SEPTEMBER 2020 • VOL. 11 — NO. 9
EDUCATION GUIDE FALL 2020
►VIRTUAL SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS
►Q&As WITH LOCAL SUPERINTENDENTS
Dunwoody Village buffer battle sparks lawsuit threats, petition WORTH KNOWING
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
Neighbors stand at the tree line they want to preserve between their residential neighborhood and a Dunwoody Village Overlay commercial area. Pictured are, from left, Kate Davis and children Becca and Cooper; Sharon Frank; Scott and Amiee Doyne; Bob Leavey and his dog Rosie; and Ellen and Allen Holloway.
New developers pitch ‘empty nester’ community on Roberts Drive BY ERIN SCHILLING email@example.com
The Dunwoody Reporter is mail delivered to homes on selected carrier routes in ZIP 30338 For information: firstname.lastname@example.org
BY ERIN SCHILLING email@example.com
A new developer is eying three properties on Roberts Drive across from Austin Elementary School for a gated community advertised for “empty nesters,” which raises some density concerns with neighbors and echoes a similar proposal from two years ago. The proposal now incorporates the his-
toric Swancy Farmhouse, whose owner opposed the previous project. The development would create 15 lots for single-family homes on a 3.3-acre area that includes 5318 and 5328 Roberts Drive and the Swancy Farmhouse at 5308 Roberts Drive, according to a presentation to the Planning Commission on Aug. 11. Right now, those three parcels include three single-famSee NEW on page 20
Behind one of Dunwoody Village’s busiest shopping centers, a 200-foot-wide strip of forest separates business from homes. Now it may become a legal battlefront, as the city’s plan to spur higher-density redevelopment there could trim the leafy buffer, an idea that is leading to lawsuit threats and a 1,000-signature petition. The Peachtree Shops of Dunwoody, LLC, which owns the Shops of Dunwoody shopping center, filed an Aug. 5 notice threatening to sue the city if it requires the Planning Commission’s recommended buffer zone between the Dunwoody Village Overlay and abutting residential areas in the overlay’s zoning rewrite. The Dunwoody Homeowners Association reSee DUNWOODY on page 21
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Community Briefs R U NO FF ELECTIO N S ET S DEKA L B C O M M I S S I O N R A C ES
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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 challengers from other parties, Terry essentially will take the seat if the runoff election results are confirmed. Robert Patrick defeated Cynthia Yaxon, 54.73% to 45.27%, in the race to be the Democratic nominee for the District 1 commission seat on the Nov. 3 ballot. If the results hold, Patrick will challenge Republican incumbent Nancy Jester for the seat, which represents an area including Brookhaven and Dunwoody. Incumbent Sheriff Melody Maddox defeated challenger Ruth Stringer, 63.51% to 36.49%, to fill out the remaining few months in the term of former Sheriff Jeffrey Mann. Maddox is already the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 3 election for a full term as sheriff, where she will face Republican challenger Harold Dennis. In the race for an open DeKalb County Superior Court seat, Yolanda ParkerSmith beat Melinda “Mindy” Pillow with 68.29% of the vote.
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‘ EVERYTHING WI L L B E O K’ M UR A L TO M O V E Dunwoody’s iconic “Everything Will Be OK” mural will be replaced sometime this year in favor of rotating, outdoor art installations. After the mural’s 10-year stint on the side of the Spruill Gallery smokehouse building at 4681 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, the Spruill Center for the Arts is beginning an annual, outdoor art award that will display pieces from a different local, state or national artist each year. The pieces will be unveiled each October during Dunwoody’s Art and Culture Month. The EWBOK mural artist Jason Kofke said he’s excited for new artwork to keep the space “dynamic.” “I am moved that this project evolved to hold meaning in the neighborhoods in Dunwoody,” Kofke said. “The most gracious thing I think I can do to honor this project is to let it change.” Kofke said he hopes the mural’s new location and its message will continue to evolve so it becomes the “motto” of the city. Spruill Center CEO Alan Mothner said the center will announce the new location before unveiling a replacement piece.
LID L G R O C ERY S TO R E O P ENS Lidl opened the border of Sandy Springs on Aug. 26. The German international grocery store is at 2480 Mount Vernon Road, near the intersection of Jett Ferry Road. Its hours are 8 a.m to 9 p.m. every day. “The grand opening comes at a time when we are really relying on our local food markets,” Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch said in a press release. “This opening has been highly anticipated by our community.” Lidl has COVID-19 safety precautions in place, according to the store’s website. They include taking temperatures of employees at the beginning of each shift, limitSPECIAL ing customers in A publicity photo of the interior of a Lidl store. the store, requiring masks and gloves for employees, and sanitizing the stores. The Dunwoody location of Lidl is the 10th in the state and one of 11,000 worldwide. Lidl also opened a store in Brookhaven at the beginning of July and plans to come to Roswell Road in Sandy Springs by late 2021. DUN
Community | 3
City enacts mask mandate, continues hybrid council meetings BY ERIN SCHILLING firstname.lastname@example.org
City Council approved a citywide mask-wearing mandate during a special called meeting on Aug. 19. The city already had a mask requirement at City Hall, where council members met in hybrid meetings, which have had some technical difficulty issues for residents watching in person and virtually. The mask mandate is a revival of a previous mandate the council passed in July, which the city stopped enforcing once Gov. Brian Kemp claimed local mask mandates were illegal because they exceeded state restrictions. The new ordinance is in line with Kemp’s Aug. 15 emergency order that allows mask mandates with specific limitations. The council unanimously approved the mask mandate with two amendments raised by Councilmember John Heneghan, which he said makes the ordinance more in line with Kemp’s order. Kemp’s order allows cities and counties to have a mask mandate in public and in consenting businesses under certain conditions with limitations on penalties. The order extends through Aug. 31 but can get extended past then. Heneghan added two exceptions to the ordinance — masks do not have to be worn while doing athletic activity when a person can social-distance or when a professional organization or other public health entity deems an activity unsafe with a mask. Some other exceptions include while eating and drinking; for children under 10 years old; while complying with law enforcement; or for those with underlying health conditions. The mask mandate is only active when the county has 100 or more positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, according to the ordinance and Kemp’s order. A person violating the ordinance would first be given a warning then a possible fine of $25 on the first offense and no more than $50 for subsequent offenses, according to the ordinance. The ordinance will be enforced by police or code enforcement officers, according to the ordinance. Businesses can choose whether they consent to the mask mandate on their property. Those that do not want to enforce the ordinance must place a sign in their windows stating they are exempt from the city mask mandate, according to the ordinance. Business owners can not be penalized for customers who do not comply with the ordinance. Those businesses that do consent to the ordinance do not need a sign, city spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said. The city will enforce the mandate in businesses that consent. “The goal of this ordinance is awareness and understanding,” Boettcher said. “Businesses or customers can call law enforcement if the issue can’t be resolved otherwise.” The city’s previous mask mandate, which was passed on July 13, had stricter requirements with higher penalties than Kemp has now allowed. Dunwoody DUN
stopped enforcing it after Kemp claimed mask mandates were illegal contradictions of his previous emergency orders because they exceeded the state’s restrictions, which only “strongly encouraged” mask-wearing. City attorney Bill Riley said the new mask ordinance supersedes the previous ordinance. “I’m in favor of this because it’s much lighter than what we passed previously,” Councilmember Jim Riticher said. The city has continued to enforce a mask mandate within city facilities, such as at City Hall, throughout Kemp’s orders.
visual vendor was scheduled to help fix the problem Aug. 14. Boettcher said the council members were using microphones, but the city had technical difficulties with the mixer levels of the speakers and microphones. Because most of the council and some of the presenters are in the same room, the video stream of the meeting created an echo that made it difficult to hear the speakers, and the Zoom interface did not accurately show athome viewers which perERIN SCHILLING son was speaking. MultiMayor Lynn Deutsch, right, talks to Community Development ple residents complained Director Richard McLeod as he presents an agenda item about audio problems in at the Aug. 10 hybrid City Council meeting. the Facebook Live chat. Hybrid meetings Dunwoody HomeownThe city on July 13 starter Association President During the city’s third council meeted holding hybrid council meetings, Adrienne Duncan said she thinks the hying on Aug. 10, the city had a variety of where some members of the council sit brid meetings are “an essential element technical difficulties and audio issues — at their City Hall desks while others tune of public discourse” during the pandemboth for those watching the meeting at in virtually. All staff, council members ic, but she said the city needs to do some City Hall and in their homes. and members of the public must wear tweaks with the sound system to make Because the council members and premasks while attending the meeting in sure everyone can hear. senters were wearing masks, the meeting person. Boettcher said the COVID-19 safe“We are still working to improve the was also hard to hear for in-person listenty precautions in place, such as the mask clarity,” Boettcher said. “Additionally, we ers. Presenters faced the council to speak requirement, allow the city to do hybrid have plans in place for improvements in while wearing a mask, which made them meetings, which are more accessible to the near future.” difficult to hear as well. The city’s audioall city residents.
