Thank You Beverly Hall-Atlanta Schools Are Better Today

As the imminent departure of Atlanta Public School Superintendent Beverly Hall draws near and I reflect on her 12-year tenure here, I am reminded of my early years in Atlanta. There is no question that Beverly Hall invited and embraced a broad coalition of community input and support that has greatly benefited Atlanta students. Today there are some 400 partners who support APS, that input has been significant in the progress of the district.

Back in the early days, it seemed the city was abuzz with anticipation of the possibilities and emerging opportunities for African Americans to fully participate in leadership roles in the public and private sector. Sure there was tension and fear but as a newcomer to the city it was exciting to me to witness the engagement of Atlantans from all walks of life in debates about public policy, politics, and business.

People were eager to volunteer and join forces to work on every imaginable public policy issue that warranted action. My earliest civic engagement focused on public access and public funding for the arts. I remember when the community came together in 1974 to lobby the City Council to budget $60,000 for the first-time ever arts grants. The Atlanta Symphony’s renowned artistic director Robert Shaw, the High Museum’s Gudmund Vigtel, sat shoulder to shoulder with art collectors Paul Jones, Dr. Otis Hammonds, scholar Dr. Richard Long, Mayor Jackson’s aide Michael Lomax, gallery owners Annabelle Illien and Crystal Britton, civic leaders like David Goldwasser, Isabelle Watkins and George Howell and dozens of artists including Alice Lovelace, John Riddle, Barbara Sullivan and Vince Anthony. For months this group hashed out plans for building a strong cross section of “believers” – people who set aside their differences, their specific art passions, race, gender, and place of birth to plan for the future arts and culture focus of the city.

During Dr. Hall’s tenure as superintendent there have been notable improvements in APS. First among them is her invitation to the broader community to partner with the schools. She knew she would need the business community, parents, public officials, non-profit organizations and civic groups to tackle the challenges that the schools faced. Many contributed to the success of Atlanta’s students over the last 12 years.

Some highlights:
· A district record $129 million in college scholarships earned by graduates in 2010, which is up from $9 million in 2000
· $160 million invested in APS by national and local philanthropic groups
· An approximate 30 point increase in district wide graduation rate
· A total of $1 billion invested in constructing and renovating state-of-the-art schools; Atlanta Public Schools has built 17 new schools and renovated more than 60 others, thanks to taxpayer support

In the old days, respect for one another, the skill of negotiating compromises, developing consensus and the humility we gained in the process in those meetings bound a hundred or so of us together as cheerleaders for each other and opened my eyes to what this city could accomplish.

As Beverly Hall prepares to leave, I think when she came to Atlanta she also saw the potential of what could be accomplished in a city that was committed to working together. She knew she couldn’t do it alone and she reached out to the entire community.  It is also fair to say that she has seen victory and defeat.  Despite the serious challenges during the last two years, in my opinion the victories far outnumber the defeats.

As she packs her bags for her final day as superintendent, thank you Beverly Hall for your leadership and service to Atlanta. She leaves the school district significantly better than she found it.


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