Dear Dr. Curtis Jones:
Welcome to Bibb County. It’s good to have you on board.
You probably already know who I am. To some, I’m a pariah because I supported your predecessor, Dr. Romain Dallemand. I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about him, if you haven’t already. To others I’m a saint. I write what I think and feel -- always supported by research and paperwork.
The folks who believe me to be the devil don’t understand that I’ve supported every superintendent who has sat where you’re about to sit -- including Tom Madison, Gene Buinger, Sharon Patterson and Dallemand -- along with the various interim school chiefs: Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, Steve Smith and Kelley Castlin Gacutan. Yes, I have history here. I’ll explain later.
Needless to say, I’m neither a saint nor Beelzebub, just a concerned, involved resident who knows our area’s future depends on an outstanding educational system.
You have a full plate. There is much work to do. I’m sure you’re aware that Bibb schools are failing. Too many children are not expected to succeed, and they have lived down to those expectations. There have been too many excuses over the decades. Some say it’s the influence of private schools; others say it’s poverty. Still more blame parents, many times unnecessarily, for the hurdles children face.
All of those factors play a part, but in my view, none come close to explaining why 14 of our schools have been identified by the governor as failing so miserably that if his Opportunity Schools idea gets through the General Assembly and approved by voters, the state could take over those failing institutions.
The excuses don’t explain why on the 5-point School Climate Ratings (5 being the highest) for the 2013-14 school year, 14 of our schools rated a 2 (below satisfactory), 14 rated a 3 (average) and eight scored a 1 (unsatisfactory). Only three received a 4 (above average). According to the Georgia Department of Education, the School Climate Ratings are “a diagnostic tool to determine if a school is on the right path to school improvement.”
Among school systems in Jones, Peach, Monroe, Crawford, Baldwin, Houston and Twiggs counties, none had a single school ranked at the bottom. Bibb had eight. Baldwin and Peach each had two schools rated 2, and Houston and Twiggs had one. Houston also had 20 schools rated 4 and three rated 5 (excellent). Twiggs had two schools rated 5.
On the 2014 College and Career Ready Performance Index score, Bibb scored a 61.6 on a 100-point scale, the lowest among nearby Middle Georgia districts. Five of the district’s seven high schools had a 2014 graduation rate of less than 60 percent, according to the CCRPI. That number is a mixed bag. Southwest, Northeast and Howard showed marked improvement, while Rutland, Westside, Central and Hutchings moved in the wrong direction.
Dr. Jones, I’m here to not only support you but to advocate for your ideas if they make sense to me. I thought teaching Mandarin Chinese was brilliant. Still do. I also thought having families choose which school their children would attend, no matter where they lived, was an appropriate response due to the transitory nature of the student population; more than 35-plus percent of students move throughout the year.
I will admit, it is in my enlightened self-interest for you to do well. There are four precious children who call me “granddad” who attend Bibb County schools. I want the best for them and their classmates. I understand that the only thing that can lift their lives to new heights is what they are learning in their classrooms.
This community deserves more than it is getting, and you are coming in at a great time. This area is experiencing a resurrection. We still have to get a lot of mess out of our system, much of it dealing with schools, but your hiring marks another turning point.
You may have to play colonel for a while. Many of our schools are used to doing their own thing. Accountability has been lacking. You may have to purge a few folks who may not want to get on your bandwagon. You’ll get pushback. Bibb County is an incestuous place full of relative, religious and fraternal connections.
I’ll let you get settled. I don’t want to intrude, but my number is at the bottom of this column, and my door, as I’m sure your’s will be, is always open. Let’s do lunch -- and it’s on me.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet@crichard1020.