Census enumerators are knocking on doors in September.
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City to get $5.6M in federal COVID-19 relief funds, cut budget by 4%
Including: CBT, DBT, and Holistic Program Options
The city will receive $5.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds but will still cut 4% from its current budget because of the pandemic.
CARES Act funds
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The council unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement between the city and DeKalb County to receive a portion of the county’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds during a special called meeting on Aug. 19. The county has allotted $32.6 million of its CARES Act funds for its 12 cities. The agreement was supposed to be passed during an Aug. 10 council meeting, but there were legal tweaks that needed to be worked out between the city and the county. “Rather than wait for every city to be paying attention to this and get on board, I think it’s essential for us to just get it done,” Mayor Lynn Deutsch said. Each city has a separate intergovernmental agreement with the county. Once the county signs the agreement, it has 10 days to get the funds to the city, Deutsch said. All of the funds must be allocated or spent by Dec. 30, according to the agreement. CARES Act funds do not replace other city revenue streams and must comply with the federal guidelines for where the money can be spent, which mostly has to do with COVID-19 relief efforts. “I’m confident we can allocate all of this before the deadline,” assistant city manager Jay Vinicki said. The city plans to use $1 million of its CARES Act funds for economic grant relief programs; about $633,000 is set for facility cleaning, ventilation upgrades and personal protective equipment; about $500,000 is set for hazard pay and COVID-re-
NOMINATIONS ARE OPEN Each January, we feature students from Intown’s public schools, private schools and colleges who have given back to their community in a significant way. Over the last ten years, we’ve featured students who have created their own nonprofits, have given up summer vacation to work domestically and abroad to help the less fortunate and one even helped build a library by collecting books. The 13th annual 20 Under 20 will appear in our January 2021 issue and we are now seeking nominations of students
ages 19 and younger who have committed themselves to service to the community. Nominations are welcome from teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, siblings, fellow students or community leaders. Here’s the information we need: • Nominator (name, relationship to nominee and contact information) • Nominee (Name, age, grade, school, parent or guardian names, contact information) • Characteristics and service: Please provide a paragraph describing why this nominee deserves recognition. Include service projects, goals, interests and areas of interest to help illustrate your point. The deadline for nominations is Nov. 6. Please email your nominations to editor Collin Kelley at email@example.com. DUN
Community | 5
lated expenses; about $616,000 is set for vulnerable population grants such as food and daily cost assistance; and about $2.85 million for contingency. Vinicki said the large contingency portion is reserved for staff to amend the budget as new federal guidance comes out regarding the allocation of the funds. Deutsch said there will be later dates for the council to “flesh out this budget.”
Budget cuts The council unanimously passed a resolution to decrease the city’s general fund expenditures by $1 million during an Aug. 24 council meeting. The budget for the general fund was originally $25.6 million, according to the city’s 2020 budget, which matches the calendar year. The departments already factored the money the city expects to receive from the CARES Act when creating the budget cuts, City Finance Director Linda Nabers said. All departments would have a decrease in their expenditures
The departments have gone through their expenses that have already been appropriated, and because of the COVID we’ve been trying to reduce our expenses. LINDA NABERS CITY FINANCE DIRECTOR
except for Information Technology, which would increase expenditures by $131,000, according to an Aug. 10 presentation to the council about the budget cuts. Funds in that department would go mostly toward supplies, repairs and maintenance and education and training, according to a breakdown of the budget adjustment provided by the city. “The departments have gone through their expenses that have already been appropriated, and because of the COVID we’ve been trying to reduce our expenses,” Nabers told the council on Aug. 10. The Parks and Recreation Department is taking the biggest hit in budgeted expenditures at $325,000, according to the breakdown of the budget cuts. Nabers said the city moved funding for Peachtree Charter Middle School lighting from the general fund to the hotel-motel fund, which caused part of the cut in expenditures for the parks and recreation department. She said a parks maintenance contract was also re-bid and ended up being less than the city budgeted.
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State Sen. Harrell discusses COVID-19 liability and other legislation BY ERIN SCHILLING
The Georgia Legislature passed House Bill
State Sen. Sally Harrell discussed new laws that restrict business’s COVID-19 liability, 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 Brookhaven 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,”
426, which is a hate crime
This was the strangest legislative session I’ve ever experienced. SALLY HARRELL STATE SENATOR
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. “It’s really difficult to prove where you got COVID.” Much of the June return dealt with finalizing the state budget, which the House of Representatives passed before
Harrell said the legislature worked on a lot of bills regarding voting and State Sen. Sally Harrell.
the voting process. Harrell said an amend-
the pandemic hit in March, meaning that
ment that would not allow local govern-
the Senate had to essentially start over
ments to mail out absentee ballot re-
the budgeting process, Harrell said.
quests died in the session. She said she
“The budget is a real struggle, even
was glad it did not pass and is advocat-
with the pandemic aside, because we had
ing for DeKalb County to mail out absen-
years and years and years of tax cuts,”
tee request forms.
Harrell said. “We’ve really been cutting
Kemp signed a bill that would screen
taxes to the point where it’s difficult to
fund state services.”
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. Harrell said Kemp vetoed it, citing local control for school districts.
THERE IS STILL TIME TO
MAKE A DIFFERENCE! YOUR COMPLETED CENSUS IMPROVES OUR COMMUNITY It takes less than 10 minutes to do your part in helping improve your community. An accurate population count ensures that the right amount of federal funds will be allocated to support servies right here in Sandy Springs. These dollars are used to fund school programs, improvements to roads, sidewalks, and parks. Now more than ever, we need to keep our community strong and healthy. Do so by completing your 2020 Census today!
You can complete your census online, via telephone or you can request a paper copy if you prefer to mail in your answers by September 30. The census only asks nine questions that are easy to complete. Fill yours out today at spr.gs/census
Community | 7
Ga. 400 toll lanes report posted in virtual ‘open house’ BY JOHN RUCH firstname.lastname@example.org
Toll lanes proposed to be added to Ga. 400 between Sandy Springs and Forsyth County would have no major environmental impacts, according to documents presented by the Georgia Department of Transportation on a “virtual open house” website that is accepting public comments through Sept. 22. Among the details in the online presentation are a possible detour route during replacement of the Pitts Road bridge over Ga. 400 in Sandy Springs, and a slightly faster construction timeline than was last announced: a 2022 start and an opening in 2026. The toll lanes -- dubbed “express lanes” by GDOT -- are intended to be part of a
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future metro-wide system. Locally, the toll lanes would run along I-285 and Ga. 400. While the toll lanes eventually would be part of a unified, interconnected system,
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GDOT has divided them into subsections for planning and construction purposes. The “Ga. 400” project includes only the part of the highway from the North Springs MARTA Station northward; the southern piece of Ga. 400 in Perimeter Center is within the I-285 project because it involves a lot of connection-building with that highway. And the I-285 part of the toll lanes was itself broken up into multiple sections, including east, west and top end. The toll lane plans have drawn controversy for possible impacts on local traffic and for the need to take property. The Ga. 400 project will require about 45 homes in Sandy Springs and about five businesses, according to GDOT. GDOT says the toll
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lanes would speed up overall traffic by letting paying drivers go faster than those in the free lanes. In a new concept for GDOT, the Ga. 400 lanes and possibly the I-285 lanes would carry MARTA buses using new dedicated stations. The Ga. 400 project includes around 16 miles of toll lanes between the North Springs MARTA Station off Peachtree-Dunwoody Road and the McFarland Parkway area in Forsyth. It includes interchanges at the MARTA station and at Grimes Bridge
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Road, Tradewinds Parkway and Union Hill Road. A draft environmental impact report -- a document required by the federal and
state governments before major road projects can proceed -- says that the toll lanes would not exceed air quality standards for the metro Atlanta area, so further study is not needed. The report includes information about MARTA buses using the lanes, but specific environmental impacts of such buses are not addressed in the report. The project would include widening the highway bridge over the Chattahoochee River, which is federally protected and part of which is a national park. The National Park Service has recommended approval for the project, according to documents on the website, because there is no practical alternative, no long-term “adverse impacts,” and no net loss of wetlands. An area of wetlands would be lost, but GDOT would give money to NPS to buy more, the documents say. In terms of traffic noise, the draft report says, the route would receive an estimated 4.7 decibel increase over the current sound levels by 2046. Some spots would receive more impacts of 15 decibels or more, which would make them eligible to get noise barriers, the report says. GDOT’s online open house was scheduled to include a live question-and-answer session on Sept. 1, after the Reporter went to press. Meanwhile, the I-285 toll lane projects are on a separate timeline. GDOT earlier
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this year issued a response to public comments about those projects. The toll lanes projects are separate from the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project that is currently under construction. That project, known as “Transform 285/400,” began in 2017 and is expected to wrap up late next year. However, the toll lanes would run through the interchange area and connect with it.
