Hard Lessons to Create a Better Future

By Courtney EnglishEnglish
Educational reformer John Dewey once said: “Schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

There are few institutions as important in our society as our public schools. There remains an essential compact between a community and its public schools that helped make America what it is today. And this mutual pledge demands that our schools teach every child, whether they are poor or rich, black or white, to the best of their ability. It demands that our teachers possess tools needed to be successful, and entails a guarantee to parents that their kids’ interests always come first.
That trust was broken in Atlanta when it was discovered that widespread cheating on annual state exams occurred, robbing students of promised education and learning.
That scandal and subsequent trial have been a sad, painful and tragic chapter for Atlanta Public Schools and our community. Its impact will be felt for years to come.
As the trial ends, close observers of APS must know that efforts to restore the integrity of the system began three years ago and accelerated more recently with the election of a new board and appointment of a dynamic superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, in 2014. We are working hand-in-hand, focusing on high student outcomes to implement reforms and to ensure that a scandal like this never happens again.
We’ve set a strategic course for a new direction of improved instructional quality and systemwide efficiencies with a goal to regain the trust of our community, parents and students through hard work, integrity, transparency and leadership.
We are making progress.
A senior cabinet chief accountability office has been created, and we have built systems and procedures to ensure data integrity. It’s working to continually review recommendations to improve data monitoring and controls.
An ethics program was launched in 2011 that includes ethics advocates at each school and a mandate for all employees as a condition of employment. It also:
› Installed automatic triggers for test scores that rise or decline sharply;
› Created an anonymous hotline to report unethical behavior;
› Instituted automatic investigations of schools with unusual gains in test scores;
› Created stronger safeguards related to the handling and storage of test materials;
› Suspended incentive or bonus programs;
› Replaced 60 percent of the district’s principals.
As a result of these reforms, APS was recently recognized by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for significantly improving auditing and test security procedures.
For students who needed additional academic assistance, our district launched a comprehensive remediation program. In fact, structured remediation is now mandatory so that we can meet the specific needs of all struggling students, not just those caught up in the scandal.
Dr. Carstarphen, the board and I have made a vow that together we will create a new culture at APS, one of trust and collaboration where every student graduates ready for college and career. This will be a culture where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system.
Courtney English is chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education



Will Georgia issue a “license to discriminate?”

Governor Nathan Deal says he will sign religious liberty legislation

GACareBy Gary S. Cox

Back in July 2014, in Blogging While Blue I “prophesied” that Senator Josh McKoon was going to once again introduce his “license to discriminate” legislation also known as Preservation of Religious Freedom Act based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Kyle Wingfield published an editorial from an interview with the good Senator in light of the High Court ruling. Unfortunately, in this case we are dismayed our predications of last summer have come to fruition.

This week, Senate Bill 129 took a “hard right turn” in the Georgia House of Representatives, when the House Judiciary Committee rejected amendments that would have clearly prohibited discrimination against minorities and LGBT Georgians. Now, the “wing nuts” of the Republican Party have shown their cards. Speaker Ralston stated in a recent speech to the Atlanta Press Club that he wanted to understand the “motivation” behind the legislation, “Before we move forward, we have to understand what the impact of this legislation will be on the rule of law in this state. We need to know if this legislation opens the door to unintended consequences of any type, that some may try to exploit.” He went further by stating, “Closing the door to anyone is closing the door to all …”

Well, Mr. Speaker, here it is in black and white, the purpose and motivation behind the religious freedom legislation is to grant some the right to discriminate against the LGBT community. Anyone who has been following the struggle of the LGBT community’s freedom to marry court battles knows, when the Supreme Court decided not to interview in Appeals Court rulings in Alabama, Idaho and other states, the inevitability of same-sex marriage was upon us as a society. The High Court allowed same-sex marriages to take place in states where their state constitutional bans were struck down. Among political savvy court watchers, the money is on the High Court overturning all state constitutional bans against same-sex marriage – and that includes Georgia. Some Georgia conservatives want the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples. Some conservatives want the right to refuse service to LGBT couples from wedding cakes to providing medical care to the children of same-sex couples. Simply put, the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party wants to say, “It is against my faith,” and discrimination in Georgia will once again become lawful as an “act of faith.”

