Sandy Springs Reporter - January 2021

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JANUARY 2021 • VOL. 15 — NO. 1

Sandy Springs Reporter 2020IN Looking back at a historic year P11

FOCUS ON EDUCATION

Students find creative ways to support the community in pandemic crisis P19-30

City reworks TSPLOST budget to finish key projects

COMMENTARY

Peering into the 2021 crystal ball P16-18

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

New Year, New Beginnings P16

FILE

An illustration of the proposed redesign of the intersection of Johnson Ferry Road and Mount Vernon Highway.

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al redesigns for North River Village Shopping Center, 8765-8897 Roswell Road; the former Loehmann’s Plaza Shopping Center, 8610 Roswell Road; and North Springs Center, 7300 Roswell Road. The concepts arrived this year after work by a city North End Revitalization Advisory Committee. “I view us as stakeholders, not develop-

The city plans to shift millions of dollars around with the aim of completing transportation projects funded by a sales tax whose revenue has been lower than expected. Meanwhile, a decision on whether to ask voters to approve another transportation sales tax could come as soon as this year. The changes would put on hold a controversial roundabout proposed for the intersection of Mount Paran and Powers Ferry roads; increase funds for a remake of the intersection of Johnson Ferry Road and Mount Vernon Highway; and move money away from trails and transit right of way and toward sidewalk installations. “The bottom line, it’s about $5.4 million ... over the available budget,” Public Works Director Marty Martin told the City Council Dec. 1 about the TSPLOST project list.

See NORTH on page 14

See CITY on page 15

North End remake means incentives, code changes BY BOB PEPALIS Redevelopment of four North End shopping centers would require the city to loosen code restrictions and offer financial incentives -- and maybe even a direct purchase of property, consultants say. That was the word the City Council heard on Dec. 15 in the wake of conceptu-

BY BOB PEPALIS

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2 | Community

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Permit data shows how local construction is weathering the pandemic storm BY JOHN RUCH AND MAGGIE LEE The commercial and residential construction industry is weathering the pandemic storm in local cities, though with fewer of the gigantic projects filed in 2019, according to a Reporter review of building permit filings. Building permit categories and filing methods vary among local cities, but officials agree that the number of filings is a general indicator of developers’ and homeowners’ confidence in growth and investment. And those numbers were broadly similar in 2020 compared to 2019, despite the apocalyptic pandemic and its economic fallout. Officials say that the lack of severe plunge in permit filings illustrates some of the industry changes in the pandemic. City halls shifted to online permitting and virtual inspections. The construction industry remained an “essential” business immune to shutdown orders. And there was a boost in home renovations as some people who shifted to teleworking found themselves eager to spruce up the four walls they were now staring at all day. The city of Dunwoody successfully shifted its planning staff to teleworking, says Community Development Director Richard McLeod. “We never really shut down.

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We closed City Hall for the most part, but we had everyone working at home and we could handle [permits] pretty well,” he said. In his city, McLeod said, “the commercial permits have dropped a little,” while residential permits “ticked up because so many people were doing home projects.” While the number of permits were similar, McLeod said, the fee revenue dipped because, especially on the commercial side, 2020’s projects were smaller. Last year, for example, including permitting for one of the new skyscrapers at State Farm’s new complex in Perimeter Center. A similar drop in large-scale projects is part of the story in Atlanta, the local city that did see a significant dip in permit filings. The city of Atlanta also briefly shut down its permitting and inspections in March. City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane said that new residential and commercial permitting citywide in 2020 is about 70% of what it was last year. But here’s the thing, he says: 2019 was Atlanta’s biggestever development year. “If you consider that we’re in a global pandemic, to be at 70% of the permits we did last year, the busiest year in the city’s history — it’s pretty impressive,” Keane said. Permitting in the last quarter of the year has picked up to about 85% of 2019 numbers, he said. Permit filings in Buckhead’s main ZIP codes echo the citywide trend, with single-family and commercial permits down

about 70%. But 2019 also had a big local spike from the Peachtree Hills Place senior residences on Peachtree Hills Avenue, where each condo was permitted individually. The city of Sandy Springs had a similar 2019 spike that did not repeat: a phase of the massive Aria residential development along Abernathy Road and Glenridge Drive. Ginger Sottile, the city’s community development director, said the permit mix changes naturally year to year, and in 2020 might be tilted toward renovations rather than new construction. “I think our overall permit numbers are very consistent over the past few years,” she said. Building permits are just one window into the state of the construction industry. Not every permit it approved, and many projects that get a permit are never finished. Big projects will have many permits filed over several years. Time will tell whether the pandemic may have longer-term impacts on what is built and when, noted Burke Brennan, a spokesperson for the city of Brookhaven, which continued its permitting uninterrupted and saw little change in the numbers. “Building permits are … a step in a process, which is often months, sometimes years, in the making,” Brennan said. “As it pertains to what plans may have been interrupted by this pandemic, those results may have yet to be seen.” SS


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River park visitors urged to clean up after their dogs with new bins BY BOB PEPALIS While dogs are welcome in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, their waste is not. The national park — which includes areas in Buckhead and Sandy Springs — has added waste bins and an educational campaign to get humans to clean up after their river-enjoying pets. Visitors who walk their dogs along the park’s trails have more places to “Bag and Bin It” with the installation of 37 new dog waste bins. The Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy and the National Park Service funded the 20 replacement dog waste bins and the additional 17 bins. All 15 park units now have bins and each bin has free waste bags. With more people spending time outdoors during the pandemic the volume and distribution of dog waste and bags left on the ground has risen, officials say.

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One of the promotional artworks, created by Miami Ad School students, urging dog-walkers to clean up after their pets in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

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“The installation of 37 new dog waste bins will address the issue of dog waste and bags being left in the park by providing better access to proper disposal,” said Phillip Hodges, CNPC board president, in a press release. “What we need now is for dog owners to do their part.” Despite the previously existing dog waste bins, many visitors leave dog waste on the trails or other public areas. Some dog owners bag the waste, but just drop it along the trails instead of taking it to bins. A multi-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that dogs are a primary contributor of fecal contamination in the Chattahoochee River within the park. The Chattahoochee River provides 70% of the drinking water for metro Atlanta, park official say. High bacteria levels in the river can affect recreation such as kayaking, fishing and swimming, where people come in contact with the water, officials say. The CNPC asked the Buckhead-based Miami Ad School to help. A survey by student creative teams revealed that many park visitors mistakenly believed dog waste was a good fertilizer, unaware that the fecal material contaminates the watershed and damages plants. They determined public education and more dog waste bins were needed. The winning campaign uses colorful illustrations reminiscent of retro-styled NPS park posters. It features the tag line “Lead the Pack — Bag and Bin It.” For information about the program or CNPC, the Chattahoochee River NRA’s official friends group, visit chatthoocheeparks.org or email info@chattahoocheeparks.org.


4 | Education

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After being forced to experiment with remote learning during the pandemic, the Fulton County School System is proposing to open a permanent “virtual school” in the 2021-2022 year. Experiences in the pandemic show Fulton County Schools (FCS) officials that demand exists from students and parents for remote learning, so the school district responded with a proposal to open a virtual school starting in the 2021-2022 school year. Student enrollment was expected to begin in February using a lottery-based admission by grade level. The Fulton County Board of Education added $200,000 in funding for planning and operations of the virtual school at its Dec. 10 meeting. The remote-learning experience this year showed a demand for the service to continue, officials said at a Dec. 2 school board meeting. Gyimah Whitaker, FCS’s deputy chief academic officer, said the virtual school would enroll up to 1,000 students in grades 3 through 11. Grade 12 would be added in the second year as the junior class advanced. FCS expects the 1,000 students would include 180 from elementary school, 270 from middle school and 550 from high school. Whitaker said the virtual school builds on lessons from remote learning, STEM schools and Blended Campus, along with visits and discussions with other districts’ virtual schools. Officials proposed starting with grade 3 because by that grade students can read and comprehend material on their own. Whitaker said the virtual school would increase the district’s portfolio of schools and use the FCS Virtual Instructional Framework. The second year’s remote learning model would be more robust. What it would not do is enroll students in grades pre-K through 2, she said. Students would not get to participate in athletic or academic activities at their zoned school. Club sports and virtual academic clubs, such as STEM clubs and robotics teams would be allowed. The school would open in August 2021. The school name would be chosen following standard FCS policy, which includes public input. The student enrollment process would begin in February as the project team establishes the virtual school’s budget. Teacher selection would take place in March and April, using the same system that FCS uses for traditional schools.

