Word on the street tells me that people are already beginning to cringe at the thought of redistricting. I get it. In this post, I want to explain a little more about the perspective I hold and why I hold it. Here goes:
When my husband, who used to work as a corporate lawyer in Midtown Atlanta, and I decided to move to unincorporated DeKalb (with a Doraville address), the familiar question we heard from everyone was: “But what about the schools? Why Doraville?”
People move into neighborhoods for multiple reasons, but one of the most important reasons families with children decide on a particular neighborhood hinges on the school attendance zone. We chose this house in this neighborhood because we wanted to raise our kids in a community with people who don’t look exactly like us and who sit in different socioeconomic brackets than us. Because we think that is the best choice for families, for kids, and for society as a whole.
How I Grew Up
I spent the first six years of my life in Philadelphia with my parents and my two younger siblings on a street where we were the only white folks. We lived in a duplex and all of the surrounding properties were rentals. Then, in order to be able to afford to buy a house, my parents moved us to rural Barrow County in the 90s. Our house was $80,000 and we could barely afford it.
We had families from all over the socioeconomic spectrum — middle class, section 8 voucher recipients, working class — and it was a great opportunity for me and my siblings to experience life from multiple perspectives. Sometimes we as kids saw our neighbors or their kids making choices that we didn’t understand, and that provided authentic opportunities for discussion and reflection about life. I feel like it deepened our understanding and grew empathy and insight within us from a young age.
Eventually my parents bought a home in Dacula (Gwinnett County), where we were the only white family on our block. Sometimes the rental property housed a white family, sometimes a black family, sometimes a Hispanic family. On Thanksgiving, Doug, who owns a home next door with his family (and has for the last 15 years), would bring us the most delicious fried turkey legs, and we would share some of my mother’s New Zealand lamb or perfectly cooked ham. We were quite a tight-knit community. Doug helped fix my dad’s cars on multiple occasions, and my mom taught the other neighbor’s daughter how to sew and crochet.
(Full disclosure: my family was one of those families that completely abandoned the public schools. They sent us to a rural and — somewhat frightening — small Baptist school in Barrow County for 6 years, and then they sent us to pretty middle-of-the-road Baptist school in Gwinnett County for the rest of the time.)
Our friends were not from just our predominantly white school, though. I had friends in my neighborhood and from my church who were from Nigeria, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Martinique, Costa Rica, inner-city Brooklyn, and multiple other diverse cities and countries from across the world.
My friends’ parents were sometimes welfare recipients or disability recipients. I had friends whose parents were struggling to survive in the U.S. after the Bosnian conflict had ravaged and destroyed their lives. And then sometimes my friends would go on cruises in the Bahamas — and I’d be super jealous. Sometimes, my friends’ parents had to pay for me to go on school trips because my family couldn’t afford it, and sometimes those same parents helped my parents out with tuition.
While not a perfect upbringing, it was good and I appreciate where my parents were coming from. I understand why they didn’t want to send us to the low-performing schools we were zoned for, but I appreciate that, while they avoided the schools, we lived in areas that had people from all over and who helped shape my understanding of people and society in a deeper way.
Choosing a Home for My Own Family
Naturally, because of the richness of my upbringing, when my husband and I were looking for a place to settle down, a neighborhood with mostly wealthy families or a neighborhood with mostly white families was out of the question. He and I love having neighbors from all over the world, from all across the socioeconomic spectrum, and we wanted out children to grow up in this type of environment. At this point, we have every intention of sending them to Cary Reynolds and Cross Keys. We are not going to abandon the public schools in this region.
Our neighborhood of Northwoods is just that: fifty percent rental properties and fifty percent homeowners. Our neighbors come from all walks of life and from all sorts of countries and cities outside of Georgia. We absolutely love it.
But What About the Schools?
Now, we have had neighbors (at least two this year) move to Gwinnett to “escape the terrible school system.” Combine that with my own personal observations as a teacher at Cross Keys with hearing the stories of my own friends’ unfortunate educational experiences during the year that I’ve lived here, and you have a situation ripe for the question: “What should be done?” And that’s what I’m trying to wrestle with, and I’m hoping that the community as a whole (particularly Region 1 of DeKalb County Schools), as well as communities all across the U.S., will do.
This is why I am such a huge advocate for integrated schooling — integration of different levels of socioeconomic status and different races. When you grow up with kids from families who are both like yours and not like yours, it deepens your understanding of the world. And for kids who are often pushed to the side by society (i.e. by zoning them all into the same overcrowded schools), integration means an opportunity to have a better education and a better shot at success.
The way we currently have our school districts does not promote integration and does not facilitate high outcomes for the majority of students in DeKalb. Cross Keys cluster is over 90% Hispanic and over 80% low-income. This does not help kids in the CK cluster to be so segregated, and it does not help the kids in the other northern clusters. We need something that will not maintain the status quo. We need an option that will help all our kids, and I hope the community will engage in this type of discussion instead of putting up walls and reacting out of fear.