Moreover, the unintended consequences that Speaker Ralston fears may be a national boycott against the state of Georgia. Hateful legislation has consequences – take a look at the backlash taking place in Indiana! Within hours of Governor Mike Pence (R) signing the legislation, the NCAA is talking about moving their basketball tournaments. Apple Computers, MailChimp, the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco are all talking about boycotting the state of Indiana. Here in Georgia MailChimp spoke out against Georgia’s RFRA. We could be subject to losing basketball tournaments and even the 2019 Super Bowl. Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal would be wise to look at Indiana before allowing our version of this hateful legislation to become law – it is the Speaker’s worst fears – the law of unintended consequences.

This week’s AIDS data is more alarming than the headlines

Beverly L. IsomSisterLove

The headlines this week about the HIV stats in Atlanta were alarming because the data is alarming. “Atlanta is ranked No. 5* among U.S. cities when it comes to the rate of new diagnoses of HIV”; “Atlanta is No. 1 US city with new HIV cases” and “Half of Atlanta’s newly diagnosed HIV patients have AIDS.”

As a Board Member of SisterLove in Atlanta, I am proud of the work that the organization has been doing for decades and the advocacy and leadership of its president Dazon Dixon Diallo but I am also troubled that there still so much more work that has to be done.

A recent study highlights the issue at Grady Health System where they started routine HIV testing in 2013 and has seen an average of two or three patients with HIV every day. Grady Hospital started free HIV testing in its emergency room for every patient no matter why they were there. Unfortunately based on the study, by the time some patients saw the doctor, nearly 3 of 10 already have the virus.

There are a myriad of reasons that people don’t get tested early enough. There is stigma, fear, poverty and misinformation about how the disease is contracted. And a key reason is that not every health care facility offers the convenience of free HIV testing on site. However, community-based organizations like SisterLove have been advocating and offering free testing in a caring and non -judgmental environment for years. Community-based organizations have been leading the charge on educating and empowering communities at risk but the news this week was frustrating even for some of them.

Dazon Dixon Diallo said, “It’s not acceptable to have a zero line item for HIV prevention … It’s unacceptable to not have expanded Medicaid to include HIV testing. It’s not acceptable to have any health department in the state of Georgia that’s currently not trained, equipped and implementing rapid testing … You want me to go on? It’s just a lot,” she said.

SisterLove offers FREE HIV TESTING, Monday through Thursday at 1237 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., SW Atlanta, Georgia 30310-0558 in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. While there is still work that needs to be done, maybe the latest news will help our education efforts and decrease the number of new HIV cases. Get tested at SisterLove on Mon. Tues. & Thurs 11- 5 pm By Appointment- Please Call (404) 254-4734…OR TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WALK IN WEDNESDAYS between 11:00 am -6:00 pm, without an appointment.

SisterLove, Inc. has been at the forefront of community-based advocacy for women of color living with HIV/AIDS, for women of color at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, and for all individuals in marginalized communities who are severely and disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, especially in the Deep South and Global South.

Spring Madness in Charlottesville

mj78432March Madness is the common reference to the NCAA basketball post season. But the madness in Charlottesville, Virginia is another kind of spring madness. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents arrested third-year University of Virginia student Martese Johnson after being denied entry into a bar near the campus. Johnson was beaten by agents and later required 10 stitches from the attack, which was caught on a cell phone from a witness. In the interest of full disclosure I am the parent of a UVA alum.

Police violence seems to be more common than any of us really understood or realized. The case in Charlottesville strikes too close to home for every college student of color. Is it possible that an officer of the law can bludgeon a student because “because a determination was made” to arrest him apparently without reason. What words or actions would justify this kind of treatment? It shouldn’t matter that Johnson is majoring in Italian and media studies and holds several leadership positions in campus organizations and has no criminal record.

