SEPTEMBER 2020 • VOL. 14 — NO. 1
EDUCATION GUIDE FALL 2020
►VIRTUAL SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS
►Q&As WITH LOCAL
Making a connection
Gun court, permit checks are among crime-fighting ideas
Theater groups aim to stage pandemic comebacks
BY JOHN RUCH email@example.com
Georgia Audubon spreads its wings P19 COMMENTARY
Basic needs of teachers and students must be met P16
The Confluence Bridge is lowered into place over Peachtree Creek near I-85 on Aug. 21. The bridge connects the PATH400 multiuse trail with South Fork Conservancy trails. See story and more photos, p. 11. ►
Mystery group proposes cityhood, annexation; Mayor’s Office criticizes it
BY JOHN RUCH
The Buckhead Reporter is mail delivered to homes on selected carrier routes in ZIPs 30305, 30327 and 30342 For information: firstname.lastname@example.org
A mysterious group called the Buckhead Exploratory Committee is preparing to study possible cityhood for the neighborhood or annexation into the cities of Sandy Springs or Brookhaven -- an idea the Mayor’s Office says “clearly loses sight of the need for inclusion and equity.” In an unsigned email, the committee de-
clined to identify its members or answer questions, including about its claim to have behind-the-scenes support from some local elected officials, which several of them have denied. However, the committee has posted a privately organized webinar about the idea on YouTube, where a moderator named Jack Montgomery outlined the concept and answered some audience questions. In the video, Montgomery said the orSee MYSTERY on page 20
A specialty “gun court,” a firearms buyback program and an investigation of permits for late-night businesses are among the tactics authorities are considering as Buckhead deals with its share of a citywide spike in shootings and other crime, from street racing to water-selling. But a crime-fighting challenge, especially on the shootings, is figuring out whether a common factor is driving the spike as anecdotes and rumors fly freely. Meanwhile, the police force is by all accounts stressed and dwindling both citywide and in Buckhead’s Zone 2 precinct. “Zone 2 -- I hate putting this out there,” said Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook, who represents much of north and central Buckhead, voicing frustration. “Zone 2 on a typical shift has all of 14 people on patrol for a zone the size of Rhode Island.” Hiring off-duty officers to patrol in police vehicles is an increasingly popular tactic. City Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit in August hired an officer to watch Peachtree Road for street races, expressing his frustration. The Buckhead Community Improvement District has a specially branded patrol car driven around the central business area See GUN on page 21
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New street racing law does not ban all spectators BY JOHN RUCH email@example.com
der the headline, “Even watching a street race in Atlanta could net you a huge fine; It doesn’t matter that you’re not doing the racing, you’re in trouble.” Matzigkeit made similar claims in his Aug. 7 constituent newsletter, reporting that the council “unanimously passed stiffer penalties for spectators… We need people engaging in illegal drag racing, as a participant or a spectator, to be arrested.” But the final version of the ordinance says nothing explicit about banning spectators. In fact, its only direct reference to spectators is to exempt from arrest those who are “a mere bystander, passerby or observer not aware of the illegal activity.” And in the council meeting where it
mous 2009 APD raid of Midtown’s Atlanta Eagle gay bar. Grossman says the final version of the street racing ordinance is better, but is still concerning because it could be read as prohibiting spectators who do know a race is illegal but have every right to view it — including journalists and angry neighbors. “This is a really, really poorly written statute,” said Grossman. “…There’s this giant hole big enough to drive a truck through, or a prisoner van through, in the middle.” Grossman said that in practical terms, police officers would find it challenging to determine who in a crowd is a “non-driver participant” or not. The widespread misreporting that all spectators are outlawed could influence officers’ thinking and lead to indiscriminate arrests, he said. “And so there’s a great likelihood that officers will be making an unlawful arrest, especially because of the way the law has been described in the press,” said Grossman. “This law has been described, I would say, irresponsibly by major news organizations like the AJC… This is an invitation to trouble.”
A new Atlanta city ordinance widely reported by media and public officials as outlawing all spectators at illegal street races actually does no such thing due to the quiet removal of key language that could have violated the civil liberties of journalists, bystanders and others. The ordinance — which does not even contain the word “spectator” — may still outlaw certain types of race observers who do more than just watch, such as those who pay an admission fee or even just cheer for a driver. But one prominent civil liberties attorney says the ordinance is so vague and “poorly written” that it would be challenging to apply to spectators and could still lead to unconstitutional arrests of innocent bystanders, reporters and others. The main effect of the ordinance approved by the City Council Aug. 3, dubbed “Non-Driver Participation in Street Racing and Reckless Driving Exhibitions,” is to reinforce existing state law against street racing by specifically outStreet racing cracklawing other participants downs — such as those riding Illegal street racing, somealong or paying to join times involving dozens of veSPECIAL — and calling for maxihicles and hundreds of specAn Atlanta Police Department photo of a car being impounded during mum penalties to be entators, is a longstanding issue a multi-agency crackdown on street racing in Atlanta in May 2020. forced. Meanwhile, some in metro Atlanta. The Ga. officials and residents 400 highway, with its long say, a lack of large-scale police response was approved, Susan Garrett, a city attorstraightaways, is notorious for late-night means the noisy and dangerous late-night ney heading the Law Department’s pubracers. In Buckhead, racers frequentracing continues to plague such areas as lic safety division, explained that “this legly appear on Peachtree Road and gather Buckhead, where City Councilmember J.P. islation does not allow people to be cited in huge parking lots like the one at The Matzigkeit recently hired an off-duty offijust for being present or watching. They Dump Furniture Outlet on Sidney Marcus cer himself as a gesture of increased enhave to actually do something — collect Boulevard. forcement. money, ride in the vehicle, or take some But with the reduced traffic of the COThe misreporting of the ordinance’s other affirmative action to participate in VID-19 pandemic, street racers have takeffect on race-watching is based on early putting on the event. It’s not directed [at] en advantage, appearing more frequently, publicity for lead sponsor Councilmemand can’t be used just for a bystander.” for longer periods and in bigger numbers. ber Dustin Hillis’s intent to crack down “There are no prohibitions to merely In May, APD, the Georgia State Patrol and on street racing in part by killing demand being a spectator, so you read it correctly,” other agencies collaborated on a citywide by punishing spectators. But key elements said Hillis in an Aug. 10 email when asked crackdown that resulted in 44 arrests, 114 of his draft ordinance later were quietly to clarify the meaning of the ordinance. tickets and 29 vehicles impounded. withdrawn, apparently due to concerns Hillis did not respond to further quesThat same month, Hillis, who reprethey would conflict with state law or the tions as to why the ordinance’s language sents Northwest Atlanta’s District 9, was U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights — includhad changed and whether an official clarin the news with calls for a tougher streeting a provision that would have banned ification would be issued to dispel the conracing ordinance. He aimed to crack photographing, filming or broadcasting fusion and misreporting about spectators. down not only on drivers, but “also to tarraces. Matzigkeit referred questions about the get and penalize individuals who are specWhen the ordinance passed, such malanguage to Hillis. Mayor Keisha Lance tators,” a City Council press release said jor media as the Atlanta Journal-ConstiBottoms’ press office, the City Council at the time. He wanted up to 6 months in tution, WSB-TV and CBS46 incorrectly press office and the Atlanta Police Departjail and a $1,000 fine for anyone racing or reported that race-watching by bystandment also did not respond to questions watching a race. ers was now illegal. “Watching street racabout the ordinance and how it would be Hillis’s original legislation outlawed ing in Atlanta could land you $1,000 fine enforced. not only driving in a street race, but also or even jail time,” said an Aug. 4 headEarly concerns about the civil liberties being a race organizer or being a nonline on a WSB-TV website story that also aspects of the original draft were raised driver participant. In the original version, incorrectly reported that “just standing online by Dan Grossman, an attorney a participant was defined “any individual around watching and recording” races known for his role as the lead counsel for who is present at an illegal street racing was now illegal. The national auto magaplaintiffs who sued the city over the infaexhibition for the purpose of taking part zine MotorTrend picked up the story un-
in the event, by riding in a race vehicle as driver or passenger; assisting or engaging with the organizers and/or drivers in carrying out the event; photographing, filming, recording, and/or broadcasting the event; or who exchanges money or anything of value with any driver, car owner, or other participant in connection with the event.”
Legal speed bumps
The ordinance quickly hit speed bumps. Responding to a CBS46 story about Hillis’s proposal, Grossman took to Twitter to question the constitutionality of banning the recording of public events. And the June 1 City Council meeting, where Hillis appeared to expect a quick approval, happened to come at the height of the George Floyd protests over police brutality and racism. In that council meeting, Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, chair of the Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee, said the Bottoms administration had asked for the ordinance to return to the committee for further review and research. Sheperd also cited the context of the ongoing protests. Councilmember Howard Shook said the Law Department had expressed concerns about the ordinance. When the ordinance returned to the council for a vote Aug. 3, the language barring photos, videos and broadcasts was gone. Hillis told the council that deletion was due to concerns from the public and councilmembers, and that the revisions were made in consultation with the administration. The “participant” definition was tweaked to emphasize that offenders must be “knowingly” and “actively” joining the race. And a new line appeared: “For the purposes of this section, a person who is a mere bystander, passerby, or observer not aware of the illegal activity shall not be deemed a participant.” The Law Department had more bad news for Hillis. References to drivers were cut because existing state law already covered them. Another provision requiring that seized race cars be impounded for 30 days or until the driver’s case was adjudicated was likely unlawful, Law Department attorneys told the council. Councilmember Carla Smith pleaded for the clause to remain as “the only tooth in this legislation” and it did, but with additional language that the impounding period can be up to the maximum under state law — which, the city attorneys said, is never 30 days or the period of adjudication. The language prohibiting the organization of a race remained intact, also with a “knowingly” added. The other main change was setting a minimum fine of $1,000 instead of a lower range, which is limited by state law; the ordinance also allows for up to 6 months in jail. Editor’s note: Dan Grossman previously represented this reporter in an unrelated legal case.
Community | 3
Community Briefs C H A STA IN PA RK GOLF C O U R SE R ETURN S TO GOLF -ON LY U SE
A 60-day experiment in letting the public use Chastain Park Golf Course as parkland has ended with golf-only use. After city golf courses shuttered early in the pandemic, the public took to the fairways for social distancing and outdoor enjoyment. The golf courses reopened in June, but the city began an experiment in keep the Chastain and Candler Park courses available as public green space one day a week. A July online meeting got mixed feedback about Chastain’s uses. On Aug. 18, the city returned the courses to golf-only use, citing financial challenges, damage to the course, public use on the wrong days and legal concerns, according to Jim Elgar, an aide to City Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit.
