Power to the parents

The school system crisis brings North and South DeKalb parents together

In the rose-colored room of a restored antebellum home in Decatur, a place that usually holds the luncheons of Junior League ladies or showers for Southern brides-to-be, DeKalb County parents quietly made history this week. Leaders of parent councils met on Monday and agreed to become a unified force.

Parents usually work most passionately for their children, their neighborhood, their schools. In DeKalb, that instinct has been heightened by a longstanding distrust and a suspicion that the other side of the county gets a bigger piece of an ever-shrinking pie. The north part of the county was historically white, the south solidly African-American, and those divisions have lingered—even as DeKalb as a whole grew ethnically diverse, with children from more than 157 countries now enrolled in the system.

But the crisis over accreditation brought the parents together across the old boundaries and caused them to ask each other: What would happen if we cooperated? How much more power could we have?

The talk became emotional when parents brought up the county’s historical divisions. “The North-South thing is being used by politicians to support their needs,” said Michelle Pinkava, a Tucker mom with a third-grader and a seventh-grader. “I think they play that up. That is not going to play in this room.”

While some commented about “different allocations” and unequal construction money and the pain of budget cuts, the assembled parents agreed that their common needs were greater than their individual grievances.

“Individual word of mouth is the most important thing you can do. Each one of you needs to be a quiet zealot,” said Faye Andresen, a longtime parent activist from the Druid Hills High School cluster who moderated the meeting. “You advocate for your parent council and you advocate for the whole county’s educational system.”

The next night, seven of the nine school board members came to a forum of the South DeKalb Parents Council at Redan High School in Stone Mountain. They promised transparency and better communication. They promised not to fight for their turf but to do what they thought was best for all DeKalb children. The South DeKalb parents applauded.

“The tone is very different from what we’ve had in the past,” said Deidra Willis, a board member of the South DeKalb Parent Council who attended both meetings. “I think it will really bind us.”