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Community | 5

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City agrees to state consent order on Lake Forrest Dam repairs BY BOB PEPALIS The City Council approved a consent order on Dec. 15 on the more than 50-year-old Lake Forrest Dam with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources that will lead to an application to rebuild or breach the dam to keep people and property safe. The dam serves as the foundation of a section of Lake Forrest Drive that creates a common boundary with Atlanta. The city lowered the water level in 2016 with concurrence by the DNR’s Environmental Protection Division to safeguard people and property downstream of the dam. The consent order was chosen by the EPD instead of litigation. It requires the city to monitor the dam and roadway weekly, with reports to the state monthly on the lake level, amount of flow in the principal spillway pipe and noting any signs of cracking in Lake Forrest Drive or seepage from the dam. The inspections must continue until a permit for the dam is approved after repairs. The EPD also used the consent order to approve further lowering of the lake’s water level performed on April 22, as it “may aid in preventing further deterioration of conditions at the dam.” In recognition of the lawsuits delaying the construction, the EPD’s consent order requires an immediate report on litigation status 30 days after the order is enacted, and then quarterly until the lawsuits are resolved. City staff said in October 209 that EPD review and permitting will take about four months; land acquisition will take about four months; and construction will take about 15 months. Failing to follow the consent order could make the city liable for up to a $1,000 penalty and $500 per day for any violation until it comes into compliance. The EPD was unable to comment on the consent order because it had yet to be enacted, EPD spokesperson Kevin Chambers said on Dec. 16. Repairs were ordered under the state Safe Dams Program 10 years ago. The dam is on the state’s list of “high-hazard” dams, meaning that if it failed in a worst-case scenario, the flood would likely kill people downstream. The two cities are among the five owners of the dam and have cooperated to study the dam and spillway to safeguard nearby residents and downstream residents and meet the EPD’s compliance requirements. The city has taken the lead on the repair planning. A design contract was awarded to Schnabel Engineering for $756,800 in October 2019 to create a spillway for surplus water under the road. The deterioration of the spillway was identified as a key indicator of the dam’s condition. “The problem with this project is that there’s so many property owners and property interests involved that now we have two lawsuits from property owners claiming damage because the water level has been reduced pursuant to an order by EPD, or demand by EPD,” City Attorney Dan Lee said. This consent order did not specify a deadline, which cleared up a sticking point for Lee. In the order the EPD recognized another consent order it made with the Three Lakes Corp. to cooperate with the cities and to communicate that property owners must allow access to their properties so work on the dam can be completed. Those other dam owners include the Three Lakes homeowners’ association along the west side of Lake Forrest DRive Two homeowners claimed in a lawsuit that dam owners must maintain the original water level. “Well, Sandy Springs claims they have been working on it for years. It’s apparent they haven’t done anything really at all,” said Spencer Lambeth, one of the homeowners who filed suit against the city in a claim that it hadn’t properly maintained the dam or roadway. “Everybody is adamantly upset that nothing’s been done at all.” The cities’ consent order with EPD specifies that the water level will be kept low. They must submit an application to breach the dam or a permit to rebuild it. Once litigation is resolved, a permit would be issued to the five dam owners. “I just want to clarify, the two big takeaways here are we are no longer tied to a calendar. And two, we actually have the option of making Lake Forrest Drive not a dam,” Councilmember Andy Bauman said after entering a motion to enter the consent order. Bauman said if they deconstruct the dam, which is one of the options, that does not mean tearing down Lake Forrest Drive. “Lake Forrest Drive will just become a regular old road with a hole that goes through it somewhere to transport water and in a continuous basis,” he said. SS

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6 | Public Safety

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Police to get new Taser shock weapons linked to body cameras

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An Axon publicity photo showing how an officer wears a Taser, holstered on the belt, and body camera, affixed to the center of the chest.

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Any time a city police officer activates a Taser, their body camera will automatically turn on in an upgraded package the City Council approved on Dec. 2. The contract with camera and Taser-maker Axon, which costs $2.3 million contract over five years, will equip all 170 sworn officers, Deputy Chief Keith Zgonc said. It also includes the latest version of the electric shock weapon, called the Taser 7. The automatic camera activation is a backup to manual activation that officers are already required to do, Zgonc said. SSPD policy requires officers to turn on their body cams when approaching a member of the public for any reason. “What we train our officers to do is manually turn the camera on before they ever get out of the car,” he said. Turning on patrol cars’ blue lights also activates cameras. “You’re not going to have a situation where [an officer says], ‘Well, I just forgot to turn the body camera on,’ because KEITH ZGONC it’s going to be automatically turned on,” DEPUTY CHIEF Zgonc said. Zgonc told the City Council that SSPD planned to purchase 40 new body cameras to equip the remaining officers. Captains, majors and the police chief were included in the plan. Zgonc has worked with Axon since 2008, when Tasers were purchased. In 2017, the city bought 92 body cameras from Axon followed by 38 more body cameras and 135 in-car cameras. The new contract consolidates the city’s existing contract with Axon. Adding the Taser 7 and other features will cost approximately $50,000 less than just buying the 40 new body cams, according to Zgonc’s report Axon suggested that the city bundle in the new Taser 7, which Zgonc said is more effective than previous models. City Attorney Dan Lee said the first year of the contract is approximately $100,000 lower because of equipment trade-in. Zgonc also explained that the annual costs vary for years two through five because equipment upgrades factor into the costs. Training with the equipment and cloud-based storage are included in the contract, he said.

You’re not going to have a situation where [an officer says], ‘Well, I just forgot to turn the body camera on,’ because it’s going to be automatically turned on.

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Around Town

Joe Earle is editorat-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at joeearle@ reporternewspapers.net

Fighting a deadline in pursuit of an Eagle

Avery Maxwell knew from the start that she wouldn’t have time to spare. She was in a race with the calendar. There would be lots to do, and, in the beginning, she figured she’d have only about two years to do it. She had to wrap up everything before she turned 18. Her 18th arrives next month, on Valentine’s Day. “It’s so close, yet so hard,” the Dunwoody High School senior said recently, “because there was so much work to do and so little time to do it.” Before she started in 2019, she charted what she had to do on an online task board. She figured out her deadlines along the way and determined she could just make it in time. So, she set to work. This month, Avery is scheduled to wrap up her race to become one of the first girls in the country to be awarded an Eagle Scout rank by the Boy Scouts. Yes, you read that right. Boy Scouts. If all goes as planned, Avery will join the inaugural flight of girl Eagles. In February of 2019, the Boy Scouts of America changed. The organization, renamed Scouts BSA, for the first time allowed girls to join. That meant girls, in girls-only troops, could earn BSA merit badges, go camping as BSA scouts, and earn the BSA’s highest rank, the Eagle Scout. Avery wanted in. Her two older brothers had been Boy Scouts and had reached Eagle rank, and she wanted to do the same. She had tried Girl Scouts for several years when she was younger, but quit, she said, after deciding that program wasn’t for her. Continued on page 8 ROBERT MAXWELL

Avery Maxwell works on the observation platform she planned and built at the Dunwoody Nature Center to earn her Eagle rank through Scouts BSA.

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Fighting a deadline in pursuit of an Eagle Continued from page 7 She wanted more camping and outdoor activities. Her dad, Robert Maxwell, said that when the Boy Scouts first announced plans to allow girls to join, “she made a beeline for me and said, ‘Dad, I’m joining.’” The Scouts BSA program did offer her the chance to get out into the wild. She took part in an eight-day canoe trip near the U.S.-Canada border in 2019, she said. She planned on hiking this past summer at the Boy Scout’s Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, but that trip was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, her main goal remained earning that Eagle rank. Only a small fraction of the boys (and now girls) who start out in

scouting reach that rank, she said, “and I wanted to be part of that 5 percent.” Why? “It means you can work for a long period of time and actually put your mind to doing something that big,” she said. In September, Scouts BSA announced that all the girls across the country awarded Eagle rank by Feb. 8, 2021, would be considered part of the inaugural group of girl Eagles and their awards would note that fact. That appeals to Avery. “Having that on your resume…,” she said, “saying, ‘I’m in the first group of [girl] Eagle Scouts,’ that will be amazing.” To make it in time, her father said, she needs to wrap up her project and application so it can be approved by the middle of this month, her dad said. “I will make

it,” Avery said. “I just need to get the paperwork done.” What do her brothers think of her becoming an Eagle Scout? “They think it’s really cool that I was able to join them, especially in the time I had. They took their own sweet time about it. They got [something like] six or seven years [to finish]. I had two.” And the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things at times, making it difficult to do things she needed to do to collect some of the ranks and badges she needed. Still, there were only a couple of time when she questioned whether she could finish. For her Eagle Project, she decided to build a pavilion at the Dunwoody Nature Center where visitors can observe a working beehive. She organized construction of the structure and raised

money through a Go Fund Me page to pay for it. Any excess contributions, she said, will go the nature center. In December, she and her crew of volunteers (including, her dad said, both her brothers and her boyfriend) were finishing up the project, the last thing on her list before submitting her claim on Eagle rank for review. What did she have to say now that the end of her two-year Eagle pursuit was so near? She thought about that a moment. “It’s been a lot of hard work …,” she said. “It’s crazy… Wow.” Then she was off to spend part of her weekend writing emails to solicit more contributions for her project. Her deadline loomed. She had things yet to do and the days were growing short.

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between infrastructure, programming and technology as critical to building dynamic communities. “Operations, technology and design must work together to create the sophisticated product seniors are looking for in today’s market.” Chief Operating Officer Kari Samuelson explained. “What sets Corso apart is that the entire campus is engineered to be both beautiful and functional.” This balance of form and function is largely based on human-scale design principles. Human-scale architecture focuses on creating people-centered environments that foster positive interaction and connection. Corso’s human-led architecture and programming are informed by decades of developing, owning and operating communities for seniors. The minds behind Corso understand that the way people interact with spaces often shifts with age. A family home that was once a place of comfort can slowly become a burden. Stairs, heavy doors and long driveways that once added character to a home can become cumbersome to everyday life, leaving many seniors feeling overwhelmed. Senior Living Consultant Kim Linder has helped many seniors overcome the fear that downsizing their home means downsizing their quality of life. “When I’m working with seniors planning for their next home, I ask them to consider two questions: ‘Does this add value to my life?’ and ‘What do I want my life to look like now and when I need care?’ Searching for a senior living community requires different considerations than searching for a typical home. It’s less about square footage and more about the services, experiences and relationships improving your everyday life.” Linder emphasized the importance of planning for potential care needs when choosing a senior community. Needs can arise unexpectedly, resulting in seniors and families scrambling rather than carefully weighing all the options. Planning ahead and asking the right questions provides peace of mind, added control and a smoother transition. For active seniors seeking a vibrant social scene, it’s easy to focus on the services and amenities offered to independent living residents without considering how offerings may shift should care needs arise. More traditional communities may require you to

move into a separate building to receive assisted living services or you may have to hire your own caregiver from an outside agency. These are just a few of the questions to ask when choosing your next home. Corso’s “no-move” care model is especially appealing to those who prefer to plan ahead. Residents of independent living can receive assisted living services without moving to a new residence. While many future residents do not currently need care, it provides peace of mind knowing Corso’s in-house nurses and care staff are there if you need them. Knowing your next-door neighbors will be your neighbors for years to come builds strong ties that are essential to overall happiness. The same commitment to providing seniors with peace of mind, flexibility and control applies to Corso’s leasing model. Unlike more traditional continuum of care communities, there are no large buy-ins or invasive financial assessments. Residents of Corso are in full control over their financial and personal decisions. Corso has to earn the trust of residents and families daily because it is their choice to call Corso Atlanta home. The community is now pre-leasing city homes, independent living, assisted living and memory care homes. City homes are distinguished by their private front door entrances and patios overlooking Corso’s vibrant courtyards. In addition to having their own private exterior entrances with a second entrance to the main building, city homes offer refined architectural details such as rounded corners, coffered ceilings, elevated trim work, and top-line appliances, including hidden Sub-Zero refrigerators. The community offers over 45 floorplans including specialty unit styles with added design details. All residents of city homes, independent living, and assisted living have full access to a wide range of destinations, including a formal dining venue, wine and cheese tasting room, bistro, on-site florist, full-service salon and spa, theater, heated pool and more. Each destination is thoughtfully designed to create “familiarity with the past while giving the ability to experience beauty on a dayto-day basis.” Corso also provides unparalleled concierge services such as black car transportation, valet, pool-side service, 24/7 security, and additional services such as private dining in the teahouse, floral arrangement delivery and spa services. Every amenity and service has been intentionally included to make Corso Atlanta a place residents and guests look forward to enjoying together.

