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Maybe I made an assumption earlier that I shouldn't have, when I said that you understand how important a school is to a community. Maybe you don't have children, or you homeschool your kids, or you think one school is as good as another, or that a child shouldn't be the center of your decision-making universe. (Which would make you, I suspect, French.)
Maybe you need an example. Let's look at one parent in Candler Park, and the elementary school there, Mary Lin.
You can see the school from Ken Edelstein's backyard. He moved there in '92, and he's been dreaming about the day he would join the horde of parents who walk to and from school with their children. His son will be 3 by the fall semester, so that vision is two years away from reality — or so he thought.
Edelstein (the former editor of this newspaper, whom I'd never met before reporting this column) is not living in the house currently. He and his family are staying in Midtown while the house is renovated.
Check that: The house is all prepared for renovation. But he keeps waiting to pull the trigger. Because of the school redistricting debate, he's not sure he wants to make that investment. If things don't go well at Mary Lin, which under some proposals would be split up and Candler Park students moved to other elementary schools, he may not be staying.
"In the past 10 years, parents here have made Mary Lin, Inman, and Grady much better schools, Mary Lin in particular," Edelstein says. "It's a great school, a walkable school. ... I'm fearful of an outcome that leads to a less desirable educational opportunity for my son, but also an outcome that weakens the neighborhood and community involvement. When that happens, people leave, they go the private or charter school route, which destroys the cohesion and community feeling we've built. Because the school is our single most cohesive element."
After the October meetings and before the January "scenarios" (the ones that scared the Old Fourth Ward so), four maps were initially produced. Old Fourth Ward was pleased, as three of the four options were desirable to them in the Grady cluster. Three of the four were undesirable to Mary Lin parents. That's when they began inundating APS feedback channels with complaints and concerns, as well as showering community and APS meetings with parents (and children) clad in green T-shirts. (It's also when Borders and her neighbors in Old Fourth Ward put up a website, held rallies, and crafted position papers, as did many neighborhoods.)
You listened to them explain, with passion and good sense, the problem as they saw it: They have done everything right. They have not fled to the suburbs, where one is free to not talk to one's neighbor as one sees fit, or even to private schools, even though as a demographic they could afford to do so. They had invested in their neighborhood and their school, with time, effort, and sound strategy. Even though one-third of their K-5 schoolchildren take class in trailers due to overcrowding. Even though promised funding for upgrades to the media center, the lunchroom, and other areas of the school were never delivered. "I've lived in Atlanta 12 years," says Candler Park resident Eric Rubenstein. "It's the cornerstone of our community. Every day at 2:30, you see scores of kids being escorted by parents and caregivers filling the streets. That's because 560 of 586 school-age children in Candler Park go to Lin. [Closing the school] would put untold stress on literally hundreds of children, and destroy the community." Joshua Harrelson, 34, moved two blocks from the school so his family would be in the Lin system, even though the move "was a sacrifice."
The residents in Candler Park have come around to the idea that Old Fourth Ward has a point: They're getting screwed in the latest round of scenarios. If Mary Lin kids — in general, higher-performing on test scores, with a better socioeconomic environment — filled out Hope-Hill, it would on its face be a sensible compromise. But the reality is, that compromise only works on paper.
"[Mary Lin] parents will pull their kids out of the lower-performing school — they'll pull out. They just will," Edelstein says matter-of-factly. "Simplistic, well-meaning, equitable-sounding solutions to try to solve this don't work, because of human nature."
The argument is that it's OK for Hope-Hill kids to merge with Mary Lin kids, but only on Mary Lin's terms, at Inman (middle school) or in a scenario where the majority are Mary Lin kids. The thought is that a "tipping point" can be reached either way — one where high-attainment kids help bring up the poorer kids, or vice versa.
Which, from a dispassionate viewpoint, makes some sense. And which, from Old Fourth Ward's standpoint, sounds insulting and classist.
"Hope-Hill is a good school, and it's not as underperforming as they make it out," says Jacquee Minor, who has lived in Old Fourth Ward since 1997. "I understand the Mary Lin parents. They're looking out for how this impacts their family. But we've had two of three neighborhood schools abandoned here. We don't need a third."
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