September 2020 - Brookhaven Reporter

Page 1

SEPTEMBER 2020 • VOL. 12 — NO. 9

Brookhaven Reporter




Pages 22-30

Dresden Village project returns, may get $13.5M tax break


Theater groups aim to stage pandemic comebacks P18 AROUND TOWN

Georgia Audubon spreads its wings P19 COMMENTARY

Basic needs of teachers and students must be met P16 The Brookhaven Reporter is mail delivered to homes on selected carrier routes in ZIP 30319 For information:



A site plan of the 4-acre, mixed-use Dresden Village development .

New city tree ordinance is on the way amid cutting controversies BY ERIN SCHILLING

The city is rewriting its tree ordinance to better preserve the tree canopy — something that Brookhaven Heights resident Jon Margolis said he’s noticed has been declining in his neighborhood. The rewrite aims to take out ambiguities in the current ordinance and set clear expectations that builders should try to

preserve trees, Councilmember John Park said. The rewrite comes after a tree canopy study shows the city’s seeing a net loss in tree coverage. Park said the ordinance rewrite is a complicated balance between environmental preservation and not infringing on the rights of the property owners. City spokesperson Burke Brennan said the city has requested proposals from consultants for the ordinance. The city is set See NEW on page 21

The controversial Dresden Village mixedused development that won approval for a property tax break worth up to $13.5 million has strained the city’s relationship with DeKalb County, causing a stall in the city’s federal COVID-19 relief funds and drawing criticism from a county commissioner who says it’s an unnecessary drain on county and school system coffers. Granted under the code name “Project X,” the tax break is drawing criticism from a DeKalb County commissioner as an unnecessary drain on county and school system coffers. The Brookhaven Development Authority approved the 22-year tax abatement during a special called Aug. 12 meeting. The development is valued at about $61 million, according to the development’s project documents. Dresden Village is planned for a 4-acre lot on Dresden Drive near Caldwell Road, a site See DRESDEN on page 20





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2 | Community ■

City to tentatively plan 2021 Cherry Blossom Festival BY ERIN SCHILLING

The city will tentatively start planning its annual Cherry Blossom Festival after canceling it last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Council gave the green light during a July 28 work session to Patty Hansen, the director of strategic partnerships, to plan the event for 2021. The city has tentatively slated April 10 for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival’s 5K run and April 17 and 18 for the festival. The Cherry Blossom Festival is a two-day arts and music festival put on by the city that attracts tens of thousands of people and includes music performances and art and food vendors. Hansen said the city staff would “plan light” and consider COVID-19 safety precautions as well. The cherry blossoms will not be in bloom for the April dates, Hansen said, but the staff wanted to move it out a little later in the year because of concerns about the pandemic. The staff also wanted to avoid having the festival on Passover or Easter weekend. “Hopefully we’re looking forward to a much nicer March and April than we had last year,” Hansen said. Hansen proposed the festival could be March 20 and 21, which is when the cher-


Crowds packed Blackburn Park during the 2019 Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival. (Special)

ry blossoms would be in bloom, but council decided the April dates would be a better option. Councilmember Linley Jones originally preferred to have the festival on the

Hansen said the city usually starts signing up vendors for the festival in May but

March dates because she said a couple of weeks wouldn’t make much of a differ-

had postponed that process because of the uncertainty at the 2021 festival. She said

ence in the pandemic conditions but would make a difference for the blossoms. Af-

any agreements moving forward would have contingencies in case pandemic condi-

ter some discussion, she agreed with other council members that the April dates

tions prevent the festival from happening.

would work. Councilmember Joe Gebbia said it didn’t matter if the cherry blossoms were

“You’re making a lot of people very happy,” Hansen told the council after they directed her to start the plans.

blooming at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

New mask-wearing mandate approved by City Council BY ERIN SCHILLING

City Council unanimously approved a new mask-wearing mandate on Aug. 25 that follows Gov. Brian Kemp’s emergency order more closely than its original mask mandate that passed last month. Kemp’s Aug. 15 emergency order allows localities to enact mask mandates in public and in consenting businesses with limitations on penalties. The city’s ordinance would remain in effect until the council revises or repeals it. The ordinance requires masks in public places where people cannot social distance. Businesses cannot be forced to have or enforce the mask mandate, which is in line with Kemp’s order. Any business that does not want to enforce the mandate must put a sign in its window and email the Brookhaven Police Department, according to the ordinance. Police or code enforcement officers can enforce the mandate in public or in consenting businesses. An individual who violates the mandate will first receive a warning, then a $25 fine for a first offense and $50 fines for any other offenses, according to the ordinance. “Every effort shall be made to bring an individual into voluntary compliance with the terms of this Ordinance prior to issuance of any notice of violation, including providing complimentary masks, explaining the importance of wearing

facial conversing during this pandemic, and issuing verbal and written warnings,” the ordinance reads. Kemp’s order states that mask mandates can only be in effect if the COVID-19 infection rate in a county is 100 cases per 100,000 people within the last 14 days, as calculated by the Georgia Department of Health. DeKalb County exceeds that infection rate, according to the city ordinance. Businesses cannot be held accountable for customers or individuals not wearing masks, according to the ordinance. Some exceptions to the mandate include while eating or drinking, when complying with law enforcement, for children under 10 years old and when on residential property. Mayor John Ernst signed an executive order on July 9 requiring face masks for anyone entering or working in commercial establishments that had stricter penalties than Kemp now allows and did not exempt businesses. After the city and others in the state passed its ordinance, Kemp claimed local mask ordinances were illegal contradictions of his emergency orders due to exceeding state restrictions, which have only “strongly encouraged” people to wear masks. The city stopped enforcing its previous mandate, which came with a possible $500 penalty, but kept it in effect.



