City Schools of Decatur staff honored with Equity Good Troublemaker AwardsDecatur School Board Chair Jana Johnson-Davis (second from right) and Garry Lowe (far right) congratulated Karen Newton-Scott (left), Candace Jones-Boynton (second from left) and Chanell Huff-Cox (center) on being the district Equity Good Troublemaker Award winners. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur honored staff members with the Equity Good Troublemaker Awards during the May 10 Decatur School Board meeting.
Building-level winners were chosen from each school and the Wilson Center, and there were three district leaders.
“We have been working and dedicating a lot of time to our equity work for many years,” Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said. “This year, it’s time to finally recognize the culmination of all that work. We have staff members that have been going above and beyond to achieve our equity goals. This year, we started talking about aligning our work with John Lewis’ extremely fulfilling challenge to get into some good trouble, and we have lots of staff members who have done just that.”
The term “good trouble” was implemented by late Rep. John Lewis. He was a legend of the Civil Rights Movement, a leader of the March on Washington in 1963, and a role model for many grassroots organizations, said Mari Ann Banks, CSD’s equity director.
“We are honoring John Lewis’ long and enduring fight for racial equality in the U.S. and proudly proclaiming that because of John Lewis and because of his contemporaries we’re able to engage CSD’s efforts to achieve racial equality today,” Banks said. “The conversations that we have every day in this district, every day in the classroom, are all enabled by John Lewis and his fight for our rights.”
The Good Troublemakers in CSD are staff who go the extra mile to get in the way of systemic racism and help the district pay its debt to students of color.
The district had three judges who looked at the award submissions. One of the judges was Garry Lowe, who is a nephew of Rep. John Lewis. Lowe and his family started the John Robert Lewis Legacy Institute.
“We started JRLLI to encourage people to do exactly what you guys are doing here at CSD. We strive to encourage people to become changemakers and to encourage people to have courageous conversations. That’s where change truly begins,” Lowe said. “Each of the recipients are deserving of this award.”
Lowe added he was blown away by the nominees’ passion to be a change-maker. He also has a first-grader at Clairemont Elementary School and is the co-president of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
“I’ve been able to have a front-row seat to the challenges that we face in our community. There is still a ton of work to do, but this is just the beginning. This is hope,” Lowe said. “Congressman Lewis always say when you see something that is not right, that’s not fair, and not just you have to say something, you have to do something. Never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Chanell Huff-Cox is the school nurse at Clairemont Elementary School. She was recognized as a building-level winner and a district award winner.
“Beyond my role and responsibilities of keeping students and colleagues safe as a school nurse at Clairemont Elementary School, I have intentionally sought ways to impact change on behalf of the wellbeing of students,” Huff-Cox said. “I became certified as a courageous conversation about race practitioner to learn protocols for facilitating discussions about race. I’ve collaborated with the PTA to organize DEI initiatives to foster community building and engagement. I’ve served as chair of the Clairemont equity team for the last three years, leading presentations about the impact of race in the classroom.”
Candace Jones-Boynton is a preschool teacher at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center. She was recognized as a building-level winner and a district award winner.
“For teaching preschool through our equity, diversity and inclusion lens, I have also facilitated a protocol around the school’s equity vision to make it meaningful for our stakeholders,” Jones-Boynton said. “I’ve used data from the equity walkthroughs to curate a collection of diverse materials to integrate into the classroom and instruction. I also had the opportunity to research and find multicultural checklists to evaluate classrooms for needed materials, and research materials that would enhance the representation of racial, cultural backgrounds of our students.”
She also worked with an instructional coach to purchase diverse materials for classrooms that support diversity and equity. She additionally compiled a resource for College Heights to celebrate Black History Month. The preschool will continue to celebrate Black History Month in February and the pre-K will highlight Black excellence every month. The school has also held a Holi festival.
“Many thought that it could not be done at our level here at College Heights, but it’s about the exposure. If we never expose our kids to the difference in the world around us, how will they ever know,” Jones-Boynton said. “The reward for me is knowing that I’ve made a difference in a child’s life.”
Karen Newton-Scott is the principal at Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary School. She was recognized as a building-level winner and a district award winner.
During the school board meeting on May 10, videos were played to introduce each speaker. In the video, Equity Director Mari Ann Banks read comments from those who nominated Newton-Scott.
“Ms. Newton-Scott initiated the work with equity and in particular, Courageous Conversations, before it was introduced at the district level,” Banks said. “She is willing to have tough conversations about bias, especially implicit, and yet she makes the person feel that it is coming from a place of love versus criticism. Her willingness to directly confront the issue of equity has created a more open workplace.”
Newton-Scott also supports the purchase of materials that represent diverse perspectives, and she hires a wide range of teachers.
“All students are at the forefront of Ms. Newton-Scott’s efforts, but because of her connection to the Black community in Decatur, she is particularly adept at ensuring that their voices are represented and heard,” Banks said.
Cassandra Black is a social studies teacher at Decatur High School. She was recognized as the school’s building-level award winner.
