During the 1995 – 1996 school year, the IBP / ACTCo – Atlanta Caribbean Trading Company – experienced numerous price hikes from Caribbean crafts suppliers that thinned profit margins considerably. The students and I began looking for alternative regional sources that might provide high quality crafts at lower prices.
Costa Rica was an attractive possibility so my wife Sue and I visited the country during the Christmas break for some pleasure and my pursuit of two educational and business-related
1. Try to meet with Abraham Lincoln School Headmaster Jack Delman to sell him on forging an IBP partnership between North Atlanta and the prestigious American-style school that was perhaps the best in Costa Rica at the time,
2. Discover talented artisans who reliably produced high quality and value-added giftware lines that might swell ACTCo’s profit margin.
The Abraham Lincoln School was located in a hip San Jose neighborhood surrounded by a sea of excellent arts and crafts stores. At first, I thought I had discovered “ground zero” for the IBP network of schools. Upon exploration, I learned that the goods for sale, while outstanding in quality and design, were fairly expensive. The leading artisans were so popular that some had their own retail stores – many sold to U.S. department store and giftware distributors who bought with large volume orders that justified exporting.
Regardless, I did strike up a friendship with Mr. Hector Hidalgo of La Rueda who did business in Atlanta and later came to North Atlanta to advise the IBP students on how to do business in Central America and sold us some more goods.
The IBP’s experience with international schools, either American or International Baccalaureate member school, was mixed – some worked well, others lacked the needed amount of synchronicity. Headmasters of these type schools often move around a lot in pursuit of a better opportunity or to escape problems that have developed. Although I failed to meet with Mr. Delman – school was closed for the Christmas break – I did get a message to him that included my proposal. Mr. Delman thought the proposal to have value and that we should take some small steps forward together, but cautioned that he might be moving on at the end of that year.
Some progress towards an eventual student exchange was made through National Society of Secondary School Principals (U.S.), the U. S. Chamber of Commerce in Costa Rica, and other third parties. During my Costa Rican travels, I perused one gift ware store after another in my quest for lower priced goods. Almost all of the distributor advised me to go to Nicaragua, especially the famous arts and crafts market place in Masayo – there we would find our holy trinity of low price, high quality, high value goods.
1996 Sister Cities International (SCI) Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana provides the “Window of Opportunity”:
I have attended three SCI annual global conferences and found all of them very beneficial for networking possibilities. Countless communities have found the IBP / Atlanta Sister Cities Commission partnership very attractive and approached me out of interest – some became great partners too. In Indianapolis, I attended an SCI Hemispheric Conference and met Mr. Roger Miranda, a Nicaraguan government official who was very interested in building an Atlanta – Managua business education connection. Upon returning home, I wrote Roger to propose that he select a partner school for a North Atlanta exchange group to visit and help establish an IBP in Managua.
On March 8, 1996, I received the following letter from Mr. Gonzalo Cardenal, Director of the Lincoln International Academy in Managua, Nicaragua:
An example of Lincoln International physical plant that blended functional design, warm weather architecture with use of open space typically incorporated into Caribbean and Latin American school structures.
I responded to Mr. Cardenal by letting him know about inquiries towards the Abraham Lincoln School in San Jose, Costa Rica, also the possible benefits to his school by becoming partners with North Atlanta High School.
Central area where morning devotionals are held, lunch dispensed after tables set up with sets of chairs, assemblies in general take place here – at least that was the case in 1997.
I had been keeping Center for International Studies (CIS) Instructional Coordinator Mrs. Ann Goellner and North Atlanta Social Studies Chair Dr. Doug Frutiger informed of the ongoing Nicaraguan initiative but now really needed to sit down and talk to them. Nicaragua had just:
1. Been through the Sandinista – Contra civil war which had recently ended with hard feelings still existing on each side
2. Experienced a hotly contested election between the socialistic Sandinista government and the victorious UNO coalition of democratic groups with more mainstream economic views
According to the media, the country was still a cauldron of seething political forces. We therefore wondered if the country was stable and relaxed enough for our students to safely and comfortably visit Managua.