Community | 3

State Sen. Harrell discusses COVID-19 liability, mayoral term limits and other legislation BY ERIN SCHILLING

State Sen. Sally Harrell discussed new laws that restrict business’s COVID-19 liability and could allow unlimited terms for the mayor, among other legislation, in a July 27 town hall. Harrell, whose District 40 represents parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, explained which bills passed and which bills died during the 2019-2020 session during Councilmember Madeleine Simmon’s monthly town meeting on July 27. The session had a three-month break in mid-March because of COVID-19 concerns and came back for the last 11 days of the session at the end of June, according to the Georgia House of Representatives calendar. “This was the strangest legislative session I’ve ever experienced,” Harrell said. Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 359 that protects businesses from COVID-19 liability, which Harrell said she voted against during the second half of the session because she wants businesses to have more incentives to take COVID-19 preventative measures seriously. “I didn’t really feel it was necessary,” Harrell said. “It’s really difficult to prove where you got COVID.” Brookhaven residents can look forward to a referendum to remove mayoral term limits this November, which was the result of a compromise in the Georgia General Assembly, said state Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Chamblee). A bill that allowed a referendum to vote on the mayoral term limits, which is currently capped at two terms, passed on the last day of the session and was signed by Kemp on July 29. Harrell said allowing unlimited terms is “actually quite similar to how most of the cities around Brookhaven function.” The bill failed the previous session because it originally upped the mayoral term limits to three without a referendum. Much of the June return dealt with finalizing the state budget, which the House of Representatives passed before the pandemic hit in March, meaning that the Senate had to essentially start SPECIAL over the budgeting process, HarState Sen. Sally Harrell. rell said. “The budget is a real struggle, even with the pandemic aside, because we had years and years and years of tax cuts,” Harrell said. “We’ve really been cutting taxes to the point where it’s difficult to fund state services.” The Georgia Legislature passed House Bill 426, which is a hate crime legislation that Kemp signed and went into effect July 1. Harrell said the bill needed a lot of negotiating because of a police protection inclusion that was added at the last minute. The police protections addition ultimately passed as a separate bill, HB 838, and was also signed into law. Harrell said the legislature worked on a lot of bills regarding voting and the voting process. Harrell said an amendment that would not allow local governments to mail out absentee ballot requests died in the session. She said she was glad it did not pass and is advocating for DeKalb County to mail out absentee request forms. Kemp signed a bill that would screen kindergarten students for dyslexia, which Harrell said she supported. A bill that would have required elementary schools to have mandatory recess died on Kemp’s desk despite overwhelming approval in the Georgia Legislature. Harrell said she has supported the bill for more than 20 years, citing her work on it when she served in the House in the early 2000s. BK

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4 | Community ■

Community Briefs CITY TO STAR T R A C IA L DIA LO G UE M EET ING S The city is planning to host virtual Civic Dinners community meetings to continue a citywide conversation about race. Civic Dinners is a company that helps clients plan and format dinners and conversations about varying social topics. Members of the community would “gather” for a

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meal over video call to discuss big community issues in light of the nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice. City spokesperson Burke Brennan said the first dinner is scheduled for Sept. 10 with Oglethorpe University students and City Manager Christian Sigman. The conversation will be held via Zoom. “The topic will be along the lines of social equity in the context of Government 101,” Brennan said. The city has been planning Civic Dinners meetings since the beginning of July. Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul presented the idea of Civic Dinners meetings to

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his City Council in the beginning of June and started having discussion sessions by the

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belonging” as of press time and was scheduled to finish eight more by the end of August.

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next month. Sandy Springs has completed 36 dinners with the topic of “inclusion and

PU B LIC S A FETY HEA DQ UA R T ER S G ETS NEW P R O JEC T M A NAG ER The City Council approved a new project manager for the construction of the public safety building near the trailhead for the Peachtree Creek Greenway. Jacobs Engineering Group will now head the project, according to a resolution passed by the council during an Aug. 11 meeting. Jacobs replaces Lowes Engineers, which is the firm that the city contracts as its Public Works Department and was the previous proj-


ect manager appointed in July 2019. Jacobs Engineering will oversee the construction of the public safety building, a $15 million project that will double as a public safety headquarters and municipal court. The new building will be located at 1793 Briarwood Road between the Northeast Plaza mall and North Fork Peachtree Creek. Construction on the two-story building, which will include public restrooms and meeting spaces and overlook the greenway, started in September 2019. City spokesperson Burke Brennan said the city changed project managers because the public works building is a “complex project and we need some additional technical help.” The Public Works Department will focus on upcoming intersection projects, Brennan said.




