After continued frustrations finally led to Jordan Denson leaving the Dougherty County School System, the Albany 16-year-old, center, with her father, William Denson, and grandmother Elizabeth Nichols, earned her GED and is headed to Darton State College May 21.
ALBANY, Ga. -- As each new well-documented problem confronting the Dougherty County School System has surfaced, the community has grown a little more resistant to shock. Angry citizens, those "waiting to hear what will happen next," have tended to ignore specific details and allowed issues to become about the school system as an institution, not about people ... about students, teachers and administrators.
Sixteen-year-old soon-to-be Darton State College freshman Jordan Denson is an ideal candidate to serve as the face of some of the Dougherty system's problems. A highly precocious, extremely intelligent teen who, had it not been for the intervention of her parents, might very well have been swallowed and spit out by the local system, Jordan found educational redemption when she left the Dougherty school system.
With the encouragement of her divorced parents, William and Lisa Denson, and her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Nichols, Jordan recently took and easily passed the General Education Development exams after completing required preparatory classes at Moultrie Technical College. On May 21, while most of her now high school-age classmates are settling into their three-month summer vacation, Jordan will sit through her first day of classes at Darton.
"I was no angel, but I also didn't deserve to be treated the way they treated me," Jordan, whose troubles initially surfaced at Merry Acres Middle School, said. "I was not someone who caused a lot of problems; I was a kid who was bored, and because I was bored I talked a lot."
Before her parents decided they'd had enough and took Jordan out of the school system, she said she had been repeatedly groped by male students at Merry Acres, was expelled from the school when she refused to identify students who had "put their hands on my butt every time I bent over to get a book from my locker," threatened with a punch to the face by a classroom teacher and told she was stupid and would never amount to anything by an Albany Middle School staffer angry because Jordan had asked to call home for "female issues."
This from a student who ranked first in her class in grades K-5 and was moved into the system's "Excel" program for gifted students in the seventh grade.
"What I saw was a total breakdown of the school system," said William Denson, a musician and electronics expert who recently retired from Albany State University. "Jordan wasn't getting any kind of an education, and because she was the kind of person who spoke her mind, the people in the system seemed to have a vendetta against her.
"There were constant issues, and when she told me what the person said to her at Albany Middle -- which I knew we couldn't prove because this woman and Jordan were the only people in the room -- I just said enough is enough."
Elizabeth Nichols became a fixture at Lincoln Magnet School through the first six years of her granddaughter's education, walking with Jordan to and from school each day. Nichols talks proudly of her little honor student, who had few social and absolutely no academic issues during those idyllic times.
Jordan's success in the classroom continued when she moved on to Robert Cross Middle Magnet School, but it was about the time she reached seventh grade and was selected to participate in the school system's Excel program that personal family problems surfaced. For the first time in her life, Jordan's grades started to suffer, and she was eventually taken out of the gifted program at Merry Acres and moved into that school's general population.
That's when her troubles mounted.
"I was on a different floor of the school, interacting with people I'd never met before," she said. "I had a bottom locker, and every time I'd bend over to get a book, guys would come up and smack my butt or grope me. I just got tired of it."
Jordan said she went to the school's counselor to complain, and while she was discussing the situation the school's principal, Ufot Inyang, came into the counselor's office.
"I was uncomfortable with him being there," Jordan said. "I felt this was a private, one-on-one counseling session, but he insisted on listening. He told me he wanted me to identify every boy who had touched me inappropriately, and I told him I wasn't going to do that. I would have been setting myself up to be attacked; the bathrooms at Merry Acres do lock from the inside.
"I told him: 'I'm not gonna do that, that would be stupid.' He got mad and started yelling at me, told my counselor 'I want this person out of my school right now.' I couldn't believe it. I was being groped by boys, and he was kicking me out of school."
Inyang, who was recently promoted to assistant superintendent/director of curriculum and instruction for the school system, remembers the meeting with Jordan differently.
"I kept trying to pin her down, but she kept changing her story," Inyang said. "I told her I wanted to help her, but I couldn't help her if she wouldn't tell me who these students were. Our policy is, if we have a student who is a discipline problem, we transfer them back to their home school. When (Jordan) was accepted back at Robert Cross, that was the end of it for me. I washed my hands, end of story.
"Her father tried to intimidate me by telling me he knew (then-School Superintendent) Dr. (Joshua) Murfree, but I was not concerned because I knew I was right in this case."
Lisa Denson, who said she met with Inyang and Jordan's counselor, said Inyang did demand that Jordan be removed from Merry Acres.