It was decided that I would visit Lincoln and Managua from Nov. 9 – 13, 1996 to investigate whether it was wise for Americans, who had supported UNO against the Sandinistas, to both travel to Nicaragua and partner with an elite private secondary school. I would take a week to assess and determine if it was in North Atlanta, CIS, and IBP’s interest to pursue our objectives.
I traveled to Nicaragua and found the Lincoln International Academy leadership team hospitable and excited about the proposed joint program and projects. I was fortunate to stay with a young male math teacher, Adolfo Gonzales and his father Alfredo, a successful businessman. The father was divorced so he and his son ate out most every night and dined at the best restaurants in Managua. Mr. Gonzales senior and junior lived in a large home that provided me a small apartment to myself. They were a congenial duo that made my stay comfortable, interesting, and fun.
Managua physically reminded me of Atlanta with its sprawling circular development – on the other hand the third world shanty towns stretching to the horizon in all directions reminded me that I was in Nicaragua. I was amazed to what degree the massive 1972 earthquake had transformed the city – the entire downtown had been destroyed which encouraged a sprawling mass of roadside stands, strip malls, shopping centers, and residential sub-developments to spring up in its place. The occasional pockets of affluence and middle class, suburban-style life surprised me and suggested a higher quality of life in these areas than might be expected. The most obvious form of chaos was the inclination to not name streets – mail was addressed like “big red house two blocks away from the main church on the central boulevard” or “white house across from Lake Managua that’s still standing.”
The city government, in recent years, has gotten around to naming streets and identifying residences with specific, assigned numbers.
Mr. Gonzalo Cardenal, Director, and Mrs. Miriam Bandes, Sub-Director.
I reported back to Mrs. Goellner and Dr. Frutiger that Managua seemed safe enough for our students to visit. The Lincoln International Academy seemed enthusiastic about the partnership, had an attractive campus, the students came from comfortable circumstances and homes for our children to stay in. We were all very excited about the opportunity to develop a linkage with Managua, Nicaragua, and Central America.
The North Atlanta IBP exchange group consisted of four young junior level females – Erica Phillips, Taliah Reid, Nikki Marshall, Brandice Allen – and a single male named David
Narain (Aruban origin I believe) whose looks had the Lincoln girl students practically swooning over him.
David Narain (far right) and his host student and other Lincoln kids engaged in a lesson.
Very short history of Nicaragua:
According to my host teacher, Adolfo Gonzales, Nicaraguan society is split between the west and east coasts. Most of the Caucasian population lives along the Pacific coast which enjoys fertile land, a moderate climate, and the nation’s infrastructure. The east coast is hotter and humid, bereft of ports and harbors, and home to the black population of Nicaragua, many who came during the building of the Panama Canal and settled there afterwards. Few roads and almost no railroads extend to the east coast – the eastern population is essentially cut off from the rest of the country and fends for itself. This perception of the land of Nicaragua that filters through a visiting American mind is that the western part of the country essentially rules entire the country. Racism may enter into the equation of sharing national resources and the basic integration of the western and eastern sectors.
I learned this aspect of national life after I brought my five students, all black, to a predominately white, catholic world that was probably more insular than international. Regardless, I was determined to find a way to make this relationship work, especially after we visited the Masayo crafts market and found a bonanza of cheap, attractive products to buy. My students were nice, smart teens who handled themselves very well and made their chaperone and school proud.
On the second day, I signed a partnership school agreement that had been prepared in advance and pre-signed by Principal Thomas Adger, perhaps the best principal in North Atlanta’s 22 year history. A new North Atlanta called Buckhead High is opening for the 2013 – 2014 school year on the 56 acre site of the former IBP campus located at the corner of Northside Parkway and Mt. Paran Road. North Atlanta, in turn, will become a middle school and alleviate Sutton Middle School’s over crowding.
