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Rumors pour into vacuum

Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The old saying, "nature hates a vacuum," has never been more true than when personnel problems arise in Columbia County's school system.

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Our system really is fortunate in that major problems don't come up very often. But when they do, confidentiality rules become a vast rug under which those problems are swept out of sight of the public.

This is the reason for the near silence regarding the recent "retirement" of Grovetown Middle School Principal Carolyn Fries.

First, no principal just "retires" halfway through the first nine weeks of the school year. So everyone knows she was nudged out.

Second, Superintendent Charles Nagle admits there have been some "issues and concerns" with Fries, a 32-year veteran educator. But he won't elaborate, calling them "personnel issues."

Fries herself would cite only "personal reasons" for her retirement, responding to a reporter's question about rumors of her departure by asking, "What have you heard?"

The rumors I've heard, involving disputes with some attendance records and students' grades, hardly sound like death-penalty offenses. But it's hard to be sure because school officials prefer to keep the public in the dark about these things.

Oh, I know - they claim otherwise, and seem to believe they're only shooing away the pesky media. But it's through the media that the public finds out how their, um, public school system is operating, for the good and the bad. Keeping us in the dark is just a way of telling you it's none of your business.

In any event, Grovetown Middle School now has its third principal. Yep - Penny Jackson is the third, not the second. Most people probably have forgotten that, before Fries left Harlem Middle to take over Grovetown in 2002, that the school system first had hired Tom McClendon from Oconee County to open the new school.

McClendon resigned a week before his contract was to start. He cited "personal reasons."

Last call for cooks

If you're game - pun intended - there's still time to sign up for the wild game cookoff Saturday at Wildwood Park's Sportsman Festival.

I'm one of the judges, so I'm hoping for a good variety. The winning cooks can get anywhere from $200 for their category to $500 overall, so it's probably the best prize for a cooking contest in the area.

If you're interested, call Jeb Bell at (706) 541-3761, or e-mail him at jbell@columbiacountyga.gov.

Cagle to visit

Speaking of cooking, though the Georgia governor's race is still two years away, things will start heating up this Saturday when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle comes back to town.

He'll be having breakfast Saturday at Fatz Cafe with the Columbia County Republican Party. Cagle is just one of several Republicans likely to run for governor in a couple of years. The only officially declared Republican so far is Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, but plenty more are expected to hop into the race.

The Democrats also have a candidate already running: Former state labor commissioner and state National Guard commander David Poythress.

Prayers needed

Finally, prayers are needed for a couple of my media brethren.

Joe Hotchkiss, a Chronicle editorial writer and a heckuva good guy, is battling pancreatitis. Scott Hudson, a radio reporter for WGAC who has contributed tremendously as a community volunteer, is fighting a rare, often-fatal blood disorder.

Both are very ill, and would benefit greatly from heavenly help.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)



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