To learn more about Corso Atlanta, please visit corsoatlanta.com or call 404-891-9190. You can also visit their new Leasing Center location at 3303 Howell Mill Road. Corso’s team of senior living consultants are available Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday by appointment.

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Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives on the Dunwoody-Sandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire others. Contact her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com.

Boxing is a knockout exercise for people with Parkinson’s

An estimated 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, with 60,000 new diagnoses every year, 13,000 of them here in Atlanta. Many famous people have PD, including actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD) at age 29. So common is PD that most of us have known someone with it. I watched it destroy my former father-in-law -- who before PD was a healthy, confident small-business owner -- physically, mentally and emotionally. It also wreaked havoc on his brokenhearted wife,is awho regretfully sent him a nursing home when she Carol Niemi marketing consultant who lives on theto Dunwoodycould no longer help him getSprings out of chair. Sandy lineaand writes about people whose lives inspire Contact at worthknowingnow@gmail.com. That was 20 years ago. others. There washer and still is no cure for Parkinson’s, but if my fatherin-law were alive today, he would have the hope of slowing the progression of his disease. That hope is boxing. And one of the leaders in the Parkinson’s boxing movement, Boxing for Parkinson’s, is headquartered in Sandy Springs. An all-volunteer organization sponsored by the nonprofit Livramento Delgado Boxing Foundation (LDBF), it moved in September to its own 4,700-square-foot, state-of-the-art wellness center and is flourishing in the midst of one of the worst years any of us can remember. Recently, LDBF Chairman Denise Formisano, who has not only PD but also multiple sclerosis, invited me to attend a boxing class with my contact Ellen Bookman, the LDBF communications director. But why boxing? Because it naturally incorporates elements that can alleviate PD symptoms: footwork, balance, agility, movement in all planes, hand-eye coordination, Continued on page 10

SPECIAL/ELLEN BOOKMAN

Chairman Denise Formisano and Director of Operations Tom Jeffrey of the Livramento Delgado Boxing Foundation pose among the bags at the Sandy Springs boxing gym.

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Boxing is a knockout exercise for people with Parkinson’s Continued from page 9 strength, endurance, flexibility, posture, breathing, cognition, aerobic conditioning and camaraderie. Upon my arrival, Tom Jeffrey, Denise’s husband and LDBF’s operations director, took my temperature and squirted sanitizer into my hands. He then fitted me with sanitized hand wraps over which he placed boxing gloves. One side of the room was lined with rows of hanging punching bags, which we vigorously attacked after a warm-up that included jumping jacks. The full-time volunteer instructor, a former Air Force boxing instructor now working on a Ph.D. in ancient history, began calling out patterns of numbers and random dates. The numbers represented different boxing punches. If the instructor called

out 1-2-4-3, the students had to know they meant jab, cross, rear hook and lead hook in that order and be able to repeat the pattern rapidly until the next sequence. If that sounds easy, try not only instantaneously remembering what each number represents but also repeating the punches in sequence while jumping around. I’m a gym rat, but this class challenged me physically and mentally. And the dates the instructor called out along with the punch numbers? They were all from ancient history, and the students had to be able to repeat them at the end of each sequence. They were then told why the date was significant. A boxing workout and ancient history lesson all in one class! According to the Parkinson’s Outcome Project, the largest ever clinical study of Parkinson’s disease with more than

13,000 participants in five countries, exercise helps improve not only motor skills but also mood, depression and anxiety, all of which can affect people with PD more than motor impairments. The study also found that the sooner after a diagnosis people begin exercising, the more they can slow the decline in their quality of life. Denise says she was lucky because her diagnosing doctor stressed the importance of exercise and she started exercising immediately. She was so impressed with the results that she gave up her fulltime career in fashion design to become the full-time volunteer chair of LDBF. Ellen Bookman, the LDBF communications director, wasn’t so lucky. “I was diagnosed by a doctor who handed me a brochure and said, ‘Go boxing,’” said Ellen, who received her diagno-

sis of YOPD at the age of 52. “I came home, got on the internet and freaked out. Then I did nothing for a whole month but sit on the couch totally depressed.” When she finally looked into boxing and called Denise, everything changed. “Denise saved my life,” she said. Ellen currently writes a blog about living with YOPD, called “Loving & Living,” and plans to launch a YOPD mentoring program in April. Boxing for Parkinson’s offers a variety of classes, including yoga, six days a week. Its 200 members range in age from 38 to 92, with varying skills, including some who use wheelchairs. The address is 6667 Vernon Woods Drive, Suite A-16, in Sandy Springs. For information, call 404-747-3032 or go to boxingforparkinsons.org.

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Community | 11

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

IN

BY BOB PEPALIS, JOHN RUCH AND HOLLY R. PRICE

Protesters raise signs to passing motorists during a Black Lives Matter protest outside City Hall in June.

named for a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader. Held through the virtual platform Civic Dinners, the 44 racial dialogue meetings drew more than 300 participants. Among the suggestions that came out of the process was a city “diversity and inclusion” commission Paul says he will propose in January. And more discussions are planned.

NORTH END SHOPPING CENTERS GET REDEVELOPMENT CONCEPTS

Customers line up at the Kroger at City Walk on Sandy Springs Place on March 13 as stocking up for the pandemic shutdowns began in earnest.

THE PANDEMIC STRIKES Tents at Medical Center hospitals were an early sign that the pandemic was becoming serious. The many shutdowns included the Performing Arts Center at City Springs, and the city manager and city attorney were among those who contracted and recovered from COVID-19. Sandy Springs joined 12 other Fulton County cities in a dispute over CARES Act fund distribution, ultimately agreeing on getting $4.5 million for reimbursements on pandemic expenditures. Those funds were in part given to nonprofits including the Community Assistance Center for housing help and a $1.2 million fund for small businesses. In private efforts, the Solidarity Sandy Springs food pantry was born and appears to be a long-term program.

FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS FIRST TO SHUT DOWN AND REOPEN

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The Fulton County School System was the first local public system to shut down due to the pandemic and the first to re-

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open for optional in-person classes. Officials closed three schools early on March 9 when one employee reported a positive COVID-19 test and a day later closed all schools to in-person instruction -- a closure that lasted until Oct. 14 in the next school year. As the New Year dawns, about half the students were attending in person and 17 of the district’s 93 noncharter schools had closed in-person instruction and switched to fully remote learning because of the number of students or staff who had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

CIVIC DINNERS POINT OUT NEED FOR DIVERSITY IN LEADERSHIP, MORE DIALOG The historic, nationwide Black Lives Matter protests came to Sandy Springs as well, where Mayor Rusty Paul attended one demonstration to praise the activism. He soon announced a series of racial dialogue meetings and a proposal to change the spelling of Lake Forrest Drive and Forrest Lake Drive out of concern they were

A long city process aimed at spurring redevelopment in the North End resulted in conceptual designs for mixed-use makeovers of four Roswell Road shopping centers: the Northridge, the former Loehmann’s Plaza, North River and North Springs. Next, the city has to figure out how to incentivize or subsidize such projects and how to balance redevelopment with calls for affordable housing.

NEW PUBLIC SAFETY HEADQUARTERS IN THE WORKS After years of housing its police department and municipal court in multiple buildings at an office park, the city spent $10.9 million on an office building at 620 Morgan Falls Road as a new public safety headquarters. Along with pending renovation there, the city planned to seek bids for construction of two fire stations, one of which would be on the Morgan Falls property.

HAMMOND DRIVE WIDENING DESIGN UNVEILED After years of planning and debate, the city revealed design concepts for a Hammond Drive widening project that include expanding the two-lane road to four lanes with a grassy median; adding two large roundabouts at major intersections; and putting a pedestrian walkway underneath the road. The design could affect 80 properties with either displacement or right of way takings. The 1.1-mile

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project between Barfield and Roswell roads was projected to cost $60 million to $63 million, which voters might be asked to partly fund through a special local option sales tax.

CITY TAKES OVER HERITAGE SANDY SPRINGS SITE The city took over the Heritage Sandy Springs park and museum facilities on Blue Stone Road as the nonprofit cited the pandemic’s economic impact as forcing it to become dormant. The city also began planning an $8.6 million Cultural Center that would house an art gallery and offices of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and its exhibit “Anne Frank in the World,” which is currently housed in a Roswell Road shopping center.

RIVER ACCESS PARKS, TRAILS PROPOSED The city proposed better ways to access the Chattahoochee River by improving amenities at the existing Crooked Creek and Morgan Falls parks and creating a new green space on Roswell Road. A major motivation was a policy goal of sparking redevelopment in the North End.