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HVAC systems are next battleground in the COVID-19 fight BY JOHN RUCH
Since April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have had HVAC
As America ventures into pandemic reopenings, some-
guidelines related to COVID-19, which
thing new is in the air along with the now classic hygiene
also refer to recommendations from
talk about hand-washing, social distancing and mask-wear-
ASHRAE, an international industry-stan-
ing. Anti-virus additions to air conditioning and heating
dards group headquartered in Brookhav-
systems are the next wave of the pandemic strategy as peo-
ple gather inside buildings where virus particles may float
Some of the recommendations are rel-
around for extended periods.
atively simple ventilation improvements,
From restaurants to art classrooms, MARTA offices to
like increasing the amount of outdoor air
schools, building managers are looking at tactics that range
by opening windows or boosting the ca-
from blowing in more fresh air to adding possibly virus-
pacity of an air-conditioning system. Ex-
scrubbing filters or COVID-killing ultraviolet lights. Like many social aspects of the pandemic, the HVAC battlefront is a case of COVID-19 adding momentum to pre-existing shifts in the way life and business work. HVAC companies already saw a future focus in cleaning indoor air, says
A REME HALO ionizing air purifier, like those St. Martin’s Episcopal School says it has installed, as seen on the website of manufacturer RGF Environmental Group.
Chris Marek, CEO of the AIR Company of Georgia, a Buckhead-based heating, air conditioning and refrigeration contractor. “I think that the industry trend is moving more towards proper indoor air quality and best practices,” said Marek, whose company has installed COVID-combatting additions to systems in a school and other facilities. “I think the broader conservation should be about improving the indoor air quality.”
tending the hours of operation of the HVAC system so that air is more diluted when occupants arrive is another strategy.
In higher-risk areas, the CDC has recommendations that are more like systems used by hospitals. The CDC says portable HEPA filters that can filter out tiny particles could be useful. The CDC also suggests considering virus-killing ultraviolet lights for installation in the ceiling to treat upward-flowing air. Another suggestion is internal airflow from “clean” to “less-clean” areas, meaning that occupied areas get fresh or filtered air, which is then directed to other parts of the building.
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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
WHETHER BUYING OR SELLING
Several local businesses and institutions are already trying various HVAC tactics. Dunwoody’s Spruill Center for the Arts announced Aug. 17 that it had installed a “medical-grade filtration system” to clean the air in its classrooms. The H13 filters “remove 99.9% of air particles,” the center said in a press release. “We are committed to providing a safe space for our staff and students,” said Spruill CEO Alan Mothner in the release. “Implementing the air purification system is an added level of safety we felt was necessary.” Ray’s on the River, a cornerstone of Sandy Springs’ restaurant scene, installed ultraviolet lights in its air conditioning system all the way back in March as the pandemic began, according to owner Ray Schoenbaum. He told the Reporter in July that the move was made largely to give customers a sense of security. “That’s one of the things we did over and above that we didn’t have to do [under state safety rules]…,” said Schoenbaum. “We owe it to [customers] to do absolutely
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everything we can to make them feel comfortable.” MARTA announced Aug. 13 that its Board of Directors approved an $850,000 project to add ionizers to air conditioning systems in various offices, including the transit agency’s Buckhead headquarters. The “NeedlePoint Bi-Polar Ionization” system is made by a North Carolina company called Global Plasma Solutions. “These filters are one part of the safety protocol we’ve developed,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker in a press release. “Those employees who are able to continue productively working from home are encouraged to do so, but we want to ensure that anyone who must work in or visit our facilities remains healthy.” Air quality in schools has become a pressing issue as some have returned in-person -- and some around metro Atlanta quickly saw COVID-19 outbreaks. St. Martin’s Episcopal School, a private pre-K through 8th grade school in Brookhaven that has returned to in-person classes, installed ionization devices in its HVAC system, according to a pandemic preparation document on its website.
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The REME HALO product is made by a Florida company called RGF Environmental Group. Local public school districts were in different stages of consideration as they all launched with virtual-only classes. The school system in DeKalb and Fulton counties were starting with improved ventilation, while an Atlanta Public Schools spokesperson said, “We are reviewing all of our HVAC and ventilation options and protocols at this time.” “The Dekalb County School District is following recommendations from the CDC and ASHRAE to introduce more fresh air into our HVAC systems for students returning to our schools,” said a district spokesperson. “We will also be increasing the
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frequency of filter changes, preventative maintenance and system cleaning.” The Fulton County School System is also reviewing CDC and ASHRAE guidelines, according to spokesperson Shumuriel Ratliff. “We have adjusted our HVAC systems to extend hours of operation to dilute possible contaminates,” said Ratliff. “We are moving towards higher efficacy air filtration on all our HVAC systems. Ultraviolet (UV) air disinfection devices are being evaluated for their cost and effectiveness.”
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10 | Art & Entertainment
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Arts foundation to support artists, honor late Reporter writer Judith Schonbak BY JOHN RUCH firstname.lastname@example.org
An arts foundation is being created to honor Judith Schonbak, an arts writer for the Reporter and other outlets who died Aug. 2, and to support “historically marginalized communities and artists.” Her daughter McKenzie Wren is organizing the fund, with C4 Atlanta, a nonprofit that provides business services to the arts community, acting as the fiscal agent accepting initial donations. “We are setting up the Judith Schonbak memorial arts fund to expand arts access and support to historically
communities and artJudith Schonbak.
ists,” Wren wrote in an email announcing
the effort. She said Schonbak had always wanted to create such a fund, and that doing is in “honor of the work she did to expand and educate about the arts.” “I didn’t know Judith personally but C4 has a close relationship with McKenzie,” said C4 Atlanta Executive Director Jessyca Holland. “My heart is heavy for McKenzie as she mourns the passing of her mother. This fund continues the legacy of her mother’s contributions to art and provides comfort in a time that is very challenging for artists.” Donations to the arts foundation can be made on the C4 website at c4atlanta.org/ pay. Under the “I am making a payment for” list, donors can choose “Other” and write in “Judith Schonbak fund.” Schonbak was killed in a Chamblee crash that the Georgia State Patrol says was caused by the driver of a stolen vehicle. Schonbak revitalized the Reporter’s arts coverage in recent years as part of a long career in writing and the arts for which family, friends and colleagues are fondly remembering her. At Buckhead’s Atlanta Artists Center, Schonbak served on the board four times, including two terms as president, in 2005-2005 and 2013-2014. “She provided vision and leadership during two critical periods in AAC history as the organization faced both financial and leadership crises,” recalled the organization in a written statement. “She was a dynamic, charming and strong leader who gave of herself tirelessly and inspired all those who knew her. Her red hair and artsy dress made her instantly recognizable. She worked hard to know everyone’s name and naturally instilled enthusiasm for everything AAC.” Schonbak combined her interest in writing and the arts in work for many local arts publications. She wrote program guides at the Cobb Energy Center and volunteered as editor of the Georgia Watercolor Society for a number of years. She interviewed Renzo Piano, architect of the High Museum addition and other major arts institutions, and such celebrities as William Shatner and Carol Burnett. Schonbak joined the Reporter as a freelance writer in 2018, where she anchored a newly expanded arts section.
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Dunwoody and Sandy Springs join MARTA bus traffic signal experiment BY BOB PEPALIS
Dunwoody will participate through staff time and $11,000 to install equipment at two intersections in the city. Smith said they can use the equipment for emergency ve-
The cities of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody will collaborate on an experiment in traffic signal prioritization for MARTA buses.
hicle signal preemption also, which has done at a few other intersections in the city. “We were pleased to partner with Sandy Springs and MARTA on this project be-
Georgia Tech picked Sandy Springs as one of its four Georgia Smart grant winners
cause it fits perfectly with our goal of increasing connectivity,” said Dunwoody City
for its pilot project to create a transit signal priority system for MARTA bus service to
Manager Eric Linton. “The Dunwoody MARTA Station is a key transportation asset,
cut transit time for riders.
and this program builds upon the investments that Dunwoody has made in traffic
The city will collaborate with MARTA and the city of Dunwoody on the Georgia
Smart Communities Challenge project. Georgia Tech researchers Michael Hunter and
The project begins in September with the purchase of technology and modifica-
Kari Watkins will work with the project team, the university announced in a release
tion of traffic signals. The project will go live from February to April 2021. Georgia
on Aug. 6.
