Sunday, August 17, 2008

Audacity of arrogance

This editorial absolutely nails it.

Either the Clarke County Board of Education is so oblivious to the community-wide skepticism and concern that surrounds them or they're comprised of nothing but a bunch of shameless liars. Quite frankly, I think it's a combination of both.

Let's recap a bit, shall we? After more than a year of meddling in the affairs of interim superintendent James Simms, ignoring calls for transparency in how they conduct their business, needlessly displacing talented teachers and administrators across the school district and working to secure favors and plum jobs for their own family members, Simms finally called their bluff and resigned.

The board, under the rightful scrutiny from the community, opted to reconsider its actions and met with Simms to work to secure his long-term commitment to the school district. The superintendent agreed to stay on if the BOE would consider updating their vastly outdated ethics policy (or, apparently, lack of one), to which the members gladly agreed.

When push came to shove, however, the majority of board members opted to accept the status quo, which means they see no problem in using their influence to get family members jobs (and doing so behind closed doors with the related board member involved in the vote) or in micromanaging the jobs of staff so much that they write all the job descriptions and oversee the transfers of all staff.

It should be noted that the proposed changes to the policy were also requested by not just Simms, but also the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which is the agency responsible for providing the Clarke County School District with the necessary accreditation.

It's ridiculous. Honestly, I'm absolutely stunned at the board's audacity in not only lying to Simms - and the community - in order to get him to stay on through the beginning of the school year, but also conducting business in such a selfish, power-hungry fashion that it endangers the accreditation of the schools in the district.

This board is comprised of some of the most talentless, arrogant, do-nothing individuals in this community. If you are looking for a reason why the schools here continue to struggle despite so many committed teachers and so many eager students overflowing with potential, look no further than folks like Vernon Payne or Charles Worthy or Sidney Anne Waters or Ovita Thornton.

Waters is mercifully resigning this year, thus ensuring a fresh face in her district, Worthy is being challenged by Jim Geiser, while Payne is facing a challenge from J.T. Jones. Help both of these challengers out with your time, your energy and your resources.


Blogger paveplanet said...

If you don't like the schools, move to Oconee County like the rest of the white flight... oh, wait.

Seriously, I have enjoyed your posts on both the local, state, and national fronts, but I can't stomach posts about ACC (either the general government or the schools) from outside residents. It is always easier to critique when you are "safely" removed south of the border. You had the choice to stay and continue to direct the County in a direction that I fully supported more often than not, but you choose not to. I do not find fault with that as a father myself wanting to provide the best for my family.

But in the same vein that I don't chime in on the various Oconee County post since an ACC resident should not tell Watkinsville what to do, I can't continue taking suggestions from an Oconee County resident suggesting what is wrong with ACC.

No offense, but enjoy your enclave with the others down there.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Um, wow.

I've been gone for all of three days, and you've cut me off. With all due respect, perhaps I should write another post about the 'audacity of arrogance.'

But, no, wait, seriously ...

Now, let's be clear about a few things of a variety of fronts, shall we? As someone who covered the schools in Clarke County, as someone who served on an advisory council for Clarke Central High School, as someone who served on the Clarke County Multicultural Task Force and as someone who lived in Athens-Clarke County as recently as Thursday, I think offering a little bit of (continued) commentary on the state of the school district is well within the proper realm of discussion.

Do you disagree with any points I've raised? Or is it that I have a new address when I've raised them?

It is always easier to critique when you are "safely" removed south of the border. You had the choice to stay and continue to direct the County in a direction that I fully supported more often than not, but you choose not to. I do not find fault with that as a father myself wanting to provide the best for my family.

Well, the first sentence is so comical, it's not even worth addressing.

But let's deal with the latter part of that statement because the implication is that we made this choice to 'flee' Athens-Clarke County and not remain behind and fight for it, in particular that we left because of the schools.

Of course, I know there is nothing further from the truth. You'll find fewer more passionate defenders of the Clarke County public schools (and the community in general) than myself, and I've been quick to stamp out any hint of the reason we have moved being because of the schools (to the point of rudeness The Wife tells me).

I think there is an unfair perception that surrounds the schools, though real struggles are there (as evidenced by the continuing difficulties in making AYP), and I would argue poor leadership from the BOE is largely responsible for such obstacles (hence said post).

We moved because we found a house we liked in Oconee County that fit all of our needs and was in our price range. It was one of several houses we looked at in both counties, and it turned out to be our favorite one. The Wife and I are not at the point in our lives where we can choose making principled community-specific stands over common-sense, economical decisions for our family and the needs we have now.

