There has been a lot of anxiety recently regarding the future of Richmond County schools and the need to vastly improve the overall system in the coming years.
Just last year, a Philadelphia-based consultant group suggested ways to reorganize the school system in order to address the overcrowding of some schools compared to others that are underutilized throughout the county.
Supposedly, the purpose of the reorganization is to more efficiently offer academic programs to area students.
Of course, whenever change is suggested, the result is a lot of concerns from students and parents.
This week, Richmond County Schools Superintendent Angela Pringle tried to ease some of the public’s fears by holding a public meeting regarding one of the major proposed changes: the merger of T.W. Josey High School and Murphey Middle School. Many parents were uncomfortable with the idea of middle school students sharing a school with older students.
But the truth of the matter is, without change, nothing will ever improve Richmond County’s school system. And things must improve.
Our entire county is depending on it.
A symbol of positive change in Richmond County schools was the late Dr. Isaiah “Ike” Washington.
Washington, who died 15 years ago this week at the age of 91, was one of the most treasured and active citizens in Richmond County, who is remembered most for his efforts to gain equal education for black students and the calm, yet purposeful, way he brought people to their goals.
Washington simply wasn’t a part of progress. He helped make it.
Born in 1908, Washington helped make great strides in gaining quality education, particularly for black students. For more than 35 years, Washington served as principal at five area schools, in addition to serving as an Augusta city councilman and president of the Georgia Teachers and Education Association.
Whenever anyone asked him why education was so important to him, he would talk about a particular book, “The Shore Dimly Seen,” written by former Georgia Governor Ellis Gibbs Arnall.
Washington would say the book, written in the 1940s, was a prophetic look at coming integration by an author who was an important stepping stone in bettering education for blacks. That book helped guide Washington to become a forefront of the integration battle.
“During the days of segregation, there was not only segregation of schools, there was segregation of salary,’’ Washington told the Metro Spirit back in 1998. “I made more money my senior year of college than in my first year of teaching.’’
That year was 1937 and Washington was making $550 a year with a bachelor’s degree. Around the same time, Georgia had a $180 million annual education budget. Ten percent of that was supposed to go to black schools.
Only one percent found its way there, Washington said.
That disparity Washington was determined to change. He and others met with the governor at the time, Eugene Talmadge. However, the meeting did not go well.
“When we got there he just stood up and said, ‘Glad to see you boys,’ ” Washington said in 1998. “He called us boys and he did all the talking. And then he said, ‘Thanks for coming,’ and never asked us what we wanted.’’
Washington continued his fight, heading up schools housed in buildings barely fit for habitation.
Many of the children’s parents couldn’t even afford textbooks.
“It was hard to explain to a youngster why they couldn’t go to a better school,’’ Washington said.
Nearly a decade later, Washington met with the newly installed Governor Arnall. It was a much different meeting than the previous one.
“He saw integration coming in way back then,’’ Washington said. “He said to us, ‘I’m going to do something about it.’ He (Arnall) got teachers’ salaries raised.’’
Washington was never ashamed of Augusta. He loved this city, but he also realized when it was time to grow and change.
Whether the closing of certain Richmond County schools and the merging of others is the right thing to do or not is difficult to say, but the fact is, something has got to change.
The students deserve better. The faculty deserves better. And Richmond County deserves better.