Sunday Solutions – July 23, 2023

Your Sunday editor is back and grateful for the summer reporting staff’s work on last week’s newsletter — and really jazzed about their hard work from the week. In the meantime, let’s send a golf cheer up for Coastal Georgia’s own Brian Harman as he goes into The (British) Open’s final day on top of the leaderboard. His tee time is 9:15 a.m. if you want to follow in real time. Here we go!

A school bus waiting to pick up students.
A school bus waiting to pick up students. Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

Less than 2 weeks away: School starts

Stories this week from The Current’s Jabari Gibbs and Caelen McQuilkin remind us that the new school year renews old challenges for school district administrators and board members. The top issues to address remain basic: declining reading achievement rates in lower grades and simply getting students to school. Neither problem is new and most school officials might tell you these issues have been discussed to death, but the facts remain that both problems are not getting any better despite a great deal of work to fix them. And those are two crucial problems throttling the systems’ ability to solve critical economic and racial inequities that public schools were designed to address.

Reading scores: New state mandates for teacher training and instruction methods begin to phase in, and Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools will add a new “instructional block” for literacy for all students. In a story by The Current’s Gibbs, new superintendent Denise Watts says she’ll be focused on the challenge to lift scores across the district: Only 19.8% of students in grades 3-8 demonstrate proficiency on reading exams, according to state reports. You’ll find more detail on the high hurdles in the story as well as reading scores for each school and data on who’s being left behind in each Coastal Georgia county as districts receive more tax money for the next budget year.

Alejandro Del Razo stopped working as a bus driver so he could transport his daughter to the choice school she now attends, Esther F. Garrison School for the Arts.
Alejandro Del Razo stopped working as a bus driver so he could transport his daughter to the Savannah-Chatham choice school she now attends.

• Getting students to school: As more districts expand with charter schools and more topic-specific “choice” schools, one key need has evaporated: a way for students to get to class. Savannah-Chatham’s transportation system — like countless others — will start the year with fewer bus drivers than last year and less than half of drivers hired in 2019. Who loses out? Students who’ve earned their ways into choice schools or sought a different learning path through charter schools will not be eligible for bus service again this year in Savannah. Parents who can’t afford to be there when the car lines start must find help, day care or sacrifice a job schedule. They’ll have to decline a potentially better opportunity for their child, eliminating a new chance to rise. The culprit in all of this, according to the district, appears to be the expanding job market in Coastal Georgia as the port’s logistics needs, tourist trolleys, public and private bus systems like those at Chatham Area Transit and SCAD have drained the driver pool dry. But drivers who’ve left and others tell The Current’s McQuilkin that it’s simply one thing: Pay. Read about the growing pay differential and the solutions parents and schools have found to make sure students can attend programs that best suit their needs for their futures.

Two structures at 1803 G Street in Brunswick act as temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The encampment popped up after The Well, a day shelter, temporarily closed in April. Credit: Kailey Cota/The Current GA

In Brunswick: One door closes, options are few

When a temporary shelter for people without housing closed, some in Brunswick were jubilant because they blamed The Well for attracting crime, creating problems for downtown businesses. Churches have been working to feed and shelter at least 100 people but there’s no resolution yet. Police Chief Kevin Jones says arrest numbers and suspicious person calls haven’t changed since the shelter closed, and he’s urging the groups to come to an agreement that will allow for a dependable source of help for the unhoused individuals and families. The Current’s Kailey Cota looks at the issues, groups working to help and people affected by the impasse between providers and those who want the problem moved.

Veterans, family members can share stories

You may know StoryCorps as a regular, often warm and emotional part of National Public Radio’s Friday “Morning Edition.” The group’s Military Voices Initiative, a national effort to record and share personal reflections through voices of service members and their families, will come to Coastal Georgia to collect your stories. They’ll be on site at the Hinesville Public Library Aug. 7-9 and at the Southwest Chatham Library in Savannah Aug. 10-11. You can sign up for an appointment to record an interview at this link.

Michael Thurmond says Gen. James Oglethorpe should also get attention for his work as an abolitionist.

Your second cup: Oglethorpe as ‘North Star’

Coastal Georgian’s generally know England’s Gen. James Oglethorpe as the colony’s founder who brought a vision for life and second chances to a new world. Oglethorpe’s city plan stands the test of time in Savannah, but some of his other ideas are often lost. Michael Thurmond, former Georgia Commissioner of Labor and current CEO of DeKalb County, has been researching a book about Oglethorpe to be released early next year. He says the slave-trader-turned-abolitionist’s vision for redemption and acceptance for all should be a model for Georgia’s citizens. Last week, Atlanta journalist Maria Saporta published an interview with Thurmond where he explains his own journey through Oglethorpe’s life and why it’s so important for all Georgians now.

You can read the Saporta Report interview here.

And a note: This week we said Bon Voyage to summer staffer Caelen McQuilkin as she heads back to her student newspaper and senior year at Amherst College. Along with her terrific journalism experience, she’ll take back solid knowledge of how to order at Waffle House and the joy of finding a good hot dog.

Georgia schools tackle declining literacy rates with ‘science of reading’ 

Georgia K-3 students will undergo screening and receive intervention plans for low reading proficiency, but additional funding and training for teachers present challenges

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School bus driver shortage worsens as growing economy drives workers elsewhere

Less than three weeks before the 2023 school year starts, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System driver shortage is worse than ever. As of July 12, the district has only 154 confirmed drivers. Last year they had 222, while in 2019, 328 drivers worked for the schools, according to a transportation update presented to the school board in January.

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Disagreements over care for homeless population in Brunswick leaves dozens with nowhere to go 

City, business owners disagree with churches on how to provide care for unhoused residents.

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Liberty County native Susie King Taylor tops list for Savannah square’s new name

Savannah’s Park and Tree Commission advanced a slate of five preferred names for the former Calhoun Square, with one historical figure emerging as the frontrunner.

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State posting more than 700 bridges with higher truck weight allowances

The 10% exemption letting trucks run with up to 88,000 pounds of cargo applies only to trucks hauling agricultural products – including livestock – and logs. However, the exemption does not apply in the 13-county Atlanta region.

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State Department of Education to lower weight of Georgia Milestones tests

Proponents argue for flexibility for school districts but others say it allows tests will be less useful to test achievement.

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Town hall previews issues for Savannah City Hall elections

City council next week will discuss the plan recommended by City Manager Jay Melder to increase revenue from commercial and industrial property owners through the Stephens-Day exemption. He said the plan aims to maintain the lowest mill rate in over 35 years while capturing the potential revenue growth.

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Dog days of summer

On National Hot Dog Day, customers gathered at Waters Cafe for free hot dogs. There, they reflected on stories and memories from their lives, everything hot dogs.

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Hate groups’ political influence growing, watchdog says

The SPLC defines hate groups as those that attack or malign people, “typically for their immutable characteristics.” The report’s criteria for anti-government groups include seeing the federal government as an “enemy of the people” and often spreading baseless conspiracy theories.

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The Tide: Delays, some progress 8 months after Brunswick criminal record clinic

Since a Brunswick legal clinic started applications for 150 residents to clear their criminal records, half of their cases remain pending. Prosecutors say they are doing the best they can with the resources available.

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Susan Catron is managing editor for The Current GA. She has more than two decades of experience in Georgia newspapers. Susan served as executive editor of the Savannah Morning News for nearly 15 years,...