I-285 TOLL LANES SHOCK WITH PROPERTY IMPACTS The Georgia Department of Transportation in January revealed preliminary designs for toll lanes, on I-285, which are intended to speed traffic as part of a metro-wide system, but would impact hundreds of properties and would turn some local streets into highway interchanges. Approximately 155 properties in Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs could be affected or demolished, leading some local homeowners to threaten lawsuits. More details will come in the new year.


12 | Art & Entertainment

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Author Q&A: A food historian looks at Atlanta’s culinary past and future BY KEVIN C. MADIGAN Author and food tour guide Akila McConnell will be addressing the Buckhead Heritage Society Book Club on Jan. 13 to discuss her career and her first book “A Culinary History of Atlanta,” a finalist in the 2020 Georgia Writer Association Author of the Year Awards. McConnell holds degrees in philosophy, accounting and law, and is the founder of Unexpected Atlanta, which offers tours about the city’s history and food culture. Her Buckhead Heri-

tage appearance will be held virtually at 7 p.m. and is free, but registration is required at BuckheadHeritage.com.

Q: Tell us about your book. A: It’s a food history of Atlanta, of course, but really it’s about recognizing stories that we usually don’t hear. I had read pretty much every history of Atlanta and most of those focus on the role famous people play, but I was more interested in the people you don’t hear about, such as Myra Miller, a Black woman who after the Civil War became one of the city’s most famous bakers. Who was the first restaurateur in the city? Who was doing food production? It was women. During the antebellum period, it was the slaves. It became the African Americans after slavery, and today it is our immigrant population. They are doing the bulk of food production both from a cooking angle and the food we get from our factories.

Q: You write about Martin Luther King Jr. being something of a foodie. A. Absolutely, yes, he was a huge foodie. The Civil Rights Movement was very much a grassroots organization and they needed places to have their meetings, and so Atlanta’s restaurants played a huge role in that. Paschal’s, which is still open, was a huge location for human rights gatherings -- also Busy Bee Cafe [and] Frazier’s Lounge. Restaurants had an impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Q: How did you go from practicing law to writing about food?

Akila McConnell.

A: My passion was not in the law. It was in telling stories associated with

SPECIAL

food. I quit my job when I was 30. My husband and I decided to travel around the world for three-and-a-half years. I started writing a blog about food and travel and the history behind food in different places. This blog became super popular. We were picked up by the L.A. Times and USA Today and others, and so I realized I could make a living writing about food. Then I found out that I was having a child, so we came home to Atlanta and it only made sense that I focus on Atlanta’s food stories.

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Q: What are your thoughts on Atlanta’s food culture during the pandemic? A: The big change I see is there is going to be a reliance on takeout long-term. This

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is something that restaurants have to face, especially high-end restaurants, which is kind of unthinkable. Another thing is, the pandemic has revealed a lot of food disparities -- you see these huge lines of people at food banks. It also has revealed some real flaws in our warehousing system because there are people struggling to get food and at the same time there is all this food that’s going to waste. Another long-term consequence is that there will be more direct-to-consumer options. I own a food tour company and we have shifted to doing foodie gift boxes. It’s basically getting the middleman like the grocery store out of it. We take a much smaller margin.

Q: What’s your take on the restaurant scene in Buckhead? A: Pre-1950s, it was a high-end residential area. The restaurant scene at that time was relatively small, but then Lenox [Square] mall opened up and that was a total game-changer. When you think of places like Dante’s Down the Hatch, a Buckhead institution, it’s not a coincidence that it was located directly across the street from Lenox mall. It was very intentional because that’s where everybody in the city was coming to shop. There was nowhere like Lenox anywhere in the South. Even today you see all the restaurants congregated mainly on Peachtree, around the Lenox mall hub. A single anchor can define what a neighborhood becomes. Buckhead continues to evolve and is more upscale, continuing to push that gourmet level higher, whereas in some other locations there is less of that. That’s fascinating to me.

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Public Safety | 13

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City aims to prevent police abuses with recruiting and training, officials say BY BOB PEPALIS The Sandy Springs Police Department’s methods of recruiting and training offices aim to prevent abuses like those that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis and sparked nationwide protests, the mayor and SSPD’s second-in-command said in a Dec. 3 panel discussion. “Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, anybody who saw those videos had to be moved by what they saw [and], to some degree, horrified,” said Mayor Rusty Paul at the “Policing in Sandy Springs” discussion, adding that he is frequently asked about the possibility of a similar incident there. “Could we have civil unrest? Could we have a situation like that?” he said. “The truth is, if it can happen in any community, it can happen in our community.” But SSPD has said it bans the knee-tothe-neck hold that contributed to Floyd’s death in May and previously reportedly having only one use-of-force complaint in the past two-and-a-half years, which was ruled “unfounded.” Recruiting only quality applicants and regular training — including on use of force, bias-based and bias recognition — are the tools SSPD uses to prevent abuses, said Deputy Chief Keith Zgonc. “The law surrounding when you can use force [and] when you can’t, proper uses of force, are all things that we train on throughout the year, every year,” Zgonc said.

must have what she called “The Talk” with their children on how to respond to officers to avoid abuse. She asked Zgonc how he would advise parents on what tell children about dealing with police officers. Zgnoc suggested a comparison to schools, saying youths stopped by police “should respond to the police officer the same way that you would want your child to respond to a teachDeputy Chief Keith Zgonc and Mayor Rusty Paul. er or a school administrator stopping them in the hallway of Paul and Zgnoc were questioned by host their school. Be respectful.” Clarissa Sparks of Sandy Springs-based Many controversial police killings have brand strategy company Sparks & Co. in involved calls for people suffering mental the discussion, which was organized by health issues. Last year, an SSPD officer Leadership Sandy Springs. killed a man with a knife who was reportIn the wake of Floyd’s death, several edly suicidal. protests were held in the city. Paul attendHandling calls that deal with mental ed one of them, praising the protesters for health issues is a big issue, Zgonc said. He their activism. At another protest, an orgasaid that police agencies across the counnizer told the Reporter that her family had try are trying to figure out the best ways to bias issues with SSPD several years ago, as respond. well as in the neighboring cities of Dun“We’re typically coming in a situation woody and Roswell. where perhaps things got too violent for To Sparks’ question on how misconduct the family,” he said. “They just don’t know is handled within SSPD, Zgonc said every how to control the situation. Or they just formal complaint will be investigated and don’t know where else to turn.” get a direct response. If sustained misconFor those types of calls, officers may use duct occurs, sometimes training can fix the tools such as a Taser electric shock weapon, problem. Other disciplinary actions would which have a lower risk of killing a suspect be considered. than a firearm does. Sparks said many families feel that they

Zgonc said the city does a more vigorous background check for its applicants than some other area police departments. When a candidate from New Jersey applied, an officer traveled to Newark to interview neighbors and that city’s police department, he said. Sparks asked if the city had responded to the evidence of bias seen in this year’s controversial killing of Black men, such as Ahmaud Arbery’s killing by vigilantes in Brunswick and Rayshard Brook’s killing by police officers in Atlanta. Paul said the city responded with its racial dialogue meeting program held through the company Civic Dinners, which drew hundreds of residents to participate in virtual discussions. As one result of the process, Paul is proposing a city “diversity and inclusion commission.” “We don’t have to go out and build diversity. What we have to focus on is inclusion,” Paul said. “One of the things that came out at the dinners was the fact that a lot of people didn’t feel that they were included in the community today.” SSPD is looking at pilot projects being conducted across the country that have social workers or other trained professionals going on calls alongside police or responding by themselves. Zgonc said officials are waiting to see how those projects work out before making any proposals. — John Ruch contributed

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14 | Community

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North End remake means incentives, code changes Continued from page 1 ers, and I’m open to all of these things that we can do,” Councilmember Andy Bauman said. “But yeah, we’re not in the business of handouts. But we need to try to examine what’s possible and move the discussion from what you can’t do into what you can.” Consultants were directed to create mixed-use redevelopment concepts with residential and retail uses. Community surveys supported these uses along with a desire for green space. The city’s efforts to spur redevelopment in the northern Roswell Road corridor date back many years, originally as an explicit push to replace apartment complexes and shopping centers, and their residents and businesses, with ownership housing and higher-end restaurants and stores. With changes in the political climate and a demand for more affordable housing, the latest effort involves an attempt to establish higher-end retail but avoid gentrification and displacement of residents. A split in the task force formed in 2019 when its members couldn’t agree on what to do about displacement of lower-income families, leading to the formation of a separate advocacy group called Sandy Springs Together.

Whatever the council decides to do, it should not expect to have applications for redevelopment coming soon after, said city Economic Development Director Andrea Worthy. This will be a long-term plan. The first step is defining what “affordable” or “workforce” housing means, Jonathan Gelber, vice president of Atlantabased Bleakly Advisory Group, told the council. A housing study that follows an assessment study submitted to City Council in October will set targets and timelines for the number or percentage of units wanted for the different sites. The housing needs assessment revealed that the average household earning less than $50,000 annually pays more than 30% of its income in housing. The city staff was directed by Mayor Rusty Paul to take the consultants’ recommendations into consideration and return with proposals. Gelber said the city can use existing programs like the federal Opportunity Zones, where developers can get tax incentives for projects in “economically distressed” areas. Those incentives might include job credits or tax credits. Tax allocation districts (TADs) and tax abatements also were proposed as ways to provide financial support. A TAD lets devel-

So the question is not necessarily what are the costs of developing this, but what is the cost of not? JONATHAN GELBER VICE PRESIDENT BLEAKLY ADVISORY GROUP opers keep money they otherwise would have paid in property taxes and spend it for on-site infrastructure work. TADs and tax abatement have been intensely controversial in Fulton County and the city of Atlanta in recent years for impacts on school budgets, the use on projects that likely did not need incentives, and TADs that failed to complete on schedule.