PEA C H T R EE ROA D RA C E TO BE VIR TU AL-O NLY
The AJC Peachtree Road Race, already delayed by the pandemic from Independence Day to Thanksgiving, now will be held as a virtual-only event with people running on their own. Now in its 51st running, the annual 10K race usually begins at Buckhead’s Lenox Square mall with a route including Midtown, Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park. It draws tens of thousands of participants. This year, the race will be run anytime on Thanksgiving Day by participants who log in remotely with results. Runners who already registered will be automatically placed in the virtual version. For others, registration will be available on a first come, first served basis that was scheduled to start Aug. 31. The Peachtree Junior race for children 14 and under also will be held virtually on Thanksgiving Day. For more about the race and other programs, see atlantatrackclub. org.
CHA S TA IN PA R K C ON SERVA N C Y TO MOVE INTO NEW HQ
The Chastain Park Conservancy in late August was preparing to move into its new headquarters in a former city Department of Watershed Management garage off Powers Ferry Road. The original home of the group, which helps to program the park, was a 1940s structured called the Barn that was destroyed in a fire early last year. The Conservancy has operated from a temporary office at Chastain Horse Park.
B UC K H EA D ROTA RY OF F ERS $75K IN GR A N TS TO LOC A L PA RKS P R O G R AM S
The Buckhead Rotary Club is offering $75,000 in grants over the next three years for programming in local parks. The charitable club will offer a total of $25,000 per year “to support programming and community engagement activities in public and private Buckhead parks,” according to a press release. The funding is in the form of a reimbursement and requires an application process. For more information and an application, see buckheadrotary.com.
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B UC K H EA D L I BRA RIES OF F ER C URBSID E SERVICE
The Fulton County Library System has added Buckhead’s branches to its curbside service and expanded pickup hours systemwide. All library branches remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the system is offering pickup of materials on hold and drop-off on a limited weekday schedule. In mid-August, those services were expanded to Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Joining the branches offering those services are the Buckhead Library at 269 Buckhead Ave. and the Northside Library at 3295 Northside Parkway. Those branches just finished renovations. For more information, see afpls.org.
G R OUPS S EEK GRA N T TO STUDY EXP RESS B U S SERVICE
The Buckhead Community Improvement District and the alternative commuting nonprofit Livable Buckhead are seeking grant funding to study possible express bus service between Cobb County and the neighborhood’s business district. Such service is a priority of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods in its advocacy for reduced cut-through traffic on residential streets. At the CID’s July 22 board meeting, Executive Director Jim Durrett said a preliminary study suggests that the buses could run on I-75, I-85 and Ga. 400, using the Lenox Road exit and entrance. He said the groups recently filed a grant application with the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority to seek funding with the ultimate goal of having such service added to the metro region’s master transit plan. BH
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Vacant Cheesecake Factory will stand, but fence must rise, owner says BY JOHN RUCH j firstname.lastname@example.org
A Place Where You Belong
The owner of the long-vacant Cheesecake Factory restaurant building on Buckhead’s Peachtree Road is backing out of a plan to demolish it. But he is pressing ahead with a request to surround it with chain-link fence and using escalated talk of on-site crime and police ignoring trespassers -- which the Atlanta Police Department denies. On Aug. 5, representatives of owner Peter Blum came before the Development Review Committee of the Special Public Interest District 9 zoning area with the idea of demolishing the building at 3024 Peachtree. The specific request was for an administrative variance to allow the 8-foot-high, black-vinyl-coated fence
We are open and ready to welcome you!
along Peachtree. The restaurant structure was built in 1993 and vacated by the Cheesecake Fac-
Stop by for a bite to eat or use curbside and delivery services.
tory in 2014, when it moved to the Lenox Square mall. Sitting between Buckhead
Please check with individual businesses for current operating hours and dining options.
building with nearly 9,000 square feet of space. The rear is a parking lot that is
Avenue and Pharr Road, the 0.82-acre property stretches back about 500 feet into the Peachtree Heights West neighborhood. The former restaurant is a two-story sometimes rented for event parking, according to Blum’s representatives. In his request, Blum said the property was “out of control” with homeless trespassers and its interior was “destroyed.” Members of the DRC -- a purely advisory body to the city -- were eager to see it demolished. But the look and utility of a fence, especially with no redevelopment
in sight, were concerns for DRC members. Denise Starling, who is also executive director of the nonprofit Livable Buckhead, said she didn’t like the precedent of allowing fencing along Peachtree. “If we’re going to make this better, let’s make it better,” said Sally Silver, the DRC’s representative from City Councilmember Howard Shook’s office. “Let’s not just put a Band-Aid on it.” DRC members suggested scraping the entire site clean, including the slab and asphalt, and covering it with grass. Some members noted that the amount of parking in the lot would not be allowed in a redevelopment under current zoning anyway. However, Blum’s representatives had concerns about maintaining possibly useful features and whether grass would continue to attract trespassers. In an eventual compromise recommendation, the DRC called for the building slab to be removed and grassed over and for the fencing to start at the parking lot instead of at the street, a setback of roughly 150 feet. Now Blum is no longer seeking to demolish the building for unexplained reasons, but still wants to install the fence, according to an Aug. 20 update letter to the city from Norman Koplon, a consultant for the property owner. Koplon did 186c
not respond to an email about the change in the demolition plan. In pressing the argument for the fence, the letter makes several new claims about the dangerousness of trespassers on the property, giving undated examples.
“For example, when Mr. Blum told one trespasser that he needed to leave the property, the trespasser jumped up and approached him brandishing a knife,” the letter says. In another incident, the letter says, trespassers set fire to lumber “presumably” taken from the building and threw it onto the adjoining property of a Restoration Hardware furniture store, a site Blum also owns. “This could have burned Restoration Hardware to the ground,” the letter claims. The letter claims that trespassers have “scaled the walls of the building like
www.townbrookhaven.net Conveniently located on Peachtree Road adjacent to Oglethorpe University.
mountain climbers so they could access the building through the roof,” and that “homeless encampments” scare employees of Restoration Hardware. The letter says that trespassers are able to access the property because of the BH
Community | 5
lack of the fence. But the letter also claims that “despite repeated requests by Mr. Blum and others, the Atlanta Police Department has routinely refused to enforce the laws prohibiting trespassing on private property, thus providing no deterrent to the trespassers. The result is that the property is now overrun with trespassers.” But APD says that is not true, at least according to incident reports so far this year. APD spokesperson Office TaSheena Brown said that since Jan. 1, there have been four calls at the site, only one of which was for criminal trespass. On that call, Brown said, an officer responded and “completed documentation” on the accused trespasser. The former Cheesecake Factory restaurant as seen in a 2019 Google Maps image.
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Ritz-Carlton tower plan draws questions regarding density, parking questions BY JOHN RUCH email@example.com
An early look at plans for a Ritz-Carlton hotel and residential tower in Buckhead was full of colorful descriptions of its “elevated lifestyle” away from the “burden” of Downtown Atlanta. But a zoning review group and residents of an existing companion tower are looking for numbers, not words, on density, parking and traffic impacts that likely will loom large if the plan moves ahead. The proposal for the tower, a companion to an existing residential and office tower at 3630 Peachtree Road, made a preliminary appearance Aug. 5 at the Development Review Committee of Special Public Interest District 12, a zoning area with design rules and limits. The project is being developed by a limited liability company called 3630 North whose registered agent with the state is Ty Underwood of the real estate firm Atlas Interests. The current, 438-foot-tall tower at 3630 Peachtree, at the intersection with PeachtreeDunwoody Road, opened about 10 years ago and also has Ritz-Carlton-branded condominiums. The new Buckhead Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences tower is planned for the rear of the property, adjacent to a parking deck, and with the hotel’s ballrooms built atop the deck. The tower is planned at 329 feet tall, with 85 residential units and 256 hotel rooms. The current driveway on Peachtree would become a “motor court” with a vegetation-covered “green wall.” Bruce McEvoy of the project’s design firm, Perkins and Will, gave the DRC a brief conceptual presentation full of lavish language promising that guests and residents would enter “through a garden of delight, and ultimately to a haven full of exceptionally imaginative experiences.” He said the project is “really trying to build on the legacy of Buckhead,” meaning an “escape” from the rest of the city and “the idea of Downtown being a sort of burden.” However, DRC members were more interested in the developer’s burden to demonstrate that the project fits into zoning and works traffic-wise. That proved difficult, part-
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A photo illustration of the proposed Buckhead Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences, at left, alongside the existing 3630 Peachtree Road tower. (Perkins and Will)
ly due to a lack of details at hand, and partly as project attorney Harold Buckley Jr.’s Zoom audio failed repeatedly during explanations. The consensus was that the team needed to come back with more details. In an Aug. 10 letter to the city, Eric Mandus, an attorney for the condominium association in the existing tower, expressed similar concerns about parking and the need for studies and a signed agreement, among other issues. Transwestern, the company that manages the office space in the existing tower, forwarded the letter to the DRC and indicated it has similar concerns. The zoning is complicated, with the project relying on layers of past entitlements and more recent changes. The general concept is that the project completes a build-out of the site allowed under a zoning dating back to 1986 and of which the existing tower was just part of the permitted density. A twist is the differing rules of SPI-12, which was only an overlay at the time the existing tower was built and is now part of the underlying zoning. Especially key is a different way of limiting density, using design rather than floor-area ratio. In a letter to the city from Buckley submitted to the DRC, he says the project needs only a special administrative permit to allow the hotel use. But DRC members were not able to understand the zoning and density aspects. Denise Starling, who also serves as executive director of the nonprofit Livable Buckhead, said that the current zoning would cap the building height at 225 feet. Buckley said the developer would satisfy that by restricting the hotel part to the lower floors, but it was not clear how that allowed the rest of the building to be more than 100 feet taller. McEvoy was unable to give specific numbers for the size of the conference center, roughly estimating it at about 15,500 square feet and saying that, due to the pandemic’s effect on the hotel and event industries, he was instructed to cut the event space by 20%. He said that working with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and parent company Marriott International is “a little challenging right now given that they’re a skeletal crew” due to the pandemic. Project consultants from the planning firm Kimley-Horn said they were studying the complex situation of parking, but had not done any road traffic studies, which drew objections from DRC members. The impacts of left turns from Peachtree onto PeachtreeDunwoody is crucial to study, said DRC member Nancy Bliwise, who also chairs Neighborhood Planning Unit B. And member Sally Silver said the project could “wreak a lot of havoc” on a planned conversion of the nearby intersection of Wieuca Road and Phipps Boulevard into a roundabout. On the parking front, the project would not add any parking spaces, and would remove some from the deck by cutting a new building entrance into it. Kimley-Horn consultants said that solutions will involve shifting reserved parking there and reworking a shared parking arrangement in the deck of the adjacent Wieuca Road Baptist Church. Some DRC members expressed skepticism about the parking capacity and sought more details that were not immediately available. One element that drew praise was that the changes to the existing 3630 Peachtree parking deck would eliminate an exit that McEvoy called “horrible” and “kind of a nightmare” in terms of pedestrian safety. Starling also praised the “motor court” design. The project was expected to return to the DRC in September. BH