Mr. Walter Duncan, the Economics and Science teacher, was an American expatriate married to a Nicaraguan woman. Walter possessed boundless energy, a love of Nicaragua, a wealth of knowledge of the country that he liberally shared, and personally made our visit to Nicaragua delightful and enriching. Walter, a cheerful and personable man, escorted us around Managua, chaperoned us through the colonial city of Granada, and led us like a captain across Lake Nicaragua. Adolfo Gonzales, who was on his way to becoming an outstanding math teacher, moved heaven and earth for me and my students during our nine days there.
Mr. Walter Duncan (far right, white shirt), Adolfo Gonzales (to Walter’s left in plaid shirt), two senior level, male Lincoln students who ably served us as chaperons and drivers.
Taliah Reid waiting to be picked up after school by her host student.
Boat tour of Lake Nicaragua, one of the 14 biggest lakes on earth. To my right are Brandice Allen and Erica Phillips. Directly across from me are Nikki Marshall and Taliah Reid. The islands in background are the product of past volcanic eruptions that threw huge boulders in to the lake that eventually built up into islands.
The visit to the Masayo Crafts Market may have been the exchange highlight – the goods were attractive and inexpensive – we were soon buying on the premise of how much more we could fit into our suitcases and get through customs as “gifts for parents and teachers”.
We purchased many fine wooden containers and miniature painted ceramic crafts.
These hammocks were ACTCo’s greatest bargain – we bought them for about $10 and sold them for $25 – average comparative hammock cost in Atlanta was 3 of 4 times that amount. The Atlanta Journal – Constitution published an article that described how people were coming from all over to purchase the hammocks. We sold a half dozen in one week, could have sold two dozen more, and tried to order a couple of dozen more but were unable to obtain them. Walter Duncan had tried to organize a student run business that would export hammocks to Atlanta but his Lincoln students were not interested in buying and selling goods.
Let me be clear – the Lincoln International School, host families, PTA members all treated us great and were very hospitable. We were provided an excellent itinerary and program and achieved most of our objectives. I sensed though, as the week progressed, that the partnership was not going to survive upon our returning home. I perceived that the image among the Lincoln community was that North Atlanta was a little too black for them to buy into the vision of a great partnership. This perception is not based on anything that anybody said or did – it’s simply perceptions that I intuitively processed. For example, as we were taken to the airport, I reciprocated with how we would like to receive a Lincoln delegation in Atlanta. The head of the PTSA simply smiled through tight, polite Hidalgo lips and said; “We will see.”
At the end of the first trip to Managua, I met Roger Miranda for breakfast before departing for Atlanta. Roger, a tall, wiry, intensely intelligent fellow, was prosecuting corrupt government officials, and impressed me as a possible future president of Nicaragua, at the least an honest legislator. He was wary of getting too involved in politics which, given his nation’s volatility, was understandable. We discussed the long term viability of the new partnership – I admitted that I was not confident that North Atlanta and Lincoln were a “match made in heaven”. He reflected that Nicaragua had to throw off an insularity created by past colonialism and needed to open up more to other countries. We sensed that maybe we were both a little ahead of the curve, shook hands, wished each other well, and said goodbye.
Mrs. Goellner retired at the end of the 1996 school year – Dr. Frutiger succeeded her as CIS Instructional Coordinator and I became the Social Studies Department Chair.
After a summer vacation of thinking about any future North Atlanta – Lincoln joint projects, and a sentence from Mr. Cardenal’s last meeting that had stayed with me – “Your visit was good for us….I sense that Lincoln is becoming more Catholic and less international.”- I sent Roger Miranda the following letter:
Well, we didn’t make this vision a reality. Some times things are just not fated to happen as hoped so one must move on. The Nicaraguan visit was a great learning experience and a good time for all. But it was not the greatest of fits and the North Atlanta IBP moved on. The Lincoln International School does an excellent job meeting the needs of its students and community and that apparently was and is its mission.