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Gelber also said the city could buy the properties, improve the infrastructure and sell them to developers below cost to initiate redevelopment. The city needs to improve the North Roswell Road streetscape to make it safer for all users, walkers, pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and drivers, said Sarah McColley of TSW. This will help attract developers’ interest Councilmember Steve Soteres said the city can make it easier to move around the North End area with streetscape improvements. Changes the city needs to make include code changes, Gelber said. What the city and community want is not compatible with zoning and building codes. If a development proposal gets tied up in the permitting and approval process, it adds a lot of money to the redevelopment costs, he said. Wide streets with big buffers and big setbacks don’t work for these smaller mixed-use development sites, he said. Flexibility for lot sizes and footprints for townhomes makes it easier for redevelopment also. The current code also requires that the ground floor of a mixed-use building be commercial space, and that won’t work in a market that already has too much retail, Gelber said. Gelber said online retailers and the lingering effects of the pandemic mean not enough demand exists to fill groundfloor retail in every commercial building. The city needs to support public infrastructure costs and site preparation, he said. The work the city has done already has drawn interest from developers, said Worthy. Councilmember Tibby DeJulio asked for examples of what other cities in similar situations have done, at what costs, and with what results. Gelber said they can provide those to City Council. Councilmember Jody Reichel asked if the owners of the four shopping centers had been consulted on the planning. Worthy said they have been contacted about the redevelopment ideas. Gelber said the shopping centers consist of approximately 45 acres of relatively high-end market that is not producing economic impact, property taxes and sales taxes. “So the question is not necessarily what are the costs of developing this, but what is the cost of not?” Gelber said. DeJulio asked if property owners would just take advantage of city incentives to sell their property at higher prices. Paul said the city doesn’t have a goal of making anyone rich. “The goal is to take an area that’s not very healthy today and getting sicker and trying to reverse it so that it becomes more healthy,” he said. SS


Community | 15

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

City reworks TSPLOST budget to finish key projects Continued from page 1

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The Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax voters approved in November 2016 devotes its revenues to several specific projects. The five-year, 0.75% sales tax began in April 2017. The tax collection will stop on March 30, 2022 or when the maximum of $655 million is collected in all of Fulton County, excluding Atlanta which has its own TSPLOST. Starting in its first year, TSPLOST revenue fell an average of 15% below official projections made by Georgia State University consultants, as sales tax collection countywide were smaller than expected. The pandemic caused sales tax to drop for two months this year, Martin said, though it has recovered since then. Tax revenue for the voter-approved projects was initially estimated at $88.5 million, but revised figures estimated $79.6 million would be collected. A combination of funding from another city project and a request for the Perimeter Community Improvement District to help fund a project could add $4.3 million for TSPLOST projects, bringing the total up to $84.4 million. Councilmember Andy Bauman said the public should understand that any project deferred from the current TSPLOST would not automatically be placed on a future “TSPLOST 2” list or kept as an active project. It would have to go through the public process again for consideration. A TSPLOST 2 vote could come as early as the November general election. If that happened and the TSPLOST was approved, it would go into effect in April 2022. State Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs) said he hasn’t been asked to sponsor TSPLOST 2 legislation yet. “I’m supportive of TSPLOST initiatives when, obviously, voters approve of them, and when they’re targeted in such a way as to provide as diffuse of benefits as possible to the community,” McLaurin said. “The worry you always have with a sales tax is the possibility that it might be regressive.” Money for traffic efficiency and lastmile connectivity between public transit and desirable locations can have broad benefits, he said. “And so, you know, I would leave it to the voters,” McLaurin said. Martin’s proposal recommended deferring installation of a roundabout at the intersection of Mount Paran and Powers Ferry roads after $333,884 of the estimated $2.5 million project had been spent on design and some right-of-way coordination. That project is intended to alleviate traffic bottlenecks and reduce crashes. But it has been controversial among neighbors, who say it would increase commuter traffic and destroy a century-old country store in the right of way. His initial proposal also recommended transferring $1.3 million from the “Last Mile” project to a sidewalk project. The Last Mile project was designed to provide people choices other than the automobile for shorter trips, or to connect and complete longer trips by constructing Perimeter trails and acquiring right of way for future high-capacity transit linking the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts. TSPLOST 1 only included funding for design and right of way acquisition for the

Hammond Road widening project. Budget adjustments would shift $1.9 million of the $16 million budgeted to the Johnson Ferry Road at Mount Vernon Highway project near City Springs. Mayor Rusty Paul said even inclusion in TSPLOST 2 might not collect enough revenue for construction of the Hammond Drive widening project, which Martin said could cost up to $60 million. The project envisions widening Hammond from Barfield Road to Roswell Road adding roundabouts and pedestrian and bike paths. It has been controversial since the idea was first proposed. The city bought 26 properties for right of way needs and paid to have 11 of the houses torn down that were considered unfit for habitation. “We’re not going to be able to build Hammond with TSPLOST totally,” he said. “We may have to use that for matching funds for other sources. But if we didn’t take the actions that we’ve taken over the last three [or] four years, then that project could never happen, because of the cost of the right of way. So we’ve at least reserved that option going into the future.” The Johnson Ferry Road/Mount Vernon intersection project would get another $2.7 million in funds from the old city center project, Martin said. That leaves it a little more than $600,000 short of estimated costs instead of the $3.3 million deficit the project was running before fund transfers. This project is intended to improve traffic

The possibility of losing this historic building helped to spark local opposition to the concept of a roundabout at the intersection of Mount Paran and Powers Ferry roads last year.

flow. Current concepts for that project propose a grid system with the goal of improving safety, reducing traffic volumes in the project area along an adjection section of Roswell Road, and easing congestion within the corridor, the city’s website said. The Mount Vernon Highway corridor improvements project might get $1.6 million in funding from the Perimeter CID for the multi-use path east of Barfield, with TSPLOST funds covering project costs west of Barfield. The project runs from Vernon Trace east to the Sandy Springs MARTA

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Station. Martin’s presentation showed the project would still be $2.1 million short of its estimated cost. The project’s goal is to reduce traffic congestion in the area by offering alternative means to connect to City Springs or the Sandy Springs MARTA station without using an automobile. Additionally it aims to to provide east-west last mile connectivity and create alternative transportation options for residents including multi-modal lanes for bikes, shuttles and alternative transit, the city’s website said.

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16 | Commentary

Reporter Newspapers

Our mission is to provide our readers with fresh and engaging information about life in their communities. Published by Springs Publishing LLC 6065 Roswell Road, Suite 225 Sandy Springs, GA 30328 Phone: 404-917-2200 • Fax: 404-917-2201 Brookhaven Reporter | Buckhead Reporter Dunwoody Reporter | Sandy Springs Reporter www.ReporterNewspapers.net Atlanta INtown www.AtlantaINtownPaper.com Atlanta Senior Life www.AtlantaSeniorLife.com

C O N TAC T US Publisher Emeritus Steve Levene Publisher Keith Pepper keith@springspublishing.com Editorial Managing Editor John Ruch johnruch@reporternewspapers.net INtown Editor: Collin Kelley Editor-at-Large Joe Earle Staff Writer Bob Pepalis Contributors Maggie Lee, Carol Niemi, Kevin C. Madigan, Holly R. Price, Claire S. Richie Creative and Production Creative Director Rico Figliolini rico@reporternewspapers.net Graphic Designer Quinn Bookalam

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Publisher’s Note: New Year, New Beginnings Against the strong headwinds facing journalism (and newsfluential neighborhoods and cities. Our readers have come to papers in particular), the hyperlocal media space continues rely on our journalists to know what’s happening: from city to thrive, delivering the type of relevant journalcouncil meetings and local school issues to real esism that is essential to a functioning society and tate and where to find the newest “best burger.” a vibrant community. Providing consistent, reliBy producing high-quality products that reach able news and information while growing a viacoveted audiences, local advertisers have been ble print media business requires engaged local able to grow their businesses using simple but ownership. effective marketing plans to connect with their That’s why we are excited to announce the neighbors. It’s because of these engaged constittransition of Reporter Newspapers and its parent uencies that Reporter Newspapers has been able company, Springs Publishing, to a new, local ownto survive so many changes in the industry. The er, Keith Pepper. Keith is an Atlanta native who plan going forward is to lean into this market has deep roots in the community (he was born at leadership and continue to cover the stories that Northside and grew up in Dunwoody and Sandy are meaningful to our communities and to do it in Keith Pepper Springs) and will continue to operate the compafun, engaging and non-sensational ways. ny with a focus on being present in civic, corpoWe will keep it old-school with thorough rerate and cultural events across our coverage areas. search and clear, concise writing. At the same As regular readers of this paper know, Springs time, we will experiment with new ways to meet Publishing founder/owner Steve Levene built a our readers in places they may not expect. successful group of local papers by staying focused Continue to look for the Reporter in the mail on the communities they serve. The Springs famiand around town, but also please connect with ly includes the four Reporter Newspapers, plus Atus on social media. Spread the word: we’re all in lanta INtown and Atlanta Senior Life. These publithis together. While our names may be on the cations are produced by a committed and talented masthead, we want this to be your paper as well! staff of journalists, designers and sales executives. Please reach out with feedback or questions to For 14 years, the Reporter has been the go-to publisher@springspublishing.com. Steve Levene source for metro Atlanta’s most dynamic and in-

Commentary: Looking into the political crystal ball for 2021 Every year, the Reporter asks local leaders to predict the biggest local issues in the next 12 months. In 2020, no one saw a world-changing pandemic on the horizon. In what will hopefully be a safer and calmer 2021, here’s what they see in this year’s political crystal ball. For more of what each had to say, see ReporterNewspapers.net.

