Four months ago, we talked about the awful situation down the road in Warren County, where former Columbia County school administrator (and life-long Columbia County resident) Carole Jean Carey was in the fight of her professional life.
The situation in Warren County schools was a direct result of unusually high voter turnout from the 2008 election of Barack Obama. That election brought to power a faction that set to work destroying the school system.
Within months, the system was threatened with loss of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools because of the racially charged school board's arrogant misbehavior and mismanagement.
Carey, the system's superintendent who had worked miracles improving that system during the past decade, saw her entire body of work threatened.
Carey was eligible in April to retire and wash her hands of the whole mess - and no one could have blamed her if she'd done so.
Instead, she's stuck around - and the good guys have started racking up wins.
After a group of Warren County residents petitioned for removal of the three ruling members of the school board, Gov. Sonny Perdue recently asked an administrative law judge to make a recommendation.
The last time a school board lost its accreditation - Clayton County, in 2008 - Perdue stepped in and removed four of its board members. The system has since regained its accreditation.
A hearing on the Warren County board hasn't been set, but it could be a sign of things to come that the board chairman stepped down (as chairman, not as a board member) and then was censured by the rest of the board.
Clara Roberts was accused, among other things, of lying about the SACS investigation of the board and - get this - for spitting in the hair of one of her critics.
The vote to censure Roberts doesn't really do anything, as she's still (for now) on the board. But at least most members are moving in the right direction.
The school system's next step, Carey says, is to prepare for a visit from a new SACS special review next Monday and Tuesday.
"They will interview administrators, board members, parents, community members, etc.,"Carey says. "We will be showing how this board has tried to address the nine SACS recommendations since December.
"We will see how it goes," Carey adds. "We are hoping that we will not lose our accreditation."
That's the real prize. After all: Loss of accreditation would mean students would receive diplomas that many colleges wouldn't honor, and the graduates couldn't get HOPE scholarships. The rural, poor and overwhelmingly black system already struggles; this would be a kick in the teeth to its best students.
As for Carey's retirement plans, those are on hold.
"I am staying a while longer because I want to get everything settled and in better shape before leaving,"Carey says. "The community has been so supportive and faithful to me that I cannot leave them at this time."
Meanwhile, last week Perdue signed Senate Bill 84, which puts into place school board requirements that are at the core of the problems from Warren County's board.
In addition to giving the state more authority to step in to fix problem systems, the new law "standardizes board ethics policies and board training, clarifies the law delineating the roles and responsibilities of superintendents and board members, creates minimum qualifications for board candidates and gives the state the ability to find responsible citizens to serve on school boards when existing members fail to serve the interests of their students,"according to Perdue's office.
Too bad this law wasn't already in force before students in Clayton and Warren counties were put through this fearful ringer. At least it should help prevent future problems.
And for Columbia County residents? This should make us count our blessings for our school system and the good folks who run it. Seriously.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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