Community | 7
Ga. 400 toll lanes report posted in virtual ‘open house’ BY JOHN RUCH firstname.lastname@example.org
Toll lanes proposed to be added to Ga. 400 between Sandy Springs and Forsyth County would have no major environmental impacts, according to documents presented by the Georgia Department of Transportation on a “virtual open house” website that is accepting public comments through Sept. 22. Among the details in the online presentation are a possible detour route during replacement of the Pitts Road bridge over Ga. 400 in Sandy Springs, and a slightly faster construction timeline than was last announced: a 2022 start and an opening in 2026. The toll lanes -- dubbed “express lanes” by GDOT -- are intended to be part of a
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future metro-wide system. Locally, the toll lanes would run along I-285 and Ga. 400. While the toll lanes eventually would be part of a unified, interconnected system,
NEW CONSTRUCTION COMING SOON
GDOT has divided them into subsections for planning and construction purposes. The “Ga. 400” project includes only the part of the highway from the North Springs MARTA Station northward; the southern piece of Ga. 400 in Perimeter Center is within the I-285 project because it involves a lot of connection-building with that highway. And the I-285 part of the toll lanes was itself broken up into multiple sections, including east, west and top end. The toll lane plans have drawn controversy for possible impacts on local traffic and for the need to take property. The Ga. 400 project will require about 45 homes in Sandy Springs and about five businesses, according to GDOT. GDOT says the toll
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lanes would speed up overall traffic by letting paying drivers go faster than those in the free lanes. In a new concept for GDOT, the Ga. 400 lanes and possibly the I-285 lanes would carry MARTA buses using new dedicated stations. The Ga. 400 project includes around 16 miles of toll lanes between the North Springs MARTA Station off Peachtree-Dunwoody Road and the McFarland Parkway area in Forsyth. It includes interchanges at the MARTA station and at Grimes Bridge
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Road, Tradewinds Parkway and Union Hill Road. A draft environmental impact report -- a document required by the federal and
state governments before major road projects can proceed -- says that the toll lanes would not exceed air quality standards for the metro Atlanta area, so further study is not needed. The report includes information about MARTA buses using the lanes, but specific environmental impacts of such buses are not addressed in the report. The project would include widening the highway bridge over the Chattahoochee River, which is federally protected and part of which is a national park. The National Park Service has recommended approval for the project, according to documents on the website, because there is no practical alternative, no long-term “adverse impacts,” and no net loss of wetlands. An area of wetlands would be lost, but GDOT would give money to NPS to buy more, the documents say. In terms of traffic noise, the draft report says, the route would receive an estimated 4.7 decibel increase over the current sound levels by 2046. Some spots would receive more impacts of 15 decibels or more, which would make them eligible to get noise barriers, the report says. GDOT’s online open house was scheduled to include a live question-and-answer session on Sept. 1, after the Reporter went to press. Meanwhile, the I-285 toll lane projects are on a separate timeline. GDOT earlier
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this year issued a response to public comments about those projects. The toll lanes projects are separate from the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project that is currently under construction. That project, known as “Transform 285/400,” began in 2017 and is expected to wrap up late next year. However, the toll lanes would run through the interchange area and connect with it.
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HVAC systems are next battleground in the COVID-19 fight BY JOHN RUCH
Since April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have had HVAC
As America ventures into pandemic reopenings, some-
guidelines related to COVID-19, which
thing new is in the air along with the now classic hygiene
also refer to recommendations from
talk about hand-washing, social distancing and mask-wear-
ASHRAE, an international industry-stan-
ing. Anti-virus additions to air conditioning and heating
dards group headquartered in Brookhav-
systems are the next wave of the pandemic strategy as peo-
ple gather inside buildings where virus particles may float
Some of the recommendations are rel-
around for extended periods.
atively simple ventilation improvements,
From restaurants to art classrooms, MARTA offices to
like increasing the amount of outdoor air
schools, building managers are looking at tactics that range
by opening windows or boosting the ca-
from blowing in more fresh air to adding possibly virus-
pacity of an air-conditioning system. Ex-
scrubbing filters or COVID-killing ultraviolet lights. Like many social aspects of the pandemic, the HVAC battlefront is a case of COVID-19 adding momentum to pre-existing shifts in the way life and business work. HVAC companies already saw a future focus in cleaning indoor air, says
A REME HALO ionizing air purifier, like those St. Martin’s Episcopal School says it has installed, as seen on the website of manufacturer RGF Environmental Group.
Chris Marek, CEO of the AIR Company of Georgia, a Buckhead-based heating, air conditioning and refrigeration contractor. “I think that the industry trend is moving more towards proper indoor air quality and best practices,” said Marek, whose company has installed COVID-combatting additions to systems in a school and other facilities. “I think the broader conservation should be about improving the indoor air quality.”
tending the hours of operation of the HVAC system so that air is more diluted when occupants arrive is another strategy.
In higher-risk areas, the CDC has recommendations that are more like systems used by hospitals. The CDC says portable HEPA filters that can filter out tiny particles could be useful. The CDC also suggests considering virus-killing ultraviolet lights for installation in the ceiling to treat upward-flowing air. Another suggestion is internal airflow from “clean” to “less-clean” areas, meaning that occupied areas get fresh or filtered air, which is then directed to other parts of the building.
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Marek said still other forms of technology are available, such as ionizers that electronically charge air molecules so that viruses or pollutants will be attracted to them and thus are filtered out. In practice, the use of any or all of these techniques varies greatly by the type of building and HVAC system. Marek said there’s no “cookie-cutter” approach -- and no simple price tag, either. “You really have to take a bespoke approach to this,” Marek said. “You have to take a look at, what do they currently have, what’s the best practice around what they have, and meeting them where they are.” The CDC and ASHRAE say that all hygiene precautions should be used together against COVID-19. Like any given strategy, HVAC changes can only reduce the risk of catching the disease, not eliminate it completely. “...As a profession, we don’t guarantee or make any sort of overture that this is going to prevent anyone from getting sick. I think that’s really important that they understand that,” said Marek.
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Several local businesses and institutions are already trying various HVAC tactics. Dunwoody’s Spruill Center for the Arts announced Aug. 17 that it had installed a “medical-grade filtration system” to clean the air in its classrooms. The H13 filters “remove 99.9% of air particles,” the center said in a press release. “We are committed to providing a safe space for our staff and students,” said Spruill CEO Alan Mothner in the release. “Implementing the air purification system is an added level of safety we felt was necessary.” Ray’s on the River, a cornerstone of Sandy Springs’ restaurant scene, installed ultraviolet lights in its air conditioning system all the way back in March as the pandemic began, according to owner Ray Schoenbaum. He told the Reporter in July that the move was made largely to give customers a sense of security. “That’s one of the things we did over and above that we didn’t have to do [under state safety rules]…,” said Schoenbaum. “We owe it to [customers] to do absolutely
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everything we can to make them feel comfortable.” MARTA announced Aug. 13 that its Board of Directors approved an $850,000 project to add ionizers to air conditioning systems in various offices, including the transit agency’s Buckhead headquarters. The “NeedlePoint Bi-Polar Ionization” system is made by a North Carolina company called Global Plasma Solutions. “These filters are one part of the safety protocol we’ve developed,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker in a press release. “Those employees who are able to continue productively working from home are encouraged to do so, but we want to ensure that anyone who must work in or visit our facilities remains healthy.” Air quality in schools has become a pressing issue as some have returned in-person -- and some around metro Atlanta quickly saw COVID-19 outbreaks. St. Martin’s Episcopal School, a private pre-K through 8th grade school in Brookhaven that has returned to in-person classes, installed ionization devices in its HVAC system, according to a pandemic preparation document on its website.
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The REME HALO product is made by a Florida company called RGF Environmental Group. Local public school districts were in different stages of consideration as they all launched with virtual-only classes. The school system in DeKalb and Fulton counties were starting with improved ventilation, while an Atlanta Public Schools spokesperson said, “We are reviewing all of our HVAC and ventilation options and protocols at this time.” “The Dekalb County School District is following recommendations from the CDC and ASHRAE to introduce more fresh air into our HVAC systems for students returning to our schools,” said a district spokesperson. “We will also be increasing the
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frequency of filter changes, preventative maintenance and system cleaning.” The Fulton County School System is also reviewing CDC and ASHRAE guidelines, according to spokesperson Shumuriel Ratliff. “We have adjusted our HVAC systems to extend hours of operation to dilute possible contaminates,” said Ratliff. “We are moving towards higher efficacy air filtration on all our HVAC systems. Ultraviolet (UV) air disinfection devices are being evaluated for their cost and effectiveness.”
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10 | Art & Entertainment
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Arts foundation to support artists, honor late Reporter writer Judith Schonbak BY JOHN RUCH firstname.lastname@example.org
An arts foundation is being created to honor Judith Schonbak, an arts writer for the Reporter and other outlets who died Aug. 2, and to support “historically marginalized communities and artists.” Her daughter McKenzie Wren is organizing the fund, with C4 Atlanta, a nonprofit that provides business services to the arts community, acting as the fiscal agent accepting initial donations. “We are setting up the Judith Schonbak memorial arts fund to expand arts access and support to historically
communities and artJudith Schonbak.
ists,” Wren wrote in an email announcing
the effort. She said Schonbak had always wanted to create such a fund, and that doing is in “honor of the work she did to expand and educate about the arts.” “I didn’t know Judith personally but C4 has a close relationship with McKenzie,” said C4 Atlanta Executive Director Jessyca Holland. “My heart is heavy for McKenzie as she mourns the passing of her mother. This fund continues the legacy of her mother’s contributions to art and provides comfort in a time that is very challenging for artists.” Donations to the arts foundation can be made on the C4 website at c4atlanta.org/ pay. Under the “I am making a payment for” list, donors can choose “Other” and write in “Judith Schonbak fund.” Schonbak was killed in a Chamblee crash that the Georgia State Patrol says was caused by the driver of a stolen vehicle. Schonbak revitalized the Reporter’s arts coverage in recent years as part of a long career in writing and the arts for which family, friends and colleagues are fondly remembering her. At Buckhead’s Atlanta Artists Center, Schonbak served on the board four times, including two terms as president, in 2005-2005 and 2013-2014. “She provided vision and leadership during two critical periods in AAC history as the organization faced both financial and leadership crises,” recalled the organization in a written statement. “She was a dynamic, charming and strong leader who gave of herself tirelessly and inspired all those who knew her. Her red hair and artsy dress made her instantly recognizable. She worked hard to know everyone’s name and naturally instilled enthusiasm for everything AAC.” Schonbak combined her interest in writing and the arts in work for many local arts publications. She wrote program guides at the Cobb Energy Center and volunteered as editor of the Georgia Watercolor Society for a number of years. She interviewed Renzo Piano, architect of the High Museum addition and other major arts institutions, and such celebrities as William Shatner and Carol Burnett. Schonbak joined the Reporter as a freelance writer in 2018, where she anchored a newly expanded arts section.
