The Anniston Star

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October 25, 2014

Phillip Tutor: Our schools, and our hopes for them

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Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 5:50 am | Updated: 6:01 am, Fri Aug 15, 2014.

“It would be interesting to be around, 40 or 50 years from now, and to look back with another generation on the decades that are to come with the new Anniston High School and those who, through its doors, will go out and into life.” 

The Star’s editorial page wrote that passage in May 1968, just a few weeks after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis and a few weeks before Robert Kennedy was murdered in Los Angeles. America was embroiled in its Year of Upheaval. Anniston was entering a Year of Educational Hope.

A new high school — a new Anniston High School — was planned for Woodstock Avenue. The city’s public schools weren’t wholly integrated; that came a few years later through the courts’ dissolving of the flawed “dual schools” system. Until then, the fancy school on Woodstock wasn’t to be Anniston’s school, a school for all.

Today, it is — in theory and in law.

Anniston’s maligned public schools are open to all, though the reluctance of white parents to enroll their children in a nearly all-black school system has altered its reality. It’s also placed the city’s schools in an often-unfair situation: vital to the future of all Annistonians, black, white or other, yet used almost universally by black families, and that’s it.

None of that matters, by the way.

Oh, it matters in the big-picture kind of way. Ask Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart, an Anniston High graduate, if it concerns him that white flight and class flight have rewritten the school’s demographics. (He’ll surely say yes.)

But it doesn’t matter today, this week, the opening hours of a new school year.

What matters is education.

It’s August, and school’s back in session. The routine is familiar: prayers for teachers, applause for students, patience for parents and priority checks for lawmakers who say they support public education but don’t prove that support with their votes. All that is true, again.

Nevertheless, it’s been 46 years since The Star’s editorial board passionately wrote about the students who have passed through the doors of Anniston High and the lives they have led. Frankly, not much has changed, then to now. This week, any community and any school could wonder — optimistically, I hope — about their students and their futures “40 or 50 years from now.” Like it or not, those futures are intertwined with our communities.

You want to see a community or city succeed? Give it a quality public school system. Gaze around Calhoun County. See who’s doing well and who’s struggling. If you don’t think there’s an ironclad correlation between schools and success, you’re either foolish or blind.

Back in May ’68, The Star also wrote this:

“Schools, like the very young people for whom they are built, are expressions of faith and hope. On our young people we hang our expectations that, whatever may come, they will do a better job, find a better way, than we did. We build schools to implement our hopes for them.”

Wow.

Consider the discord that’s taken place in Jacksonville over the relocation of Kitty Stone Elementary School. Parents move to Jacksonville so their children can attend that school, perhaps the best in the county. It’s historic and beloved. The Board of Education’s decision to build a new Kitty Stone to replace the aging one created fissures within that community that need to heal.

This week, the Jacksonville City Council upped what The Star called “our expressions of faith and hope.” It chipped in $1 million (on a highly contested 3-2 vote) so the new Kitty Stone could have a gym, which will be handy should the city expand the campus and add a middle school — a likely occurrence.

You see this all around, from Ohatchee to White Plains, from Piedmont to Oxford. In education, our communities have their strengths and weaknesses that often are as well known as the name of the school’s football coach or the won-loss record of his team. Piedmont is first-class in technology. Oxford has built a college campus. White Plains is growing, fast. Anniston is planting seeds of improvement under Superintendent Darren Douthitt’s leadership. On and on it goes. People care, and pay attention, and that’s why the passion about our schools is so intense, especially in the opening days of a new year.

To say that “we build schools to implement our hopes for them” is altogether true, either in 1968 or 2014. Forty or 50 years from now, what will people say about the job our schools are doing today? If it’s not kind, heaven help our future.

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