Janae Dukes’ daughter isn’t old enough to go to school, but she’s concerned about where 17-month-old Brooklynn will study one day. Diversity in the schools is important to her, and Bibb County’s enrollment numbers paint a much different picture than 20 years ago.
Dukes, principal at Elam Alexander Academy, and her mother Mary Sams, a retired Bibb County principal, took turns holding Brooklynn during a community forum that addressed the racial concentration of local schools.
They were among about 25 community members who attended the event, hosted by Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism at the Buck Melton Community Center. A second forum is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Museum of Arts and Sciences.
The events are part of the CCJ project investigating school resegregation in our area and its causes and effects on students and the community. Georgia Public Broadcasting and The Telegraph are partners in the project.
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A recent article by the CCJ, which looked at statistics from the Georgia Department of Education, the U.S. Census and U.S. Government Accountability Office, detailed the more than 40-percent decrease of white students attending Bibb public schools over the last 20 years. In contrast, the number of black students has changed little.
Thirty schools reported that the majority of their students were black, while five schools listed a white majority. More than 1,000 of the 4,483 white students enrolled in Bibb public schools in the fall went to the Academy of Classic Education. In addition, 15 schools had nearly all black student populations.
The forum attendees, a range of generations and many of them educators or parents with children in Bibb County schools, shared their perspectives on education in Bibb County, their reasons for sending their children to particular schools and their thoughts on the shifting racial makeup of students.
Samuel Francis, who taught in Bibb County from 1988 to 2005, said he saw a shifting in the racial composition in the early 1990s.
“You had so much ‘white flight,’ not just in the private community. They ran and left the inner city. We shouldn’t just point out the school; it’s reflective of our community,” said Valerie Hicks, a Central High School graduate and North Central Health District youth development coordinator.
The community is “experiencing some of the sorrows of kids who had babies” in the mid-1990s, when Bibb County had one of its highest teen pregnancy rates. Teen pregnancy leads to economic poverty, she said.
“Bad homes make for bad schools. Bad homes make for bad neighborhoods. The home is the foundation of everything you learn,” she said. “If we can focus a little more on how we can educate our parents, that’s the root. If the root is good, you’ll get good fruit.”
Shaundra Walker said the economic diversity of the community has changed, too. Northeast High was a black majority school when she graduated in the 1990s, but it was made up of lower, middle and upper class students. Today, students at the school come from families in common economic circumstances. Money needs to be invested in building up struggling areas of Macon, not just ones that are prospering, Hicks said.
Several participants said inconsistent discipline methods and classroom disruptions are holding students and schools back.
“Quality schools are the issue. Diversity would be the icing on the cake,” said Robert Lee, a substitute teacher. “There is some good, effective education going on, but it’s only reaching a small percentage of students.”
It takes a long time to improve a school system, and some parents think sending their children to other counties or private schools is the best option, said Sloan Oliver, who moved to Monroe County so his two grandchildren could go to Mary Persons High School. Other families choose their neighborhood based on the schools.
“We knew that we wanted our children to go to public school, so we looked at where we need to live in Macon,” said Karen Ebey-Tessendorf, who has two children at Howard High School. “I feel sad that we had to do that, but we wanted our kids to go to places where there was racial diversity.”
Anthony Hill’s children go to Southfield Elementary, but he’ll consider all his options, including private schools, for their middle and high school education.
“I’m not going to take a chance as a parent if I can afford something different,” he said.
Next Community Engagement Forum
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Auditorium at the Museum of Arts and Sciences, 4182 Forsyth Road, Macon.
Details: Refreshments will be served, and there will be activities for children.
Unable to attend? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voicemail at 478-216-7374.