Community | 11
Confluence Bridge makes its trail connection BY JOHN RUCH email@example.com
The Confluence Bridge has made its long-awaited connection across Buckhead’s Peachtree Creek. The 175-foot-long pedestrian span was placed via crane on Aug. 21 over the creek at a spot along the west side of I-85, behind the Lakeshore Crossing apartments off Piedmont Road. The roughly $2.5 million project by the South Fork Conservancy connects that group’s trail systems with Buckhead’s PATH400 mulituse trail along Adina Lane. Ultimately, the bridge is intended to connect those trails with the Atlanta BeltLine and an extension of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, the first disconnected mile of which recently opened in Brookhaven. “Our goal has been to uncover and restore the natural habitat of this beautiful urban waterway and provide ways for people to connect with our natural systems, often hidden from view by neglect and over-growth,” says Glenn Kurtz, chair of the South Fork Conservancy board, in a press release. “The
will help provide new connections.” Atlanta cilmember
whose district includes the area, praised the project in the press release. “This is an impressive project, which will connect 25 acres of new greenspace to one of the most parkdeprived areas of the city,” Ide said. “Having easy access to natural areas is critical now more than ever, and this bridge, made possible by South Fork Conservancy, will deliver nature trails and creek views to thousands of people.” Work on the bridge began in May. PHOTOS BY PHIL MOSIER
12 | Community
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Buckhead Heritage volunteers clean New Hope AME’s historic cemetery BY JOHN RUCH firstname.lastname@example.org
About 50 Buckhead Heritage Society volunteers arrived at a local cemetery Aug. 8 to honor local history and engage with the racial justice issues sweeping the nation. The local history nonprofit teamed with the New Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church at 3012 Arden Road, a 150-year-old congregation that is working to preserve its site, including a cemetery dating to at least 1889. “This service project is an opportunity to bring people together to give back to our community,” said Ivan Allen IV, a Buckhead Heritage board member and membership committee chair, in a press release. “We believe there is a pent-up desire within the community to engage in some meaningful way to address the injustices we are reading about that are subtle and embedded in our social fabric.” “The uniqueness of this church is the collective love that’s shared by all ethnicities that live in the Buckhead community,” said Rev. David F. Richards III, New Hope’s pastor. “Buckhead Heritage members roll up their sleeves and get involved. They bring in forensic experts and cemetery restoration teams to show us how to maintain a historical cemetery. Once we clean up the cemetery, it will be a beautiful place to walk through.” According to Buckhead Heritage, the church dates to an 1872 bequest by James H. “Whispering” Smith, a White farmer and landowner. He left 2 acres to local African American residents to be used for “church purposes,” according to Buckhead Heritage. Under a grant funded by the Massey Charitable Trust, Senior Mortuary Archaeologist Dr. Matt Matternes has identified 334 graves in the cemetery. There are believed to be 300 graves without markers. For more information about Buckhead Heritage, see buckheadheritage.com. For more about New Hope, see NewHopeAMEChurch.org. SPECIAL
A volunteer workers on a market at the New Hope AME Church cemetery on Aug. 8.
Community | 13
New 1996 Olympics exhibit to open Sept. 18 at Atlanta History Center BY JOHN RUCH email@example.com
The revamped and reinvented 1996 Olympics exhibit is scheduled to open Sept. 18 at the Atlanta History Center. “Atlanta ’96: Shaping an Olympic and Paralympic City” is a 2,600-square-foot exhibit featuring hundreds of artifacts and images about the city’s unlikely successful bid for the 100th Olympics and the megaevent’s impact on the metro area. “Like the original exhibit that opened in 2006, it will include historic sporting moments, medals, torches and information about the terrorist bombing that marred the event, as recently depicted in the controversial movie “Richard Jewell.” But, coming in an era when the Olympics is under renewed scrutiny for expense, displacement of residents and other effects, the new exhibit also will look at how the Games changed life here and will include local protest movements. “The exhibition examines the long-term impact of the ’96 Games on Atlanta with thoughts about how all of us can have an impact on our community,” said Sheffield Hale, the History Center’s president and CEO, in a press release. “We tried to break out of the typical sports exhibition format that looks exclusively at the events and medals and look at what the Games meant to the city before, during, and after.” “The exhibition explores the legacy of the 1996 Olympic and Paralympic Games, asking what the Games mean to us today and using the Games as a study to think about how we can change the places in which we live,” says the press release. “The Games mean something different to everyone whose lives were affected, including individuals involved in preparations, people living near venues, activists, competitors and fans.” “Atlanta ’96” was intended to open in July to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but this year’s edition was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as was the exhibit. The Sept. 18 date coincides with the 30th anniversary of the International Olympic Committee announcing that Atlanta was awarded the Games. The History Center is located at 130 West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead. As of late August, it was operating under pandemic restrictions, including timed ticketing, limited attendance and required mask-wearing. The pandemic conditions mean that some interactive elements of the Olympics exhibit will be suspended for now, according to History Center spokesperson Claire Haley. A substantial online version of the exhibit is planned for a revamped version of the History Center’s website, which likely will go online about two weeks later, Haley said. For tickets and updated visiting information, see atlantahistorycenter.com. BH
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Michael Johnson celebrates his record-breaking, gold-medal victory in the 200-meter sprint at the Atlanta Olympics Aug. 1, 1996, in a photo taken by Jeff Najarian.
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Seven run to fill 5th District seat until the end of the year BY COLLIN KELLEY Five Democrats, an independent and a Libertarian have thrown their hats into the ring to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis in the 5th Congressional District, which includes southern sections of Brookhaven and Buckhead. The special election will be held Sept. 29. If none of the candidates get a majority, a runoff will be held Dec. 1. The winner will serve until January, when the winner of a different election for a full term will take the office. The seven contenders include Robert Franklin, a Democrat and former president of Morehouse College; Kwanza Hall, a Democrat and former Atlanta City Council member; Barrington Martin II, an educator and former unsuccessful challenger to Lewis in the June primary; Steven Muhammad, an independent and minister from East Point; Chase Oliver, a Libertarian and customer service specialist; state Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas, a Democrat who has served nearly 22 years in office; and Keisha Waites, a Democrat and former state representative. The election to succeed Lewis, who died July 17, for a full two-year term will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. State Sen. Nikema Williams is the Democratic appointee to replace Lewis on that ballot. The other candidate on the ballot is Republican Angela Stanton King.
Challengers set to take DA and sheriff offices BY JOHN RUCH firstname.lastname@example.org
Challengers are set to take the district attorney and sheriff’s offices in unofficial results from the Fulton County Aug. 11 runoff election. Challenger Fani Willis won a landslide victory, 71.7% to 28.3%, over incumbent Paul Howard for the DA’s office. In the Sheriff’s Office race, challenger Patrick “Pat” Labat beat incumbent Theodore “Ted” Jackson, 55.49% to 44.51%. Willis and Labat both received backing from Buckhead community and political figures, including Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods chair Mary Norwood. Momentum for change came as the neighborhood saw increases in certain types of crime, including theft and robbery over the past few years and now a wave of gun violence. In the race for an open Fulton County Superior Court seat, Melynee Leftridge Harris defeated Tamika Hrobowski-Houston, 63.16% to 36.84%.
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Community | 15
City unveils program recommendations for young water-sellers BY JOHN RUCH
The city has unveiled the incentive part of its carrot-and-stick approach to dealing with youths who sell bottled water in the streets. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Aug. 7 released recommendations from a Youth Entrepreneurship Advisory Council on ways to steer youths into safe and legal ways to make money. The report says that many youths are making $100 to $300 a day selling the water, so actual money-making has to be the core of an alternative program. And some youths will choose to continue selling water regardless, the report said. “The main way to steer them away from selling [water] is to offer a more enticing alternative. In short, they need to be compensated for their time,” said the report, adding that alternatives will require “robust” partnerships with nonprofits, businesses and Atlanta Public Schools, among others. “Thank you to the members of the Advisory Council for their thoughtful recommendations and diligent work towards creating a successful path forward for youth in Atlanta,” said Bottoms in a press release. “We must continue to make bold investments in our young people and steer them toward productive and beneficial outcomes.” The administration will continue to work on the recommendations with such partners as Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, and the jobs
program WorkSource Atlanta. Anyone wanting to participate can email the city at youthentrepreneurship@AtlantaGa.Gov. On the enforcement side, the Atlanta Police Department has begun cracking down on some alleged criminal activity by or related to water-sellers, including recent arrests in Buckhead on charges of firearms possession and armed robbery. The advisory council’s report says it worked on principles of racial and economic equity -- part of Bottoms’ overarching city policy goals -- and the ideas that the youths themselves should have input on solutions that will benefit everyone in Atlanta. “Youth need support and opportunity, not punishment,” reads another principle.
The water-selling business
The report, based partly on interviews with water-sellers and APD officials, provides a variety of statistics and estimates about the street business. An estimated average of 150 to 300 youths are selling water on city streets each day, the report says. Water-sellers range in age from 8 to 21, but are “typically” 12 to 16 years old. Most work in groups. Many are working during school hours, and some were not in school due to suspensions. The business involves reselling bottled water that is typically purchased from stores near the sales sites. The youths typically enter the street to sell the water to drivers at traffic lights. The youths report making $100 to $300 a day through sales or tips. Many are seeking money to support their households and
were meeting basic living needs, though some were also raising “entrepreneurial resources” for start-up businesses or music studio time. A few said they would take a traditional job if it was offered, while many said they preferred working for themselves, according to the report.
The report notes that the water-selling is fundamentally illegal under city ordinances prohibiting vending without a license and obstructing traffic, and under state law prohibiting pedestrians from entering roadways. While that has sometimes been cited as a simple solution, the report said that APD interviewees “emphasized that a better approach should not depend on the police to solve the problem, nor should it be a police-led effort.” With the popularity of the business, the report said, there is an increase in robberies where older youths steal the day’s earnings from younger ones. From Jan. 1 through July 5, the report said, APD recorded 694 calls for service related to water-selling. More than 400 calls involved complaints about related behavior like “aggressive sale tactics,” obstructing traffic or an unwillingness to clean the sales area. Thirteen calls were reports of people with weapons. From all of those calls, there were 11 incidents of youths aged 17 or older being cited and arrested, and four incidents of minors cited and released to parents.
