In an election year, lawmakers in Atlanta tiptoe around controversial issues so voters election day memories are only of peace and harmony. Still, that hasnt stopped Columbia Countys legislators from promoting significant legislation - some that will change the countys government, and one that could change the school system.
The latter proposal - a referendum asking voters if theyd like to elect the chairman of the school board - should be the catalyst for philosophical discussions on school leadership. By November, voters could decide that allowing a countywide election for chairman, instead of rotating the job among district-elected board members, may help shake up a disturbing trend in school leadership.
This trend is giving Columbia County an unwelcome - and unwelcoming - image. Look at four education leaders in four years:
Tom Dohrmann, the former school superintendent - and the first hired by the school board after countywide elections for the superintendent were abolished in Georgia - resigns in 1998.
Robert Waller resigns as Evans High School principal in 2001.
Principal Victor Lee and coach Ed Koester resign from Lakeside High School two weeks ago.
What do these four men have in common? All are outsiders, brought in to fill high positions in Columbia Countys school system - in Dohrmanns case, the highest spot. All resigned less than two years after being hired. And all were replaced with insiders who had worked their way up in local schools.
Some estimates are that more than a third of the countys residents have been here less than five years; only a relative handful of our 90,000 or so residents have been here more than 10 years. Clearly, then, county residents themselves arent generally hostile to newcomers if most of the people here are newcomers.
Why, then, have these significant newcomers failed in our school system? They were badly recruited, badly handled once they got here, or unable to cut it in Columbia Countys system.
Who knows; maybe they couldnt meet our tough standards. More likely, though, there is something about our school system that is starting to look like a private club, inhospitable to prospective new members who may be bold enough to take charge.
The latest to encounter this system are Lee and Koester. True, their departures may have been preordained when it was revealed that Lee withheld background information during Koesters controversial hiring. But like Dohrmann and Waller, somebody had to recommend, approve and hire Lee in the first place. If these men were portrayed as the best candidates at the time, why did they have such short careers in Columbia Countys system? Was it their fault - or ours?
Lee has now been replaced by Jeff Carney, one of those insiders who has worked his way through Columbia Countys system. It was a bold move by Superintendent Tommy Price and the school board to bypass the usual parent-interview process, especially when Lakesides parents have been a big part of that schools problem.
I have no doubt Carney will do a great job; he has certainly proven his skills at four other Columbia County schools. Stepping into Lakeside will be a tough challenge. The schools high achievement is partly because of its excellent parental involvement, but many of those same parents are to blame for the turmoil Carney is expected to soothe.
We really shouldnt be too quick to praise Price and the board for getting it right with Carney. After all, Carneys predecessor at one time was the right man for the job - and the same people also hired him.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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