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reason. Publisher assumes no responsibility for information contained in advertising. Any opinions expressed in print or online do not necessarily

Mayor Lynn Deutsch Dunwoody This time last year, I wrote this in the Reporter: “Dunwoody’s opportunities abound and 2020 promises to be an exciting year.” Of course, we all know what happened. And while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the work we wanted to accomplish, it has not stalled it. We will continue to work on improving connectivity, whether it be infrastructure and pedestrian improvements or better internet connectivity. We have taken possession of the old Austin School property and have demolished the building. In 2021, we will work with our residents to develop a plan for the future use of the property. The new park at Waterford will have tennis courts and a pavilion available by the end of the

year. As the necessary restrictions related to COVID-19 are loosened, I look forward to seeing a full range of programming at Brook Run Park and our other parks.

Jim Durrett Buckhead Coalition and Buckhead Community Improvement District Without question, increasing the safety and security of the people who live in, work in and visit Buckhead is the number one priority for the Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead CID in 2021. We’ll be working very closely with our partners to implement the Buckhead Security Plan and begin to restore public confidence in the safety of our community. In addition to the work on public safety, the Buckhead Coalition will focus on issues of homelessness. The Atlanta region is facing an intractable housing crisis. With the threat of evictions rising at the close of the year, the Coalition will work with government and community leaders to relieve the suffering of our neighbors experiencing homelessness and to preserve the desirability of Buckhead for life and commerce. The Buckhead CID will continue to

improve streets and sidewalks throughout the district and to help beautify and maintain our community’s public spaces.

Mayor Rusty Paul Sandy Springs Based on what we know today, job one as we enter the new year is ensuring that we effectively and efficiently deploy the COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are available. It is a critical step to ameliorate the economic and health impacts of the virus. As COVID lessens, we want to relaunch a full line of concerts and performances at City Springs, with plans to announce the lineup this spring. In the coming year, we will continue pursuing our goal of securing control of our water system from the city of Atlanta. Renovation will begin on our newly acquired public safety complex, and we will start construction on two new fire stations in the central and northern portions of the city, with projects including training facilities for our first responders. Also among our top goals is to continue our efforts to make every Sandy Springs resident feel valued and included within the community at large. And finally, we stand ready to meet the unknown

represent the views of Reporter Newspapers or Springs Publishing.

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Commentary | 17

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net challenges, keeping the safety and security of our residents the top priority.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick

Mayor John Ernst

One of the big issues we will face is the economic impact of the COVID virus on our state revenue and budget. We have less revenue to work with and more needs, especially in healthcare, including mental health. I have a bill being drafted to address patient safety concerns about sedation in the outpatient setting, and another to put some guidelines in place on sober housing facilities for people in recovery. I have other bills related to insurance reform of networks and prior authorization requirements, both of which can have a big impact on patient access to care. I work a lot on veterans issues and am excited that we will soon have a transition center in the metro area to assist people coming out of military service into the private sector. I am also working to update our laws on autonomous vehicles to accommodate new technologies.

Brookhaven At the top of the list is transit, and I’m looking forward to continuing to address long-term traffic concerns with the I-285 top end transit project. In addition to connecting the existing and future GDOT ventures and implementing transit options such as light rail and bus rapid transit, the top end mayors are also exploring a trail system along both sides of I-285, running east and west. Speaking of trails, design should be completed on Phase II of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, paving the way for right of way acquisition and then development in 2022. Other 2021 milestones will include the grand opening of our new public safety building and wrapping up most of the parks bond projects approved by the voters in 2018. In fall of 2021, our City Centre Master Plans will be completed, which will guide future developments in the area around the Brookhaven MARTA Station for years to come Finally, in 2021, I want to assist in getting the COVID vaccine to as many locations as possible so we can put an end to this long, global nightmare and get back to living life the way we used to. Brookhaven will celebrate with a party like no other, once COVID is eradicated and it is safe to do so.

J.P. Matzigkeit Atlanta City Council Safety remains my highest priority. I am excited about the recently announced Buckhead Security Plan, which I call “Buckhead Blue.” It’s a collaborative effort of the city, its police, business and citizens groups, and the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a coordinated and comprehensive safety plan for Buckhead. We must implement competitive and fair impact fees on development that adds demand on city services. It’s been a quarter-century since we raised the fees that are used for transportation infrastructure, public safety and parks. We also must pass a comprehensive tree ordinance to better preserve our tree canopy and simplify the requirements. The one we have is not strong enough and is outdated. I’m committed to preserving Atlanta’s precious tree canopy and keeping Atlanta’s moniker of a “city in the forest.”

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R-Marietta

State Rep. Matthew Wilson D-Brookhaven We have a lot to do in the legislature, including jump-starting our business climate, but most especially ensuring that Georgians who have fallen on hard times during this crisis are not only taken care of today, but have the same and even greater opportunities to succeed in the days to come. I’m also thankful to say that, thanks to the voters of DeKalb County, 2021 will bring us a fully reconstituted DeKalb Board of Ethics. But even as we have had success addressing local issues, what we don’t need to be doing is continuing to rehash the results of the 2020 election. I will strongly oppose any attempt to add more barriers to democratic participation in our elections based on conspiracy theories.

State Rep. Josh McLaurin D-Sandy Springs We are not out of the woods yet with the pandemic. With Congress failing to act, state and local governments must do everything we can to provide relief to residents. Now that we know state revenues for FY2021 will be higher than originally projected, I’m hopeful that we can increase our commitment as a state to ensuring basic

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18 | Commentary

Facebook.com/TheReporterNewspapers â– twitter.com/Reporter_News necessities are met. One of the worst problems we face is continued housing insecurity. Amid the pandemic, we are also dealing with an artificial controversy surrounding one of our most fundamental rights: the right to vote. Although there is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud, the majority party has signaled it is going to restrict or even eliminate noexcuse absentee voting this upcoming session. I will do everything I can to fight against efforts to restrict access to voting.

State Rep. Mike Wilensky D-Dunwoody

FEB 17 – 28

Moving into the 2021 legislative session, we must focus on issues that will impact our community and Georgia for years to come. We now must fight harder than ever to ensure all Georgians have access to voting. Our democracy only thrives when all eligible voters have access to the ballot. Also, every 10 years there is redistricting in our state due to the new Census. This process is where gerrymandering occurs. This redistricting will not only change the House district lines, but also for the state Senate and Congress. We must also focus on helping our communities and small businesses that are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Last, but definitely not least, we must make sure our public schools are properly funded and we must make sure that children can return to school safely.

Jeff Rader DeKalb County Commission 2021 will be a challenge to all governments as we start seeing the longerterm impact of the pandemic on our economy and the public we serve. Locally, commercial tax assessments are vulnerable to appeal as property owners demonstrate that empty buildings are worth less than leased ones. Our public utilities will see higher delinquency rates due to strapped ratepayers. Public safety and social service demands will grow just as revenues erode. But it is darkest before the dawn, and I’m hopeful that governments at all levels will work to restore our commitment to the public interest and confirm the promise of our republic. I hope to continue to expand and improve greenspace, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and manage the growth in DeKalb that can change our communities for better or worse.

State Rep. Betsy Holland D-Buckhead The COVID-19 crisis will impact everything we do in the 2021 Session. Our top

priorities need to be strengthening our healthcare systems, protecting the health of Georgians, administering the vaccine, and forging a path to economic recovery. The legislature also faces the challenge of finding new streams of revenue to restore funding to the state budget without creating an undue burden on Georgians. After the COVID-19 recovery, the next hottest topic for the legislature this year will be reapportionment. With the results of the 2020 Census coming in, the state will need to redraw lines for state House and Senate seats as well as the U.S. Congressional districts. This has a huge impact on citizens for the next 10 years.

Lee Morris Fulton County Commission In 2021, Fulton County government, which has responsibility for public health, will continue to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our citizens and businesses. That will be the number one issue facing our neighborhoods, state, country and world. I will continue to work with the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods and others, to do what we can to curb crime that makes citizens feel so unsafe. But my own personal crusade will remain property tax relief and fairness for homeowners in Fulton County, as it has since I took office. As the pandemic may cause the tax base to fall and as costs of government rise, there will be pressure to raise tax rates, imposing more burdens on homeowners.

Robb Pitts Chairman, Fulton County Commission Although the coronavirus halted some of my initiatives, I will rededicate my efforts to continue with the expansion of the Charlie Brown Airport, the building of a first-class animal control facility, and work to create a viable transportation plan for Roosevelt Highway and the South Fulton Parkway. I will also work to complete our Library Facility Master Plan and reopen senior centers and other government offices and facilities. I will also continue my efforts toward justice reform by working with the new sheriff and district attorney. And lastly, I will continue my efforts to develop a first-class medical facility in south Fulton.

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JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

FOCUS ON EDUCATION The Kids Are Alright

Tomorrow calls for a new kind of leader.

These students found ways to give back during a year of pandemic, politics and societal change BY COLLIN KELLEY

January is usually the month we present our 20 Under 20 honorees, recognizing the extraordinary work students do in the community and for nonprofits. But after the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, divisive politics, and a new reckoning over racial injustice, it didn’t seem right to hold a competition. Instead, we decided to speak with a group of young people who dedicated themselves to helping others and making a difference – even from behind their computer screens – during an unprecedented year.

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tlanta International School sophomore Asanshay Gupta, 15, developed an app to help makeshift COVID-19 facilities in India during his summer internship with Allied Medical, which makes high flow oxygen therapy machines. More than 100 medical practitioners are now using Gupta’s app to monitor the oxygen supply and flow rates in their facilities. “My family is from India, so I was hearing many stories of how such a huge country was responding to the pandemic on a huge scale, by making makeshift hospitals in stadiums and other large venues. When I heard from my grandfather that the very people who are saving lives in these COVID-19 response centers are wasting valuable time doing tedious calculations that could be easily automated, I designed an app that allows them to easily perform these calculations. I am looking forward to visiting some of these hospitals to see my app being used and getting some realworld feedback, and also continuing some more projects such as my eye tracking power wheelchair for paraplegic patients. I want to see how I can use my interest in robotics to serve my local community.”