For solutions, the advisory council par-
ticularly cited a multi-prong strategy in the city of Baltimore, Md., where youths were engaged in a similar business of washing car windows in the street. The strategy involves mentorship, skill-building and entrepreneurial programs. The report contains 13 recommendations elaborating ideas of overcoming inequities, conducting outreach, creating programming hubs, and partnering with APS. On outreach, the city needs an “authentic, credible” approach and must gather more data about the youths, the report said. The city needs to recognize the “entrepreneurial energy” and have a campaign with the message, “We see you. We hear you. We support you.” The report suggests using the city’s Centers of Hope after-school program as one to create hubs of programming for the youths and their families. It also suggests working with a nonprofit partner to create pipelines to jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as working with community leaders on “earn and learn” workshops. The city also must recognize that some youths will continue selling water on the streets and find ways to manage that safely, the report said. Working with APS on similar programming is another recommendation. That would include identifying young entrepreneurs and developing a non-traditional business program for them; providing interactive, hands-on training in entrepreneurship; and providing stipends and other paid incentives for staying in such programs.
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Pandemic underlines challenge of meeting students’ and teachers’ basic needs “You have to do Maslow before you can do Bloom” is a frequent comment from educators, particularly since social-emotional learning and trauma-informed instruction have been a focus of school systems around the United States. The necessity of these programs has been made especially clear since the onset of the pandemic. Now, more than ever, educators are concerned with ensuring that the basic needs of students are being met so that the deeper learning included in Bloom’s Taxonomy can occur. Created by Benjamin Bloom, a twentieth-century educational psychologist, Bloom’s Taxonomy promotes higher-level thinking (analyzing, evaluating and creating) rather than just the remembering and recitation of facts. In Bloom’s Taxonomy, role-playing is on a higher level than memorizing, predicting outcomes is higher than answering basic questions. However, “you have to do Maslow before you do Bloom.” Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one of the basic principles of psychology included in most educator preparation courses. The focus in these educator preparation courses is often on aspiring educators understanding that students must have their most basic physiological needs (food, water, sleep, shelter) met before they are able to focus fully on learning. The current pandemic has continued to highlight those needs while bringing student’s safety and belonging needs (friendship, connectedness and sense of family) to the forefront of these discussions. The current inability to meet these students’ needs is, in many cases, a direct result of policy decisions made over the past two decades. From 2003 to 2018, the state of Georgia reduced public education funding through austerity cuts to QBE (Quality Basic Education), underfunding and changing the formulas for equalization and sparsity grants, and creating tax credit programs that divert
public funds to private resources provided schools. All these cuts by policymakers is resulted in increased being stretched to class sizes, the reducthe breaking point. tion of the arts and othEducators themer elective courses, less selves are in need professional developof some attention ment for teachers, and to Maslow’s before limited instructional they can provide resources available for Bloom’s. teachers and students. In addition to With further cuts to having their physpublic education in the ical safety needs current budget, the remet, educators covery from 16 years of need the security previous cuts is further of professional pay delayed. to meet their physFurther damaging to iological needs. SPECIAL our schools during this They need poliLisa Morgan is president of the Georgia Association of Educators time of budget cuts was cies that promote and has worked in the DeKalb the requirement that health and safety, County School District as an earlyschool systems choose whether the polichildhood educator since 2001. to either remain stacies are protecting tus quo or become charter systems or from a virus, an active shooter or an agStrategic Waiver School Systems. These gressive student. Educators need to be last two designations have resulted in respected as the professionals they are all systems but two that no longer have and provided the resources to practice to abide by any of the Title 20 laws or their profession. They also need to be state Board of Education rules concernheard as the experts in their field with ing the administration of their schools. the knowledge, expertise and experiFor these systems, such mandates as the ence to provide the solutions to the isnumber of days or hours of instruction, sues confronting public education. class-size limits, duty-free lunch for As we continue to navigate through teachers, requirements for the number the challenges ahead, our focus must of school counselors and social workers, be on the students and those who edurequirements for physical education or cate them. Meeting the needs of all infine arts classes, and fair dismissal for volved must be the primary objective of teachers no longer apply. all educational policy decisions. We canDuring this time when meeting our not afford to have another generation of students’ needs requires lower class sizstudents who spend their entire school es, more counselors and social workers, careers experiencing austerity and reand increased resources for technology ductions. We cannot continue to expect and the access to it, the funds to meet educators to try to supplement from these needs simply do not exist. The optheir own resources for what is not and posite is happening; larger class sizes should be provided by their schools. We are in effect, and support professionmust meet our students’ and educators’ als, elective classes, and resources are needs so they can thrive in their respecnot available. The ability of educators tive roles. Maslow, then Bloom. to dig deep inside themselves and their pockets to make up for the insufficient
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Commentary | 17
Brush up on grammar as an unusual school year begins I was young and idealistic, once. I imagined moving to the great western prairies like the homesteaders of yore, living off the land and frequently stepping outside so that the wind could whip romantically through my hair as I gazed wistfully in the distance. I recall once reading a book about homesteading women who literally fought off the wolves from their doors, and I fancied myself being just as strong, had I lived in those times. And then a hornet flew into the house and I freaked out trying to kill it. I also thought I could change the world as an English teacher. I got my healthy dose of reality there, too. I then had my own kids and left the classroom to raise them and became an at-home grammar snob. I must add that being a stuck-up grammarian does come with its downfalls, for I have been stymied by my own snobbery. I have rewritten entire sentences because I was uncertain of comma placement. Also, I am frequently stumped by the word “bring.” (Do l bring it to you or take it to you? I usually sidestep the issue and just say that I’ll drop it off). As for “lay” and “lie,” my rule of thumb is the same for directions, in that whichever way I want to go, the opposite one is probably correct. But I’m still waging my own private war against the improper use of “its” and “it’s.” I’ve written on this theme before, but it bears revisiting, especially at the start of a school year, especially when learning 2020 is unprecedented in the various forms that it is taking. Maybe the attempt at grammar ed is futile because fullRobin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest grown adults-with-degrees (who should know better) are in Dunwoody. To contact falling off the wagon. For years we have been writing in her or to buy her column incomplete sentences, and now our incomplete sentences collection, “The Best of the aren’t even complete. Nest,” see robinconte.com. Witness the devolution of a phrase. “Here are a few of my favorite things” became “Few of my favorite things” and, sadly, finally, “Few faves--”. Actually, the final devolution will likely be a series of heart and food emojis. It seems as if we are too busy to figure out how to stick both a subject AND a predicate into whatever message we want to type. Or, are we concerned that it somehow says that we’re just not up with the times if we bother to construct a complete thought? Are we too cool to be clear? Are we trending towards pithy yet vague and error-ridden brevity? Don’t be swayed, kids! Remember the basics! Punctuation is important! A sentence expresses a complete thought! And if you know the difference between “to,” “too,” and “two,” you can rule the world. Moreover, I say that after the opposable thumb, the evolution of man reached its apex with the ability to use an apostrophe. It’s your gift. Don’t squander it. Now, for the public-service announcement portion of this column and for all you students out there, I offer the following tips: It’s: a contraction for IT IS. It’s about time you learned this. Its: the possessive form of the pronoun IT. Modern civilization as we know it would crumble without its apostrophe. They’re: a contraction for THEY ARE. They’re throwing punctuation out the door. Their: the possessive form of the pronoun THEY. Their gift to the world is good grammar. There: usually refers to location, typically meaning NOT HERE. He is not there because he is learning virtually. To: a preposition or part of an infinitive. She went to school to learn about such things. Too: an adverb meaning ALSO or EXCESSIVELY. Is all this grammar talk getting to be too much for you, too? Two: refers to NUMBER. That makes two of us. To review: They’re going to pull their hair out if the two fellows over there don’t stop texting long enough to learn the mechanics of writing too, and it’s not that hard of a thing to learn. Now, go forth and conquer, kids. But first, could you please kill that wasp for me?
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18 | Commentary
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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 email@example.com.
Local theater companies hope to stage pandemic comebacks Brandt Blocker of City Springs Theatre Company.
Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives on the DunwoodySandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire others. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Egizio of Stage Door Players.
Michelle Davis of Act3 Productions in a staging of “Godspell.”
