By David Huntington
In the past weeks, much has been said regarding the kerfuffle surrounding the modernization of Druid Hills High School. I want to offer a personal perspective.
Some residents contend the school board has a reputation for being divisive and for fomenting tensions between what is commonly referred to as “North DeKalb” and “South DeKalb.” And that school board members play into a narrative that pits the wants of the “haves” against the needs of the “have nots.”
Is this fair?
I, too, am frustrated with the socio-economic imbalance that cuts across the racial divide, not just in our county, but in our nation. This has been a struggle within DeKalb County for decades longer than the present board members have been at the helm.
My neighbors in Druid Hills are well-compensated attorneys, business executives, entrepreneurs, health care workers and professors. I make no apology for how we all came to be in this place either by luck, talent, hard work or entitlement. We are who we are.
But we are also parents doing our best to produce the next generation of caring citizens. And, yes, our children do benefit from the active engagement, ample domestic resources and economic stability of their parents.
But all of the children of this community don’t necessarily have a common bond. From young ages, they have shared this community with other peers in their churches, synagogues, playgrounds, sports leagues, day care centers and, in some cases, classrooms. Many parents in this community have the good fortune to choose where to educate their children. Quite a few choose private schools such as Paideia, Woodward, St. Pius, Westminster and Lovett.
There are also those of us who choose public education for our children. Not because we have to, but because we can. Why? Because we believe in the lifetime education that comes not only from books and lectures, but from association with the world at large, from the diversity that makes us all better citizens and humans.
I grew up in a similar community in South Carolina where many of my neighbors went to private school. I was sent on a different path. I was one of a handful of white kids who rode to school with a bus full of many children that did not look like me. The friends and teachers I had there have impacted my world view and my lifelong desire to correct the great injustice that racial prejudice brought to our culture. This is just my story. I don’t seek a pat on the back for it.
Druid Hills High School sits nestled between Emory University and the Druid Hills neighborhood. But its student body is drawn from a much wider swath of the county’s residents. You should see my daughter’s cohort of friends, who not only sit next to each other in class, but regularly socialize outside of school, sharing their triumphs, heartaches, revelry and fears as they contemplate their common future.
The hues of human skin represented in that diverse mix of friends are literally the living embodiment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, “That one day… little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” That day is today at Druid Hills High School.
But, sadly, the school complex itself is suffering under decades of neglect. The board is well aware of the problems in this facility. They are aware of the age of the buildings in question.
DeKalb residents ponied up $2 million for an evaluation of all school and administrative facilities. That comprehensive review and plan recommended a major modernization of Druid Hills High. Yet, the board ruled out substantive improvements for the school.
And I am left wondering why. The repairs they now intend to do are an insult compared to the real need. I am aware many DeKalb schools also suffer from neglect. That should be addressed, too. But our school is in grave crisis, as noted by the state school superintendent Monday in a scathing letter to the district.
The board and I believe in the same thing — the value of public education in fostering new generations of citizens that live and work together for a greater world. Now, I fear that my acquaintances who question the value of that type of education will hit me with an “I told you so” because of the board’s petty, short-sighted leadership of our public education system.
The DeKalb Board of Education has been blinded by outdated grievances and has failed us all.