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I'll be excoriated by my neighbors for saying this, but it is plainly obvious once we all agree to rid ourselves of the self-delusion insulating us from the truth: My neighbors are attempting to preserve their elitist, socioeconomic advantages. The fact is that Lakeside High-area schools are seriously overcrowded – in particular, Oak Grove Elementary School.
People who can afford to live in the district have moved into it, which up until the housing bust was peppered with infill housing. The DeKalb County Board of Education is not charged with maintaining the property values of the wealthy citizens of north-central DeKalb County; on the contrary, its mission is to provide free, high-quality education to all the children of the county. If the board can fulfill its mission cost-effectively and avoid raising property taxes, that's icing on the cake. The most cost-effective way to do this is to redistrict the county to alleviate overcrowding.
The school board must implement other changes just as necessary as redistricting to reduce costs and introduce operational efficiencies. Not the least of these, DeKalb County must stop pouring kids into schools already brimming over with students because the schools being evacuated are low performing. The right thing to do is to fix the bad schools. Unfortunately, the board’s hands are tied, at least in the short run, by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This law must be significantly amended so that it helps students without destroying their school systems.
Before I speak about the hypocrisy of my neighbors, I must first “out” myself. I have the luxury of being self-righteous about this issue because my youngest child graduated from Lakeside High last year and is now safely ensconced in college, safe from the grasp of a failing school system. Having admitted this, I still assert that we stand at a crossroads, and the two paths before us are starkly different: one road leads to a self-serving, circle-the-wagons outlook; the other to selfless civic responsibility.
Many of my neighbors consider themselves Christians. When confronted with the influx of students from schools that failed annual yearly progress, I’ve heard several of them claim, “They aren’t part of our community.” Likewise, when threatened with the redirecting of their own children away from Lakeside High to Druid Hills, I’ve heard others say, “That’s not our community.” To put it another way, my neighbors–even the Christian ones–are saying, in effect, “These people are not my neighbors.”
Jesus responded to this attitude with a story that began, “A certain man was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.”
What parental involvement and civic pride have done in the Lakeside district is nothing short of phenomenal. Without much support from the board, perhaps even in spite of the board, the community has maintained the highest standards of education within the community’s schools. Why do we then turn our backs and build a wall around what we have accomplished?
Why do we huddle in fear within our fortress of middle class provincialism? If we were to answer the call of civic duty, not to mention the call to obedience for those of us who are religious, we would be traveling outward from Oak Grove and Lakeside to carry the ripple effect to the next ring of schools, and the next, and the next.
Maybe in this 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, we should be asking ourselves, not what our school system can do for us, but what we can do for our school.
George Miranda is a former Lakeside High School parent. He lives in Decatur.