Asanshay Gupta

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risto Rey Jesuit High School senior Marquel Jones, 18, has been a student leader and community volunteer for years, including creating the monthly Teen Talk Back sessions that have addressed everything from religious tolerance, to LGBTQ youth, to incarceration rates in the criminal justice system. As president of the DECA club, he helped raise $50,000 to renovate the school’s media center, a project put on hold due to the pandemic. Marquel shifted gears to assisted with the DECA Christmas Tree Giveaway to needy families as well as the 12 Disciples Food Box Drive to provide food security to Cristo Rey families during the pandemic. He has volunteered at Open Hand Atlanta and the Million Meal Pack. “The most valuable lesson I have learned as a volunteer this year is that if you want to see change, you have to be that change. I recognize sitting back and hoping that things get better does not actively improve anything. When I put action behind the ideas that I have, I am able to foster real change and that is heart-warming.”

Marquel Jones

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20 | Education

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Galloway students

learn more than just core academic subjects; they learn about themselves, who they are, and what role they want to play in making our world a better place.

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abriel Howland, 17, is no stranger to giving back to not only the local community, but on a national and international scale. He traveled to Jamaica to help an impoverished elementary school start an organic garden, worked with Native American students on environmental issues in California as a “Bioneer,” founded a drone photography company, mentored at summer programs, and is a member of Dad’s Garage Theatre Company’s youth ensemble. During the pandemic, he coordinated directed, and edited a play for a summer camp via Zoom. Gabe also helped a prepare a pre-school for reopening in September and assisted in setting up outdoor classrooms at the New School where he’s a senior. When his grandmother told him that one of her neighbors needed help getting groceries and help around her home during the pandemic, Gabe volunteered his time. “I think that the pandemic and 2020, in general, made me realize what type of person I am. Hardship really can bring out the best and worst in people, and I hope that this year brought out the best. Honestly, helping other people is what helped me get through this year, especially when it was around gaining a semblance of normalcy.”

Gabriel Howland

AGE 3 – GRADE 12

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CONNECTING LEARNING TO LIFE AT EVERY LEVEL.

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ike many others stuck at home due to the pandemic, Leah Nuffer began baking. A lot. Over the summer, the 17-year-old Woodward Academy senior created Leah’s Bakeshop (leahsbakeshop. com) to benefit Families First, an organization that provides mental health support and educational services to those in need. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the bakeshop are going to the charity. Leah also worked with Horizons Atlanta as a K-2 “Literacy Coach” where she tracked the students’ progress, observed classes, set individual goals, met with students individually, and became a cheerleader for their success. “The pandemic actually forced me to discover new ways of being involved in service that I didn’t even realize were possible. Not only did I begin to interact with communities virtually, but I also realized that some of the biggest help is done just through organizing programs and raising money. Volunteering for “behind the scenes” work of non-profit organizations is just as important as helping in the face-to-face interactions.”

Leah Nuffer

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uring the COVID-19 shutdown, Maddalena Jones, 17, created a virtual dance program to keep children physically active and occupied at home while their parents continued to work. The 45-minute classes were also educational, and Maddalena created tutorial videos to post on social media to remind the children of the skills they had learned. A senior at Holy

Maddalena Jones

Continued on Page 22 SS


JANUARY 2021 â– www.ReporterNewspapers.net

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Education | 21


22 | Education

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1 8 M O N T H S – 8 T H G RA D E

Continued from page 20 Spirit Preparatory School, Maddalena said 2020 helped her to have more patience and be grateful for the gifts we are given. “Teaching these online Zoom classes to younger children was certainly challenging at times for myself because I did not have much experience in this area and I was unsure if the children were really appreciating the classes half as much as the time and effort I was spending putting into them. However, I realized that if I was patient, then everything would work itself out the way it was meant to. Another thing I realized was how blessed I am to have been able to grow up with a wonderful gift such as dancing. Sharing that gift with younger children during the pandemic was really something special and it warmed my heart getting to see the smiles on the younger kids’ faces every time that I would teach a class.”

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he pandemic couldn’t stop Zoe Glickman, 17, and her dedication to combating racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination against the LGBTQ community. The North Atlanta High School senior developed the idea for a Black and Jewish student coalition and reached out to peers from both those groups as well as community leader to present the idea of a union. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and social distancing, Zoe’s efforts resulted in the inception of the first student organization of its kind at North Atlanta. “The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned as a volunteer this year, is to take time to educate yourself rather than sitting and waiting for someone else to do it. By educating yourself, I mean taking time to listen to stories of people whose lives are far different than your own, as well as learning the history behind why a community might be hurt.”

Zoe Glickman

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li Rubenstein, 16, was feeling isolated and lonely during the pandemic, so he came up with an idea to create an online community for LGBTQ teens – the only one of its kind in Georgia. Early last summer, the Ben Franklin Academy sophomore launched “The Closet,” an online chat for teens age 14 to 18 held every Friday and Saturday night. The online chat events are moderated by an LGBTQ adult to ensure the space is safe, appropriate, and fun. The chats have been such a success, that Eli hopes to create a hybrid of virtual and in-person chats post-pandemic. “Starting ‘The Closet,’ I was able to virtually connect with kids from Georgia who had similar interests and it really gave me a sense of community. We watched movies, talked, and were able to share what we were all going through during a really difficult time. I’m really looking to connecting face to face with all the friends I’ve made online and expand our relationships.”

Eli Rubenstein

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Kaili Stith

aili Stith, 12, organized a protest in Morningside against police brutality and racial injustice at the height of this summer’s demonstrations, rallying dozens of her classmates and neigbhors to participate. The Howard Middle School seventh grader also designed and commissioned the manufacturing of a line of shirts on Etsy called, Tee Shirts for Justice. The shirts sold out almost immediately and Kaili is using the proceeds to put together care packages for local women living in shelters. “I am looking forward to continuing protesting for human rights, but with a larger audience. I look forward to giving back in a way when I can interact with people face to face, that really just brightens up my day when I am able to see the impact I make.” SS


Education | 23

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

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24 | Education

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harlie Kazazian, 16, received the Congressional Gold Medal this summer for his 400 hours of volunteer work with the nonprofits MedShare, Action Ministries, NFCC, Must Ministries. For the last few years, the Wesminster junior has worked with the nonprofit Mad Housers, which helps provide temporary shelter to the homeless by building individual wood huts. During the pandemic, Charlie downloaded the hut schematics and built a hut with his dad, which was then deployed to designated location in Atlanta. He said he wants to continue his volunteer work post-pandemic, including building more huts. “Serving in this way has really helped me get through the pandemic.”

Charlie Kazazian

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cademe of the Oaks senior Lucy Sackin, 18, is a budding social justice advocate and ally to black and trans women. During the pandemic, Lucy sprang into action following the tragic death of Oluwatoyin Salau, which inspired her to do more by organizing a GoFundMe to fund self-defense items for Black and trans women in Atlanta. Her goal was to raise enough money to supply self-defense products to 50 women since Black and trans women are at a high risk of assault. She achieved her goal by using social media and via support from her classmates. “Seeing the lack of response from our own government made me realize just how important it is to work directly with my community. I realized that mutual aid is the backbone of any social movement. Protecting and supporting Black women and trans women is so important to me because I want to create more accepting and safe communities for everyone.”

Lucy Sackin

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Education | 25

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net ary Baptist Church, he has volunteer in food drives every Saturday since pandemic began and assisted with organizing virus testing for the community. He participated in marches against racial injustice both in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. and created his own company, Empire Films, to make a documentary, “Through the Black Lens,” about the impact COVID-19 has had on families and schools. All the profits received from the documentary will go to helping

Elli Moraitakis

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he pandemic fueled Elli Moraitakis, 17, to continue serving her community with a focus on what could be done rather than what could not. Her first opportunity arose when The Schenck School needed their alumni to help encourage students struggling with virtual learning. Understanding the complex issues that dyslexia present, Elli presented via Zoom a list of successful tactics she was employing during the lockdown. She and her family helped pack 300 “Bags of Love” for the homeless with toiletries, socks, underwear, water, non-perishables and a handwritten word of encouragement or Bible verse. The Greater Atlanta Christian School junior also volunteered to package and deliver more than 3,000 orders during the virtual Greek Festival at her church, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. Over the holidays, she performed random acts of kindness to mark the 12 days of Christmas, including raking leaves, paying for someone’s food at the drive-thru, and buying blankets for the homeless. “Even in the hardest of days, there is always something good that can be done.”

John Edwards

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ohn Edwards, 14, has devoted himself to helping others affected by the pandemic and racial injustice. At New Birth Mission-

communities and organizations such as Hosea Helps and the NAACP. A student at Dekalb Agricultural Technology and the Environment, said he was humbled by the people he met and things he witnessed during 2020. “The pandemic and 2020 in general, strengthened my resolve to give back to the community, specifically helping to cut down the shortage of food resources and every-

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day necessities, such as toilet paper.”

Revealing possibilities. Photos taken before March 2020

2020_AISAd_Reporter_4.94x6.185_JAN.indd 1

12/11/20 3:12 PM


26 | Education

No one prepares a child for school like Kenan.

