By Johnny Jackson
The ads that read, "This Is Why We Are," are steadily popping up around the region in a top-to-bottom effort to improve the area's public schools by reaching out to the area's communities.
The National Education Association recently partnered with its local affiliate, the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), in launching a campaign to strengthen metro Atlanta's public schools, starting with the local citizen.
"The challenges, threats and needs are most pronounced in poor and ethnic-minority communities, where achievement gaps persist, drop-out rates remain high, and teacher turnover soars," said GAE President Jeff Hubbard.
The campaign, titled "This Is Why We Are," seeks to eventually engage communities and have them get informed about, and involved in, improving their schools.
"Alternatives to public schools, like vouchers, take badly needed funds away from public schools, leaving the vast majority of students with fewer resources," Hubbard said. "The answer is for families and communities to be informed and involved in making their public schools better, safer, more effective places for learning. Working together, we can make sure every child gets the great public education they need and deserve.
"Instead of dedicating scarce resources to taxpayer-funded vouchers and tax credits that weaken public education for all, in favor of religious and private instruction for a few," he said, "we should fund proven reforms, such as class-size reduction, professional development for teachers and parental involvement efforts."
The campaign was created to inform and engage parents, community leaders and organizations as well as the general public about ways in which they can advocate for policies that will improve the area's public schools. Developed for national use, the campaign focuses on metro Atlanta's black community, particularly within those school districts with hefty minority populations.
"Community needs to be engaged in promoting the attractiveness of education for future development," said Thomas Hester, an active member of the Henry County Branch of the NAACP. "For me, it means more African-American male involvement. The recreation programs that are offered in school must be flexed out to include academic enrichment."
Hester was actively involved in acquiring a public library for the Fairview Community in northern Henry County. The library opened about a year ago. Officials expect to open a recreation center near the library some time in the near future.
The center, according to Hester, would emphasize as much academically as it would recreationally.
"Educating students is a job for everybody, not just the school," he said. "I see too many young kids get off the school bus with no books in their hands, and I don't get it. The education system should not only serve the next Julius Erving [a National Basketball Association legend]. But the system has to be for the future George Washington Carver [a scientist] too."
GAE's campaign messages can be seen throughout the metro Atlanta area in neighborhood stores, on billboards and in various other community news outlets. The messages are seeping into the area's communities and are being heard and seen in public service announcements, on local radio, in area festivals and at local church bazaars.
"We need community involvement, because without the community, the schools, the principals, the teachers, and everyone working cooperatively together, students are not going to be successful," said Alieka Anderson, chairperson of the Clayton County Board of Education. "If we had more communities involved with our students, all of our schools would be schools of excellence. I applaud GAE for their efforts."
Added National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel: "The movement to undermine public education is organized, well funded and very real. Those who support the concept of a free quality education for all children need to be very concerned and get involved. Our fight for great public schools for every child begins with forging partnerships with our most likely allies, parents and local communities."