In the last 20 years, the city schools have adopted the rigorous International Baccalaureate program at both the middle and high school levels, Marietta High moved to its stately new home on Whitlock, six of eleven schools in the system have been recognized as Georgia schools of excellence, and Marietta City Schools’ Emily Lembeck was named Georgia’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year. Graduates of the city schools are rightly proud of their alma mater, and many remain committed to public education in a time when the national conversation about public schools is heatedly critical. Marietta City Schools’ graduates across race and class and across the generations draw on their own experiences to attest to the importance of supporting the city’s public schools.
James “Friday” Richards, 1972 MHS grad and former head coach of the Blue Devils, put it candidly: “without public schools how could kids like me afford [an education]?” He went on, “I definitely do [have faith in public schools]. I went to Marietta High School and I married a girl from Marietta High School, got a degree at Florida because I played football at Marietta High school and ended up coming back and working at Marietta High School!”
Hap Smith, a ’68 graduate, is equally emphatic about good public schools. He complimented the high academic standards at area private schools but insisted that “Marietta is ... a whole lot different. It is life! If you go to school in Marietta and you can learn to respect kids of other faiths, other cultures, other nationalities, other races, and get along with them (then) you’re way ahead.”
1970 graduate Lena Bennett Evans-Smith came through Marietta at a time of transition and challenge. Two years ahead of James Richards, Evans-Smith and her peers entered MHS in a small cohort of black students before all-black Lemon Street High was closed. She does not sugarcoat the hardships of her first year at Marietta, but through the basketball team made many friends across race and looks back happily on her years at MHS. She and all six siblings graduated from the high school, as did her late husband and both her children. She hopes her grandson will too. Her faith is placed in the symbiosis of a successful system like MCS, where the students, parents, teachers and administrators work together for the school, and by extension, the community.
Fostering that relationship between the community and school system is a priority for Jill Mutimer (’84) current chair of the Board of Education.
She could have remained in Atlanta and chosen private schools for her children, but, she said, “Marietta was where I wanted my kids to grow up — it was important to me. It affected who I am, the type of friendships I have. And I wanted that for them. I know it’s not like that everywhere.”
A couple of years ahead of Mutimer, Condace Pressley (‘82) attended a private elementary school but went on to excel in the Marietta City system, graduating second in her class. She and cousin Bernard Myers, 1982 valedictorian, were the first pair of black students in one class to hold those honors. Pressley and her younger brother, Joe, a great student and talented athlete, both flourished at Marietta High and in their careers; Pressley hopes that the system will always produce highly successful graduates, and that Mariettans will always believe that it can.
Pressley observed that if the demographic changes at the high school cause longtime Mariettans to leave the system, it would be “very sad.”
“That would disappoint me about our community,” she said.
The Raines family would not disappoint Ms. Pressley: Morgan Raines, a 2012 graduate, is the daughter of a Blue Devil dad, Kevin Raines, and Blue Devil grandparents, Beverly and former assistant police chief Rupert Raines. Even Morgan’s great grandmother was a Blue Devil. Miss Raines said that the diversity of a public school like Marietta High allows you to “celebrate who you are” without fear of “judgment.” As the high school changes, “the feeling” they have for it will not, said father and daughter.
Marietta’s public schools are integral to the city’s identity; the pride that graduates and students take in their schools extends to a sense of belonging and investment in their community: “What is the saying,” mused Kevin Raines, “It takes a village to raise a kid?”
For many multi-generation families like the Raineses, supporting the city schools is a value they were raised with and with which they raise their families. Mary Ansley Southerland’s son Rosser, just a baby at the centennial celebration, is a fifth-generation Marietta graduate. Southerland believes ardently in the importance of the city school system to Marietta. “Public education,” she said, “is the underpinning of the successful city I live in ... of our whole civilization, actually.”
It is further testament to the city schools that graduates much newer to Marietta espouse the same kind of loyalty and enthusiasm as do the Raineses and the Southerlands.
Jeannelly Castro, a 2007 graduate who is Dominican, said that although she came to the city from Miami as a ninth grader, the high school is home to her. Public school, said Castro, produces students who are “well-rounded” — both “academically driven” and “socially accepting.”
Castro’s words are a ringing endorsement: a school system that encourages and nourishes all students’ abilities and talents, pushing them to do everything they can for their future is a special system indeed.
“Marietta High is definitely dear to me,” concluded Castro, “I would want my kids, if I decide to have kids, to stay in the Marietta school system and go to Marietta High.”
This increasingly diverse generation of Marietta students and those to come deserve superior teaching, curriculum, leadership and facilities; that is to say, they deserve what Marietta has delivered, and still can, with the continued support of Marietta’s citizens.
Happy 120th birthday, Marietta City Schools! May our gift to you be faith in “your royal white and blue.”
Ruthie Yow is a Ph.D. student at Yale University. She is from Cobb County and has returned to work on a dissertation about Marietta High School, 1964-2012. If you are a Marietta graduate and would be willing to share your perspective and experiences with Ms. Yow, she is seeking alums from all years and would love to hear from you by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.