"He became really ugly when Jordan explained that telling on the boys who had touched her would be suicide," Jordan's mother said. "He said, 'She is out of my school; get her dismissal papers now.' I couldn't believe it."
Nichols and William Denson were also called to meet with Inyang and Jordan's teachers at Merry Acres.
"He was basically trying to cover his ass," Nichols said. "He's got these teachers sitting there, and he's saying what an incorrigible disruptive student Jordan is. It was a complete farce."
Jordan went back to Robert Cross and finished the seventh grade, but when her mother became seriously ill the next year, she missed a considerable amount of class time while sitting with her mother in the hospital. She said she requested her homework assignments but got them from only one teacher, and by the time she settled back into school routine she was hopelessly behind.
"We were getting ready for eighth-grade graduation -- I'd bought my cap and gown and was really excited because I'd always wanted to be an Albany High Indian -- and the graduation coach told me there was no reason for me to keep coming (to practice) because I was going to fail," Jordan said. "I was devastated, embarrassed. All my friends were going on to high school, and I was staying behind."
Robert Cross Principal Sammy Pringle would not talk specifically about Jordan's academic record at the school, but he did note that "she was a young lady with a lot of potential but who had a whole lot of challenges."
With all her friends moving on in their academic careers, Jordan asked her parents and received permission to transfer to her zoned school, Albany Middle. They relented.
"Worst mistake we ever made," William Denson said.
At Albany Middle, Jordan said she was constantly written up by teachers who did not like the fact that she finished her assignments well ahead of her classmates and became disruptive in her boredom.
"Being at Albany Middle was a complete waste of my time," she said. "I was making great grades, but everything was so dumbed down. They were reading on a fifth- or sixth-grade level, and they moved so slowly I would find myself sitting for two- and three-hour blocks with nothing to do. I was completely bored.
"I asked one of my teachers if I could go to the library to try and do some extra research and he told me, 'If I let you go out of my class to the library, people are going to say, "Why did you let that white g ..." and then he just told me to sit down."
'SHE DIDN'T GIVE UP'
William Denson said he called Murfree, whom he had known well when both worked at Albany State, to talk with him about Jordan's problems, but the DCSS superintendent kept putting him off.
"He was about as much help as a wet napkin," Denson said. "Jordan used to sit in on his classes at Albany State when she was little, and I always respected him. But he wouldn't even talk to me when I tried to contact him."
Finally, on March 6, 2012, the Densons took their daughter out of the school system, and William Denson signed her up with the state's homeschool network.
"I was told there was no set curriculum but there were guidelines," Denson said. "We went to Books-A-Million and bought the curriculum for the GED. State law says that if you're 18, you're eligible to take the GED at any time, but if you're under 18 you have to take classes to qualify. We signed her up for classes at Moultrie Tech."
Jordan breezed through the English and reading classes at Moultrie Tech. ("After about two weeks, my reading instructor told me, 'There's nothing I can do for you,'" she said.) She had more problem with math, so she redoubled her efforts in that discipline.
After being enrolled in classes for no more than two months, her instructors deemed her ready to take the GED pre-tests, a requirement before she was allowed to take the actual GED. She passed the pre-tests easily and then, in March, passed the GED exams. She applied and, despite her age, was allowed to enroll at Darton as an "exceptional exemption" because of her excellent scores on the GED.
The Densons are, as would be expected, proud of their daughter.
"I tell my baby I'm proud of her every day," Lisa Denson said. "For her to have certain teachers and principals from the school system tell her she would never amount to anything and for her to do what she's done ... Well, I couldn't be prouder.
"I really think a lot of those teachers resented Jordan because, frankly, she was smarter than they were."
William Denson also blames the Dougherty school system for many of his daughter's problems.
"I guess the Dougherty County School System actually helped Jordan out," he said. "By sucking so bad and her being exposed to such poor teachers and administrators, we decided her only chance was to get out of that system. It wasn't easy on her, and it wasn't easy on her family, but I'm so proud that she didn't give up."
Jordan, meanwhile, is excited about attending Darton, where she plans to study pharmacy. She said she's thankful to have the opportunity to tell her story.
"I would not be where I am today if my parents had not taken me out of that school system," she said. "I had so many people telling me what I couldn't do, telling me that I was going to fail. If you write this and it helps one person who is in the same shoes I was in, then it will be worth it.
"No, I was not the best kid in school. But nobody deserves to be treated the way I was treated."