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Guest column: Finding a common ground against the Opportunity School District
Blackman
Daniel Blackman. - photo by FCN file photo

FORSYTH COUNTY -- Michael Williams ran as an “outsider.” Someone who would do things differently, and when he ran in 2014 he promised us that “education is a local issue,” telling voters, “as a father committed to our public schools, I believe that local control is best. I will work to strengthen the autonomy of our local school boards to improve the education of Georgia’s children.” His own words have failed to line up with his actions, causing those of us he was elected to represent to question his integrity.

On our November 8th ballot, you will see words to convince you that Amendment 1 (the creation of the Opportunity School District), if passed, will “fix” schools that are allegedly failing, increase community involvement, and improve student performance. The models for this legislation include Louisiana’s Recovery School District, Tennessee’s Achievement School District, and Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, all of which have resulted in unacceptable academic performance and schools being handed back to their local districts in poorer conditions.

And let’s not forget that Newark, New Jersey’s public schools, the School District of Philadelphia, and schools in Cleveland have been overseen for years by state-appointed school reform professionals, and none have been remotely successful. In fact, situations were made worse because state legislatures reduced state funding and continued to operate without a fair distribution formula.

The fact that state takeovers have failed nationwide should have been a clue to Georgia legislators like Michael Williams that we are headed in the wrong direction.

Here in Forsyth County, the expertise of our teachers and their unique knowledge of our children have the greatest impact on student performance; however, our educators have been completely left out of any Opportunity School District decision-making, and some even risk losing their jobs. Additionally, the legislation does not detail any instructional strategies or curriculum, so voters have no idea what is likely to happen at the classroom level.

The targeted school communities on the list of schools eligible to be taken over are schools where the majority of their students are in poverty. Poverty is persistent in the northern parts of our county and has become burdensome on the lives of students and families throughout our communities. A school takeover does not inevitably change the economic conditions within our school’s communities; there are social, physical, mental, and psychological problems associated with poverty that interfere with student performance, which make it even harder for an underfunded school to hire social workers, psychologists, nurses, music/art teachers, create after-school programs and ultimately stifle our ability to retain the best and most qualified teachers.

I believe in finding common ground. I respect your Second Amendment rights. I will not sell someone else’s schools to a government appointee because it makes me look better in Atlanta. I will fight the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping across our region. If you don’t like the job I’m doing, my door will always be open to you, and I want you to come give me an earful. I expect nothing less. We all care about our community, and it is time we tried something new. It’s time to put everyone on notice that the people here care about results; not empty talk. If I don’t live up to your expectations, you can always fire me in two years, but I truly believe that I can make you proud.

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Daniel Blackman is running on the Democratic ballot for the District 27 seat in the Georgia Senate on Nov. 8. He is challenging state. Sen. Michael Williams.