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G RA SSROOTS MEMORI AL TO U.S . R EP. JOH N LEWI S C OMES AND G O ES It started with a potted mum and a photo and ended with a small collection of signs, flowers and drawings, all in honor of Civil Rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis at his namesake elementary school. The memorial appeared a few days after his death on July 17 at the John R. Lewis Elementary school at 2630 Skyland Drive. For weeks, people added tributes to him until DeKalb County School District removed the materials around Aug. 4 and placed “one of the patriotic arrangements” inside the school. “I was so distraught after his death, I decided I wanted to do something,” said Lissie Stahlman, 67, who started the memorial. “I saw so many people going to the mural of him downtown, which is beautiful. I wanted to do something in our neighborhood, too.” “The school’s leadership is honored that the community chose to show their love and respect for the school’s namesake in such a symbolic way,” DCSD said in a statement. Lewis represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District — which includes southern Brookhaven — for 33 years until his death. He marched in the Civil Rights Movement and ERIN SCHILLING

dedicated his life to voting rights.

A memorial to Civil Rights leader John Lewis stood at the entrance of the John R. Lewis Elementary School on 2630 Skyland Drive.

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6 | Community ■

Mixed-use development may replace former Cox Enterprises headquarters

Above, the site plan for 1400 Lake Hearn Drive. Right, an illustration from the developers shows what the mixeduse development at 1400 Lake Hearn Drive could look like.



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A developer is eyeing the former headquarters of Cox Enterprises at 1400 Lake Hearn Drive in Brookhaven’s portion of the Perimeter Center for a mixed-use development. Atlanta-based Pope & Land Real Estate submitted a rezoning application for the 21-acre plot to the city on July 1. The property is currently owned by TGPL Lake Hearn Owner, LLC and the developer would be AMLI Residential, which is a Chicago-based luxury apartment developer. The development is estimated at $260 million, according to the rezoning application. “We believe this parcel, and specifically this proposed site plan, represents an opportunity to provide new uses which will enhance the existing area while also creating a sense of place that reinforces Brookhaven’s strong identity as a city that its citizens are proud to call home,” the rezoning application letter reads. The rezoning application is set to be reviewed by the Planning Commission at its Oct. 7 meeting, according to the project page on the city’s website. The City Council is set to vote on the rezoning request on Oct. 27. If approved, the redevelopment would include office, residential and commercial space, according to the letter of intent for the project. The developers plan to have 25,000 square feet of commercial space, 615 residences, 5 acres of green space and a three-quarter-mile trail, according to the rezoning application.

It will also include workforce housing, which is a requirement of the zoning district. The city defines workforce housing as households earning no more than 80 percent of the area median household income (AMI) for the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area. The current zoning code is O-I for Office Institution, according to the city’s property map. That zoning code does not allow for a mixed-use building. The developers are requesting to change to MPD, or Master Planned Development, which was created in 2018 as a “floating” overlay in the city that favors mixed-use development. The developers are also asking the city to permit construction within a stream buffer on the site to allow for a roadway and sidewalk, among a few other zoning variances. “The stream will be protected despite the encroachment into the buffer zone surrounding the stream,” the letter of intent states. “There will be no downstream impacts felt from the redevelopment of the site.” Without construction in the stream buffer, “any development would be far too limited to be practicable and functional,” the letter of intent states. The developer plans to create a stormwater management plan to make up for the encroachment into the stream buffer zone, according to the rezoning application. There are also two small wetland areas in the project site, which will not be affected by construction, according to the rezoning application. BK


Community | 7

Ga. 400 toll lanes report posted in virtual ‘open house’ BY JOHN RUCH

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,


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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8 | Community ■

HVAC systems are next battleground in the COVID-19 fight BY JOHN RUCH

CDC guidelines

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

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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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Community | 9

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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Tactics of local businesses, institutions


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 ■

Arts foundation to support artists, honor late Reporter writer Judith Schonbak BY JOHN RUCH

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 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

New 1996 Olympics exhibit to open Sept. 18 at Atlanta History Center BY JOHN RUCH

cently depicted in the controversial mov-

events and medals and look at what the

ie “Richard Jewell.” But, coming in an era

Games meant to the city before, during,

when the Olympics is under renewed

and after.”

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 the terrorist bombing that marred the event as re-


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.

scrutiny for expense, displacement of res-

“The exhibition explores the legacy of

idents and other effects, the new exhibit

the 1996 Olympic and Paralympic Games,

also will look at how the Games changed

asking what the Games mean to us to-

life here and will include local protest

day and using the Games as a study to


think about how we can change the plac-


“The exhibition examines the long-

es in which we live,” says the press release.

term impact of the ’96 Games on Atlan-

“The Games mean something different to

ta with thoughts about how all of us can

everyone whose lives were affected, in-

have an impact on our community,” said

cluding individuals involved in prepara-

Sheffield Hale, the History Center’s presi-

tions, people living near venues, activists,

dent and CEO, in a press release. “We tried

competitors and fans.”

to break out of the typical sports exhibition format that looks exclusively at the

Continued on page 12

12 | Community ■

Continued from page 11 “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 GEORGIA AMATEUR ATHLETIC FOUNDATION COLLECTION, KENAN RESEARCH CENTER AT ATLANTA HISTORY CENTER

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.