Tech’s research team will evaluate the results through June 2021, followed by a pub-
The pilot project targets bus Route 5, which has high ridership between the Dun-
lic meeting in July. From the evaluation and other feedback, recommendations will
woody MARTA Station and Buckhead’s Lindbergh Center MARTA Station via Ham-
be identified and an implementation plan to go beyond the pilot project will be devel-
mond Drive and Roswell Road, said Dunwoody Public Works Director Michael Smith.
The project aims to cut how much time buses wait at red lights. That would reduce travel times for transit.
The Georgia Smart project includes: ■
$100,000 in grant funding to develop their pilot.
The project’s goal is to allow transit buses to talk to the traffic signals, said Mi-
Technical assistance and $50,000 in funding for Georgia Tech researchers.
chael P. Hunter, a professor of Transportation Systems Engineering and Smart Cities
Access to a network of peer governments to share best practices.
at Georgia Tech. He and Kari Watkins will evaluate the performance of the project.
Access to a local, national, and international network of experts for advice
“We are excited to work with Georgia Tech and in collaboration with MARTA and
on piloting a smart community.
the city of Dunwoody in exploring opportunities to maximize current software to
Hunter said the project leverages a lot of emerging technology, including the con-
generate more efficiencies along our roadways, and at the same time enhance the
nected vehicle, enabling the buses to communicate with the infrastructure. Current
benefits of using public transit,” said Mayor Rusty Paul. “It’s a program with potential
signal changing is handled passively, with vehicles driving over sensors or through
to provide benefits throughout the region.”
observations via traffic cameras.
The city will provide $25,000 in a local match to the grant, and another $15,000 comes through an in-kind contribution.
“The intersection determines what action it will take, but the technology allows the bus to request longer green lights (or shorter red lights if safely available) when
Community | 13
the bus schedule is heavily impacted by traffic,” MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher said. There are different types of signal switching capabilities, Hunter said. Ambulances and fire trucks use preemption, which gets immediate service to the signal so the emergency vehicle can get through the intersection. In the case of transit, it’s more about priority. A change still gets made to signaling, but it won’t be as drastic as might be seen with emergency vehicles. “You don’t want to be disturbing other traffic flow when you are doing that. Everybody gets roughly the same amount of green time,” he said. The transit buses will be a lower priority for signal changes than emergency vehicles. “What you really want to be thinking about, it’s not just how many cars you can get through, but how many people can I get through?” Hunter said. Large vehicles like buses take longer to get started once they’ve stopped. By limiting the number of times they have
16-story office building connected to Dunwoody MARTA station opens in Perimeter Center A new office building that connects to the Dunwoody MARTA Station quietly opened in the spring, with its owner making an official announcement in August. Twelve24 is a 16-story mixed-use building located at 1224 Hammond Drive and features office space, retail stores, restaurants and outdoor deck amenities, according to a press release. The building is a development project of Trammell Crow Company and a joint venture partner advised by CBRE Global Investors. The building opened April 3, said Brandon Houston, a principal at TCC Atlanta office, in an email. Houston said TCC waited to announce its opening because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, which is set to open March 2021, will take up 7,500 square feet of the groundfloor retail space at Twelve24, according to the press release. The Delawarebased restaurant will have indoor seating for about 350 people inside and
on-site brewing equipment, according to a press release from the company when it signed a lease in November 2019. The building connects to the MARTA station with an elevated pedestrian bridge. It will soon also be connected to a nine-story Hyatt Place hotel set to open in September, according to the press release. The 3.94-acre site is located on an unused portion of the Perimeter Mall parking lot purchased from the mall’s owner, General Growth Properties. Trammell Crow also purchased the west parking deck, once used by the MARTA station, in 2018. MARTA had been leasing it from General Growth Properties but said it was never fully utilized. “Twelve24 has created a unique offering for the Central Perimeter community, with its combination of highend office space, transit connectivity, uncommon amenities and retail offerings,” Houston said in the press release. The building has 334,000 square
feet of office space and 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and restaurant space, according to the TCC project page for the building. National staff company Insight Global Insight signed a lease for 175,000-square-foot office space in the new building in January 2018, which relocates the company from its current headquarters in Brookhaven. Three floors with 90,000 square feet of space remain available for rent, according to the release. Twelve24 includes a fifth-floor sky lobby, indoor-outdoor conference center, a fitness center and an outdoor yoga lawn. The building is LEED Certified, which means it meets certain sustainability standards. The building was designed by Duda Paine Architects, according to the release. The building was approved by the Dunwoody City Council in October 2017 and construction started in August 2018.
to stop, it helps other vehicles, too, Hunter said. The role of Georgia Tech is to make an impartial evaluation of the system and see how it works, Hunter said. From the evaluation they will recommend what might be done in the future. And they can consider what the cost of the system is versus the benefits. The project collaborators will have hardware challenges in making the sys-
tem work. They need to get technology installed at traffic signal cabinets for each intersection, he said. And corresponding technology needs to be in the buses so they can talk to each other. They also will have operational challenges to make sure they don’t penalize one piece of the traffic puzzle to help another. They’ll need to determine how priorities work and how the traffic lights would change in an efficient manner and stay safe, he said. “MARTA has experimented with this technology in the past, but this project will pilot a newer approach that is less hardware-intensive and, if successful, could be more easily deployed in other corridors,” Fisher said.
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Residents worry about wildlife after developers drain pond for parking lot BY ERIN SCHILLING email@example.com
A small pond in Perimeter Center, once home to geese, turtles and other wildlife, has been drained by the property owners in favor of a parking lot.
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Some residents, including City Councilmember Joe Seconder, want to relocate the pond’s wildlife. But, they said, they were blocked by Branch Properties, the company that’s building a “Perimeter Marketplace” shopping development near 500 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, which is set to include an anchoring grocery store, restaurants and other stores. The project was approved 6-1 by the City Council in June 2019. City Councilmember Tom Lambert had the lone “no” vote, saying it was a “car-centric development, not people-centric.” Opponents at the
Generally, I understood, but I never witnessed[it]. It’s looking at it in the eye and looking at the ugliness of it that really turned it over. NADYA DHADIALA RESIDENT
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time also had concerns about draining the pond. Before Seconder was elected to the council, he spoke out against the construction project during a May 2019 public comment session and on his personal blog. Residents say the stormwater management pond, located at the corner of Meadow Lane and Ashford-Dunwoody Road, is a natural oasis in the heart of an area without much green space left. The pond was drained sometime during the first week of August, according to Dunwoody residents’ Facebook posts about the pond. Construction started in the last week of July, according to the city of Dunwoody. “I thought that it contributed to the wellness of the community,” resident Nadya Dhadiala said about the pond. “People were happy to be there — to see it, walk, observe and just be there.” As a runner, Dhadiala said, she en-
joyed running the sidewalks around the pond and seeing the wildlife, but now the area is a construction site with a few small puddles where the water once was. Seconder, saying he was acting as a private citizen, organized a Facebook event at the end of July to get volunteers to come and brainstorm ways to help relocate the wildlife. But he cancelled the event and posted that the developers would not allow the relocation, citing safety and environmental concerns. Corblu Ecology Group President Richard Whiteside, whose company is working as an environmental consultant for Branch Properties, said the company advised against relocating the wildlife at the pond. Water in the pond comes from road runoff, which could include pesticides, chemicals or oil and other materials, Whiteside said. Because of that, he said, the animals could have diseases that would spread by relocating. The water also may have animals that are not native to Georgia watersheds, which would introduce in-
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vasive species into different areas, he said. Branch Properties did not respond to requests for comment. Resident Hannah Wildner said she thinks the developer is “hiding behind” the consultant’s evaluation of the wildlife relocation because there hasn’t been proof
Community | 15
that the animals are actually diseased. “There’s a lot of turtles and amphibians that, in the process of the pond being drained, are crossing Ashford-Dunwoody and getting smushed,” Wildner said. “They’re leaving to find another habitat, and they need help moving.” Wildner and resident Lisa Foust said they don’t understand why the developers couldn’t allow volunteers to come help move the wildlife because it wouldn’t be a significant stall in construction. “It’s a really simple request,” Foust said. “It should not hold up the project, and it’s the right and humane thing to do.” Because the pond has already been drained, the residents fear it’s too late to really help the animals now. Dhadiala said she hopes it’s a lesson for the next development that the council should do more to preserve green space and wildlife. Dhadiala said she was a little worried about the pond when she first heard about the development in summer 2019 but thought that “somehow it will all get sorted out by itself.” Foust and Wildner said they didn’t know about the development until construction started a couple weeks ago. “Generally, I understood, but I never witnessed [it],” Dhadiala said. “It’s looking at it in the eye and looking at the ugliness of it that really turned it over.” The stormwater management pond off of Ashford-Dunwoody Road at the intersection of Meadow Lane has been drained.
