If education is the No. 1 issue facing Georgia, it is at least doubly so in Macon-Bibb County. Here it’s not just a matter of workforce development, it’s critical to the viability of the city. It is essential that we heal our divisions and pull together.
Some nights I dream of having the resources to supply every voter in Macon-Bibb with a subscription to Georgia Trend magazine and a copy of “Top Ten Issues,” published annually by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. The comparative data in these publications (also available online) perhaps would open eyes and empower citizens to achieve what quarreling politicians have failed to accomplish in over 30 years.
Most of our local problems — interconnected as they are — stem from poverty. Inevitably, the path out of poverty leads down the road of education. I come into frequent contact with students from elsewhere — mostly elsewhere in Georgia — who are stunned by what greets them when they arrive in Macon. We have allowed progress in some areas to blind us to the Herculean tasks that confront us in others.
The majority of our community leaders have long supported an alternative school system, a situation exacerbated by the so-called Skin Rule: People care more when they have “skin in the game.” This is not a recent epiphany. Back in the 1990s the communitywide organization Macon 2000, having arrived at the same conclusion, tried to create “community ownership” but with limited success. Another promising organization was the “Love Your Neighbor” bumper sticker campaign, a wonderful concept: People would see others — however unfamiliar they might look — and wave. The simple gesture paid huge dividends in community spirit.
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Currently, far too many of our schools lie in severely blighted neighborhoods. The abandoned properties not only provide a haven for nefarious activities, they are destructive to the human spirit. Yet, in spite of this “demolition by neglect,” much of the Bibb school district is doing quite well. The superintendent just won a national award, the International Baccalaureate program at Central High School is drawing some of the best students in the area, as are the orchestral programs at Howard and Central. I could go on and on. State school Superintendent Richard Woods rightly says that Georgia is still failing to get out the good news about public schools. Perception is indeed reality, so when a good school with dedicated teachers is located in the midst of decay, parents can be forgiven for failing to realize the miracle in their midst.
An essential factor in a city with Bibb’s problems is rewarding those teachers who tackle the toughest assignments, a goal that fits in with one of the Georgia Partnership’s top 10 issues in 2019, “Elevating the Profession.” Children surrounded by blight deserve the same quality of education as those in the most affluent areas. Other urban areas in Georgia are prospering, but we will not share in the bounty until all neighborhoods share the opportunities.
Education has often been likened to a journey, but for Georgia to prosper, all must be invited to join. This glaring truth is especially apparent in Macon-Bibb, where remediating our problems will require reversing a trend that is deeply ingrained.
Mercer University’s 15th annual Building the Beloved Community Symposium is coming up Tuesday and Wednesday. Will this be the year when we join hands and walk on the journey together? Or will we again avert our eyes and turn away?
Larry Fennelly is a longtime resident of Macon.