In the video, Banks also read comments from those who nominated Black. One nominator said that Black spends her days committed to justice and equity. Her focus on diversity and inclusion is evidenced in her efforts on the grading task force.
“Her vocal input and evaluative critical eye brought clarity to the district-wide process of considering the grading tools and philosophies present within CSD and prompted necessary debate regarding the cultures surrounding grading and evaluation. Rather than acquiesce to the current culture in place, she leaned into the necessary debate to present ideas and viewpoints necessary for expanding the collective lens,” Banks said.
“While maintaining classroom standards as an AP teacher and co-chair of the department, Cassandra Black initiated, researched, created, and eventually introduced the first Black history course at DHS. Her innovation and initiative in support of diversifying the lenses of curriculum have not gone unnoticed,” she added.
Michelle Block and Jatoria Brown are fifth-grade teachers at Talley Street Upper Elementary School. They were recognized as the school’s building-level award winners.
“All cultures matter, and we try and facilitate an environment where you are proud of who you are,” Block said. “One of the ways we pay the educational debt to Black students is to make sure that we’re always promoting positive interactions with all students, but particularly, our students of color, who a lot of times have been underrepresented.”
The pair also try to let their students know they are everything.
“We also like to look at the whole child, so when they come to us in the new school year, we like to look at them with a blank slate. It doesn’t matter what reputation they have here at the building with other teachers or staff members, we like to come to them with an unbiased perspective of who they are,” Brown said.
Block and Brown work to make sure they are culturally relevant, as well.
“When we are doing our units of inquiry, students are able to connect with it because we find things that are relevant to our Black culture that they might necessarily have been exposed to,” Block said. “Lastly, one of the ways we are change agents, and we are the good troublemakers, is that we like to foster those courageous conversations even thought we know it’s tough to navigate those types of conversations.”
Amelia Copp is an EIP intervention teacher at Glennwood Elementary School. She was recognized as the school’s building-level award winner.
“She gathered almost 2,000 signatures against the recently passed legislative bill House [Bill] 1084 that is intended to limit what can be said about race in our classrooms and discussions that can also possibly have a chilling effect on equity work in our school system,” Fehrman said.
Alexis Glenn is the assistant principal at Beacon Hill Middle School. She was recognized as the school’s building-level award winner.
“As an educator and equity leader, I’m constantly encouraging and engaging in courageous conversations with educators, students and community members about their perspective, educational policies and programming that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice,” Glenn said. “It is my belief that we are all good troublemakers. We just need to get in the way so that we can encourage the change that we want to see in education.”
Lillie Huddleston is the associate superintendent of equity and student services. She received the building-level award at the Wilson School Support Center.
“No voice is more important than another, and we have to make sure we create that space, and especially acknowledging the fact that for many years, people who look like me didn’t have a voice at all,” Huddleston said. “We’ve always had a voice, but not acknowledged by the mainstream culture.”
She added that’s how things transpired in the United States, and that’s why one has to interrupt that and correct some of the wrongs that have led to the inequities in the educational system and in other systems in the country.
“There are so many people who care about making sure that we remember the stories, that we bring forth the voices that haven’t been heard and that we continue to empower every citizen to be able to embrace difference and to understand those things that are common, that desire for parents to see their children be successful,” Huddleston said.
Charee Waugh is a fifth grade teacher, Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary School. She was recognized as the school’s building-level award winner.
“I have a passion for history and bringing in voices and perspectives into my classroom through a variety of ways including diversifying my classroom library, working on inquiry projects with my students, sharing my love of learning with them and setting up my classroom environment to help them understand that representation matters and inclusion is a non-negotiable,” Waugh said.
She planned virtual experiences for fifth graders to learn about justice efforts while studying the Civil Rights Movement, and students researched civil rights leaders beyond those listed in their curriculum standards.
“We are working to help students recognize equity and inequitable practices in the history they are learning and through current events. We take the time to discuss justice and what it means to support equitable practices and opportunities for themselves and their classmates,” Waugh said.
Sala T. Pinckney is a paraprofessional at Westchester Elementary School. She was recognized as the school’s building-level award winner.
“Though I don’t think this country will be ever be equal or equitable to all, I do believe that the City Schools of Decatur can. I am a woman who says what needs to be said, never out of fear, but out of the need for our school to be equitable to all, especially to the students and staff of color,” Pinckney said.
The CSD Lower Elementary PTA DEI Committees were nominated by Oakhurst Elementary and received an honorable mention.
“These individuals voluntarily came together to make things happen for students in City Schools of Decatur. They planned together, they organized together,” Banks said. “They have just been an invaluable resource all the way around and continue to do great work in the district.”
Some work the group has done include hosting a Lunar New Year celebration and providing teaching resources to help decolonize curriculum.
Award recipients received a plaque, $1,000 toward an equity-themed conference or training of their choice or toward expanding their equity work in their school or building, a feature in the district’s newsletter and equity website and will do a speaking tour of the district to share the news of their work.