Did the ABC officers miss or flunk the part of their training that included mediation, negotiation, and deescalating tense situations? These are ABC officers near a college campus, where there is likely to be alcohol, so what kind of alcohol arrest warrants this level of violence? I can’t accept the notion that police and security do a better job of keeping the peace by resorting to violence. Somehow everyone including law enforcement agencies have to come to grips with the unbridled use of violence. As a young college student I listened to the radicals in the civil rights movement as much as I listened to the nonviolent principled leaders. I grew to believe the use of violence would cause even more violence. We have little hope of a civil society if chiefs of police, sheriffs and other law enforcement commanders don’t get their troops properly trained and motivated to keep the peace without uusing or threatening violence. It is time for the leadership of law enforcement to take responsibility for enforcing the law without causing reckless harm to those they pledge to protect and to do so without targeting for violence and abuse African American and Latino men. The balance between enforcing the law, using common sense and protecting the public may be difficult in some circumstance but it is possible. The officers and the public they pledge to protect must be safe. It is not too much for the public to expect for law enforcement leaders in every city, town or village to take responsibility for eliminating police violence and police abuse of power.

Policing for profit … citizens as “cash cows

Injustice prevails when citizens are treated as a financial resource


By: Gary S. Cox

Any American who keeps up with the daily news has now heard about the alarming U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department and local municipal court system. The DOJ findings noted both are riddled with systemic racism in practice and attitude. The report gave multiple examples to back up these assertions. The statistics were astounding; in a city of 21,000 residents, where the population is 67% African American, black residents comprised 93% of those arrested in the report period covering 2012 – 2014. There is simply no other way to put it other than the black community in Ferguson is viewed by city officials as a financial resource rather than as tax paying residents in need of protection. As a white male American, my jaw dropped in disbelief! I immediately understood the shooting of Michael Brown was but the match that lit the powder keg of pent up frustration with an abusive criminal justice system in Ferguson.

In a direct quote from the DOJ report, “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue than by public safety needs.” The black community in Ferguson is treated as a cash cow to replenish the City’s coffers. Police officers are used as tax collectors. These two facts set up an immediate inherent conflict.  When we treat citizens as financial resources, common sense tells you civil rights and treating citizens with courtesy and respect fall by the wayside.

It is not enough to say the quick “take away” of the DOJ report is the Ferguson Police Department and Municipal courts are racist. Such an assessment would oversimplify what is a complex situation. We as nation have to ask questions about police “culture” and practices that allow the police and the courts to be more concerned about city budgetary needs over public safety.  In part, it is a leadership issue.Ferguson serves as an example of where money is the primary motivator of policing activity public trust in the criminal justice system as a whole is completely eroded.

The debate is already underway in the media and on social media as to whether or not the DOJ report is indicative of systemic racism in Ferguson or it is a city that systematically abuses it policing powers.  Academics criticize the report saying the report’s use of a disparate impact analysis is flawed. The comparison should not be of: percent of black residents to the number of police incidents but rather the number of crimes committed by blacks vs. the percent of overall population. However, when city officials view a subset of residents “… less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue” any methodology fails to capture root cause of the tension and unrest in Ferguson.  Regardless of either argument, what the DOJ report speaks loudly to without directly saying it, is when we move from community policing to policing for profit, we have a city structure that is predatory by its very nature. Policing for profit treats citizens as “prey” to vigorously enforce municipal ordinances to enhance the largess of the City’s coffers. Policing anywhere in the United States should not be a revenue enhancement activity.

Now, as concerned Americans we should question whether or not the DOJ findings are limited to Ferguson? Police departments and city officials all across America should ask, “Are we too Ferguson?” The DOJ report is an argument for a national self-examination of our policing practices. The need to return to community policing where residents of a neighborhood know the officer on duty at any given time of the day or night should be the first order of business!

Read the DOJ Report for yourself here.

House Bill 244 Will Help Protect Georgia’s Children

If you are in Georgia and care about children, your own or others there is work to do now as advocates to House Bill 244. As nearly everyone agrees children are God’s gift. HB244 will protect more Georgia children.





Thank you for calling and emailing your representatives about HB 244. Your voices were heard, and the bill was presented to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on Monday, March 2nd. We are disappointed to share with you that the adult entertainment fee was removed from the bill.

Please meet us tomorrow, March 5th at 9am on the main steps of the Capitol as we urge the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee to vote on HB 244 at the next committee hearing. We will provide you with talking points to share with the committee members. We need you to stand with us!

