My, my, my…I can’t even go to work out at the new Atlanta Fitness and get a bite to eat before all heck breaks loose again in DeKooter County. I know that old Kooter (aka former Congressman Ben Jones) is from DeKalb but its school system and its school board appear to be operating on the same level as the old Dukes of Hazard. Hazard County? DeKooter County? The once storied DeKalb County is dimly shining this Saturday evening. I like DeKalb. I really do. I have several relatives buried in the Old Decatur Cemetery in the beautiful Downtown Decatur. I like East Lake. In fact, my great, great grandfather, Col./Rep. Robert A. Alston, owned all of East Lake (about 400 acres) but his wife, Charlotte Magill Alston, sold it to the East Lake Land Company after the Colonel was murdered in the Georgia Capitol on March 11, 1879. (When Alston was murdered at the Capitol — all stemming from his attempt “to disinthrall his native state” from the great sin of convict labor as — he so eloquently wrote in The Atlanta Daily Constitution on December 25, 1878, he was DeKalb‘s sole representative in the General Assembly.) The land company subdivided the land and sold lots around the newly formed East Lake Country Club, Atlanta‘s first country club. The Candlers were behind much of the development. Hence, Alston Drive which runs in front of the East Lake Country Club runs into Candler Road. My grandfather, Robert Alston Trotter, was born in Meadownook (est. in 1856 — the second oldest house in Atlanta) in 1883. The house is on the National Historic Registry. The man who killed Robert Alston is buried about twenty feet away from him in the Old Decatur Cemetery. His name was Edward Cox. They had been good friends and joined the Edgewood Methodist Church together. (I think that is the name; Alston has wanted to join the Decatur Methodist Church but his friend Cox wanted to join Edgewood. So, Alston joined with him. Their granddaughters actually became friends many decades later.) My roots are in DeKalb.
My brother and I both started teaching and coaching in the storied DeKalb County in the 1970s. One of my best friends, Dennis Yarbrough, hails from DeKalb County. (In interest of full disclosure, Dennis is the Vice Chairman Emeritus of MACE.) His family lived in Grayson, Georgia, and his great grandfather, John Wesley Cooper, got into a disagreement with the owner of the land that he was sharecropping about which crops to attend to. Mr. Cooper had 18 children to feed; therefore, he was into tending to the corn. The white man Cooper wanted Dennis‘s great grandfather to tend to the cotton. Shots were exchange. The owner of the land was killed. John Wesley Cooper was the last black man ever to be lynched in Gwinnett County. After the lynching, Mr. Cooper‘s body was dragged around the courthouse with a cigar stuck in his mouth. (Dennis and I did the research in the old State Archives in Downtown Atlanta one afternoon. Dennis was excited to discover a newspaper article about the lynching. I believe the date was 1921 or 1922.) Needless to say, the Cooper family fled Gwinnett County for Stone Mountain in DeKalb County. Eventually, Dennis‘s family moved to the Toby Grant Apartments in the famous Scottdale community. Dennis and his twin brother Dwayne were star athletes in the early 1970s when desegregation was in full force. Dennis is now enshrined in the Druid Hills High School Athletic Hall of Fame. (He is also in the Newberry College Hall of Fame where he was named Honorable Mention Little American and First Team All South Carolina — including USC, Clemson, Furman, Wofford, Presbyterian, etc.) Yes, Dennis is a son of DeKalb too.
I say all this to keep in mind that my relationship with DeKalb is not an arms-length relationship. As a kid, we would periodically visit my grandfather Trotter‘s baby sister who lived in Downtown Avondale Estates. We would go to Meadownook on Alston Drive in East Lake. We made the vacation trip to Stone Mountain. Although none of my immediate family members attended Emory (out of the question for a middle class family living on a pre-QBE-principal’s salary!), Col. Alston‘s grandfather (and hence my fourth great grandfather), Rev. John Howard, was appointed by the Methodist Conference of Georgia to raise funds to begin the Manual Labor School (re-named after Bishop Emory in 1836). Howard was on Emory‘s first Board of Directors until his untimely death in 1836. Howard Street at Oxford of Emory is named after him, and his grandson, William Schley Howard, was a U. S. Congressman from Decatur (serving the old “bloody 4th District” for years). Congressman William Schley Howard is the grandfather of former Lieutenant Governor Pierre Howard. Congressman Howard was Robert A. Alston‘s first cousin. He was half-brother to David T. Howard, one of Georgia’s most celebrated men of color during his day. Dr. Martin Luther King attended David T. Howard Elementary School, and Maynard Jackson, Eldrin Bell, Walt (Clyde) Frazier, and Vernon Jordan (President Bill Clinton‘s lawyer) all graduated from David T. Howard High School, Atlanta‘s second high school for African American children. Howard had helped raise the money to build Booker T. Washington High School. I believe one of his daughters married one of Booker T. Washington‘s sons. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a story a few years ago about the family connections of David T. Howard, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass.)
