'What's Going On' With Douglass High?

BY DAVID STOKES

As the 2014-15 school year ended last month, on May 22, parents, students and alumni of Frederick Douglass High School in southwest Atlanta continued to prepare and strategize toward counterattacking what some believe to be a "conspiracy" and "continual disrespect of our community and our school" amid the abrupt and "confusing" dismissal of popular and respected principal of Douglass High, Dr. Tony Burks. Additionally, some parents of students, along with some Douglass alumni, are "buckling down for war" with Atlanta Public School (APS) system administrators, led by relatively new superintendent Dr. Maria Carstarphen, as they are becoming suspicious that recent changes and perceived lack of care for Douglass is an attempt to ultimately close the school and advance the growth of several area charter schools.

Last week, on June 1, parents and students of Douglass High held the latest of protestations by rallying at APS's headquarters on Central Ave., in downtown Atlanta, to show their dismay of the release of Dr. Burks after only ten months as Douglass High's leader. Since his dismissal last month—followed by his full termination approved by the school board that same day—alumni have entered the fight "to save Douglass High," along with the concerned parents, as they feel an obliteration of "good and able" school administrators are being dismissed for the desire of a "greater scheme" to integrate students with the nearby BEST Academy and Coretta Scott King Leadership Academy student populations, according to alumni, parent Louise Starks and Nash Alexander 3rd, a former Douglass High assistant principal. "The level of disrespect by (APS administrators) is just downright mean and crazy," Mrs. Starks relayed, "and we are not going to sit by and watch it happen anymore." Starks' concern stems from a change of Douglass principals–five in the past nine years, she said—compared to "continuity and stability for the kids' sake" of three leaders during the '80s to 2005. Last month, however, with Burks' removal, "the children don't know who and what they will come back to" in August for the start of the 2015-16 year. To add insult to injury for the parents and students, furthermore, questions have yet to be answered (at presstime) on why Dr. Burks was released. Although a meeting between APS leaders and parents is being planned to discuss the dismissal, according to alumni Terika Barham, a date has yet to be provided to concerned parties. "He was a very effective principal, and he was well-liked by the students," Ms. Barham said. "We feel he was unfairly let go." An even greater concern by alumni and parents, according to Ms. Barham, is the possible closing of Douglass upon "no stable leader being in place" for the school's ongoing decades-long success within academics and sports. "Without Douglass High in the community after all these years, it's more (leeway) for (charter schools proponents) to come in and eventually rid our children of the opportunities brought on by a quality public school education," Mrs. Starks lamented. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say this is a racist plan to eliminate African-American education. We are fighting to save Douglass and our community." Former Douglass High vice principal Alexander, a 1985 graduate, is just as perplexed and befuddled of Dr. Burks' dismissal, as well as what vision APS administrators have for Douglass High. "Without a level of consistent leadership in the school, along with a vision for success," Alexander emphasized, "the school is bound for failure" which would lead to its demise. As The Inquirer has sought on several occasions to obtain precisely why Dr. Burks was removed from Douglass from APS officials, the following statement was rendered last week, on June 4, by APS Media Relations Manager Kimberly Willis Green: "APS confirms that Dr. Tony Burks will not be returning as principal of Douglass High School. APS does not speak on confidential personnel matters; however, the community will be involved in the selection process for a new principal ... as APS is moving in a new direction and working diligently to get the best leaders for our students." Additionally, "as there is a search underway now, the community will be kept abreast of the process," emphasized APS Director of Communications Jill Strickland Muse. "We aim to have all principals in place by the first day of school," on August 5, she concluded.

The statements provided left more questions than answers for those concerned for Douglass High's overall survival. "What makes them think Dr. Burks was not a 'best leader' for Douglass at this moment?," parent Starks opined. "Why did he have to leave the school, and just who is his replacement that we have yet to hear about for the 'selection process'? There are just too many questions that have not been answered by the superintendent," Mrs. Starks exclaimed. "We don't need any more surprises on our kids that will trickle negatively with their future and into the community. We need answers and we want them now to help us know what's really going on with Douglass High School." (Calls made to area school board representative Byron Amos for comments went unreturned by presstime. Also, attempts to receive comments by Hardy Blash, Douglass High's alumni president, were unsuccessful by presstime, and attempts to reach Dr. Burks for comment by presstime were unsuccessful as well.)


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Dr. Carlton Brown Retires From Presidency At CAU

Dr. Carlton E. Brown, President of Clark Atlanta University retires from the University effective on June 30, 2015. Dr. Brown served CAU with dignity and kept the university on a steady and progressive keel during his seven years at the helm of this Atlanta University Center based institution. He leaves the university after having spent more than 40 years in the field as an educator. Dr. Brown is the third president in Clark Atlanta University's 27 year history. Prior to coming to Clark Atlanta, Dr. Brown spent nine years as president of Savannah State University. In the past, he had served in faculty and administrative positions at Old Dominion University and Hampton University in Virginia. Pictured: University photographer Curtis McDowell takes a photograph of retiring CAU President Dr. Carlton E. Brown (center) with some members of his administrative staff and friends.

PHOTO/TEXT BY HORACE HENRY