WORTHWHILE CONVERSATIONS WHAT NOW? WEALTH PLANNING DURING COVID-19… DOES THE COVID-19 EXPERIENCE MEAN THAT WEALTH PLANNING IS NOW TOTALLY DIFFERENT? No, not necessarily. Market and economic conditions continue to change, but good wealth planning comes from being consistent in making sound decisions. HOW CAN YOU MAKE SOUND DECISIONS WHEN THE FUTURE IS SO UNCERTAIN? In nearly 50 years of wealth planning, we have worked with families who can personally recall terribly uncertain conditions. In 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union were staring each other down over nuclear missiles in Cuba and plenty of people felt it could be the end of civilization. In 1974, a sitting U.S. President resigned from office in disgrace and the average citizen’s faith in our government reached an all-time low. There have been times, of course, when the future looked bright. In 2000, we ushered in a new Millennium amidst great optimism, following a decade that saw the fall of the Iron Curtain and a peace dividend.
during the month of the Cuban missile crisis, you were 30% richer one year later. If you put money to work in U.S. stocks during the month Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency, you were 250% richer ten years later. If you waited for the turn of the Millennium to put your money to work in U.S. stocks, you were 35% worse off two years later.
SO, WHAT IS YOUR POINT? Certainty or uncertainty about the future is an unreliable basis for building wealth. Ryan Patterson, CFA, CFP®, our Chief Investment Officer, puts it this way: “When everyone is feeling good about the future, the prices of financial assets are higher, reflecting that feeling. When few people feel good, prices are discounted and opportunities are greater.” If you invested in U.S. stocks
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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 robinconte.com. Witness the devolution of a phrase. “Here are a few of my favorite things” became “Few of my favorite things” and, sadly, finally, “Few faves--”. Actually, the final devolution will likely be a series of heart and food emojis. It seems as if we are too busy to figure out how to stick both a subject AND a predicate into whatever message we want to type. Or, are we concerned that it somehow says that we’re just not up with the times if we bother to construct a complete thought? Are we too cool to be clear? Are we trending towards pithy yet vague and error-ridden brevity? Don’t be swayed, kids! Remember the basics! Punctuation is important! A sentence expresses a complete thought! And if you know the difference between “to,” “too,” and “two,” you can rule the world. Moreover, I say that after the opposable thumb, the evolution of man reached its apex with the ability to use an apostrophe. It’s your gift. Don’t squander it. Now, for the public-service announcement portion of this column and for all you students out there, I offer the following tips: It’s: a contraction for IT IS. It’s about time you learned this. Its: the possessive form of the pronoun IT. Modern civilization as we know it would crumble without its apostrophe. They’re: a contraction for THEY ARE. They’re throwing punctuation out the door. Their: the possessive form of the pronoun THEY. Their gift to the world is good grammar. There: usually refers to location, typically meaning NOT HERE. He is not there because he is learning virtually. To: a preposition or part of an infinitive. She went to school to learn about such things. Too: an adverb meaning ALSO or EXCESSIVELY. Is all this grammar talk getting to be too much for you, too? Two: refers to NUMBER. That makes two of us. To review: They’re going to pull their hair out if the two fellows over there don’t stop texting long enough to learn the mechanics of writing too, and it’s not that hard of a thing to learn. Now, go forth and conquer, kids. But first, could you please kill that wasp for me?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
Robert Egizio of Stage Door Players.
Michelle Davis of Act3 Productions in a staging of “Godspell.”
Like just about everything else we love, live theater is canceled for the foreseeable future -- and many of live theater companies are wondering how or if they will survive. Three excellent theatre companies in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs offer a range of experiences for a range of audiences. For semi-professional productions in a blackbox theatre, we have Act3 Playhouse in Sandy Springs. For an intimate experience with professional talent, we have Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players, who produce fullscale productions on a small platform stage. And for full-blown Broadway-style musical productions on a full proscenium stage, we have City Springs Theatre Company at Byers Theatre. Despite their differences, they all rely on ticket sales for most of their operating funds. But ticket sales are what they don’t have and won’t have for the near future. At City Springs, where most of the talent is Actors’ Equity, no one can come back to work till the union gives them permission. Act3 doesn’t use union talent, and Stage Door Players uses mostly non-union. Even if their theater buildings open any time soon, they would still be unable to mount productions because the talent would be reluctant to sing and shout in each other’s faces, much less kiss and hug! “Welcome to my COVID nightmare,” said Stage Door Players Artistic Director Robert Egizio in a statement that could apply to all three theaters. Back in March, Stage Door Players was a week from opening “The Outsiders” when the City of Dunwoody closed their venue. The sets had been built, the costumes created and rehearsals ongoing. They honored everyone’s contract, though they couldn’t
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mount the show. Egizio admits the decision to close was inevitable. “We had six out of seven characters using the same phone!” he exclaimed. But Egizio pointed out that backstage interaction is as problematic as onstage because of the close contact required for costume fittings, set building and dressing rooms. Act3’s last production closed the week after Valentine’s Day. In the works was an immersive production of “Cabaret,” in which they were turning their entire space into the Kit Kat Club. “We kept trying but gave up and refunded to season ticket holders. Some donated their tickets,” said Act3 Artistic Director Michelle Davis. Like Stage Door Players, they’ve had no ticket income since February. At City Springs, where the cost to mount a typical production is $500,000, ticket sales are down 50% from last year. “We’ve canceled two-and-a-half, soon to be four-and-a-half, shows,” said Executive/ Artistic Director Brandt Blocker, though the company recently announced a series of four special Broadway concerts live-streamed from the Byers Theatre. Season subscribers will have access at no extra charge, with complimentary food-and-wine gift baskets for Producers Circle members. Individual tickets will be $35. All three companies are hoping to have a 2021 season. City Springs has already scheduled productions for March, May and July. Act3 plans to mount a play already scheduled for 2021. Stage Door Players’ plans are still undecided. As for the future of live theater, all three agree there will be changes, most noticeably at the two smaller theaters, where social distancing is not possible. “One of our biggest selling points -- our intimacy -- is holding us back,” said Egizio of his 125-seat theatre. Stage Door Players had hoped to mount fall productions in the amphitheater at Brook Run Park until the city of Dunwoody banned large gatherings. Egizio pointed out a small community theatre in Iowa that is mounting productions in a parking lot with a temporary stage from which the sound is piped to people in their cars. He’s planning two cabaret shows that will stream on Facebook and Instagram. Act3’s Davis foresees new plays that weave the concept of social distancing into the plot. “Creativity will determine who survives short-term,” Egizio said. And that applies to individuals as well. Most actors and the other backstage people who support them are gig workers with no income when not involved in a production. “Many talented theater people are living on unemployment and food stamps because even their second jobs have dried up,” said Egizio. “I know actors who have been evicted and had to move back in with their parents.” To help one another, Atlanta theaters and artists have banded together to form the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund, to help those in dire straits. Donations are accepted at both the website atlartsrelief.org. In addition, all three theater companies are accepting donations through their websites: act3productions.org, cityspringstheatre.com and stagedoorplayers.org. DUN
Commentary | 19
Joe Earle is editorat-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at joeearle@ reporternewspapers.net
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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. DUN
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20 | Community
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New developers pitch ‘empty nester’ community on Roberts Drive Continued from page 1 ily houses, two of which would be demolished. Developer Peachland Housing Group requested the parcels be rezoned to allow more houses to accommodate the project, saying it would help the city with its plan to have better living options for senior residents, according to its rezoning application. The development is slated to be age restricted for residents over 55 years old, according to a letter from the developer to the neighbors. The city Planning Commission deferred its vote on the rezoning request until its Sept. 15 meeting because of concerns from neighboring residents regarding possible problems with stormwater management and the borders of the development. Rock River Realty proposed the same zoning change in 2018 to accommodate 10 houses, which would have also been aimed at senior buyers, but withdrew its application in 2019. That development included two-story houses with three bedrooms on the second floor and two-car garages. Peachland Housing Group proposes one-and-a-half stories for residents to not need to use stairs with more emphasis on front porches and private backyards. Landscaping would be done by a homeowners association, according to the project application. The developer says the rezoning re-
A sketch of the 15-house neighborhood proposed on Roberts Drive.
