Editor's note: Parents and civic leaders in the East Lake community have been pushing for an expansion of Drew Charter School — the highest academcially-performing school in East Atlanta Patch — to include a high school. In order to do so, Drew, must obtain approval from the Atlanta Public Schools. Schools Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. opposes the expansion. Undeterred, parents and community leaders continue to press the issue, arguing APS should put the interests of children first. Doug Williams, an East Lake parent, wrote a letter to the APS Board of Education to make the case for expansion. He shared his letter with Patch.
by Doug Williams
Dear Members of the Atlanta School Board,
I am writing you as a parent, and resident in East Lake, to ask for your support for the amendment to the charter for to allow them to expand into teaching grades 9-12. I also write to you as the product of one of the worst failed schools in the nation, to ask that you recognize and that the people at Drew have achieved at the elementary and junior high level. Please give them the chance to show what they can accomplish with high school students.
My own school experience was far from what we would expect from Drew. My freshman year started with a murder, and our senior year was also marked by a murder. Out of over 200 students in our freshman class, only a little over 80 made it through graduation. That description can sound like we were all “bad seeds” but I can attest that on average, my peers had every bit as much potential as the kids from any high school. The difference was that we were stuck in a failed system that refused to address the real needs of our population. We deserved better. The year after I graduated, a statewide ranking placed us last in achievement in the state, with a 3:1 ratio of us going on to prison instead of college. That was 1989, and things have gotten worse, resulting in the State of Indiana taking over Manual High this past year.
'Rather than focus on filling the seats at another school, in a system that consistently fails to meet the needs of this group, why not give them the chance to achieve in the best system that APS currently has?'
Unfortunately there is much from Manual H.S. that I recognize in APS, the most notable being the continued insistence by school leadership that “we can’t do this without the support of parents.” Frankly, that mentality that does nothing but further poverty cycles, as many families in poverty may not have the means, time, or values to help their children through school, or model effective habits. Children do not get to pick their Zip code, but the APS school system seems designed to keep them in the environment to which they were born. While I am certain that there are teachers at every APS school who do their best for their kids every day, they cannot do it alone. Education can break the poverty cycle, but this requires a comprehensive education system that is willing to compensate for what many kids may not receive at home; for example, one that is willing to keep them longer in order to support working parents. Individual teachers in an 8-3 system cannot do it alone.
The results speak for themselves: Drew takes a comprehensive approach to supplying all needed resources; whatever it takes to get the kids up to standard. Be that, before school, after school, or even Saturday tutoring, the Drew team is committed to providing resources for kids to achieve. These investments show fantastic returns; as Drew is ranked #1 in the State of Georgia for low-income African American subgroups based on the percentage that meets and exceeds expectations on 2011 CRCT subject tests. By comparison, APS consistently fails with this same population.
It is not enough to have success in teaching the children of doctors and lawyers; you must also succeed in teaching low income children. Our area is majority low income and African American in population. Rather than focus on filling the seats at another school, in a system that consistently fails to meet the needs of this group, why not give them the chance to achieve in the best system that APS currently has, and apply those lessons system wide? Drew is a fantastic and successful demonstration model that proves investing in children pays off, no matter what their economic or family background. We entrust you with the responsibility of doing what is in the best interest for the children involved, without preference for what is easiest for the system. Please vote to reward success and what has been proven to work, by granting the amendment to Drew’s Charter. The children you serve deserve nothing less.
Mr. Williams, a resident of East Lake, is founder and president of the East Lake Farmers Market.