Community | 13

Murphey Candler Park residents outraged as city moves forward with parking expansion BY ERIN SCHILLING

City Councilmember Linley Jones says the city will move forward with plans to add parking along a Murphey Candler Park road despite outrage and opposition from residents that has led to a neighborhood petition. The “loop road” is off Candler Lake East Drive between a playground and the east side of Murphey Candler Lake and was gated for decades to stop vehicle traffic. The city plans to repave the road and add gravel parking spots between the trees. Residents say opening the road to cars will cause safety and environmental problems, but the city says it needs the space for more parking. Jones said in a written Aug. 11 statement published on the city website and Facebook that resident concerns were addressed and “the plans are now finalized.” The city points to years of community events for parks bond projects as opportunities to express concerns, but residents say the lack of meetings of a citizen oversight committee show the city’s disregard for public input. Residents say that opening the loop road to traffic would make it unsafe to children playing at the nearby playground and may cause crime problems along the road. The loop road originally closed to traffic in the late 1970s because of crime concerns, residents and city officials said. Residents also worry about damage to the environment in allowing cars on the road.

City’s response

Jones said the city will lock the gate if speeding becomes a problem. She said Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura doesn’t have concerns about crime because the area is more accessible for police patrol with the gates open. Jones said she and Mayor John Ernst worked to make sure no trees were cut in the parking space plans and chose gravel spots to minimize environmental impact. The Murphey Candler Neighborhood Association, which revitalized in order to express resident opposition to the park plans, thinks she could do more. “Jones declared she has done all there is to be done in responding to community concerns about the loop road and other park plans,” MCNA President Zane Douglass in a written statement sent to the Reporter. “We are not satisfied with this response and we intend to continue working to protect our park and quality of life.” Brennan said parking spot construction will begin after a new playground and community green are built. The playground is set to be finished in NoBK

vember, and the city has not yet approved a construction contract for the community green.

The gate wars

For weeks, neighborhood residents and the city have battled about the road reopening. The city opened the gate at the end of July to “prepare for construction and to establish a baseline for traffic and police patrol need,” the Brookhaven Parks and Recreation Department posted in the neighborhood’s private Facebook group after the neighborhood expressed opposition to the city. A resident kept closing the gate at night, so the city took the gate off its post completely on July 30, triggering even more intense pushback from the neighborhood. The city also told a youth football league, Atlanta Colt Youth Association, that players and families could use the loop road as “supplemental parking” for an Aug. 17 game, according to an email from the ACYA to families. Brennan said the city always offers the loop road as extra parking for sports leagues. “The city is very aware of the opposition to this loop road parking,” resident Pam Burnett said. “It’s a sad betrayal of

the community.” Burnett started an online and print petition to oppose the plans for the loop road. The online version has 170 signatures as of Aug. 20, and Burnett said she has more than 350 signatures in total. She said she plans to give it to the city in 10 days and still has half the neighborhood to ask for signatures. Adding parking to the loop road is part of the city’s $40 million parks bond program, which was approved in a 2018 referendum. The plan to open the loop road was in the proposed improvement plan for Murphey Candler Park available to voters before the referendum, but residents say they either didn’t know about the project or didn’t realize those proposals were definite plans.

Citizen oversight

The Parks Bond Oversight Committee, which was created to oversee parks bond plans, approved draft plans to add parking and open the loop road to cars at a May 2019 meeting. The committee has not met since February 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brennan said, but the city has continued to move forward with parks bond plans. “The committee was not supposed

to continue monthly meetings once the master plans were established and [design firm Clark Patterson Lee] had instructions to proceed,” Brennan said. “There really haven’t been any issues that the committee needed to issue an opinion on since their last meeting in February.” The committee was planned to meet once a month for the first six months then decrease in frequency as the projects get underway, the city said in January 2019. The five-person committee was created to advise the administration, review internal audits, recommend project phasing, look at designs, and consider “scope reductions or additions based on resources,” according to the city in January 2019 before its first meeting. The MCNA said the city has kept the committee “in the dark about any opposition to the park plans” because of the lack of recent meetings. Brennan said the committee may start meeting again at the beginning of September but nothing has been approved yet.

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14 | Community

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PBS to air local singer’s documentary

• VOL. 11 —

NO. 6

Brookhaven Reporter

See pull-out section pages 15-18 dyanabagby@reporternewspaper

GDOT chief: ‘Benefits of express lanes are proven’ P10 COMMENTARY

Honored winsas Reportaer newspaper General of a 15 Georgi Excellence 2018 Press awards



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Sandy Springs Dunwoody






Perimeter Business: PCIDs turns 20 ►Q+A with local couple behind Atlanta’s big anime convention



P. 36




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After 20 increasingly years of a population jammed boom, scraper-sprouting highways and skyit may sound mega-developments, quaint that about Perimeter people worried Mall traffic 1999. way back in But the provement Perimeter Community Districts, Imof business the self-taxing groups out of those property owners that formed concerns, sons the local boom are among the why the has happened reatraffic and to Perimeter isn’t even worse. If you Center today, get there you may go via well PCIDs pushed one of the big projects – like the ramps on Hammond the Ga. 400 Drive woody or the Ashford-DunRoad diverging change diamond at I-285 – and you’ll intertouches they’re responsible see smaller scaping and rush-hour for, like “They had traffic cops. landone, cleaning a reputation for, those cosmeticthings up, providing number some of amenities used to,” we’ve all said Ann become the CIDs Hanlon, who watched form as a longtime resident and now Dunwoody serves as director. their “At lutionary, the time, that was executive that a private pretty to pay for group was revothose amenities.” willing Back in day cover 1999, the three cities that Perimeter en, Dunwoody toCenter – Brookhavnot yet exist. and Sandy Springs As the – did its next 20 years, PCIDs looks ahead it has sion on transportation, refocused its to misproposals leaving such as park-building previous ies. Transportation erything these days to the citfrom trail networks helping to buildmeans evmultiuse to shaping toll lanes the future and transit That’s in of on Ga. 400 addition and I-285. PCIDs currently to some of the like sidewalks provides or basics the and crosswalks,coordinates, shuttles, traffic signal commuter rimeter timing and Connects the Pecommuter vice. advice serAn increasingly part of Perimeter residential sector Center’s is future, with CONTINUED

diamond looked shortly Road and interchange I-285 as after opening it Inset, the in 2012. Hammond Ga. 400 Drive interchange FILE shortly after with it opened in 2011.