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Girls on the Run

Nonprofit keeps girls active and healthy despite pandemic challenges BY CLARE S. RICHIE Girls’ confidence drops about twice as much as boys’ during adolescence and now COVID-19 has dramatically increased the number of teen girls reporting loneliness and isolation. Thankfully, Girls on the Run of Atlanta

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Atlanta Executive Director Lea Rolfes

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ful contribution

grade a virtual 10-

cal activity, encourag-

and

ing a meaning-

in third to eighth

Register at atlantaspeechschool.org/kenan or 404-233-5332 ext. 3003.

confi-

dence, caring for

ta) pivoted dur-

See how the latest in early childhood education research is put into practice.

habits,

with

It

began

three

teams

and 30 girls and has since served 30,000 girls across four counties – Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb, and Gwinnett. “My role has been to grow the organization to become more accessible to get more girls involved,” Rolfes said. “We offer full scholarships, financial assistance, running shoes, running

Your child will thrive at Trinity

bras and snacks. We’re about breaking down barriers to get girls committed to activity and connected with friends no matter their zip code, family situation, race or ethnicity.” Each session is led by trained volunteer coaches who use physical activity

Serving children age three through Sixth Grade, Trinity School is Atlanta’s only private elementary-only school.

interspersed with dynamic discussions to guide and mentor the girls. “We talk about anything and everything. How to be a good friend. Who we surround ourselves with. Our emotions are very important to us,” GOTR Atlan-

Begin your child’s journey today!

ta Board Member sand former coach

trinityatl.org/admissions

Kathryn Gilbert said. The program attracts girls drawn to running and others drawn to the friendships and conversations about processing their emotions. In response to the question, what would you tell your friends who weren’t in GOTR Atlanta, girls answered: “It’s

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fun, it teaches you ways to calm down

January 29

and interact with other girls. It’s also

APPLICATION DEADLINE

and reach a goal” a sixth grader said.

a good way to get some extra exercise “It’s supportive and helps teach you how to believe in yourself and be a better person,” a fifth grader responded.


Education | 27

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net “My favorite thing is Interacting with my teammates because I never want to be lonely,” a third grader shared. COVID-19 did have an impact. The nonprofit typically fields 100 teams in the fall, 140 in the spring. This fall, only 42 teams participated, with only two teams meeting in person. But through Zoom conversations and exercises like

Discover Marist Parent Information Sessions

lunges and jumping jacks at home, the girls pressed on. The other silver lining was that girls from schools or com-

Tuesday mornings via Zoom

munities that didn’t offer GOTR Atlanta joined eight open teams. The virtual format allowed for girls from Duluth, Mableton, and South Fulton to participate on the same team. “For being completely virtual and just about all strangers, our girls did a phenomenal job becoming a team,” a coach shared. “They supported each other and really opened up, sharing personal anecdotes and details. It was amazing to watch and be part of.” And at the end of fall season, the girls still came together for a celebratory virtual rae, “5K Your Way,” which recognized that not all girls had the

JANUARY 5, 12, 19

You want a school that’s the right fit. We do too.

War Eagle Walking Tours

Varying weekday afternoons on campus JANUARY 4, 27, FEBRUARY 1

Open Forum Fridays

Serving grades 7–12, Marist School provides an education where achievement exists within a spirit of humility and generosity. Students are challenged by an extensive college-preparatory curriculum and an array of extracurricular activities to prepare them to be compassionate and confident leaders.

Q&A with the Admissions Team via Zoom JANUARY 8, 15, 22

Application Deadline: January 25

REGISTER TODAY AT:

same access to a safe place to run. “We mailed and shared via email – a bingo card of activities that they

marist.com/admissions An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers

could do at home. We had live workouts, dance parties and fun activities on our social media channels. Girls still got their bibs, their medals and finish-

Attend a Virtual Open House or Request a Tour.

er t-shirt. We had girls on bikes, on rollerblades, running laps around buildings and dancing in their living rooms.

DiscoverGAC.org

It was neat to see how they put an exclamation point on the end of the season,” Rolfes said. Registration is open for the spring season, which begins on Feb. 15. “We are trying to identify places where we can have practice – parks, churches or any public building – and implement protocols of masks and social distancing. We are hoping to have half of the teams meet in-person, half virtual. There is definitely going to be something for everyone – even if GOTR hasn’t been in your community before,” Rolfes said. As the program builds back its number of teams, volunteers are needed to start a new site, become a coach, or support the staff. “If someone feels called to join us, we can certainly use them,” Gilbert said. For more information, visit girlsontherunatlanta.org.

SS

Innovative | Rigorous | Faith-infused


28 | Education

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A Q&A with advocacy groups about APS’s in-person return BY JOHN RUCH The public schools systems in Atlanta and DeKalb County are tentatively set to return to optional in-person classes in January, depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, after months of advocacy by parents, teachers and staff. Everyone agrees that in-person classes should resume, but when and how remains controversial. In Atlanta, a group called We Demand Safety APS has advocated for better safeguards before an in-person return. Another called Committee for APS Progress has advocated for an immediate in-person option. The Reporter asked those

groups for their opinions about the return plan. The answers, which were edited for length and clarity, were provided by David Hayes, a Buckhead resident and chairman of Committee for APS Progress, and the steering committee of We Demand Safety APS: Markesha Daniel, Canek Fuentes Hernandez, Allison Glass, Laura LaHiff, Andy McIntyre, Jennifer Rogers-Givens, Sara Totonchi, Elizabeth Wickland, Sara Zeigler and Robin Deutsch Edwards. Now that APS has set tentative in-person return dates, how much does that satisfy your group’s concerns?

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Committee for APS Progress: APS families have been shut out of schools for over 270 days and the option to return to face-to-face learning could not come soon enough. We were sitting in a similar situation in October, when the superintendent and Board of Education pulled the plug on that reopening plan and kept our schools closed to our children. We are cautiously optimistic, but have no faith in the superintendent or board that they will follow through with the current plan. We will believe when we see it.

We are fighting for the parents, students, teachers and staff who simply want the option to return to face-to-face learning. One size does not fit all, and it doesn’t have to. The ramifications of this extended period of school closure will be felt for years to come.

We Demand Safety APS: The entire APS community would like to return to face-to-face learning; however, it is essential that it be done in a way that prioritizes equity, safety and health for staff, students and their families. While we understand that there is tremendous pressure to reopen schools, we want to be sure this is done in an equitable manner that centers the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable among us. Based on what was shared in the APS community Town Hall on Dec. 3, we appreciate that APS is prioritizing and funding upgrades to HVAC systems for all schools, developing a COVID-19 testing plan, and identifying a capacity cap for all schools of 60%. However, it is critical that efforts be made to improve transparency and communication.

Committee for APS Progress: Our first priority is to give parents, students, teachers and staff the option to make their own personal decision on returning to face-to-face learning. This can be done safely by following the CDC guidelines. Right now there is no option. There will be COVID-19 cases in schools once they reopen. We fully expect there to be periods of quarantine and shortterm closures. This is why a mitigation and isolation plan is vital. Volumes of recent public health research and studies tell us school is actually the safest for children during the pandemic and that face-to-face learning actually reduces overall community spread.

What is the most urgent concern that motivates your advocacy? We Demand Safety APS: We would like the district and individual schools to be transparent about their aspirations for how in-person learning will be conducted versus what it will actually look like in schools. And in the push to return to in-person instruction, the most urgent concern should be the safety and needs of APS staff to ensure a successful learning environment for students. Voices and expertise of APS staff should be solicited and amplified, affirming success and innovation around virtual teaching and learning -- and the expertise should be shared across the entire district so all schools can benefit and implement the safest and best educational models for learning in this unprecedented time.

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Committee for APS Progress: We have seen a dramatic loss of learning and development in students at all levels from this extended period of school closures. Despite the hard work of APS teachers and staff, virtual learning is no substitute for face-to-face learning.

Major concerns about in-person return timing are public health and quality of education. What are your points of agreement with those concerns and where do you differ with other advocates?

We Demand Safety APS: We recognize that there are children who would benefit greatly from face-toface instruction, especially children with disabilities and special learning needs, our youngest learners, those without adult supervision at home, those with internet connectivity issues, and those struggling with mental health concerns. We remain steadfast in our belief that the entire APS community would like to return to face-to-face learning; however, it is essential that it be done in a way that prioritizes equity, safety and health for staff, students and their families. Recent studies suggest that while schools do not drive the spread of COVID-19 in communities where schools have been opened, they do mirror the rates of transmission of COVID-19 within their communities. We urge APS to engage state governmental and public health leadership in Georgia to prioritize supporting schools with additional resources to implement testing and contact tracing strategies. What has your group learned from the Fulton County School System, which has returned to in-person classes but also had to close many schools? We Demand Safety APS: One of the major lessons we have Continued on Page 30 SS


Education | 29

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

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30 | Education

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Continued from page 28 learned from school reopening efforts across the U.S. is that schools need to have a detailed mitigation strategy for ensuring the COVID transmissions can be prevented and detected rapidly. When schools do not put multiple mitigation strategies in place, such as 100% mask wearing, testing, and creative scheduling (e.g., cohorts, alternating or staggered schedules) to provide social distancing, COVID can spread -- putting too many people at risk. Committee for APS Progress: Obviously, COVID-19 cases are going to be a fixture of the next several months. The key is mitigation and isolation. What Fulton County and countless other school districts locally and nationally have shown us is 1) face-to-face learning can happen during this pandemic, and 2) the importance of a plan for mitigation at the school level. APS has not shown such a plan. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Unfortunately, there will COVID-19 cases when APS schools reopen; this will be true despite the diligent work and planning of the individual school principals. However, all the research shows that open schools don’t contribute to community spread. Instead, research has shown us that open schools are actually linked to reduction of community spread. Once the pandemic ends, are there any long-term changes to education policies or practices you would see coming from your advocacy? Committee for APS Progress: Once schools reopen, the damage done to our students through school closure needs to be addressed and a plan for making up for this loss needs to be implemented. In the long term, we will be focused on electing an APS board that won’t allow politics to drive its decisions, that will hold the superintendent accountable, and that will make educating students its top priority. We Demand Safety APS: We hope that the voices and expertise of APS staff and the APS community are solicited and amplified beyond the current crisis. APS staff has shown great resilience and creativity during the pandemic and success stories should be acknowledged and recognized. This pandemic has reminded all of us of the essential roles that teachers and schools play in our society -- and how under-resourced schools are. It is time for us to consistently reward dedicated education professionals and ensure that our state resources prioritize funding for all public schools and teachers so that all students in Georgia can benefit equally.

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Classifieds | 31

JANUARY 2021 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

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JANUARY 2021 â– www.ReporterNewspapers.net

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