HB 244 contains several important pieces, including:
Extends the statute of limitations for the victims of domestic minor sex trafficking to file civil actions against their traffickers to age 25
Establishes a Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission
Expands forfeiture and seizure laws related to sex trafficking and related offenses–allowing any proceeds from trafficking, and the vehicles operated by a person who is guilty of trafficking, to be subject to forfeiture to the state
Amends the State Sexual Offender Registry to now include convicted offenders of trafficking a person for sexual servitude
Requires the development of a statewide plan for the coordinated delivery of services to sexually exploited and trafficked children

Why do we need HB 244?

Last week, complaints about a woman pimping out her stepdaughter led to a sting in Johns Creek that led to 15 arrests. One of the men arrested is accused of agreeing to pay for sex but he allegedly wanted it to be with a minor, according to a police report. Incidents like these illustrate the importance of amending the State Sexual Offender Registry to include convicted traffickers.

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Shame on Rudy Giuliani!

the observer photo credit

the observer photo credit

President Obama’s former advisor, David Axelrod, who is on a book promotion tour, has rebuked the anti American Obama sentiments strewn about by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“I don’t know anybody who has … a deeper feeling about this country than the president. And I don’t know anybody who’s expressed it more eloquently over a long period of time. So I really wrote it off to, frankly, a fading politician trying to light himself on fire and make himself relevant,” says Axelrod of Giuliani’s comments.

Giuliani not surprisingly is backing off the exact verbiage he used but this is what he said, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Challenging the patriotism of the president of the United States seems rather extreme when you think about President Obama’s road to the White House. Giuliani can clarify his intent but the resounding words from our nation’s mall during the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama still ring more loudly and more profoundly to me rather than the clanging noise of his critics. I can’t think of a more modern day president who more aptly exemplifies the meaning of America than Obama. His policies and his politics may be fair game for debate but his citizenship and commitment to country should be off limits to even his harshest detractors. His words are the ones I prefer to remember when I think of America.

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Shame on Rudy Giuliani! He seems to speak before he thinks or at least before he considers the consequences. These are lessons learned early in life and ones that shouldn’t be forgotten no matter how successful you are.



Georgia Voter Access Under Attack…Again

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Political Insider column earlier this month proclaimed “Bill would shorten early voting period”.  Yes, Republicans in the Georgia legislature are trying to reduce access to the polls by reducing the early voting period for Georgians once again.  They want to reduce the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks.

The success of Georgia’s first early voting period during the 2008 presidential election was hailed huge success by progressives.  Voter turnout reached its peak and almost 50% of voters exercised their right to vote before Election Day. That early voting period was six weeks.  In 2010, early voting was successful again and over 30% of voters participated.

Georgia Republicans took notice. Even though Georgia remained solidly red, the increase in voter participation concerned some. After the 2010 midterm election, the early voting period was shortened from six weeks to three weeks.  According to media coverage at the time, most voters voted early in the last three weeks and the cost to keep polls open for an additional three weeks did not make sense to a majority of legislators.

Reading between the lines, some in the Georgia Republican Party seem to be scared of increased voter participation. Georgia’s minority and young adult population, who are polled as less likely republican voters, are growing and the more chances they get to vote, the less likely Georgia will remain Republican-controlled.

However, Democrats believe that the more voters that vote, the better chance Democrats have to defeat Republicans in Georgia.

It comes down to policy. Trickle-down economic policy, divisive religious liberty bills, and no taxes at any cost won’t appeal to the majority of future Georgia voters.  Restricting the electorate is one way to keep control and it appears Georgia Republicans are willing to do whatever it takes, under the guise of efficiently, to keep control.

Republican Brian Kemp, the Georgia Secretary of State, and person responsible for administering elections in Georgia warned his colleagues about restricting access to the polls last November when questioned about the Sunday voting.  According to Kemp, voters should be given every opportunity to vote and anything done to prevent that could backfire.

Further evidence that Georgia Republicans are playing politics with voting access appeared in the AJC last week. The AJC reporters leaked speculated that the reason the early voting proposal hasn’t been taken up by the Georgia House Rules Committee is that House Republicans need House Democrats to pass legislation this cycle. What a shame.

To think that access to the polls is being used as a political football by Georgia Republicans is disgusting. The fact that these same Republicans think Democrats will play ball is even more disturbing.  Let’s hope they are wrong.

Georgia Children Deserve Better

brainheroFor all of those who want a better world, I strongly suggest watching the video in this post.