I'm not sure why there is this unexplainable need to disparage Oconee County in order to promote Athens-Clarke County (and, to be fair, vice versa from many folks in Oconee County). In my mind, both of these communities - arguably deeply different along many lines - are fine places to hang your hat. I've devoted a large portion of my time here to defending ACC - and I'll continue to do that - but to do so in a way that doesn't offend any of its neighbors. And that's because, contrary to some beliefs, it's possible to champion one cause while not insulting another.

Are there some who move to Oconee County because they want to live in a community that lacks some diversity or because they feel the schools are 'better' ... well, I'm sure of it. Just as I'm sure there are folks who move to Oconee County because they like the more rural, small-town settings available here.

And just as I'm sure there are folks who move to Athens-Clarke County because they want to avoid engaging with someone who thinks differently politically than them.

This 'enclave' thing can cut both ways, you see, and such a bunker mentality - on either side of the county line - is wrong.

Pave, I'm disappointed in you, but more than that I'm absolutely floored by your arrogance. Feel free to look away when I offer commentary on Athens-Clarke County if you must, but I think that speaks more to your adherence to living in an 'enclave' than mine.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

But, you get pave's point, right? I mean, past all the talk about white flight and its unfortunate insinuation about your own character or any character of some generic white family, there is something about criticism after going to the outside that can ring false to the ears of those who remain behind. I think that it is a latent conservatism in many people to feel that way, to see a betrayal of a cause (...had the choice to stay and continue...) rather to see it as an expansion of the struggle to new frontiers, because, as you note, there is something of a desire to be secluded with one's fellows regardless of where our bunkers sit. I don't think it is arrogance on paveplanet's part as much as it is, say, the stinging of the feeling of betrayal... But whether or not it is a betrayal to speak from supposed comfort (is it really more comfortable in Oconee? If one is committed to some liberalistic position of social justice, is the first place one chooses to associate with like-minds Oconee county? Or is Oconee county a place to motivate existing social networks towards becoming more socially just? You allude to this, already), we shouldn't discount that someone can feel that way for understandable reasons.

I don't see, though, why one resident cannot "tell" another resident how to live their life, but then I'm evangelical in the sense that I think there really is "good news" out there, political, social, moral, &tc. The question is whether the "what to do" means seeking out the higher virtues or means where to plant the lilies or to install the sprinklers. It makes sense to me that one could tell a mother not to brutalize her daughter in the middle of a supermarket aisle, and that not be something immoral or socially wrong. It also makes sense to me that it's socially awkward or wrong to tell a mother that she shouldn't let her daughter get too attached to Hannah Montana.

But, well, I guess I'd do that, too.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

... there is something about criticism after going to the outside that can ring false to the ears of those who remain behind.

Yes, but we're also equating the mere act of living somewhere to some sort of community-exclusive purpose. The last time I checked, one didn't need to adhere to man-made boundaries to work to improve the lot of others.

It's that belief - articulated by Obama in 2004 and one of the primary reasons I'm such a passionate supporter of his candidacy - that helps to largely define my entire worldview ...

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief - I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. 'E pluribus unum.' Out of many, one.

Because, if pave's criticism is to hold true, it would require that we should remain silent on issues like genocide in Darfur or Russia invading Georgia because we aren't citizens of those affected areas.

Of course, the larger point in all of this is that it's quite possible that my family simply found a nice house in Oconee County where we wanted to live.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Wow. Jmac, welcome to Oconee.

Those last entries read like a more grown up version of an 80s sitcom when someone switches to a rival high school for a good reason and their friends all let them have it.

9:19 PM  
Blogger paveplanet said...

JMac -

First, your creditability remains high (as always) in posting my comments. Although I certainly understand how the tone and message can be taken to be an attack on you personally. (It is never my intention to attack you personally other than if it deals with the Red Sox) In mind's eye, that was not my posting purpose. I actually think your original post was fairly on target.

My post was intended to be more or less directed in general to the number of people who criticizes ACC from a safe distance either north, east, south, or west of the border. You may not be one of them, but more often than not there are plenty of examples of the like in the Letter to the Editor section of the ABH.

I think what I feel is frustration that ACC people with good ideas constantly leave this town - either to go onto bigger and better things (e.g. other colleges or larger cities with more opportunities) or to the surrounding counties.

I am happy for you and your family's find. I am sure that it will meet your family's needs - after all only you and your wife knows what they are truly are.

But in the context of posting comments about ACC and the School Board, I remain strong in my belief that it is far easier to complain and offer your thoughts about an issue when you are removed from it than when you are closer to the source with your own children in the system and on the line. Perhaps your future comments and posts (I still plan on checking in on the site on a regular basis) will prove me wrong, but in my 10 years in town has left me with a sense of sinicism and caution about former ACC residents perceptions and comments about what is wrong (and sometimes right) with ACC.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Much appreciated pave, and please let me note that my response was probably misdirected because, as I've noted, The Wife and I have been dealing with lots of snide comments - most of them harmless to be sure - regarding our move from folks we consider to be friends.

