Work Session – John Lewis ES – Video/Transcript

 07/11/2016 – Work/Business
eboard link icon Agenda Item – Name ISC and Skyland Center To Lohn Lewis Elementary

  John Lewis ES – Brookhaven’s New Elementary School
In direct conflict with just about every policy and regulation DeKalb Schools has on the books for naming schools, Marshall Orson and 3 parents from Montclair, A.K.A the Naming Committee, requested that the new elementary school in Brookhaven be named after Congressman John Lewis (D).

  Business Meeting – Video & Transcript


Work Session – Video & Transcript (abridged)

[00:01:23]

Marshall Orson – DeKalb Schools Board Member

Pursuant to Policy FDC, a naming committee was formed to name the elementary school that will initially be placed at ISC building on Druid Hills.  We put together a committee comprised of school based representatives including Montclair elementary as well as Briar Vista elementary.  We also had some administrators and 3 parents from Montclair.

Our purpose was to identify a name that was appropriate.  We discussed varies ideas but wanted to get community input.  We surveyed the Montclair community for input.  We sent fliers and had a web page.  The names were generated which the committee discussed and vetted.

[00:03:12]

We were mindful of the population we were going to serve.  This is going to be a primary Hispanic population that we haven’t fully served over the years.  This list had a variety of names from a variety of backgrounds including some well known Hispanic Americans.  There was a consensus, particularly from the parents, as well as the representative from the Latin American Association, Mr. Schaefer, for naming the school for John Lewis.

He is an American icon who transcends politics and party identification.

We were cognizant that our policy requires that the person being honored must be dead for 5 years.  But, John Lewis led an impeccable life.  This is the of individual we want to honor while still alive.  He belongs to a political party in Congress, but has been a bridge builder particularly bringing leaders to Selma on an annual pilgrimage.

He’s widely respected.  I’ve known John for a long time.  He’s a great guy.

There is one condition we put on this.  This is a temporary facility.  We don’t want it to expire when the new building in Brookhaven is built.  We ask that the name of the building move to the Skyland building in Brookhaven.

I request that the board approve the naming of the ISC building on North Druid Hills and the new elementary school in Brookhaven.

Dr. Joyce Morley – DeKalb Schools Board Member

I have no problem with Congressman John Lewis.  I know the history and story.  We were supposed to get a document that showed me the parents were the ones that promoted this.  I would like to see a copy.

I would like to have John Lewis on the name of many things, but there has to be a buy in.

[00:07:53]

Marshall Orson

We had the 3 parents and Mr Schaefer here at the meeting, but they had to leave.

[00:08:27]

Dr. Melvin Johnson – Chair DeKalb School Board

We have a process in place to follow in naming the school.  They had to go through the process.

[00:08:41]

Stan Jester – DeKalb Schools Board

When naming schools in general we seem to be getting further off the tracks.  I’m concerned we’re opening a can of worms no matter which side of the aisle we start naming schools after.

This is a dangerous can of worms we’re opening.  We are potentially alienating members of our community.  While the people we have selected on the next two agenda item are prominent figures, we’re getting away from policy and regulation.

I can understand not waiting 5 years after they pass way to name a school or building after somebody, but we did wait until they passed away.  That was mainly so we can judge their history, judge their body of work.

Not only are we not waiting until they pass away, we’re talking about sitting politicians.  If we are going to start doing this regularly, we need to change the policy.  It makes me uncomfortable constantly breaking our policies.

In the past we’ve bent it with the 5 year rule, but now we’re breaking it.  It’s a can of worms I’m concerned about.

[00:10:23]

Dr. Joyce Morley

If we have a can of worms we need to use them and go fishing.  The bottom line is why do we have a problem if the politician is great and all schools parks and memorials are named after great people.

It’s a mindset.  Most of what goes on in this country is how we think about people.  How do we look at people that are different from ourselves.

I don’t think it’s so much a can of worms, as it is we’ve got to look at making decisions.  Mr. Orson came to me with this and I asked him questions and we’ve all had the opportunity to do.  I think we’ve got to look inside ourselves and see why am I having a problem with this.  Is it because the person doesn’t look like me, doesn’t think like me, or is there something else going on?

I don’t want it to be that we’re discriminating against anyone.  The person is deserving no matter what color, race or creed, where they live, sexual orientation, it should not matter.

[00:11:40]

Jim McMahan – DeKalb Board of Education

To Dr. Morley’s point, when I heard the community supported John Lewis Elementary School, I too supported the community’s desires.

To Dr. Morley’s point about the community’s input, my concern is the next location of the school and that community.  I support the name for the elementary school.  It would be prudent to query the new community once the school is located in that community.  Do we even have a definitive location?

I support the naming of this school, but think the next community should have input on the name of the next school.

Marshall Orson

Our policy is primarily written about the students that will be served.  It’s not just the geographic location.  It’ll be the same students.  It’s completely appropriate.

