Reconciliation.

That’s what we need to have right now – not only in our country, but in our local community.

This week, I met with representatives from Chamblee’s Huntley Hills ES and Chamblee Charter HS, and I feel like our discussion was a step towards this reconciliation and healing for our communities. We discussed the current issues we are facing, while also positing solutions to these challenges. I appreciate the graciousness and openness that permeated the meeting, and I’m glad that our communities are beginning to find more ways to work together towards unity.

During out conversation, some key themes emerged, as I will detail below:

Integrating schools benefits everyone. As we talked, we realized that one of Chamblee HS’s main concerns is that test scores will fall or that the school will lose the prestige it has earned during the past several years. Instead of sitting in fear of this, our group did some fact checking while also brainstorming ways to better support students who would be moving to Chamblee HS.

 

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Cross Keys HS Demographics 2015
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Chamblee HS Demographics 2015
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Cross Keys HS End-of-Course Test Results 2014-2015

 

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Chamblee HS End-of-Course Test Results 2014-2015

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Cross Keys HS EOC Test Results 2015 (Graphic)

 

 

 

 

 

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Chamblee HS EOC Test Results 2015 (Graphic)

Because the data do show that overall, CCHS does perform better on many of the state tests, support systems will need to be put in place. Pretty soon, our group was talking about ways to create what teachers call “vertical teaming” within the elementary, middle, and high school. Vertical teaming aims to align the goals of each of the school within a cluster in a way that helps teachers understand what skills students need to master before moving on to the next level. For example, middle school English teachers meet with high school English teachers to reflect on the skills students need to have mastered before moving from middle school to high school.

We also talked about ways to support other socio-emotional needs within the current CKHS feeder schools, and we continued to grow excited about ways that the redistricting will benefit all students.

The Problem…

The problem with having school attendance zones defined by socioeconomic status is that students in wealthier schools end up having parents who invest their time, energy, and financial resources into their particular neighborhood school, while schools in lower socioeconomic areas end up struggling to find parents with extra time, energy, or financial resources. When you combine students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, parents who have the ability to invest these resources can do this — not only for their own kids, but also for other kids.

It was incredible to watch these parents (whose kids attend Chamblee-area schools) discuss ways to raise test scores and student achievement at schools like Cary Reynolds and Dresden because now their community will be directly affected by how well the Cary Reynolds and Dresden students perform. Figuring out ways to create this kind of overlap is one of the key reasons that integrating lower and higher socioeconomic students is so important. Whereas parents in the Chamblee cluster previously had no immediately tangible reason to worry themselves over Cary Reynolds’ low test scores, they now have “skin in the game,” so to speak.

I also want to add some food for thought: consider these three elementary schools — Ashford Park (DeKalb), Cary Reynolds (DeKalb), Alford Elementary School (Gwinnett). These schools don’t have incredibly different CCRPI (College and Career Readiness Performance Index) scores, but they have rather different demographics (especially note Alford’s and Ashford Park’s scores).

Alford ES in Gwinnett scores only 8 points lower than Ashford Park ES in DeKalb, yet Alford ES has 120% more students who qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch (an indicator of poverty). They also have 300% more ELL (English Language Learner) students than APES. This seems to indicate that even with high numbers of students who qualify for  ELL and/or FRL services, schools can still perform at similar levels (and for the record, all these elementary schools could stand to improve).

See images below.

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Alford Elementary Demographics 2015

CCRPI Score: 70.1

 

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Ashford Park Demographics 2015

CCRPI Score: 78.5

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Cary Reynolds Elementary Demographics 2015

CCRPI Score: 66.9

(To compare more schools from the state of GA, visit http://schoolgrades.georgia.gov/)

We also discussed the benefits of integration for wealthier students, including higher exposure to different life experiences, cultures, and languages. Studies show that students who go to school with students from diverse backgrounds are able to function more highly in their academic and social lives after high school, as opposed to students who are not exposed to people different than themselves.

So what do we do now?

We need to convene meetings of local parents and teachers in order to address the issues related to race and prejudice. Late this week, I saw that the Emory-LaVista Parent Council (one of the councils in Parent Councils United of DeKalb) is hosting a discussion on October 18 at 8:45AM at Druid Hills Middle School titled “Multicultural and Equity Literacy.” These types of conversations are critical for addressing the issues that I raised last week on my controversial blog post.

The discussion I had with different Chamblee Charter HS stakeholders (including parent and teacher representatives) encouraged me greatly. Friday night, after I posted my article on the racism and prejudice that Cross Keys students have been experiencing at Chamblee, I cried for a good half hour in my car. What have I done? I thought. Could I have done it differently? Have I just divided a community without providing any suggestions towards reconciliation? I faced a lot of public and private criticism for that piece, but I want to make sure that people know just how much I agonized over that piece before I put it out there.

These types of issues are difficult to discuss. Our country is having a hard time navigating these issues; our communities are struggling to have open, honest conversations about these problems. And I am no different. I am right there – trying to figure out how to discuss these sensitive issues.

I realize there are many different approaches I could’ve taken. I offer sincere apologies to those who feel that my tone and my approach could have been more collaborative.

I am still struggling to figure out how to articulate truth, and sometimes I fall short. I thought the issue of race and class occurring at CCHS was important to talk about — I still do. But I never know exactly what approach to take.

Knowing that our community has been and is planning to engage in more discussions about race and equity greatly encourages me. I believe these types of conversations are a key step in this process of healing, and I appreciate those individuals and groups who have stepped up to this challenging task.

Emphasis on honesty and humility…

As we have these conversations, we need to remember to confront issues of discrimination with humility and care. Albeit aspirational (for me, at least), this is what we should aim for when we come up against racially insensitive or overtly racist comments. The other day, a few members of the Huntley Hills neighborhood were engaged in a lively discussion about the effects of the DeKalb County Schools planning department’s final recommendation. In this thread, one individual insinuated something offensive, and another neighbor chimed in, saying that students in the CK cluster and the CCHS cluster are “our kids.”

hh

Our communities need to be places where we can be honest and open with one another about important issues, including school choices, housing decisions, and inequity. What these Chamblee parents are doing is commendable, and I hope that we continue to see individuals speak up and realize that the kids in our community will truly benefit when all our kids get treated equally, with dignity and with respect.

To read more about some of the things in my life that shaped many of my views, check out this earlier post. We all have different journeys that have led us to our philosophical positions; being honest with ourselves about these experiences is what we need in order to find redemption for our collective wrongs. Read more about the journey of my dear friend Judy Dominick (Brookhaven, GA) in her two-part article titled “Confessions of a Taiwanese-American White Supremacist in Recovery.”