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quest to allow more houses would provide a transitional area between the large, family homes in the Dunwoody Knoll subdivision and the townhouses in Fairfield Townhomes and Dunwoody Walk. Dunwoody Homeowner Association President Adrienne Duncan said the DHA opposed the project because the developer has not reached an agreement with the Fairfield Homeowners Association to use its drainage easement, which she said is outlined in the project proposals. The 20-foot drainage easement has an underground storm sewer pipe that allows runoff water from Fairfield Townhomes to flow downstream, according to the rezoning application. Developers want to relocate the easement and stormwater infrastructure but need to come to an agreement with Fairfield homeowners before doing so. “DHA believes that a rezoning of these properties in anticipation of a new development is a moot point until the developer and local HOA can come to an agreement,” Duncan said in a statement read to the Planning Commission during its Aug. 11 meeting. “DHA believes that without such an agreement, any talk of rezoning or building is a non-starter.” Robert Miller, a partner on the project who is also a board member of the city Development Authority, told the commission that it’s difficult to find a new location for the easement until developers evaluate the area to figure out what could work for stormwater management. Members of the Fairfield HOA requested the commission to defer its vote to have more time to work out details with the developer before the rezoning happens. Some residents said the development was
too dense, which may create stormwater management problems because of an increase in hard surfaces, while others worried about a border area between that community and their own. Miller said a buffer zone is not required by the city between residential zoning districts. But, he said, the development has plans for wooden fences and shrubbery as a screening area between the proposed neighborhood and existing neighborhoods. The development aims to give housing options for seniors who are downsizing from larger family homes, Miller said. “The proposed development will use a universal design to provide a variety of senior-appropriate housing options in a walkable location to Dunwoody Village that will allow residents to thrive in all stages of life while addressing a priority within the comprehensive plan,” the rezoning application reads. David Haverty, the owner of the Swancy property, was one of the biggest critics of the previously proposed development by Rock River Realty. The farmhouse, built in 1889 has been designated as historic by the Dunwoody Preservation Trust. At the time, Haverty said that development would have surrounded his house with pavement and eliminated any privacy. Other critics said it’s location across from the 900-seat Austin Elementary would have made the previously proposed two-story houses attractive to families who want their children to attend that new school. Current neighbors are more concerned with the Peachland Housing development’s density rather than its age restrictions. DUN
Community | 21
Dunwoody Village buffer battle sparks lawsuit threats, petition Continued from page 1 sponded by hiring an attorney to speak in support of the proposal at an Aug. 24 City Council meeting. “I think the heavily wooded buffer was vital to us getting a house that backed up to a shopping center,” said resident Ellen Holloway, whose house in the Branches neighborhood on Trailridge Way borders the buffer zone. “We knew there would be noises and lights, but we were reassured by the woods we would have a lot of protection.” The council deferred the vote on the Dunwoody Village Overlay zoning rewrite and related items, including an update to the Dunwoody Village Master Plan, until its Oct. 12 meeting. Mayor Lynn Deutsch said the council will call a special meeting to have a work session to work out legal issues of the buffer zone and discuss other concerns with the rewrite, such as residential density. Once approved by council, the rezoning will immediately go into effect. The city started a zoning rewrite of the 165-acre Dunwoody Village Overlay to create a more walkable, bikeable downtown in an area that is considered by many as the heart of the city and covers the intersection of Chamblee-Dunwoody and Mount Vernon roads. The rewrite is considered a long-term plan to have in place for when new developments may come to Dunwoody Village but does not propose specific projects. The Dunwoody Village Overlay now includes three suburban shopping centers with expansive surface parking lots; several auto-repair shops and gas stations; office buildings; banks; and the Dunwoody United Methodist Church. The buffer zone is where a Dunwoody Village commercial district touches a residential district outside of the overlay. Buffers have been a contentious issue as the rewrite has progressed over the past two years.
so that buffer zone no longer has to be upheld. That buffer zone requirement would “be an attempt to reinstate a longexpired private agreement for the benefit of a small number of private property owners” and “a taking without just and adequate compensation that is unconstitutional,” according to Webb’s notice. But the DHA says more documentation from that time period may give the city and parties involved more legal direction. City attorney Bill Riley told the council he was working with the county to get more documentation to better address the legalities of the buffer zone as well. Attorney Brian Daughdrill, who represents the DHA, told councilmembers on Aug. 24 that if they are considering higher-density zoning for the Dunwoody Village Overlay, they should keep the large buffer zone intact. DHA President Adrienne Duncan said “all options are open” regarding whether the organization will also sue the city and said Daughdrill was hired to advise the neighboring residents. Residents say keeping the buffer zone intact protects their quality of life and the deer, birds and other animals that use the area. They say the area is one of the city’s largest tree canopies.
‘We can have both’
Consultant TSW has gathered public feedback and has proposed the Dunwoody Village Overlay zoning rewrite with help from city staff over the past two years. TSW and staff initially proposed a 30-foot buffer zone, then increased it to 75 feet based on community feedback, TSW representative Caleb Racicot told the council on Aug. 24. In March, the Planning Commission recommended a 130-foot undisturbed buffer zone with a 20-foot transitional yard, which could not have any building or parking areas but could have a concrete path or road. The buffer zone could not be under 50 feet at its most narrow point, per the commission’s recommendation. The notice says a 150-foot buffer zone will take up about 3 acres, or 23%, of the Peachtree Shops of Dunwoody property. Webb and the owner did not respond to requests for comment, and the notice does not say what the company would prefer as the buffer zone. All three options were presented to the council on Aug. 24. Holloway said even the Planning Commission’s recommendation is a compromise from the residents’ current buffer zone, which maxes out at 200 feet. The council made no action on any of the suggested plans and
decided to have a more in-depth discussion during a called meeting. Holloway said she’s mainly concerned for the buffer zone and feels like the commercial areas in the Dunwoody Village could use a redo. “It is drab,” Holloway said about the Dunwoody Village area. “It is not very useful. It could be a really cute asset to our community, but all of that could be done and still maintain the tree line. We can have both, and the trees can add value to future redevelopments.” Residents of the Holloway’s neighborhood previously considered legal action against the city because of the Shops of Dunwoody buffer zone in 2017 when dog-care business Camp Run-A-Mutt was granted a zoning variance to encroach on the adjacent Dunwoody United Methodist Church’s parking lot. At the time, residents said the business would create noise for the neighbors, but Shops of Dunwoody agent Mike Lowery said the closest house was more than 200 feet away. Other residents and city officials, including Deutsch, also had concerns about increasing residential density and building height in the Dunwoody Village Overlay. While some neighboring residents oppose the higher density completely, others say it’s the density that makes the buffer zone even more important.
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Residents in neighborhoods on the west side of the Dunwoody Village commercial areas want the buffer zone to stay at least 150 feet wide to protect the trees and wildlife in that area and have an online petition with just over 1,000 signatures of its 1,500 goal as of late August in support. Right now, the buffer zone is about 150 to 200 feet wide. Den Webb, an attorney who represents the owner of the Shops of Dunwoody at 5500 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, gave the city an intent-to-sue notice if the buffer requirement becomes 150 feet wide in the rewrite. Part of the legal disagreement stems from a 1977 rezoning that resulted in a 20-year covenant between the DHA and previous Shops of Dunwoody owners, which laid out a 150- to 200-foot buffer zone requirement for the west side of the zoning district. Webb says the covenant has expired, DUN
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22 | Education
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FALL 2020 | EDUCATION GUIDE
After school, during pandemic Extracurricular clubs and sports adapt to a distanced year BY ERIN SCHILLING email@example.com
When freshman Jace Rubenstein enrolled in North Springs Charter High School in Sandy Springs for its band program, drumming on a video call in his room wasn’t exactly how he pictured the experience. Rubenstein, who lives in Johns Creek, signed up for the fine arts magnet school in part because of its marching band program — which has not yet had a practice. As the 2020-2021 school year starts virtually for Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, teachers and students have adjusted to almost everything online — not just with classrooms, but also extracurricular activities like club meetings and band practices. Athletic programs have also had postponements or additional COVID-19 safety precautions put into place, making almost all aspects of a typical school year different for students. Rubenstein said marching band practice was slated to start the last week of the summer, and now he isn’t sure when it may come back. Fulton County School District delayed sports games until at least the middle of September, and DeKalb County School District delayed sports games until at least the end of the month. Marching bands would usually have performances at football games. To practice percussion in the virtual age, Rubenstein said he and his classmates mute their video and play along with the teacher, who’s unmuted, on an electric drum. “It’s been fine for me,” said Rubenstein, whose school year started Aug. 17. “We’re still getting to play, which is the best thing.” Danielle Rubenstein said one of the hardest adjustments to virtual learning is her son Jace not being able to meet people at his new school. “The only people they really see during the day are the teachers,” Danielle Rubenstein said. “But everyone is doing their best.”