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The P6 month to consider a sioners is expected next plan designed to countywide transit master bus service and deimprove current rail and COMMENTAR new transit over the Y termine where to build next 30 years. commisAs part of that consideration,if they beto decide sioners will also have enough to vote for lieve voters are motivated proposed the pay for a sales tax increase to P10 include light rail, bus improvements, which in transit rapid rapid transit and arterial The proposed north and south DeKalb. full-penny DeKalb Atlanta Regional DeKalb County, the County transit worked with lomaster plan Commission and MARTA gathered public input scenario would cal municipalities and proposed transit masinclude four light over the past year on a goals: address the rapid transit routes; ter plan with three broad routes foster economfour bus rapid transit county’s mobility challenges, life. end of I-285; P44 and improve quality of including along the top development ic These recently toured transit routes. and eight arterial rapid Consultants with VHB ROBIN’S NEST 180 project miles. June made presentaexpansions would cover DeKalb cities and in The dirt path conceptual transit on Buford tions on proposed and that is the Highway in Brookhaven and Dunsubject of front of the master plans to the a dispute about DYANA BAGBY Orchard at Both presentations a new sidewa Brookh woody City Councils. lk and landsca aven a 1 cent sales tax pe strip. spotlighted two scenarios: over billion $3.65 raise increase that would projects, and a half30 years and fund 16 raise $1.85 billion penny increase that would P11 15 projects. over 30 years and fund tax requires a vote. Increasing the sales tax is 8 percent. Springs, a member DeKalb’s current sales Kevin Abel of Sandy is a major decin Board which Going to a referendum BY DYANA BAGBY of the State Transportatio project manager, Department of Transsion, Grady Smith, VHB Check out our oversees the Georgia AND EVELYN ANDREWS council at its June 10 took those officials to told the Brookhaven at ReporterNews podcasts portation, however, Dunwoody and hearing DeKalb leadthe toll lanes Elected officials in meeting. He said he is task and said he supports out against the time to consider the and Ga. 400 because ership is wanting more Doraville are speaking ects planned on I-285 input from the cittoll lanes and have BY DYAN bus rapid transit to proposals and is seeking planned I-285 “top end” A BAGBY they promise to bring The Brook the estimated $5 dyanabagby@r signed a petition opposing See DEKALB on page 30haven Reporter the area. eporternewspape construcbegin to en has some 31 billion project expected isMAY mail deliver residents See DUNWOODY on page 2019 ed • VOL. 13 —Emory NO. 5Univer living in by neighb tion in 2023. nearhomes on selecteto orhood sity’s propos through traffic s worried about a $1 billion cutcarrier routes d “health innova al to build and more in such roads over the next congestion tion distric on ZIP 30319 as Sherid t” 15 years on an, Briarcl approximatel North Druid 60 acres of iff and Executive Hills. For informa Park in Brookh y Emory officia delivery@rep avorternewspape tion: ls say they ing to allevia are workte those ► concerns by con8 See TRAFFIC See our ad on page on page 22 lauderhills .com et

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We’re honored that Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta INtown have won 41 awards in the Georgia Press Association’s Better Newspaper Competition over the past three years. For 2019, the Reporter’s honors include eight first place awards in its category.

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The city of Brookhaven will use eminent domain to acquire property on Peachtree Road for intersection changes at Ashford-Dunwoody Road. The City Council approved a resolution during its Aug. 11 meeting to allow City Attorney Chris Balch to file with a court for the city to take ownership of a portion of land at 4568 Peachtree Road to move forward with the intersection project. The city plans to take ownership of about 16,117 square feet of the lot, city spokesperson Burke Brennan said. Phipps Alterations and European Fashion Cleaners, an alteration service and a dry cleaners, occupies the site and has a front-facing parking lot. The city offered the owner of the property $74,800 for the land on July 21, which was considered “fair and just compensation” by an appraisal company, according to the resolution. The owner is the Living Trust of Bijan Lighvani and could not be reached for comment. Brennan said the owner did not respond to the city’s offer. The intersection project aims to improve right turns, according to the project’s page on the city website. The city will add a right-turn lane going south on Peachtree Road, a concrete island and a waiting area at the bus stop on the road. The city also plans to reduce the skew of the Peachtree Road at the intersection. A 10-foot-wide multi-use path is planned on the east side of Ashford-Dunwoody Road, and a 5-foot-wide sidewalk is planned for the west side. The project will also include other streetscape and landscape changes. The $1.3 million project was slated to start in 2019, but Brennan said it was delayed because the city was not able to get the land needed for the project. “One of the first things you have to do in a project like this is land acquisition,” Brennan said. “You can’t start anything without the dirt, either through outright ownership or easement.” Brennan said the project will go out to bid to construction companies next week. The council has to then approve the bid before construction can start. The intersection is adjacent to the Peachtree Golf Club and a major point of entrance for people coming into the city from Chamblee.






