Hall — scolded the school system, business community and elected officials for placing Atlanta's "image" above children's educations.

Dear neighbor and friend,

I struggled tonight at the Board meeting to find the words to express how I feel. I take no solace in knowing that my beliefs have been confirmed by the recent report issues by the State of Georgia. But in the end, whether right or wrong, the conclusion is the same — I failed to protect thousands of children (children who mostly come from homes similar to mine).

I for one don't want to see this Board go back to the so-called 2009 "Board of Excellence" because that Board failed to protect children who were cheated by this school district. That Board was told to stop asking questions and to stop visiting schools. In the end, that Board fell for a "micromanaging" ruse perpetrated upon it. Ultimately, it took civil disobedience to challenge the status quo and to get to this very uncomfortable, but necessary, day. With that said, I'm confident that this Board under Brenda Muhammad's leadership and its new Superintendent Erroll Davis will coalesce and do what's best for children.

Read the rest after the jump.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the soul of Atlanta has been truly stirred — Atlanta is facing a genuine crisis of character, character that is decaying because of fear, intimidation and retaliation.
I believe three questions should haunt Atlanta for the foreseeable future:

1. Why was the cheating scandal so exclusively pronounced for some children and not for others (splitting sharply along racial lines) and yet equal in its mistreatment of the poor and disenfranchised? Why were these children — mostly low income and African-American — so cavalierly denied access to America's promise?

2. How did we — the elected officials, business leaders, and the system itself — become complicit in, through our actions and in our silence, a deal with the Devil that sold out a generation of children for the sake of the city's image and the district's "perception of success?"

3. Who, in the end, benefited from this collusion? Why did powerful people use their positions to punish those who dared to speak out? Why was legislation created to expressly limit the voice of the electorate, the people? What was behind the decision to place into law a provision to "restrict the powers of the Board" as outlined in the APS Charter?

If Atlanta is lucky, these questions will force the community to confront a long overdue and difficult conversation about race, class and power. And while some people will proclaim that we must move forward now to put this episode behind us, for the sake of the kindergarten classes that starts next year and the year after that, Atlanta will have to be uncomfortable for a while before we can truly claim victory.

It has been said that "A man should be able to find an education by taking the broad highway. He should not have to take by-roads through the woods and follow winding trails through sharp thickets, in constant tension because of the pitfalls and traps, and after years of effort, perhaps obtain the threshold of his goal when he is past caring about it." A parent right here in this auditorium demanded such; I just hope she was heard.

To my colleagues and for the courageous acts of Brenda Muhammad, Courtney English, Nancy Meister, and Yolanda Johnson you have demonstrated that against all odds, you will hold steadfast to your oath of office and act boldly when it comes to the welfare of children entrusted in your care. It is on your shoulders that this challenge now rests.

To my neighbors, friends and supporters, thank you. You gave me the voice to speak out, even when it was unpopular to do so. You demanded that I stand when others suggested I sit. Thank you, for the chance to serve, to grow, to learn, and the opportunity to do what's right.

What I wasn't able to do for children in Atlanta, I hope to accomplish in the city of Newark where I've been asked to help lead Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg's contribution of $100M to turn around that city's schools.

With that, I am announcing my resignation as a member of the Atlanta Board of Education, effective immediately at the adjournment of this meeting. The general counsel is prepared to brief the Board on the process for naming my successor to serve until the November municipal election.

Warmest regards,
Khaatim S. El

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