Parents juggle children and work in a virtual reopening BY ERIN SCHILLING firstname.lastname@example.org
Natalie Cedor’s living room transformed into an elementary, middle and high school on Aug. 17. Though her three boys-- fifth-grader Stefan, seventh-grader Jaeden and 11thgrader Devon -- may all be in the same room, the schedules for each of them are different, but Cedor said her children have been surprisingly self regulated in their work. “In the spring, there wasn’t as much structure,” said Cedor, whose children are in Fulton County School District. “Now it’s more structured and there’s more weight for the kids’ performance, so a little bit more stress for me.” Cedor and other parents in the Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta public school sys-
Above, Jace Rubenstein, a freshman at North Springs Charter High School, poses for a photo with his electric drum.
Kindergartener Kevin Duran poses for a photo.
Laura McEwen said her daughter Amelia McEwen, a sophomore at Dunwoody High School, has been playing softball almost all her life. When they found out the DCSD athletic seasons had been postponed while on their way
tems have had to adjust to having their children home as the districts started at least the first month of classes with virtual learning. Some parents are pooling resources for home-schooling; others get assistance from community nonprofits. All are adapting. With a summer to prepare, teachers and administrators have created more defined schedules for the students than the emergency closures in the spring allowed, so many parents have to juggle their own work and their children’s schooling as the fall semester kicks off.
Continued on page 30
Continued on page 28
Softball keeps swinging
Left, Dunwoody High School senior and Student Government Association president Dabney Duncan poses for a photo at her virtual learning work station.
Education | 23
SEPTEMBER 2020 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net
DeKalb superintendent adjusts to new district BY ERIN SCHILLING email@example.com
DeKalb County School District Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris hopes to restore the district’s former “stellar reputation” under her leadership, she told Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch during a virtual back-to-school conversation on Aug. 13. But in her first two months in her new role, she said gearing up students and staff to start classes again during the COVID-19 pandemic has been her first priority. “Based on what I was reading in terms of what the community wanted in their superintendent, it very much aligned to what I believed to be my strengths,” Watson-Harris said. “I very much wanted to come to be a part of the future of the DeKalb County School District.” WatsonHarris, who previously served as second in command at the New York City Department of Education, started in SPECIAL DCSD on July Superintendent Cheryl 1. Her first few Watson-Harris weeks have been hyper-focused on preparations for virtual learning and the return to school, Watson-Harris said. As soon as she was hired, she started helping with the COVID-19 reopening plan, which included pushing the start date for classes back two weeks to Aug. 17 and detailing when DCSD could return to in-person classes based on the data of COVID-19 infections in the county. In addition to preparing and maintaining a smooth virtual learning environment for students, Watson-Harris said, staff members are continuing to ready the schools to transition back into in-person classes whenever that becomes an option. DCSD is working with the DeKalb County Board of Health to analyze the COVID-19 data. Watson-Harris and her team will assess whether schools can reopen at a September DeKalb County Board of Education meeting. Her experience in New York while it was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic helped her prepare to lead DCSD, Watson-Harris said. “What that experience really did teach me was the value of human life,” WatsonHarris said. “There was a point in those last couple months where we started almost every staff meeting with a moment of silence. Continued on page 26
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24 | Education
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Fulton Superintendent looks to return to in-person learning BY BOB PEPALIS Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney spoke with the Reporter at the start of the second week of classes to discuss the challenges of reopening schools while safeguarding students and teachers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district was on track to resume inperson classes Sept. 8. What has been the biggest challenge in getting the school system prepared for the 2020-2021 school year? Quite honestly, just the personal interactions that we have in a typical school year with families and students, between teachers and families. Our district develops relationships, one of the examples of the work we do, building positive reactions. It’s just more complicated when you have to do it digitally.
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Once students return to the classroom in the next reopening phases, what will it take to keep students in the classrooms and avoid a return to universal remote learning?
We have both now a reopening matrix, but we also have a closing matrix. We fully expect when school closings, we will have some schools requiring temporary closures, until COVID is no longer a threat to us. We can very well isolate small numbers of cases in the school here and there and not have to shut the entire district down. But I always want to be clear, there will likely be time a school will have to shut down for 24 or 72 hours so we have time to SPECIAL Superintendent Mike Looney. clean and do contact traces
Complaints have been made about the remote learning experience, with access to virtual classes, homework and more limited or just not working. What has staff done to correct these issues? Should we expect these kinds of problems with universal remote learning?
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What we do know is that it’s not an issue of bandwidth. It could be a home router, could be how much connectivity family has at home, could be some other variable. But it’s certainly not the district bandwidth. Some school systems have received a lot of pushback from teachers and teachers’ unions to keep from bringing everyone back to the classroom. What has been your experience here in Fulton County? Our teachers have expressed a desire to continue working with students. Obviously, we have a segment of our teachers that are concerned… And it’s just an expression of their uneasiness because of the COVID virus. It’s not because they don’t want to work. And our teachers have been back in buildings for two weeks, learning to work social distancing, wearing masks. We are doing that in advance of students beginning to return on Sept. 8, in a very deliberate and slow process so we don’t all of a sudden bring thousands of students in... only to have to close again. We think it’s a practical approach, measuring our practices on the way. What is the school district doing for teachers who have underlying health issues that health safety guidelines say are reasons for avoiding other people and nonessential travel? Two things that Fulton specifically has done: One is we have provided an additional leave type for up to 15 days if a teacher self-quarantines or has other legitimate reason not to report to the workplace. They’re still teaching from home if possible. What we’re doing in Fulton is not provided in other school districts. In addition, we have set up a process by which teach-
What is the status and current plan for competitive sports in Fulton County Schools? So at this point in time we have delayed competitions between other schools and schools districts until at least the 14th of September. That‘s so we can make sure we’ve down everything we can to mitigate exposure to other schools and districts. That, too, is predicated on the level of spread in the community at that time. Will students in the last school year and this one be less well prepared than those in previous years because of the effects of the pandemic? Well certainly I think from a global, regional and world perspective, yes. Digital learning, remote learning, does not offer the same opportunities for students to learn and to do so in a collaborative and supportive way. Yes, I do believe we will have ground to make up when we return to traditional schooling. Having said that, our goal is to make that learning gap as small as possible relative to their peers in other places. But I fully acknowledge that students in Fulton County and elsewhere will have some ground to make up relative to where they would have been if this had not happened. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I’ve also heard and seen from students… where the universal remote learning strategy has been very beneficial to them. Moving forward, we will have to provide more options and opportunities for students, based on their circumstance and needs. I think that virtual schooling will become another arm of the district’s offering. We will be better. At the end of the day we are going to be better as a result of the pandemic. We’ve sharpened our skills, our tool kit. Increased our abilities in relation to how we incorporate and leverage and utilize technology. And it’s increased our focus on the social emotional learning needs of our students
Education | 25
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26 | Education
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New Superintendent Herring says APS is ready for challenge BY COLLIN KELLEY New Atlanta Public Schools’ Superintendent Lisa Herring has quickly become a familiar face to parents and students, despite only being on the job – officially – since July 1. Herring was the face of a series of online information sessions and town halls over the summer as the district wrestled with SPECIAL the choice of Superintendent holding inLisa Herring. person or vir-
tual classes with COVID-19 cases on the rise. Stepping into a high-profile new role during a raging pandemic while the country also reckoned with racial injustice could have easily been a baptism by fire, but Herring has also seen opportunities for better education and equity emerge from the chaos. The decision to continuing with virtual learning became clear as the district looked at the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in the community, Herring said. “I know parents and students want to be back in the classroom, because I agree that virtual learning is not a substitute for in-person learning,” Herring said. “But it’s a decision we had to make for health and safety purposes.” Herring said she had been “grieving” not being able to meet more of the staff and teachers in person as social distancing and Zoom meetings have become the norm, and would sorely miss visiting schools to meet
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students on opening day. Still, the new superintendent said there were abundant resources for parents and students online to ease into the academic year from home. “We’ve had town halls for every grade level, and those have been recorded so parents can go back and refer to them for information. We’ve created a new website (atlantapublicschools.us/backtoschool) to access all the information on technology, meals, and we’ll have an overview of the educational platform looks like for each grade level.” With APS students facing at least nine weeks of learning at home, one of Herring’s top priorities has been making sure every student has access to a laptop, iPad, and internet. The Atlanta Board of Education’s Aug. 3 vote to spend $24.6 million over five years to lease devices for 40,000 students – making sure every APS student has one – was a crucial step toward remedying disparities in education. Herring said a survey sent to parents received 20,000 responses, with more than 50% of those stating their child needed a device to begin or continue virtual learning. “There continues to be a need, but we’re in a solid place,” Herring said, directing parents who still need a device or individuals or organizations that would like to donate devices to atlantapublicschools.us/getourkidsconnected. Since many children rely on breakfast and lunch for their daily nutrition, Herring said the food distribution program started last spring would continue. Five breakfasts and five lunches per week will be made available for each student, and parents must order each week via the APS website. Herring said she hopes that community partners will step in to fill the gap of evening and weekend meals for students. When classes do resume, Herring said all of APS’s brick and mortar facilities are ready with plans for social distancing in place. Masks will be required for students and teachers. Herring has also been busy behind the scenes working with the school board to reinstate positions eliminated by her predecessor, along with new hires the superintendent said will be essential to APS’s growth. Herring received board approval to re-
instate four positions including chief of schools, chief of staff, chief academic officer, and senior administrative manager. Herring also got approval to bring colleagues from her previous appointment as superintendent of Birmingham, Alabama’s public schools to fill two of those positions. Jarod Bishop, who served as Herring’s executive coordinator of policy governance and external affairs, will take the APS chief of staff position, while Anita Williams, who served as instructional superintendent in Birmingham, will become APS’s new chief of schools. Perhaps the most significant new leadership position will be the Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer, which will be filled after a nationwide search. Herring described the position as a “monumental” step forward for the school district and said she was “super excited” to get board approval for what she believes is the first position of its kind in the region – maybe the country. “Atlanta is the most unequal city in our nation due to income inequality,” Herring said. “White students are 4.5 grade levels ahead of their black peers.” Herring also noted that full-time staff – including paraprofessionals, clerks, custodians, and food staff – would get a pay increase to $15 per hour. On a personal note, Herring said her return to Atlanta has been a welcoming one despite all the challenges. She said parents have started to recognize her in the supermarket and she’s had quite few conversations about the new school year and those just stopping to welcome her back to the city where her career began. The Macon native and Spelman College graduate completed her observational field work at APS’s Therrell High School. During her time at Spelman, Herring also volunteered and worked at Warren Memorial Boys and Girls Club of Atlanta. She is a 2008 graduate of Leadership Georgia and spent several years as a school counselor and assistant director of student support services in DeKalb County with a similar role in Bibb County. “I’m home,” Herring said with delight. “I wake up every morning and I am grateful to be here.”