And it isn't as if I don't take your point, but I also think there must be some flexibility with regard to your concerns. Namely that I've always viewed many of our problems as regional concerns, and that a need for an emerging regional strategy - with regard to economic development, poverty, education, water management, etc. - is essential to the well-being of all communities.

With that said, I think the performance of the schools in one county (or, more appropriately, their management) is something that should merit discussion from any interested parties. While lowering the dropout rate and boosting student performance in Athens-Clarke County is not only something which should be encouraged and fought for by all folks, it also has the ability to bolster the region's well-being seeing how ACC is the hub of said region. A healthy and vibrant Athens-Clarke County means a healthy and vibrant Northeast Georgia.

Also, I've viewed my time running this blog as serving as something of a central place for discussion of all sorts of issues that impact our state, our region and our community. As a result, I want folks in Oconee County to comment on things in Athens-Clarke County and vice versa.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Nicki said...

And just as I'm sure there are folks who move to Athens-Clarke County because they want to avoid engaging with someone who thinks differently politically than them.

Um, what? There's an implication here I don't like. And also, when that whole defense of marriage amendment was on the ballot I put up a sign opposing it -- and got a LOT of questions, both from the gay people I know and from people who wanted to know why I was opposing it -- I don't think ACC is all that monolithic.

Also, I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here or not, but I'm programming the EcoFocus film festival in October at Cine, and it will feature a film about development in Oconee County called Carving up Oconee -- I don't think most people want to see the local area treated as completely discrete cities.

8:45 AM  
Blogger James said...

I haven’t commented on Jmac’s relocation to The OC for two reasons: it is none of my business and it is irrelevant to his critiques of the goings on in Athens-Clarke County. He and his wife merely made the best decision for their family. While it is true that lots of folks have bailed out of Clarke County for the expressed purpose of keeping their children out of the county’s schools, a perfectly rational and defensible course of action, that is not the case here.

Personally, I’ve avoided getting involved in Oconee County matters, with the exception of making comparisons between local school districts, simply because I have neither the time nor inclination to so do. That doesn’t mean that my critiques would be invalid (though it would open them to the common criticism of being from an “outsider”).

Besides, if you think Jmac is being hard of the Board of Education, you obviously haven’t been reading TOA, where I made many of the same points as the Banner-Herald editorial staff:

9:10 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

What implication don't you like? I'm quite sure - as there are in many areas - a cluster of individuals who prefer to live where they do based largely on the dominant political beliefs of said area. In fact, much attention has been paid as of late to this trend of folks with similar political views tending to live in areas with individuals who share their views.

It wasn't intended to be a negative statement, but just showing that accusations of 'enclave' living can run both ways. It was merely a means of showing perspective in this discussion.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

... and it will feature a film about development in Oconee County called Carving up Oconee -- I don't think most people want to see the local area treated as completely discrete cities.

I heard about that film, and I've been trying to catch up on land use patterns out here. A surface look would suggest that political preferences have little to do with how one wants their community structure (again, that's a surface look). From what I can gather, it appears there has been some positive steps taken to preserve and renovate the existing towns (i.e. Watkinsville, Bishop, etc.) with some work needed to be done in the outlying county areas. A positive step is forbidding commercial development in the southern part of the county.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Nicki said...

Actually, hate to admit this, but I've only seen a screener so far -- we are showing it mainly as a means of generating discussion, but all I can tell you is that it appears to be a dialogue about development from a skeptical POV.

My very general characterization of OC development is that the OC has been a tad cavalier about developing subdivisions, which in fact are a drain on resources, and balances that by taking advantage of its uniquely profitable location -- it shunts any amount of bad development to the Epps Bridge corridor and sees it as bankrolling protections for picturesque land and unprofitable development (from a tax perspective) elsewhere in the county. It's a cynical strategy, but one which allows OC to have relatively good control of development within the population centers. That said, some very good planners are on staff or on the commission, and some pretty decent work in terms of future land use planning and whatnot has been done.

From a historic preservation and land use perspective, I don't know that I'd characterize the general pattern in Watkinsville as "good" -- IMO, the education and appreciation for historic resources and context isn't as good as it could be, and some fairly appalling projects have been approved. Still, government doesn't determine what the private market wants to build -- it only approves, alters, and denies -- and it's possible that the population simply won't back whatever appreciation it has with the resources to make better development possible in that regard. Which just underscores the responsibility we as consumers have to consume wisely -- I doubt the OC would approve heinous projects if they weren't profitable because consumers are supporting them.

What implication don't you like?

The implication that either is monolithic -- I do a lot of ideologically-based work with people who live in the OC, and yet every time I see my neighbor in the ACC we have discussions about how he feels we can't do anything not based in free market economics.

10:06 AM  

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