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It took — and cial media, a harmonic everything convergence an unmet an engineer’s A tribute changed “It was of soan eye-opening for Rudick. to the former recalls. ping more need to launch retirement and IMAGE in Buckhead, “This Limelight COURTESY experience,” maps covering ro Atlanta. than 500 street a website mappainted disco behind ART RUDICK On the was amazing he by Dr. stuff.” same trip, murals 14 neighborhoods outlying Binder’s duced Dax and in metFittingly, Rudick’s him to cities as Art Supplies The Loss a guy named Instagram, niece introand Sandy and such home Dunwoody, to locate Prevention. to Springs. all of Art was walking six self-guided hood full his Old Fourth and he returned The site Brookhaven the one “I’ve alwaysthe art. tour. Ward of curiosity. also and includes walking photos “It’s partially had Rudick tours of provides He wantedneighborof Atlanta’s says, “but an interest ing that because street art on his in art,” myself. Rudick, bios of 16 muralists. I’ve never street murals to take cartoon,” I grew new Instagram I once an engineer the attraction. up watchbeen an Art end of Rudick did woodworking were the by, making to post 2016 after artist who retired account, says, explaining murals? custom ca-Cola, but where a He says How could as a hobat the Necessity furniture.” The design finds most 32-year career his favorite he find ro, who ing local tion when became the of a new with Cofor Rudick, artists them? uses a artists on of his content mother hobby are Yoyo Rudick technique 61, about contour contact by followmap of Instagram. he and Ferdrawing, three yearstook shape page known the city’s realized that of invenhis He also of a collective times reach on his site, as blind and five with no street art a decent City. While wife visited ago when and artists has a who are him that didn’t exist. Club, which known there, the family in New website, previous experience a guided Twice somepart way. York So, Atlanta he does “a as the Lotus tour amazing to check a year, he says, in doing couple an online took it upon class Bushwickof street lot of interestingEaters work.” took on he drives art in the a himself of Donna He sure that every mural, and the guide to Atlanta’s neighborhood to create around workingand Howells, also admires as the artists her seventies new work site is current. part of making of Brooklyn a Cabbagetownthe work The result who put them street murals while making He’ll often SIGN UP only recently. who began is the Atlanta up. artist in at, Rudick spot TO RECEIVE the creating Street Art the artist says his favorite rounds. murals Rudick DAILY & which Map keeps his mural is has interactive in suburban Tom and known as Jerkface, WEEKLY eyes open one by Jerry cartoon EMAILS cities, based pears on ral is the too. Ferro’s for murals WITH LOCAL characters. on the Brookhaven’s first stop School, work The on the NEWS @ and the Cross Keys apLittle Five musuch locations REPORTERNEWS website High Points notes artwork as the PAPERS.NET/SI parking in garage CONTINUED GNUP of

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building The Georgia Department of Transportation is considering flyover toll lanes atop the Northridge Road overpass.


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Affordable housing advocates who co-chaired the city’s North End Revitalization Task Force launched an initiative opposing the task force’s final report with a community meeting on Feb. 28. At that meeting, several north end residents said they feared the recommendations would lead to displacement of See TWO on page 14

scenes. For information: books for a long “I know it’s been on the delivery@reporterne time, but we need to mitigate it as much as we can,” said Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs), who says she’s trying to arrange a large-scale meeting of state engineers, local officials and possibly the general public. “This is very upsetting.” The toll lanes, called “express lanes” or “managed lanes,” are proposed by the Geor-


The Neighborhood Planning Unit system that reviews planning, zoning and other big issues for Atlanta city government is getting a review of its own. A downtown nonprofit called the Center for Civic Innovation has begun a quiet, but

potentially influential, series of meetings and surveys that aims to have reform recommendations for the 45-year-old system on the table by March 2020. “There are things about [the NPU system] that are amazing, and things that we need to have a lot more conversation about,” said CCI Executive Director Rohit See AFTER on page 14


The wooden stock is beige and battered with age. The metal plate above the trigger is decorated with a pair of birds. The barrel is long, heavy and octagonal. It’s an old muzzleloading firearm, for sure. It might even be the one that killed the deer that gave Buckhead its curious name in 1838. John Beach, president of the Buckhead Heritage Society, is still trying to figure that For more on out, partly by tracking John Beach, see the tales surrounding Around Town, page 20. another little-known piece of area history – an 1842 log cabin that quietly survived destruction by being moved to a Buckhead back yard. In the meantime, Beach gave the Reporter an exclusive closeSee IS on page 22

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Two groups with opposing views on redevelopment concepts for the north end of Sandy Springs have organized to voice their opinions as city officials determine which concepts should move


As neighborhood impacts of toll lanes planned along Ga. 400 and I-285 become are clearer, city and state elected officials The Buckhead Reporter seeking ways to influence the process with is mail delivered to homes varying tactics. Some officials say they’ll on selected carrier routes fight the project, while others aim for smallin ZIPs 30305, 30327 er tweaks. Some call for community-wide meetings, while some work behind theand 30342

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Left, John Beach, president of the Buckhead which reputedly killed the neighborhood’s Heritage Society, holds the “Buckhead Gun,” namesake deer in 1838. Right, holds what is said to be the same firearm in an undated photo. (John James Whitley Ruch/Special)

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Community | 15

Seven candidates run to temporarily DeKalb runoff election settles fill 5th Congressional District seat Board of Commissioners races 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.