The video is a collaboration between the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and Interactive Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. The video is an innovative animated look at the crossroad of policy and parenting to support healthy brain development during early childhood.

There is is a straight line and direct relationship between the success of children and the experiences they have early in their lives- as early as the first few minutes. We need to stop the silliness and get on with expanding educational and cultural opportunities for every child starting as young as just a few days and even a few hours old. Georgia should expand early education funding to all 6-week old children and older, wrap around services as needed by every child who is struggling in school and who needs additional medical and mental health. I think every student could graduate from high school if he/she received small group and individual tutoring and counseling and programmatic support. As this video illustrates there is evidence that for many children their behavior or misbehavior indicates some failure by adults in his/her life. Georgia should declare War on the Failure of Children and by doing so almost guarantee the health of the state and its economy for the next five decades. There is more evidence of what works than we admit and far more solutions than we fund.

Join me and Blogging While Blue to put the pressure on the State House, the Gold Dome, City Halls and County Court Houses to make true the American Dream in Georgia for every single child in our midst.

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Georgia Can Be Great

Cali blogThe Atlanta Journal Constitution wrapped up a three part series today about Atlanta maintaining its competitive position is the South. While flying back to Austin last week from Los Angeles, I read the latest Delta Sky Magazine, themed LA Stories. Flipping through the pages I read about what makes Los Angeles special. Delta CEO Richard Anderson reminds the reader “ with more than 10 million residents and six Fortune 500 companies, Los Angeles County is among the world’s 20 largest economies… second only to New York in population (in the US).”

Driving around Los Angeles, visiting the Getty Center and talking with people you get a sense the city and the state are moving in the right direction for everyday people who believe that government cares enough about them to support higher minimum wages, promote small business investments, fund innovation in business. Cheers to Governor Jerry Brown and the other California political superstar, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. The state’s success is as much the fruit of their labor and political genius as anyone’s in the last century.

At the very back of the Delta Magazine is an ad touting Georgia’s #1 ranking for business according to CNBC, Site Selection and Area Development. It states “more than forty Fortune 500 companies thrive in Georgia” and implies other businesses could succeed as well. This sounds terrific until you remember other Georgia statistics: high poverty rate, average per capita income, health access, and high school or college graduation rates. Our other southern state neighbors don’t compete well in these categories either.

So what does California have that has made the difference in that state? Let’s start with bold political leadership from Governor Brown (who was Oakland Mayor and California Attorney General) to Willie Brown (whose leadership as Speaker of the California House is legendary) to Congresswoman Maxine Waters (who has served in the House of Representatives for 25 years) to two women Senators – Feinstein and Boxer whose leadership in the Senate is undisputed.

These are political leaders who take the fight to be best in class seriously, who champion sweeping public policy to expand rather than limit access to higher education, jobs, business, healthcare and clean air and water. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, when he was San Francisco mayor led the city to adopt the Health Choices Plan in 2007 to provide San Francisco residents with universal healthcare. Newsom gained national attention when he directed the San Francisco city–county clerk to issue marriage licenses same-sex couples in violation of state law.

Georgia sits, maybe is stuck, in the bottom quartile in the competition for greatness. Too few students graduate high school and too few complete college and post-secondary degree programs. For too many years the state has reduced per capita funding for k- 12 public education. Wages and family income are low. State investment in transit and integrated transportation solutions is minimal. The state has preferred to push regional transit and transportation issues to the local leaders. Economic development funding is minimal.

For instance, every governor for my 40 years in Georgia has proclaimed his support and the importance of robust and successful public education but the results for children haven’t changed much. Some have done more than others to fund and promote a legislative agenda supporting education reform. The HOPE scholarship is an example, though not perfect or fully accessible to the lowest income and most challenged Georgia youth. Even HOPE was adopted by referendum when it could have been established by legislative action with bold state leadership.

The legislators seem to want the credit for the policy but not the challenge to their “no tax” record. Instead of plugging the state budget with a couple hundred million dollars for K- 12 education this session it would be brave, courageous and even sensible for the governor to assess how much is needed to bring every student up to top quartile national test performance. Anything less simply shortchanges Georgia’s children and families and at this rate many of our grandchildren’s children will not live to know Georgia as the best of the best in the world.