Like just about everything else we love, live theater is canceled for the foreseeable future -- and many of live theater companies are wondering how or if they will survive. Three excellent theatre companies in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs offer a range of experiences for a range of audiences. For semi-professional productions in a blackbox theatre, we have Act3 Playhouse in Sandy Springs. For an intimate experience with professional talent, we have Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players, who produce fullscale productions on a small platform stage. And for full-blown Broadway-style musical productions on a full proscenium stage, we have City Springs Theatre Company at Byers Theatre. Despite their differences, they all rely on ticket sales for most of their operating funds. But ticket sales are what they don’t have and won’t have for the near future. At City Springs, where most of the talent is Actors’ Equity, no one can come back to work till the union gives them permission. Act3 doesn’t use union talent, and Stage Door Players uses mostly non-union. Even if their theater buildings open any time soon, they would still be unable to mount productions because the talent would be reluctant to sing and shout in each other’s faces, much less kiss and hug! “Welcome to my COVID nightmare,” said Stage Door Players Artistic Director Robert Egizio in a statement that could apply to all three theaters. Back in March, Stage Door Players was a week from opening “The Outsiders” when the City of Dunwoody closed their venue. The sets had been built, the costumes created and rehearsals ongoing. They honored everyone’s contract, though they couldn’t
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mount the show. Egizio admits the decision to close was inevitable. “We had six out of seven characters using the same phone!” he exclaimed. But Egizio pointed out that backstage interaction is as problematic as onstage because of the close contact required for costume fittings, set building and dressing rooms. Act3’s last production closed the week after Valentine’s Day. In the works was an immersive production of “Cabaret,” in which they were turning their entire space into the Kit Kat Club. “We kept trying but gave up and refunded to season ticket holders. Some donated their tickets,” said Act3 Artistic Director Michelle Davis. Like Stage Door Players, they’ve had no ticket income since February. At City Springs, where the cost to mount a typical production is $500,000, ticket sales are down 50% from last year. “We’ve canceled two-and-a-half, soon to be four-and-a-half, shows,” said Executive/ Artistic Director Brandt Blocker, though the company recently announced a series of four special Broadway concerts live-streamed from the Byers Theatre. Season subscribers will have access at no extra charge, with complimentary food-and-wine gift baskets for Producers Circle members. Individual tickets will be $35. All three companies are hoping to have a 2021 season. City Springs has already scheduled productions for March, May and July. Act3 plans to mount a play already scheduled for 2021. Stage Door Players’ plans are still undecided. As for the future of live theater, all three agree there will be changes, most noticeably at the two smaller theaters, where social distancing is not possible. “One of our biggest selling points -- our intimacy -- is holding us back,” said Egizio of his 125-seat theatre. Stage Door Players had hoped to mount fall productions in the amphitheater at Brook Run Park until the city of Dunwoody banned large gatherings. Egizio pointed out a small community theatre in Iowa that is mounting productions in a parking lot with a temporary stage from which the sound is piped to people in their cars. He’s planning two cabaret shows that will stream on Facebook and Instagram. Act3’s Davis foresees new plays that weave the concept of social distancing into the plot. “Creativity will determine who survives short-term,” Egizio said. And that applies to individuals as well. Most actors and the other backstage people who support them are gig workers with no income when not involved in a production. “Many talented theater people are living on unemployment and food stamps because even their second jobs have dried up,” said Egizio. “I know actors who have been evicted and had to move back in with their parents.” To help one another, Atlanta theaters and artists have banded together to form the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund, to help those in dire straits. Donations are accepted at both the website atlartsrelief.org. In addition, all three theater companies are accepting donations through their websites: act3productions.org, cityspringstheatre.com and stagedoorplayers.org. BH
Commentary | 19
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
Buckhead resident helps Georgia Audubon spread its wings When Esther Stokes moved into a new home in Brookwood Hills a couple of years ago, the yard sprouted many familiar flowering plants with roots in foreign places. Now those imports are disappearing. Stokes is replacing her azaleas and camellias with Joe Pye weed, cardinal flowers and other types of greenery that grew up here in the wild. With her new plantings, Stokes, a landscape designer by trade, is going native. Why? Because her garden is for the birds. It’s a bit for the bees, too. Also, the bugs, to tell the truth. But it’s mostly for the birds Stokes has been paying close attention to since she was a child growing up in Virginia and that she supports as chair of the board of Georgia Audubon, a bird-centered nonprofit that claims it builds places “where birds and people thrive.” “Literally, that is what we try to do,” Stokes said one warm August morning as she sat on the shaded patio in her native-plant-filled garden. “Whether we are restoring or establishing new habitat or whether we are maintaining what is there, everything is through the lens of birds. And if birds are thriving, those are good places for people.” These days, Stokes said, Georgia Audubon wants to do more to support birds. The 1,700-member organization, based at the Blue Heron Nature Center in Buckhead, is spreading its efforts across the state, is adding staff, and has changed its name to reflect its new aims. Until August, the organization was known as the Atlanta Audubon Society, or, before that, the Atlanta Bird Club. Stokes says Georgia Audubon intends to work with the other, smaller Audubon societies around Georgia and will sponsor projects to help fill the gaps between various local clubs and state Audubon societies in neighboring states. “I feel like Atlanta Audubon, and now Georgia Audubon, has become a part of the conservation community,” she said. “We have been very intentional about that, and because we think partnerships are critical -- you can’t do everything yourself -- we’ve begun a lot of that sort of work. And there’s lots left to do.” Interest in birds came naturally to Stokes. “I’ve been interested in parks and birds as long as I can remember,” she said. There was a time, back when she was in her 20s, that she enjoyed simply keeping an eye on birds and kept lists of the different kinds of birds she’d seen. Nowadays, with the coronavirus keeping everyone at home, more people are discovering the pleasures of birdwatching, she said, and Georgia Audubon is providing online classes and virtual bird walks on Facebook to help both longtime bird fans and newcomers expand their participation in the hobby. “We have found people are staying at home and watching their feeders and it has opened a window and JOE EARLE their minds,” Stokes said. “People Esther Stokes checks on Joe Pye Weed and have noticed that not all birds look Cardinal flowers growing in her backyard. alike.” But Stokes’ chief interest these days is watching the bigger picture, the overall habitat that supports the birds. Her new interest came as a natural outgrowth of her work as a landscape designer, which she started in the 1980s, and continued as her volunteer work with Piedmont Park led to work with other Atlanta parks and eventually back to birds through Audubon. Native habitats are important she said, because birds and bees and bugs do best when they live among the sorts of plants their kind long have lived among. “For the last 50 years, in the landscape area, we have imported all these plants from China and Japan that do well here, but the insects don’t recognize them,” she said. “They are beautiful, but they don’t provide ecosystem services.” And some birds depend on those bugs as a source of food. So, what’s good for the bugs can be good for the birds, too. Stokes says the people at Georgia Audubon intend to foster native habitat across the state. One of the organization’s new employees will be based at and work on projects on the Georgia coast. “Research has shown us that ‘if you build it, they will come,’” she said, as birds occasionally darted through the shrubs and trees in her yard in search of late-morning snacks. “We’re losing things like grassland birds because they don’t have habitat, but if you build a grassland, they will come back.” Georgia birds now can find a number of recently restored habitats, with more added every year. In Brookwood Hills, for instance, they can just check out Esther Stokes’ backyard. BH
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20 | Community
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Mystery group proposes cityhood, annexation; Mayor’s Office criticizes it Continued from page 1
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ganizers are concerned about city government’s approach to crime, “cronyism” and “corruption,” and about Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ policy interest in redevelopment in Southwest Atlanta. The committee also addressed that its separatist idea comes during a time of protests about racism -- including many held in Buckhead due to the neighborhood’s reputation as majority-White, wealthy and conservative. Montgomery began the presentation by saying “we do not tolerate racism” and acknowledging that Buckhead’s 1952 annexation into Atlanta -- which he called “unconstitutional” -- was partly motivated by the desire to keep voting rolls majority-White. “Our whole reason for forming this committee is to right the wrongs of a racist and non-democratic past while ensuring the happiness, safety and security of all of the residents and business owners here,” Montgomery said. The Mayor’s Office sees the Buckhead secession idea differently, according to a lengthy written statement. “This very moment in our nation’s history is being defined by how we as a people finally address the systemic social and economic injustices facing long-neglected communities,” the Mayor’s Office said. “These injustices are one of the many reasons Mayor Bottoms ran on a platform of equity for all Atlanta residents, including Buckhead,” the statement continues. “However, for too long, communities on the Southside and Westside have been deprived of basic opportunity — a sentiment shared by private and non-profit partners like [Atlanta Falcons/Atlanta United owner] Arthur Blank and [Chick-fil-A chairman and CEO] Dan Cathy, who have been stalwart allies in ensuring legacy residents can remain and thrive in the communities they helped build. “The presentation in question clearly loses sight of the need for inclusion and equity. Further, it works against Mayor Bottoms’ vision of One Atlanta — a safe and welcoming city where all neighborhoods, communities, businesses and residents are equipped for success.” Early rumors of the committee’s work on a cityhood concept in July drew condemnation from former Mayor Sam Massell, the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Community Improvement District, the Buckhead Business Association and Livable Buckhead.
The committee’s webinar was posted on YouTube July 30 and by Aug. 26 garnered 1,185 views. Montgomery is the only person who appears in the video, presenting himself as a neutral host selected because he is a political independent and not directly involved in the committee’s organizing, though he often spoke in terms of advocacy. According to his social media accounts, he is a technology consultant and a parttime lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. The only organizer named in the video is someone called Randy Farmer. “We feel like we aren’t being heard by the administration in Atlanta,” Montgomery said of the committee’s motives, particularly citing crime. He mentioned the Atlanta Police Department’s failure to stop
looters during rioting in May; his own experience seeing a drive-by shooting and friends who were carjacked; bad APD morale; and Bottoms’ policy against holding federal immigration detainees in the city jail. Besides the ideas of Buckhead becoming its own city or joining another one, Montgomery said, the committee might also decide to simply send a list of demands to Bottoms. The current plan, he said, is to form a nonprofit organization and conduct a survey and a feasibility study. He said the study would answer such questions as whether cityhood would bankrupt Atlanta, as some critics complain. Montgomery said committee members have spoken to “representatives” of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs about the idea, but spokespersons for city governments there said they are unaware of such conversations. Oliver Porter, a key founder of Sandy Springs who frequently advises cityhood movements, said he has not heard from anyone in Buckhead recently. “If they are serious, they should talk with me,” he said.
Elected officials respond
In response to another audience question, Montgomery claimed that some local elected officials have privately said the would support Buckhead cityhood if it proved feasible. He said those officials “don’t want their name to be shared at this time.. We have received a lot of support behind closed doors.” Key local elected officials say they have had no such discussions or made such promises, including Atlanta City Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook; Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris; state Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta); and state Reps. Erick Allen (D-Smyrna), Betsy Holland (D-Atlanta) and Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs). Allen and Silcox said they were unaware of the committee’s positions and have no position on them. Holland and Jordan said they oppose the effort. “If we, as a community, have concerns about issues facing this city, we should be working together to address them,” Holland said in an email. “Frankly, I worry that separating the two entities could lead to instability for both and have unintended negative consequences for our business community and our schools. We are stronger together.” The committee declined interview requests and would not answer questions about the elected officials’ responses, the claim of conversations with other cities, or member identities. “Unfortunately, we cannot address all your questions as we are hard at work, defining the next steps. We will share the information with you as soon as it becomes available and as long as you represent us fairly,” the committee’s email said. “We can share at this time that there is a diverse group of individuals working diligently to identify the best path forward for the citizens of Buckhead. We have also made an active choice to remain politically agnostic as much as possible to represent the diversity of opinions that live on our streets.” In the video, the group openly circulated its contact information as email@example.com. BH
Community | 21
Gun court, permit checks are among crime-fighting ideas Continued from page 1 late at night by off-duty officers. Shooting incidents have happened around the neighborhood this year, including two May killings on the street: one unsolved near the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center and one on Habersham Road where a teenager is charged with murder in what the Atlanta Police Department says may have been a robbery. But a particular hot spot of concern is the area around Pharr Road and Grandview Avenue on the border of Buckhead Village and Garden Hills. Several shootings have happened in that area, including within the Allure at Buckhead Village apartments and at a Chevron gas station. Among the latest incidents was an Aug. 2 carjacking attempt at the gas station where suspects shot at the victim after he brandished a firearm, according to APD. The Garden Hills Civic Association has a five-member “task force” looking into the local crime issue, member George Heery told Neighborhood Planning Unit B at its Aug. 4 meeting. “We’re just pushing on everything you can think of,” said Heery. “...At night, it really is violent. We don’t feel safe walking.” But few details were discussed, partly because community activists are being discrete and partly because of sheer lack of information. “We think there’s gangs,” said NPU B chair Nancy Bliwise, voicing a common theory. A common thread of community discussion is that some local restaurants might be operating after hours and drawing late-night gatherings that spawn crime, but exactly how is unclear. Heery said he’s seen “stunning” incidents at one restaurant and another GHCA resident said a local restaurant owner is “very dangerous,” but neither elaborated. GHCA president Clay Dixon later declined to comment. In the meeting and in interviews, other community figures spoke broadly of “rowdy” and “hip-hop” crowds. Two businesses named by residents and officials as late-night gathering spots are Blue Restaurant & Lounge at 262 Pharr Road and Copper Cove Restaurant & Bistro at 2991 North Fulton Drive. The owners of the businesses did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment. In the NPU meeting and in interviews, residents said there were reports of gunfire and street gambling near those businesses in recent weeks. But APD reports for May 1 through Aug. 18 showed no serious crimes reported there. Three incidents at Copper Cove were all parking lot accidents, the most serious of which happened during BH
the day. The only incident within Blue was a violation of social distancing rules under the pandemic safety guidelines; there were also four vehicle break-ins or damage in a shared parking garage. Hala Carey, a city solicitor, told NPU B that the types of incidents APD has mentioned as occurring around the restaurants include noise, cars doing doughnut maneuvers, and some type of improper disposal of water bottles. Alan Dobrin, co-owner of the Copper Cove property and several others in the area, said the owners have hired an off-duty police officer who is stationed near the restaurant on some nights. APD initiated a city check on the status of licenses and permits for Blue and Copper Cove, Carey said, and the results were still pending. Shook said in an interview that he successfully asked the state Department of Revenue to “come in and take a look” at various Buckhead businesses he would not name to check for tax compliance. He also said that, at his request, the City Auditor’s Office is conducting a “performance audit” of the city Licenses and Permits department due his longstanding concern
that some area businesses continue to operate without proper paperwork. “Are they understaffed, under-resourced? Are there inefficiency problems?” Shook said of the department. “Are they undersupported by other agencies with whom they have to collaborate in order to get a court outcome? Is it plain old graft? I just don’t know.”