Edward “Ted” Terry is poised to take one Board of Commissioners seat, while another one is set for a general election campaign, in unofficial results from DeKalb County’s Aug. 11 runoff election. Terry defeated Maryam Ahmad, 58.59% to 41.41%, for the Super District 6 seat that will be open as incumbent Kathy Gannon is not running for re-election. With no chal-

The seven contenders include Robert Franklin, a Democrat and former president of Morehouse College; Kwanza Hall, a Democrat and former Atlanta City Council mem-

lengers from other parties, Terry essentially will take the seat if the runoff election results are confirmed.

ber; Barrington Martin II, an educator and former unsuccessful challenger to Lewis in

Robert Patrick defeated Cynthia Yaxon, 54.73% to 45.27%, in the race to be the Dem-

the June primary; Steven Muhammad, an independent and minister from East Point;

ocratic nominee for the District 1 commission seat on the Nov. 3 ballot. If the results

Chase Oliver, a Libertarian and customer service specialist; state Rep. “Able” Mable

hold, Patrick will challenge Republican incumbent Nancy Jester for the seat, which rep-

Thomas, a Democrat who has served nearly 22 years in office; and Keisha Waites, a

resents an area including Brookhaven and Dunwoody.

Democrat and former state representative.

Incumbent Sheriff Melody Maddox defeated challenger Ruth Stringer, 63.51% to

The election to succeed Lewis, who died July 17, for a full two-year term will appear

36.49%, to fill out the remaining few months in the term of former Sheriff Jeffrey Mann.

on the Nov. 3 ballot. State Sen. Nikema Williams is the Democratic appointee to replace

Maddox is already the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 3 election for a full term as sher-

Lewis on that ballot. The other candidate on the ballot is Republican Angela Stanton

iff, where she will face Republican challenger Harold Dennis.


In the race for an open DeKalb County Superior Court seat, Yolanda Parker-Smith beat Melinda “Mindy” Pillow with 68.29% of the vote.

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16 | Commentary

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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 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?

Robin’s Nest


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18 | Commentary ■

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

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

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 In addition, all three theater companies are accepting donations through their websites:, and



Commentary | 19

Around Town

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

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. BK

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20 | Community ■

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Dresden Village project returns, may get $13.5M tax break Continued from page 1


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currently occupied by a DeKalb County Tax Commissioner Office and Dixie Q, a barbecue restaurant owned by Brookhaven chef Scott Serpas. The development spurred a 2018 lawsuit from a neighboring resident regarding possible zoning violations, which was settled with the developer. At the time, critics said more development in the area will create more traffic. The development, by Connolly Investment & Development and Gables Residential, will include 183 multifamily units, seven luxury townhomes and 29,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, according to a summary of the project. Dixie Moon, a standalone restaurant operated by Serpas, will also be included in the development. The development is expected to create about 160 permanent jobs and bring in $1.4 million annually in sales tax, according to the project’s economic impact report. The developers did not ask for a tax abatement in previous versions of the proposal. Timothy “J.R.” Connolly, CEO of Connolly, said the increased scope of the project with streetscape and traffic changes are what caused the company to request a tax abatement now. The tax abatement helps the developers create a quality project and not cut corners, said Shirlynn Brownell, the city’s director of economic development. “We were excited to see the innovation and development that they were proposing for the community,” Brownell said. Because of the tax abatement, DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said he deferred an Aug. 25 vote on an agreement to allocate $6.3 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds the city until Sept. 8 to “see if any of those funds could offset the losses that Brookhaven has visited on DeKalb,” Rader said. Agreements for the county to allocate CARES Act funds to its other cities were deferred until Aug. 27. Rader, whose district includes part of Brookhaven, says the use of the “Project X” codename -- a tactic usually used when cities or states are competing for confidential developments -- shows the city knew the abatement is unnecessary and controversial. “It wasn’t really any secret that the project was going to be located there,” Rader said. “But the secret, apparently, is the tax abatement.” City spokesperson Burke Brennan said no further land use or zoning variance approvals are required for the development from the city. The deal will now be reviewed by the DeKalb County Superior Court in a validation hearing scheduled for Sept. 8, according to Brownell. A notice of the hearing will appear in a legal notice in the Champion, a DeKalb County newspaper that serves as the county’s legal organ.

Project changes

The project, differing in specific details,

has been on the city’s radar since 2016 when it included 194 apartments and 20,000 square feet of apartment space. In 2018, the project included 169 multifamily units and more than 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. That year, a Caldwell Road resident sued the city and developer to try and stop the city from rezoning the development area. The resident settled with the city after the City Council amended its zoning ordinance to include conditions and variance approved by DeKalb County before the city was incorporated. Connolly said the development did not need to make any changes after the lawsuit was dropped. Construction was previously expected to start in the fall of 2018. Connolly said there wasn’t any specific cause for the delay. The development includes 180 public parking spaces, the same amount since it was first on the city’s radar in 2016 and aims to help some of the parking problem along Dresden Drive. The development will also include a trail connecting Caldwell Road to Parkside Drive so Ashford Park residents can have walkable access to Dresden Drive and the MARTA station, according to project documents. Developers also plan to take out the double traffic signals on Dresden Drive as a way to improve traffic flow in the area.