Jim McMahan

So where is the new school going to be?  To we have clarity?

Josh Williams – Chief Operating Officer

Currently the expectation is that it will be off Skyland Drive.

Jim McMahan

Do we have the attendance lines for this school?

Josh Williams

No.

Jim McMahan

I think it’s premature

[00:14:53]

Vickie Turner – DeKalb Schools Board Member

I believe we need to look at our intention behind this.  If we determine that a school should be named after a public servant whose history has never been marred by scandal.  That should follow those children.

Those children need to learn about this historical figure.  Whether they are Hispanic Students or Native American or African American or Caucasian, it doesn’t matter.  When my children went to a school, we went to the name of that school.  That’s not important.

While I respect your comments Mr. McMahan, we need to make decisions of conviction with integrity of heart and we stand by that and i believe our constituents will respect that … unless there are some other intentions we don’t know about.

To Mr. Jester’s point, the policy with naming facilities should be 5 years, but I’m conflicted because you asked to board to forgo that policy when naming a gymnasium.  Sometimes we want to forgo and sometimes we want to question.  Maybe it needs to be revised, but let’s keep in mind that if it’s good for one, it should be across the board good.

Dr. Morley

I don’t want to belabor the point because I’m getting a headache.  I think there’s an elephant in the room.  We’re educators and adults and we have to address it.  I heard Jim’s comment, where’s it going, what’s the community, is it going to be an African American community, Hispanic community.  Will they be able to identify with whomever?

The building is an edifice, it’s what takes place in that building that makes a difference and not the name.  The name should be a person that has achieved greatness.  This man has achieved some of the ultimate greatness.  At 80 years old, he’s still trying to pull everybody together.  He’s been beat down, watered down with hoses, bitten by dogs, gone to jail so we could all be free.

When we begin to question should a person be dead, give them the flowers while they are living.  Let them celebrate this.  I asked Marshall if the community supported this and he promised me they had.

Whatever intentions are out there, as long as the person’s not a criminal … I don’t think we would name something for somebody like that.

It’s a mindset, why do we ask certain questions.  Why do we still want certain people to not be in certain areas?

All people that come in that school are going to be proud for the children to be there.  That’s what we’ve got to get to.  I think a lot of what’s going in this country is individuals right here.  We are the board and we have difficulty.  I would like to see us at one point come together.

[00:19:34]

Stan Jester

I respect and can appreciate when a community comes together and picks the name of a school.  I am all behind that.

If I’m reading the agenda item correctly, the committee met twice to vet each name suggested by the community. And that committee is listed under the summary.

Marshall Orson

Yes

Stan Jester

To what Ms Turner was saying, this 5 year rule is a bend.  But this agenda item breaks just about every rule we have under naming schools.

They met twice, the rules say they have to meet at least 3 times.  It’s small, but nevertheless.  It says there must be at least 11 members from the community, but there are only 10 members from the community.

Was there a community ballot?

Marshall Orson

We did a community survey.

Stan Jester

Was the community that this new school is going to, where they involved in this?

Marshall Orson

No.  It’s hard to say, the web site survey was anonymous.

Stan Jester

You mentioned the community consisted of Montclair and Briar Vista.  That’s everything East

Marshall Orson

There were some school administrators from … the Principal from Woodward ES was part of it …

Stan Jester

I’m talking about parents.

Marshall Orson

No.  The parents were from Montclair.

Stan Jester

It seems like if the school is going to in Brookhaven and West of Peachtree Industrial, that there should be community members from Brookhaven and West of Peachtree Industrial.

And, we don’t know for sure where the new school will be.

Furthermore, there’s a regulation that says this ballot must be sent to the feeder of all affected schools and that principal is supposed to send it to all the students so that everybody affected knows what is going on.

I guarantee you nobody from Brookhaven going to Skyland knows this is going to happen.

Marshall Orson

We are on a time table.  We sent it to the Montclair community primarily …

Stan Jester

Wait a second.  We are not on a time table.  The Skyland elementary school won’t open for at least 5 years.

[00:22:25]

Marshall Orson

I appreciate you probably have some people that have expressed opposition to this.  It’s a legalistic reading, but we have a safe harbor within this policy which allows for this board to waive the policy.

What you are reciting is administrative regulation and not policy.  Policy supersedes regulation and the board supersedes policy.

So, I appreciate the detail, but it’s not relevant because the ultimate decision authority is the board of education.

Mr. Schaefer wanted me to point out that the Latin American Association is located within the city of Brookhaven.

I’m comfortable how we got to where we are.   I’m extremely comfortable with honoring this American icon without regard to the location of the building.  I think there’s a point where we should be careful but also introspective.  This is an American whose location of the building would be appropriate anywhere.  Whether it’s in Skyland or anywhere else, it is appropriate.

Dr. Johnson

This will obviously be an action item tonight.  Let’s continue this debate tonight at the business meeting.