Other tactics Megan McCulloch, the Fulton County District Attorney Office’s community prosecutor for Zone 2 and Downtown’s Zone 5, told NPU B she sought “community buy-in” for three tactics for addressing gun crime. One is a specialty gun court, where a judge would hear only cases where the most serious charge related to guns. The intent is to speed up the adjudication process for such cases. The court would need Fulton County Board of Commissioners approval and funding, she said. Another idea is a gun buyback program, where authorities offer cash or other incentives for turning in firearms that are then destroyed. She claimed such programs -- which also require funding -- have
been shown to reduce gun violence when used in conjunction with other programs. Dr. Garen Wintemute of California’s UC Davis Medical Center, a national expert on gun violence prevention, provided the Reporter with a 2013 journal article he co-authored that found that “gun buybacks do not reduce violence.” The study says buybacks can still be worthwhile for such purposes as awareness-raising and “changing public views toward firearms.” A third idea is tighter rules for gun sales by pawn shops, which McCulloch said are a common source of guns used in crimes. That would take political action from the Board of Commissioners and the General Assembly, she said. NPU members liked the gun court idea, while some questioned the effectiveness of gun buybacks. Bliwise noted that the ideas would take significant money that could be hard to get. She also asked who would coordinate such programs to make sure they don’t compete or overlap with other efforts. McCulloch suggested “the community … because Buckhead has some powerful people, right? And you can get stuff done.”
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22 | Education
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FALL 2020 | EDUCATION GUIDE
After school, during pandemic Extracurricular clubs and sports adapt to a distanced year BY ERIN SCHILLING email@example.com
When freshman Jace Rubenstein enrolled in North Springs Charter High School in Sandy Springs for its band program, drumming on a video call in his room wasn’t exactly how he pictured the experience. Rubenstein, who lives in Johns Creek, signed up for the fine arts magnet school in part because of its marching band program — which has not yet had a practice. As the 2020-2021 school year starts virtually for Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, teachers and students have adjusted to almost everything online — not just with classrooms, but also extracurricular activities like club meetings and band practices. Athletic programs have also had postponements or additional COVID-19 safety precautions put into place, making almost all aspects of a typical school year different for students. Rubenstein said marching band practice was slated to start the last week of the summer, and now he isn’t sure when it may come back. Fulton County School District delayed sports games until at least the middle of September, and DeKalb County School District delayed sports games until at least the end of the month. Marching bands would usually have performances at football games. To practice percussion in the virtual age, Rubenstein said he and his classmates mute their video and play along with the teacher, who’s unmuted, on an electric drum. “It’s been fine for me,” said Rubenstein, whose school year started Aug. 17. “We’re still getting to play, which is the best thing.” Danielle Rubenstein said one of the hardest adjustments to virtual learning is her son Jace not being able to meet people at his new school. “The only people they really see during the day are the teachers,” Danielle Rubenstein said. “But everyone is doing their best.”
Parents juggle children and work in a virtual reopening BY ERIN SCHILLING firstname.lastname@example.org
Natalie Cedor’s living room transformed into an elementary, middle and high school on Aug. 17. Though her three boys-- fifth-grader Stefan, seventh-grader Jaeden and 11thgrader Devon -- may all be in the same room, the schedules for each of them are different, but Cedor said her children have been surprisingly self regulated in their work. “In the spring, there wasn’t as much structure,” said Cedor, whose children are in Fulton County School District. “Now it’s more structured and there’s more weight for the kids’ performance, so a little bit more stress for me.” Cedor and other parents in the Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta public school sys-
Above, Jace Rubenstein, a freshman at North Springs Charter High School, poses for a photo with his electric drum.
Kindergartener Kevin Duran poses for a photo.
Laura McEwen said her daughter Amelia McEwen, a sophomore at Dunwoody High School, has been playing softball almost all her life. When they found out the DCSD athletic seasons had been postponed while on their way
tems have had to adjust to having their children home as the districts started at least the first month of classes with virtual learning. Some parents are pooling resources for home-schooling; others get assistance from community nonprofits. All are adapting. With a summer to prepare, teachers and administrators have created more defined schedules for the students than the emergency closures in the spring allowed, so many parents have to juggle their own work and their children’s schooling as the fall semester kicks off.
Continued on page 30
Continued on page 28
Softball keeps swinging
Left, Dunwoody High School senior and Student Government Association president Dabney Duncan poses for a photo at her virtual learning work station.
Education | 23
SEPTEMBER 2020 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net
DeKalb superintendent adjusts to new district BY ERIN SCHILLING email@example.com
DeKalb County School District Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris hopes to restore the district’s former “stellar reputation” under her leadership, she told Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch during a virtual back-to-school conversation on Aug. 13. But in her first two months in her new role, she said gearing up students and staff to start classes again during the COVID-19 pandemic has been her first priority. “Based on what I was reading in terms of what the community wanted in their superintendent, it very much aligned to what I believed to be my strengths,” Watson-Harris said. “I very much wanted to come to be a part of the future of the DeKalb County School District.” WatsonHarris, who previously served as second in command at the New York City Department of Education, started in SPECIAL DCSD on July Superintendent Cheryl 1. Her first few Watson-Harris weeks have been hyper-focused on preparations for virtual learning and the return to school, Watson-Harris said. As soon as she was hired, she started helping with the COVID-19 reopening plan, which included pushing the start date for classes back two weeks to Aug. 17 and detailing when DCSD could return to in-person classes based on the data of COVID-19 infections in the county. In addition to preparing and maintaining a smooth virtual learning environment for students, Watson-Harris said, staff members are continuing to ready the schools to transition back into in-person classes whenever that becomes an option. DCSD is working with the DeKalb County Board of Health to analyze the COVID-19 data. Watson-Harris and her team will assess whether schools can reopen at a September DeKalb County Board of Education meeting. Her experience in New York while it was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic helped her prepare to lead DCSD, Watson-Harris said. “What that experience really did teach me was the value of human life,” WatsonHarris said. “There was a point in those last couple months where we started almost every staff meeting with a moment of silence. Continued on page 26
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24 | Education
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Fulton Superintendent looks to return to in-person learning BY BOB PEPALIS Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney spoke with the Reporter at the start of the second week of classes to discuss the challenges of reopening schools while safeguarding students and teachers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district was on track to resume inperson classes Sept. 8. What has been the biggest challenge in getting the school system prepared for the 2020-2021 school year? Quite honestly, just the personal interactions that we have in a typical school year with families and students, between teachers and families. Our district develops relationships, one of the examples of the work we do, building positive reactions. It’s just more complicated when you have to do it digitally.
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Once students return to the classroom in the next reopening phases, what will it take to keep students in the classrooms and avoid a return to universal remote learning?
We have both now a reopening matrix, but we also have a closing matrix. We fully expect when school closings, we will have some schools requiring temporary closures, until COVID is no longer a threat to us. We can very well isolate small numbers of cases in the school here and there and not have to shut the entire district down. But I always want to be clear, there will likely be time a school will have to shut down for 24 or 72 hours so we have time to SPECIAL Superintendent Mike Looney. clean and do contact traces
Complaints have been made about the remote learning experience, with access to virtual classes, homework and more limited or just not working. What has staff done to correct these issues? Should we expect these kinds of problems with universal remote learning?
