There was a story in the paper the other day about an Athens teacher who wrote to Gov. Roy Barnes, complaining about his education reforms. Barrow Elementary teacher Elizabeth Kidd was surprised not just with a reply from Barnes, but with a 45-minute private audience.
I left the Capitol feeling more confident and at ease, Kidd was reported saying after the one-on-one session.
Oh, if only Columbia County parents could be in Kidds shoes - not to meet alone with the governor, but to sit face-to-face with School Superintendent Tommy Price to talk about proposed revisions to elementary school programs.
In that atmosphere, Price would be able to convince those parents that neither he nor the school board are a bunch of ogres, intent on making everyones kids stupider. And maybe, just maybe, those moms and dads would mind their manners.
Folks, I gotta tell you. For years now I have begged the Board of Education to be more willing to have give-and-take sessions with the public so both sides can hear concerns and get answers.
For far too long, I have sat through board meetings, grimacing as parents have been forced to squeeze their concerns into a timed, three-minute segment. And I have watched as trustees sat, like five stone speak-no-evil, see-no-evil monkey statues, listening intently yet refusing to respond directly to their constituents.
So, with a growing hubbub over a proposal to drastically rearrange the elementary school day, trustee Lee Muns finally stepped up to the plate and took a swing at a public meeting of his own. It was a home run; the parents were able to vent, Muns kept the participants polite, and most went away feeling better informed.
Still, many parents wanted an opportunity to interact not just with one trustee, but with other board members and the school systems administration. As the mix of information and disinformation mounted, Price stepped up to the plate himself and called for a full-blown public meeting to discuss the elementary changes.
About three dozen parents engaged in thoughtful give and take last Tuesday, listening attentively to Prices presentation. Influenced by constructive comments, the board likely will tone down the proposals, sparing small schools from planned cuts. For parents offering that feedback, the session was productive.
Sadly, like skunks at a picnic, a handful of others stunk things up with disrespectful and downright obnoxious behavior - one even spewing suspicious-smelling breath as she continued to vent following the session.
No wonder Price, trudging out of Greenbrier Highs auditorium afterward, muttered, Ill never do that again.
I really hope he doesnt mean that, and was just venting frustration of his own. But for crying out loud: We beat on school officials for avoiding public dialogue; and then, when they finally open up, ill-mannered boneheads try to spoil it all.
It doesnt help matters much, either, that the socially graceless were outnumbered by those without a clue as to how a school system functions. Does the school board meet regularly? one sincere-sounding mom asked afterward. Well, yes, it does - the second Tuesday of every month in Evans at 6 p.m., the fourth Tuesday in Appling at 6 p.m. As it has for years.
I will even share the blame: My job is to inform people, and if they arent informed, I have to assume Im not doing my job. But as Elizabeth Kidd and all other teachers know: While one-on-one tutoring is effective, we cant open up anyones head and pour the information in.
Too bad we cant, and maybe dump in some manners while were at it.
(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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