Nearly 40 years ago, we began working to make sure black students were not tracked to fail, discouraged to excel, put out of school, attacked while in school or subjected to the kind of verbal violence that made staying in school hard to do.
At the same time, the struggle to have black teachers and administrators recruited and hired has been a long, painful process.
Over the years, I have had a recurring dream. In it, I saw black, Latino and poor white students in the Gainesville school system excited about being in school. Their grades were very good and they loved going to school. The atmosphere was different because they could feel the love and concern coming from administrators and teachers.
Unfortunately, I never thought I would witness this dream come true. Today, I feel strongly that if we have a model that is finally working for all children, the visionary and the vision should not be destroyed.
The firing of Dr. Steven Ballowe feels as if people are trying to turn back the clock. Everyone responsible for terminating him must clearly understand that we intend to go forward, but we will never go back.
We believe Dr. Ballowe was terminated not because the school district faced a possible deficit of $6.5 million, but because of his success in working with teachers and administrators to improve the academic performance of minority students.
I have listened patiently to those who say, "The school system was doing well before Dr. Ballowe got here." And I agree that it was, but the problem many people fail to realize is that the system was not doing well for all students. This is the first time since school desegregation that African-American students have performed the way they are excelling now. This is a moment in time that must not be taken for granted.
With all that has been said and done, there comes a time for us to put the dark days behind us. There is no darkness so dark that God's light cannot reach. It is time for a new beginning. We need to talk about how we can move forward, making sure that all citizens are included and respected to help make decisions in the best interest of all children. We need to look at keeping the Gainesville Model in place because it works for all children.
I look at our board and see how they are so divided and how individual members make decisions without the benefit of the full board. This has to change. The board needs to establish a code of ethics as recommended by the Georgia School Board Association, then live by it.
They truly need to work together as a team to reach the main goal of making sure the system offers equal opportunity. They need to build trust within the group and within the entire community. The other important thing for the board to realize is that you can't please everybody, but your task is to do the right thing for all children.
As you look for a new superintendent, we have to understand that every change brings new opportunities to serve. God sees each of us individually, so let us be sensitive to the needs of others in choosing our new superintendent. We need to make sure he or she will be able to work through diversity, promote equal access for everyone, care about all children, inspire racial unity within the school system and that all segments of community are accepted.
My greatest fear is that it might not be safe for a new superintendent to come into the system. By safe, I mean that I am not convinced that this board will treat him or her justly and fairly. Their treatment of Dr. Ballowe, regardless of the circumstances, appeared to be retaliatory and aimed at destroying his character. Their treatment was inhumane and cruel. They seem to not know how to handle conflict and need help in conflict resolution. If they choose not to get training in this area, their actions will continue to be detrimental to the students and community.
I am deeply concerned that a new superintendent would be treated the same way Dr. Ballowe was treated, if a similar situation presents itself. To offset these kinds of problems, there needs to be a diverse group of people that could become a community sounding board committee whose role would be to make sure the board follows the code of ethics and to provide an avenue for the superintendent to address concerns.
The interim superintendent will unfortunately face the greatest challenge because of the anticipated cuts in personnel and programs. His or her wisdom must be respected and advice sought by the board when it comes to making decisions about staff morale and terminating positions that affect people's lives. And though these are hard decisions to make, it is important to try to save jobs so that employees who have served faithfully can take care of their families. Above all things the board should work with the interim superintendent to protect the Gainesville Model and the pre-K program.
In order for us to move forward and build unity in our community, we must have the spirit of God in our heart; it is this spirit that governs how we treat one another. Learning to treat each other with love, respect and kindness even when we disagree is the greatest obstacle we have yet to overcome.
Faye Bush is executive director of the Newtown Florist Club in Gainesville.