Dr. Hall calls for quality education at King Holiday Observance

Photos (first row, from L-R): Dr. Hall addresses the King Center audience; CSKYWLA students take the Pledge of Allegiance; Arne Duncan addresses the audience.
Photos (second row, from L-R): Special guests included State Superintendent Kathy Cox, second from left; the Rev. Al Sharpton inspires the audience; the audience listens to Rev. Sharpton.

APS Superintendent Dr. Beverly L. Hall, and hundreds of APS students, joined a roster of dignitaries including National Action Network founder the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in commemorating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Friday at the King Center — in advance of Monday’s national holiday. Hall reaffirmed the district’s commitment to providing a top-flight education to serve Atlanta’s young African Americans, who comprise a vast majority of the district’s student body, to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

“Certainly, history tells us that the battleground for equal opportunity was and remains education, in conjunction with access and justice,” said Hall, who noted that Dr. King was an APS alum having graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. “As we look to the future, education – that is, a high-quality education for all – is still a prerequisite for individual success and the continued success of our nation.” Hall then recognized the APS students in attendance, from Washington, Douglass, Grady, Maynard H. Jackson and Mays high schools; Inman, King and Young middle schools; and the single-gender schools, B.E.S.T. Academy and the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

 ” … [A] broader community – of educators, elected officials, business and civic leaders, and local and national philanthropists – has coalesced around a comprehensive school reform agenda to help close the achievement gap in this city,” Hall said. As an example of this success, Hall noted how in 2000, only 47 percent of APS eighth-graders met or exceeded standards in English and language arts. “Fast forward to 2009, and 90 percent of APS eighth-graders met or exceeded standards according to the state’s data,” Hall said. “In fact, every year since 2000, the district has posted steady academic gains in grades and subjects across the board, even as the state has raised the bar with more rigorous standards.”

APS provided a strong presence throughout the morning. The Washington JROTC presented the colors, and CSKYWLA sixth-grader Taylor Garlington led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Mays High senior Caitlin Lackey sang the National Anthem, and Douglass High junior Quincy Patterson had the honor of introducing Sharpton — who delighted the crowd with his inspiring rhetoric. “Low expectations is the new racism!” said Sharpton, who recently joined former U.S. House Speaker and Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich on an education-related tour of U.S. cities. “You’re in the back of the bus on your own because you’ve been trained to believe that’s where you belong. What we need to do in education reform is remove those that have shackled your mind!”

Duncan also challenged the audience. “What is freedom? If you cannot read, I promise you you are not free,” said Duncan, who’d recently visited Grady and Tech High on a listening tour with Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isaakson. “Freedom is the ability to seek your own path, and education is the only way to make that happen. We can’t wait five or eight years to transform our failing schools. We need to act now, and we need to act together. It is next to impossible to get a good job with just a high school diploma.”

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