DeKalb superintendent adjusts to new district
Continued from page 23
When I see where the trends are going here, I don’t want that to be a reality in DeKalb.” As for advice to parents helping their students with virtual learning, she suggested making sure they maintain a schedule and continue to treat virtual learning as school. “We want our scholars to know that even if we’re in the virtual space this is still school and we have high expectations,” Watson-Harris said. “We’re going to support them every step of the way and be flexible, but we’re also going to hold them accountable for what they have to learn because we need them to learn.” Watson-Harris said she always wants there to be “two-way communication” between the district and students and families. She has created a weekly superintendent newsletter, and she’ll also be monitoring student engagement data each week to try to make sure students in all areas of the district are participating. Though most of her attention was focused on getting the schools and teachers ready for the school year, she said she’s also been working to fill some high-level vacancies in the district leadership as one of her other top priorities. Watson-Harris said she wanted to work in DCSD because of its size and diversity. She said she has family in the area and has always enjoyed the area.
Education | 27
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Home-schooling Cedor said she works from home, so sometimes she also has to remind them Cedor created work spaces and schedto ask their teachers questions instead of ules for her children to help them stay running upstairs to get her. Her children on track. She helps them set up at their not being able to interact with their peers desks at 8 a.m. to allow for some time to has also been an issue, Cedor said. log into programs. She said they didn’t For her fifth-grader Stefan, Cedor said she’s considering sending him to the YMCA once a week, where staff members there help facilitate virtual learning with small groups of students and do activities with them after the school day is over. Her 11th-grader Devon has high-functioning autism, and Cedor said he needs the emotional and social interactions of the classroom setting. “Being home with SPECIAL Fifth-grade student Stefan Cedor does his school work on the first his brothers is not helping him,” Cedor day of classes at the desk his mom Natalie Cedor set up for him. said. “He’s going to have many technical problems in the mature, and these are the skills I need first week. him to learn, but he can’t learn it because “The major issue of the day, to be honhe’s not in that environment.” est with you, is food,” Cedor said. “I have three boys. They eat a lot, and because Teaching pod there’s access to food, these kids want to Marissa Evans, whose daughter Elise eat all day, constantly.” is in third grade at Dunwoody Elementa-
Continued from page 22
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SEPTEMBER 2020 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net ry School, said she teamed up with three other families in her daughter’s class to create a teaching pod for their children. DeKalb County School District started classes on Aug. 17. “The kids can continue to grow in a learning environment while still maintaining safety,” Evans said. The families hired a certified teacher who was planning on getting a job in a metro Atlanta school district until it went on a hiring freeze. They chose one of the houses as the “classroom” for the students. Evans said she’s felt fortunate she’s able to help her daughter learn through that way. “We all learned in the ’80s and ’90s very differently than how the kids are learning today,” Evans said. “What we know sometimes isn’t even helpful, and we’ll have to Google it anyway.”
Gabriela Duran, whose four children are in the Cross Keys cluster in DeKalb County School District, said virtual learning has been hardest for her youngest children. Kevin and Derek, who are in kindergarten, have to use her computer because the district did not give them devices. Duran also works on her computer, so she uses it when the children are done with school. She said teachers have also started to request they print out materials, and she doesn’t have a printer at home. Her older children, Axel and Mischa, are at Sequoyah Middle School and have their own devices from the school. “I haven’t been having a problem,” Duran said about helping her children with virtual learning. “But I feel for my community, and families who are having a lot of trouble with that.” Duran works with families to help with virtual learning through Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, a nonprofit that aims to help families on Buford Highway. Duran said Los Vecinos set up WhatsApp group chats for parents based on the schools their children attend. They also hold Thursday classes to help people learn the different virtual platforms and create video tutorials. “We have too many people who can’t speak English or people who can’t read,” Duran said. “We try to make videos so people understand what’s happening in the schools.” Wade Morris, a parent of two Garden Hill Elementary students in Atlanta Public Schools, said he’s been impressed by the teachers and administrators as the students prepared to go back on Aug. 24. He said they didn’t have any technology issues after the first day. Morris said he and his wife both have flexible work schedules, so they’re able to help their first grader Annie and third grader Jane. Their youngest, Eliza, is in pre-K. “One of us has to be sitting next to the 4 year old at all times, and the other one has to be keeping an ear out for the 6 year old,” Morris said. APS has done a great job with getting supplies to students and communicating about how virtual learning will work, Morris said. DUN
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From left, Dunwoody High School students Courtney Craft, Amelia McEwen and Alani Moore pose for a photo at their first softball game of the season at Brookhaven’s Murphey Candler Park.
to softball scrimmage, they still wanted to try to have some sort of season. DCSD has still allowed teams to do group conditioning while games are postponed, and McEwen said parents got together to create a league with the Murphey Candler Girls Softball Association so the girls could still play a pseudo-season. The teams are divided by school, McEwen said. McEwen said they hold two DHS conditioning practices a week with Sunday games at Brookhaven’s Murphey Candler Park that are not associated with the school. The first game was Aug. 23. Masks are required except when players are on the field. “It doesn’t count toward the region, but it was so fun to see some sort of normalcy,” McEwen said. “Distancing, mask[-wearing] and temperature checks were enforced.” McEwen said her daughter played on a travel softball team over the summer, and Murphey Candler was one of the best venues in terms of COVID-19 safety precautions. Her daughter has been playing softball at the park since she was 8 years old. “They’re not too upset about it,” McEwen said. “It feels like a partially normal season.”
Dabney Duncan, a senior at Dun-
woody High School, said she’s found a way to connect with other students at her school through Instagram. Duncan, president of the Student Government Association, said the club’s officers have been meeting about once a week via video call with their teacher sponsors. SGA would normally plan events such as homecoming or pep rallies, so in lieu of those, Duncan said they’ve been doing “Wildcat Wednesday” spirit day posts, named for the school’s mascot. The SGA Instagram account, @dhswildcatpride, also posts other club information and has become a “virtual meeting place” for students, Duncan said. “We’re having to get really creative on ways to keep everyone connected,” Duncan said. Duncan said usually the entire club, which has over 100 students, would also have a meeting every week, but those meetings have been cancelled since the organization isn’t doing any planning or a club vote. Duncan started her position as SGA president with a virtual election last spring, which was conducted using a Google form. “There downsides to virtual learning, but big picture, I know this is what has to be done,” Duncan said. DUN
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