City DopeNews

BOE Split on Renaming Alps and Chase Schools for First Black Teachers

Chase Street Elementary School.

CCSD Debates Renaming Schools

To re-name or not to re-name Alps Road and Chase Street elementary schools, that is the question for the Clarke County school board.

At a work session Sept. 9, Mumbi Anderson said she wants the renaming process to slow down and wants the board to make a decision with the community. Another member, Mark Evans, said he’s ready for Chase Street to become Burks Elementary in honor of the courage displayed by Black teacher Johnnie Lay Burks, “who went to a place that didn’t want her” when she joined the Chase faculty.

Board member Linda Davis reminded the board the Chase Street School name has a 100-year-old history, and wondered how to preserve history and honor a deserving person. “I can’t imagine changing the name of West Broad School,” she said, referring to the vacant segregation-era campus officials have long struggled to find a use for as it falls into disrepair. 

At next week’s meeting, when the board is expected to vote on the issue, Davis said, she plans to withdraw her proposal to re-name Chase Burks-Killian Elementary. She said she wants people to know Athens’ educational history and about those who worked to end segregation, especially the first five Black students who enrolled in white public schools.

The board also heard a presentation from Urban Schools Human Capital Academy (USHCA), a nonprofit hired by former superintendent Xernona Thomas to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the central office staff that critics call bloated. The $47,200 study began in April and ended in December of 2022, after Robbie Hooker had been hired as superintendent. While finding that CCSD has fewer administrative staffers than comparable districts, the question is “whether the district is getting the expected return on its investment related to the way central office serves the students and staff of CCSD,” the report says.

Challenges facing CCSD include having had five different superintendents in 10 years, leading to instability and an inability to hire people for key positions. School-based staff told USHCA the central office is disconnected from their schools, leading to concerns that the district does not see students as their ultimate customers. Those in schools say it’s hard to get help from the central office, and that school staff don’t know the district’s strategic plan. Both those in the central office and in schools believe the system doesn’t hold people accountable. Employees in the central office and in schools often don’t know their responsibilities or whom to contact with problems. Administration members felt they worked “in circles and silos.”

The report sets out steps the school district can take to improve. These include defining and clarifying roles in different departments, developing a central office data dashboard and clear priorities, improving central office customer service to help schools operate better, adjusting the organizational structure to align with priorities, and developing a central office performance management system. It also says to prioritize principals, and that principals need one point of contact for resolving problems and getting answers.

The district should make changes in organizational structure only after Hooker has established his strategic priorities for the next three to five years, USHCA recommended. As he does this, he should focus on developing relationships so that there is broad support for his vision.