Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Drawing lines and starting somewhere

February 7, 2014 

Maybe you heard that David Lewis, the Muscogee County Schools superintendent, has proposed splitting the district into three regions.

North, South and Green Island.

Just kidding.

Actually, he's calling for the school district to be divided into East, West and Central.

He unveils the idea in a document entitled "Superintendent's Initial Assessment Recommendations Report: Establishing Relationships and Leading for 21st Century College and Career Expectations." Is this guy a professional educator or what?

In the incredibly detailed report, based on 120 days of observation and research, he writes of "the prevalent perception of inequity that divides the north and south areas of the district by the artificial divide of Macon Road sometimes referred to as the 'Macon Dixon Line.'"

When I first met Lewis, not long after he moved to Muscogee County, he referred to the 'Macon Dixon Line' almost immediately and started talking about reallocating resources and implementing across-the-board standards so that schools below the poverty line could have opportunities equal to those above it.

I had two thoughts.

First: Lewis must plan to stick around a while.

Our past superintendents haven't. Maybe that's why they acted shocked when anyone suggested that test scores south of Macon Road were far, far worse than test scores above Macon Road. If you've taken a job with the goal of staying for a couple of years and boosting your pension, then why try to tackle a job that's going to take way longer than a couple of years?

My second thought was that Lewis is going to face opposition. When he first started talking about moving resources to the south and standardizing curriculum, I told him that some folks in the north are going to think he's penalizing their kids.

Lewis replied: "A rising tide lifts all boats."

He's going to be saying that a lot in the next 10 years, which is how long he's giving his new plan.

So what about these new boundaries?

Clearly, Lewis is trying to change the culture, something that as a Vanderbilt football fan I know a thing or two about. If Vandy can go to three straight bowl games and beat Georgia and Florida in the same season for the first time in history, then I suppose Columbus residents can learn to stop dividing their city into the haves and the have-nots.

But it's not going to be easy.

Personally, I needed some roads to make it work. I looked at the map and found that Veterans Parkway pretty much divided Lewis' proposed west and central regions, but no road clearly formed the boundary between central and east.

But the divisions extend beyond geography. Take Fox Elementary School, for example.

It's a couple of miles north of Macon Road, but it's in one of the district's poorest neighborhoods and as a result is one of its most underperforming schools.

If you don't turn off Second Avenue or Veterans Parkway, you'll never know Fox Elementary is there. Just like if you don't go south of Macon Road, you'll never know Muscogee Elementary is there.

So suddenly telling upper middle class parents that their kids' schools are now in the same region as impoverished kids' schools isn't going to change their perception or turn the have-nots into haves.

But I applaud the proposal. If anything, it sends a message that if schools in the lower half of town are failing, then our system is failing.

It sends a message that being one of the top-performing schools in town really isn't that big a deal. The real goal should be to rank among the state's best, and then the nation's best.

And then we can think about taking on Singapore and Finland.

That's going to take a major cultural change, and replacing two unofficial regions with three official ones is as good a start as any.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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