Although I go to a lot of 'em — SAND, NPU, PTSA, LSC, etc. etc. etc. — I am not a "meetings" person. I rarely see the significance, certainly not the amount of time spent talking rather than doing, although I understand communicating and planning are important.
That said, there is an incredibly important 7 p.m. meeting coming up Thursday, March 21, at Maynard H. Jackson High School (at the temporary location: Coan Middle School, 1550 Hosea Williams Drive), organized by the Southeast Communities for Schools (http://seacs.weebly.com/):
"SEACS is delighted to announce a very special meeting. Join us as Jackson's visionary new principal Stephanie Johnson gives her vision for the future. This meeting is for anyone whose child might one day attend Jackson and for all in the community who want to be part of a transformation of lives in Southeast Atlanta.
But 8th graders and 8th grade parents: this meeting is especially for you. Principal Johnson wants to share her dreams with you. Principal Johnson also wants to know: what do you want from your high school experience? The self-proclaimed Queen of High School wants to hear so that she can create a great high school experience for every child in Southeast Atlanta."
I cannot begin to tell all of you what a sea-change Ms. Johnson has brought to Jackson! I won't name her, but one sophomore extremely close to me will have a choice next year of either Jackson or Decatur High School. Decatur has always been one of the top schools in the state. And she's choosing to stay at Jackson, because the programs there suit her better — and are better — than what DHS can offer!
Think about that: we have a school that is about to crash the rankings of the most desirable schools in the state!
But the school needs support and Ms. Johnson, in her presentation, will lay out where we parents, citizens and taxpayers can play a role making the Jackson Cluster (i.e., all the elementary, middle, charter and high schools in the zoned district). She has in place a structure to get kids on track right now and she's only been in place since November. Folks, Ms. Johnson is a gift, the absolutely most dynamic and energized leader we could have ever had. By the time they move into their new, $40 million building on Glenwood, we — the long-suffering neighborhoods of SE ATL — will have the best HS in the city!
Sorry to go on for so long this morning, but I feel I have to, the subject of our schools is that important. We have all those meetings listed above because our schools have been sub-standard:
- The schools themselves had to contend with the opening of charters (Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Wesley International and Drew Charter), huge efforts that took heroic efforts by self-sacrificing parents, neighbors, teachers & staff, a district councilwoman and school Board member (both of them parents, too).
- We have them because crime gets so out of control (too frequently for our taste, certainly).
- We have them because either we can't get good, needed development, or the types proposed that we do get trade on a stereotype of a poor, uninvolved, uncared-for sector of Atlanta.
- We have them because we can't get the multiple governments (city, county, state, federal) over us to give us what we need, and deserve.
This meeting is the start of Good News for all the neighborhoods of Neighborhood Planning Unit-W and NPU-O: from forgotten backwaters of services and amenities, this school — Maynard H. Jackson High School — will be the element that makes SE ATL neighborhoods some of the most attractive residential areas in the State of Georgia.
The crime problems we've had have often been driven by teenagers who have not been 'corralled' by their community's schools; those schools have not provided tracks that ensure them an education that will start them off as successful citizens, taxpayers, potential parents and homeowners. Ms. Johnson and Jackson are the fulcrum point that will tip us all from fighting and struggling for neighborhood peace and dignity to dealing with a 'better class' of problems: fundraising for athletic booster clubs and college scholarships, instead of organizing frequent Court Watch busloads, for example.
Those, like me, who have been here for decades remember when couples who had children had to move when a kid turned four, because they had to live in an area that had good, decent schools. Or they moved because they just couldn't put up with another crack house or a break-in. Or they were tired of having to drive four miles just to go to a safe, clean grocery store (ferchrissakes). Or they had their petitions ignored and the City allowed inappropriate — and dangerous — spot-zoning (think: Big H). Literally through blood, sweat and tears, we have changed the dynamic governing our lives, livelihoods and lifestyles here. But until the APS redistricting led by Superintendent Erroll B. Davis (another gift!) and the subsequent spotlight put on Jackson, we were missing a huge piece to help complete the picture and that is a school track from K-12 that a family could count on.
Now, with the new leadership at Jackson, a family is no longer 'taking a chance' on a piece of real estate here: they can live, work and invest in our neighborhoods and plan to live here 20 years or more, knowing that almost all change will be for the betterment of the community. What will that do to your property values?
So, although I could really use (at least) one less meeting, I am going, and urge all that can to also attend. This meeting is historic, you will want to be a part of the positive change that has already been set in motion.
Mr. Murphy, a resident of Ormewood Park, is a parent of a Jackson student and a longtime activist for the interests of Southeast Atlanta.