Now you get an idea of my connections to DeKalb County. It is with mixed emotions that I see this great county looks so bad in the media. It is still a great county, but its public school system is like a ship without a rudder. It has almost been comical how this so-called superintendent “search” has been conducted. This Ray & Associates brought to the DeKalb Board of Education a very weak slate of candidates, two of whom apparently had had prior connections with this “search” firm. It is hard for me to believe that the pool of candidates is that slim. Heck, as I have asked before, why didn’t the school board or this “search” firm just go next door down I-20 and beg Dr. Sam King to take the job? (State Senator Ronald Ramsey, who heads up DeKalb’s Office of Internal Resolutions, represents a good chunk of both South Dekalb and Rockdale. I am real confident that Senator Ramsey could have facilitated a meeting. It wouldn’t have taken that. It was just a lack of vision and knowledge, I suppose.
Now to Dr. Lillie Cox: Well, I suppose that she is quite precocious in her field but her quirky demands reminded me of someone who was utterly inexperienced as to how it is done on this level. You can price yourself out of a job. Perhaps this is what she really intended to do. She, no doubt, was flattered that DeKalb‘s school board was on the verge of hiring her. It probably made an offer, but her counter-offer was somewhat outrageous. You can’t expect nor demand job security as a big time superintendent; this is why you are paid such gargantuan salaries for your three years or less. (Appointed superintendents of large school systems around three years on the job.) Demanding a due process hearing was unfathomable. School boards hate due process hearings, and they certainly don’t want to give one to the top person in the school system. This would be a complete circus in the media! This demand as well as the strange demand to be allowed to serve as an adjunct professor indicated her amateurish thinking and lack of understanding of the depth and breadth of being a large urban superintendent. (She’d be lucky to have time to go to the little Girl’s Room for a bathroom break, much less time to teach a college/university class. No, this ain’t Hickory, honey.) Although it was a novel idea to hire a young (less than 40 years old) white woman with very limited experience, it was a disaster just waiting to happen. She needs to stay in the bay; venturing out into the deep waters can be dangerous. Many ships have been wrecked on the sand bars or storms of nepotism, back-stabbing, board politics, etc. The sharks swim in the deep waters. It’s nice to think of yourself as a Big, Blue Marlin Superintendent, but it’s O. K. to be Red Snapper Superintendent.
What should the DeKalb County Board of Education do now? What’s wrong with advertising the position in Education Weekly as well as in magazines for superintendents and school boards? Forget the so-called “search” firms. In my opinion, they are by and large worthless at best and scams at worst. The school board members should take the bull by the horns and do the search themselves. If they are competent enough to get elected to the school board, they ought to be smart enough to conduct a search. After all, this is one of the major responsibilities of a school board. Perhaps, come to think about it, we should go back to electing superintendents. I have always felt that doing away with electing superintendents was a mistake. Ramona Tyson has brought a certain amount of “Pax Ramona” (pun intended), but I don’t see her as having the gravitas to lead DeKalb out of its current doldrums. This is still a plum job (despite the current circumstances). As I said earlier today, DeKalb is a great county with great neighborhoods, great restaurants, great cultural events, arts, great hospitals, great shopping malls, Fernbank, Stone Mountain, Emory, DeVry, Perimeter College, great sports, etc. DeKalb has great private schools, and it has some pretty good public schools but not enough of them. What the DeKalb School System needs is a visionary leader who can and will take the bull by the horns, establish discipline (the biggest element missing) in the schools, and install leaders who have integrity and are not petty, small-minded, and mean-spirited with axes to grind. Real school leaders are needed in DeKalb. I miss Dr. Freeman and Dr. Williams. These men had a certain gravitas about them when they served as Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent. Crawford Lewis didn’t have it. I don’t see any evidence that Ramona Tyson has it. Gravitas is hard to put your finger on, but you know when you see it. (c) April 23, 2011.