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What we do know is that it’s not an issue of bandwidth. It could be a home router, could be how much connectivity family has at home, could be some other variable. But it’s certainly not the district bandwidth. Some school systems have received a lot of pushback from teachers and teachers’ unions to keep from bringing everyone back to the classroom. What has been your experience here in Fulton County? Our teachers have expressed a desire to continue working with students. Obviously, we have a segment of our teachers that are concerned… And it’s just an expression of their uneasiness because of the COVID virus. It’s not because they don’t want to work. And our teachers have been back in buildings for two weeks, learning to work social distancing, wearing masks. We are doing that in advance of students beginning to return on Sept. 8, in a very deliberate and slow process so we don’t all of a sudden bring thousands of students in... only to have to close again. We think it’s a practical approach, measuring our practices on the way. What is the school district doing for teachers who have underlying health issues that health safety guidelines say are reasons for avoiding other people and nonessential travel? Two things that Fulton specifically has done: One is we have provided an additional leave type for up to 15 days if a teacher self-quarantines or has other legitimate reason not to report to the workplace. They’re still teaching from home if possible. What we’re doing in Fulton is not provided in other school districts. In addition, we have set up a process by which teach-
What is the status and current plan for competitive sports in Fulton County Schools? So at this point in time we have delayed competitions between other schools and schools districts until at least the 14th of September. That‘s so we can make sure we’ve down everything we can to mitigate exposure to other schools and districts. That, too, is predicated on the level of spread in the community at that time. Will students in the last school year and this one be less well prepared than those in previous years because of the effects of the pandemic? Well certainly I think from a global, regional and world perspective, yes. Digital learning, remote learning, does not offer the same opportunities for students to learn and to do so in a collaborative and supportive way. Yes, I do believe we will have ground to make up when we return to traditional schooling. Having said that, our goal is to make that learning gap as small as possible relative to their peers in other places. But I fully acknowledge that students in Fulton County and elsewhere will have some ground to make up relative to where they would have been if this had not happened. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I’ve also heard and seen from students… where the universal remote learning strategy has been very beneficial to them. Moving forward, we will have to provide more options and opportunities for students, based on their circumstance and needs. I think that virtual schooling will become another arm of the district’s offering. We will be better. At the end of the day we are going to be better as a result of the pandemic. We’ve sharpened our skills, our tool kit. Increased our abilities in relation to how we incorporate and leverage and utilize technology. And it’s increased our focus on the social emotional learning needs of our students
Education | 25
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26 | Education
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New Superintendent Herring says APS is ready for challenge BY COLLIN KELLEY New Atlanta Public Schools’ Superintendent Lisa Herring has quickly become a familiar face to parents and students, despite only being on the job – officially – since July 1. Herring was the face of a series of online information sessions and town halls over the summer as the district wrestled with SPECIAL the choice of Superintendent holding inLisa Herring. person or vir-
tual classes with COVID-19 cases on the rise. Stepping into a high-profile new role during a raging pandemic while the country also reckoned with racial injustice could have easily been a baptism by fire, but Herring has also seen opportunities for better education and equity emerge from the chaos. The decision to continuing with virtual learning became clear as the district looked at the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in the community, Herring said. “I know parents and students want to be back in the classroom, because I agree that virtual learning is not a substitute for in-person learning,” Herring said. “But it’s a decision we had to make for health and safety purposes.” Herring said she had been “grieving” not being able to meet more of the staff and teachers in person as social distancing and Zoom meetings have become the norm, and would sorely miss visiting schools to meet
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students on opening day. Still, the new superintendent said there were abundant resources for parents and students online to ease into the academic year from home. “We’ve had town halls for every grade level, and those have been recorded so parents can go back and refer to them for information. We’ve created a new website (atlantapublicschools.us/backtoschool) to access all the information on technology, meals, and we’ll have an overview of the educational platform looks like for each grade level.” With APS students facing at least nine weeks of learning at home, one of Herring’s top priorities has been making sure every student has access to a laptop, iPad, and internet. The Atlanta Board of Education’s Aug. 3 vote to spend $24.6 million over five years to lease devices for 40,000 students – making sure every APS student has one – was a crucial step toward remedying disparities in education. Herring said a survey sent to parents received 20,000 responses, with more than 50% of those stating their child needed a device to begin or continue virtual learning. “There continues to be a need, but we’re in a solid place,” Herring said, directing parents who still need a device or individuals or organizations that would like to donate devices to atlantapublicschools.us/getourkidsconnected. Since many children rely on breakfast and lunch for their daily nutrition, Herring said the food distribution program started last spring would continue. Five breakfasts and five lunches per week will be made available for each student, and parents must order each week via the APS website. Herring said she hopes that community partners will step in to fill the gap of evening and weekend meals for students. When classes do resume, Herring said all of APS’s brick and mortar facilities are ready with plans for social distancing in place. Masks will be required for students and teachers. Herring has also been busy behind the scenes working with the school board to reinstate positions eliminated by her predecessor, along with new hires the superintendent said will be essential to APS’s growth. Herring received board approval to re-
instate four positions including chief of schools, chief of staff, chief academic officer, and senior administrative manager. Herring also got approval to bring colleagues from her previous appointment as superintendent of Birmingham, Alabama’s public schools to fill two of those positions. Jarod Bishop, who served as Herring’s executive coordinator of policy governance and external affairs, will take the APS chief of staff position, while Anita Williams, who served as instructional superintendent in Birmingham, will become APS’s new chief of schools. Perhaps the most significant new leadership position will be the Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer, which will be filled after a nationwide search. Herring described the position as a “monumental” step forward for the school district and said she was “super excited” to get board approval for what she believes is the first position of its kind in the region – maybe the country. “Atlanta is the most unequal city in our nation due to income inequality,” Herring said. “White students are 4.5 grade levels ahead of their black peers.” Herring also noted that full-time staff – including paraprofessionals, clerks, custodians, and food staff – would get a pay increase to $15 per hour. On a personal note, Herring said her return to Atlanta has been a welcoming one despite all the challenges. She said parents have started to recognize her in the supermarket and she’s had quite few conversations about the new school year and those just stopping to welcome her back to the city where her career began. The Macon native and Spelman College graduate completed her observational field work at APS’s Therrell High School. During her time at Spelman, Herring also volunteered and worked at Warren Memorial Boys and Girls Club of Atlanta. She is a 2008 graduate of Leadership Georgia and spent several years as a school counselor and assistant director of student support services in DeKalb County with a similar role in Bibb County. “I’m home,” Herring said with delight. “I wake up every morning and I am grateful to be here.”
DeKalb superintendent adjusts to new district
Continued from page 23
When I see where the trends are going here, I don’t want that to be a reality in DeKalb.” As for advice to parents helping their students with virtual learning, she suggested making sure they maintain a schedule and continue to treat virtual learning as school. “We want our scholars to know that even if we’re in the virtual space this is still school and we have high expectations,” Watson-Harris said. “We’re going to support them every step of the way and be flexible, but we’re also going to hold them accountable for what they have to learn because we need them to learn.” Watson-Harris said she always wants there to be “two-way communication” between the district and students and families. She has created a weekly superintendent newsletter, and she’ll also be monitoring student engagement data each week to try to make sure students in all areas of the district are participating. Though most of her attention was focused on getting the schools and teachers ready for the school year, she said she’s also been working to fill some high-level vacancies in the district leadership as one of her other top priorities. Watson-Harris said she wanted to work in DCSD because of its size and diversity. She said she has family in the area and has always enjoyed the area.
Education | 27
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Home-schooling Continued from page 22
Our inquiry-based approach encourages children to ask the next question, to embrace intellectual challenge, to consider multiple perspectives, and to discover the wonders of life through experience.
Cedor said she works from home, so sometimes she also has to remind them Cedor created work spaces and schedto ask their teachers questions instead of ules for her children to help them stay running upstairs to get her. Her children on track. She helps them set up at their not being able to interact with their peers desks at 8 a.m. to allow for some time to has also been an issue, Cedor said. log into programs. She said they didn’t For her fifth-grader Stefan, Cedor said she’s considering sending him to the YMCA once a week, where staff members there help facilitate virtual learning with small groups of students and do activities with them after the school day is over. Her 11th-grader Devon has high-functioning autism, and Cedor said he needs the emotional and social interactions of the classroom setting. “Being home with SPECIAL Fifth-grade student Stefan Cedor does his school work on the first his brothers is not helping him,” Cedor day of classes at the desk his mom Natalie Cedor set up for him. said. “He’s going to have many technical problems in the mature, and these are the skills I need first week. him to learn, but he can’t learn it because “The major issue of the day, to be honhe’s not in that environment.” est with you, is food,” Cedor said. “I have three boys. They eat a lot, and because Teaching pod there’s access to food, these kids want to Marissa Evans, whose daughter Elise eat all day, constantly.” is in third grade at Dunwoody Elementa-
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SEPTEMBER 2020 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net ry School, said she teamed up with three other families in her daughter’s class to create a teaching pod for their children. DeKalb County School District started classes on Aug. 17. “The kids can continue to grow in a learning environment while still maintaining safety,” Evans said. The families hired a certified teacher who was planning on getting a job in a metro Atlanta school district until it went on a hiring freeze. They chose one of the houses as the “classroom” for the students. Evans said she’s felt fortunate she’s able to help her daughter learn through that way. “We all learned in the ’80s and ’90s very differently than how the kids are learning today,” Evans said. “What we know sometimes isn’t even helpful, and we’ll have to Google it anyway.”
Gabriela Duran, whose four children are in the Cross Keys cluster in DeKalb County School District, said virtual learning has been hardest for her youngest children. Kevin and Derek, who are in kindergarten, have to use her computer because the district did not give them devices. Duran also works on her computer, so she uses it when the children are done with school. She said teachers have also started to request they print out materials, and she doesn’t have a printer at home. Her older children, Axel and Mischa, are at Sequoyah Middle School and have their own devices from the school. “I haven’t been having a problem,” Duran said about helping her children with virtual learning. “But I feel for my community, and families who are having a lot of trouble with that.” Duran works with families to help with virtual learning through Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, a nonprofit that aims to help families on Buford Highway. Duran said Los Vecinos set up WhatsApp group chats for parents based on the schools their children attend. They also hold Thursday classes to help people learn the different virtual platforms and create video tutorials. “We have too many people who can’t speak English or people who can’t read,” Duran said. “We try to make videos so people understand what’s happening in the schools.” Wade Morris, a parent of two Garden Hill Elementary students in Atlanta Public Schools, said he’s been impressed by the teachers and administrators as the students prepared to go back on Aug. 24. He said they didn’t have any technology issues after the first day. Morris said he and his wife both have flexible work schedules, so they’re able to help their first grader Annie and third grader Jane. Their youngest, Eliza, is in pre-K. “One of us has to be sitting next to the 4 year old at all times, and the other one has to be keeping an ear out for the 6 year old,” Morris said. APS has done a great job with getting supplies to students and communicating about how virtual learning will work, Morris said. BH
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After school, during pandemic Continued from page 22
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From left, Dunwoody High School students Courtney Craft, Amelia McEwen and Alani Moore pose for a photo at their first softball game of the season at Brookhaven’s Murphey Candler Park.
to softball scrimmage, they still wanted to try to have some sort of season. DCSD has still allowed teams to do group conditioning while games are postponed, and McEwen said parents got together to create a league with the Murphey Candler Girls Softball Association so the girls could still play a pseudo-season. The teams are divided by school, McEwen said. McEwen said they hold two DHS conditioning practices a week with Sunday games at Brookhaven’s Murphey Candler Park that are not associated with the school. The first game was Aug. 23. Masks are required except when players are on the field. “It doesn’t count toward the region, but it was so fun to see some sort of normalcy,” McEwen said. “Distancing, mask[-wearing] and temperature checks were enforced.” McEwen said her daughter played on a travel softball team over the summer, and Murphey Candler was one of the best venues in terms of COVID-19 safety precautions. Her daughter has been playing softball at the park since she was 8 years old. “They’re not too upset about it,” McEwen said. “It feels like a partially normal season.”
Dabney Duncan, a senior at Dun-
woody High School, said she’s found a way to connect with other students at her school through Instagram. Duncan, president of the Student Government Association, said the club’s officers have been meeting about once a week via video call with their teacher sponsors. SGA would normally plan events such as homecoming or pep rallies, so in lieu of those, Duncan said they’ve been doing “Wildcat Wednesday” spirit day posts, named for the school’s mascot. The SGA Instagram account, @dhswildcatpride, also posts other club information and has become a “virtual meeting place” for students, Duncan said. “We’re having to get really creative on ways to keep everyone connected,” Duncan said. Duncan said usually the entire club, which has over 100 students, would also have a meeting every week, but those meetings have been cancelled since the organization isn’t doing any planning or a club vote. Duncan started her position as SGA president with a virtual election last spring, which was conducted using a Google form. “There downsides to virtual learning, but big picture, I know this is what has to be done,” Duncan said.
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