Olivia Williams graduated from Macon’s Central High School in 2010. It was a great school that challenged her overall, she said, but there was one class that didn't interest her: art.
So, Williams’ mother had an idea of how to make the three-hour art period go by.
“I would drive up to the back door of the thing, pick her up, we'd go out to lunch and go shopping,” said Williams’ mother, Ramona Sheridan. “Then (I’d) come back and drop her off while class was still going on. No one knew she was gone. I mean, she turned out fine.”
While some people might frown on Sheridan’s actions, she tells the story to argue a point: Students can be successful no matter what school they attend as long as they have active and engaged parents at home. That is why, even though she could afford private school for all of her children, Sheridan said, she supported her daughter’s choice to attend public school.
“They all had dud classes and dud teachers here or there. But again, our household is just the kind of household where everybody reads, everybody knows politics, everyone discusses them,” she said.
Sheridan is a white mother of three; her two sons chose to attend Mount de Sales Academy, a private Catholic school.
Williams said she felt Mount de Sales was a great school, but that she would get a better education at Central because it is more racially and economically diverse. She also chose the public school to send a message.
“My friends and I are proud of it because we kind of opposed the idea of segregation as it is now implemented via the private school system,” Williams said.
Central did well by Williams, if her subsequent success in higher education is any indication. She graduated with honors from Mercer University and went on to law school at the University of Virginia, from which she is currently on leave while she explores career opportunities, her mother said.
But if students can be successful in any school as long as they have parental involvement, the inverse might also be true. Mary Sams, a former Bibb County teacher, said parental involvement in local public schools has fallen off significantly since the 1980s, and education is suffering as a result.
“Parents didn't come to school just because of discipline problems. They were there during the day to help with regular everyday activities,” she said, recalling her earlier teaching years. Teacher morale was better as well, she said. “We had good leadership. Teachers’ cars were still parked in the parking lot long after the 3:30 bell.”
Williams said parents who struggle with whether to send their children to public or private schools should consider that choosing a public education might have benefits for both their children and their classmates.
“It's kind of a systemic problem, and they can be a part of the solution by sending their kids to public school. I would love it if they could sort of see themselves as part of a wider solution,” she said, “and recognize that this is something our community needs and that their child will be part of that step.”