Abatement debate

The developers must move the DeKalb tax office now located at 1358 Dresden Drive to a new location and will not receive tax breaks on that part of the property, which is about a quarter of the 4 acres, according to project documents. The abatement is based on the value of the rest of the development, which was calculated as $42.2 million. Under that abatement, the city is expected to lose about $733,000 in property tax revenue, according to the development authority’s fiscal analysis. DeKalb County government would lose $2.9 million and DeKalb County School District would lose about $4.95 million. Rader said the developer’s pitches to make traffic adjustments and pedestrian infrastructure changes really just benefit the city. Granting an abatement for the project harms the county and school district, he said. “These are all perhaps valid projects when they are appropriately funded through Brookhaven tax revenues,” Rader said. The city gets the least amount of property tax revenue compared to the county and the school district. Rader said that means the city is losing the least amount of money from the abatement, and the streetscape improvements make up for its loss of revenue. Rader said the north DeKalb cities tend to offer tax abatements to developers. He said he’s working with the Association of County Commissioners to change the state law that allows cities to make tax abatement deals like that of Dresden Village. BK


Community | 21

New city tree ordinance is on the way amid cutting controversies Continued from page 1 to have a proposal awarded by October and the rewrite should start in November, along with a public input process. Park said the rewrite would have happened earlier this year but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents and city officials say there’s a trend of developers taking down too many trees. Margolis is worried about two large trees at the intersection of Pine Grove and Colonial Drive that have orange X’s spray painted on them. The trees are on the edge of a residential property at 2328 Colonial Drive, which is owned by Breezy Dayz Properties, LLC, according to the city property map. “I understand certain trees have to come down, but it’s just been horrible in metro Atlanta,” Margolis said. Allison Bible of AB Works Construction Consulting put in a variance request for the house’s setbacks with the Brookhaven Board of Appeals in a Jan. 15 meeting for the 2328 Colonial Drive property on behalf of the homeowner Lisa Levison, she said. The variance was unanimously approved. Bible told the board two trees would be removed for the proposed development, according to the meeting minutes. A building permit has not been submitted yet for construction as of the end of August, Bible said, and the tree removal will be included in that permit request. “If we didn’t have to take any trees down, we certainly wouldn’t be,” Bible said. “In the city of Brookhaven, there’s a very clear tree ordinance. If you follow it, you’re following the rules, and we’re doing exactly what the tree ordinance states.” Bible said they plan to replant some trees as well to make up for the loss of trees and noted that tree removal is an expensive process and the life span of specific tree species have to be considered when judging whether a tree should come down or not. Margolis said he’s seen too many situations in which developers cut down trees without a good reason. Park said a clearer tree ordinance would show builders that the city expects tree preservation to be a priority. A new tree ordinance would hopefully give more power to the city arborist and speed up some processes regarding trees, Park said. For example, if a tree prohibits a builder from following the city’s zoning ordinances, such as if the tree caused a setback variance, it’s easier for the builder to cut down the tree than go through a months-long rezoning process. Park said the new ordinance may also value trees differently based on age and type.


The current tree ordinance allows homeowners on single-family residential property to remove three trees per year that are 6 inches or larger in diameter at breast height, or DBH, with a permit, as long as the property maintains a density of 60 DBH inches of trees per acre. Trees less than 6 DBH inches can be removed without a permit as long as the same density of 60 DBH inches is upheld. Residents can also remove trees that are deemed hazardous by a certified arborist, according to the ordinance, and public utility companies can remove trees for utility easements. Specimen trees, which are trees valued higher by the city because of size, location, type or historic value, have more protections and need to have the approval of the city arborist if a resident or developer wants to remove it, according to the ordinance. A fee is also required to take down a specimen tree. Developers must maintain 120 inches — in diameter — of trees per acre or 45% of a site’s tree-canopy cover unless the site already had less tree coverage than that before development started, according to the ordinance. The tree ordinance was rewritten in 2014 and updated about a year later in

2015. The 2015 changes reduced the amount of trees homeowners could take down from five to three and outlined the current density requirements for developers. Park said those changes weren’t enough. “In 2017, concerned citizens came to us saying the tree ordinance was not doing its job to protect the tree canopy,” Park said. “We realized a rewrite, starting from scratch, was the way to go instead of piecemealing something together.” In June, a PlainIt Geo study presented to the council said the 2019 tree canopy coverage in the city is 44%, compared to 47% in 2009. The city commissioned the assessment in part because of the planned rewrite. It also hired a tree canopy preservation manager, who Park said will oversee much of the new ordinance.


A tree on the edge of a property at 2328 Colonial Drive facing Pine Grove has a large, orange X spray painted on it.

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22 | Education ■


After school, during pandemic Extracurricular clubs and sports adapt to a distanced year BY ERIN SCHILLING

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

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


DeKalb superintendent adjusts to new district BY ERIN SCHILLING

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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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?


ers can make a report saying there is a legitimate reason they should not report to work.

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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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 ( 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 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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28 | Education ■

Home-schooling 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 ElementaContinued from page 22

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Education | 29

SEPTEMBER 2020 ■ 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.”

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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. BK

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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.”

Student government

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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