Dear Charles Richardson and Dr. Curtis Jones

Dear Charles Richardson:

Charles Richardson

Charles Richardson

I just finished reading your “editorial” today. I used quotation marks because I am not really sure you actually understand how to write an editorial. I don’t think many people consider you to be Beelzebub, nor a saint. I think most of us just consider you to be someone very poor at your job and with a massive conflict of interest and a really big ego.

In a strange way I should thank you. You were partly the inspiration for my decision to finally create a Watchdog site based in Middle Georgia to fill a huge vacuum created by not having an opinion editor able to articulate the problems facing Macon. In towns fortunate enough to have a talented and unbiased editorialist and investigative journalists there isn’t as much need for a watchdog site. Macon is not so fortunate hence the creation of this site.

Only recently David Oedel also started another site picking up the slack as well for news and opinion pieces from Middle Georgia. I am sure you remember David Oedel. He was the best and most popular columnist at the Telegraph that exposed many of the same issues I am now covering. You fired him once he delved into your conflict of interest and started editing his articles. Make sure and check out the Macon Monitor to read some quality content by Professor Oedel and be sure to read my columns while there as well. You might learn something.

A good editorialist can serve as the local Watchdog and tries to offer insightful and thought-provoking commentary on local issues. They can help identify problems and steer public opinion. They also can explain difficult or hard to understand problems. It is extremely important that a journalist gains the respect and admiration of the readers by maintaining a certain dignity. They do this by staying above the fray and avoiding lies and conflicts of interest. Bryan Williams learned that lesson the hard way. His sin was lying but your goes much deeper.

Good journalists and opinion editorialists are empty shells once they lose the respect of their audience as you have done.   They do this by being factual, always taking the side of the public’s best interest, and avoiding serious issues of conflict of interest. Gravitas and respect are earned not given simply because of a job title. They are also soon lost once you sell your soul to a person like Dallemnd and become a paid shill to justify the job of your wife. You retain your podium but fail to notice few are listening anymore.

No one begrudges your wife for having a job. I imagine that most sensible people don’t even mind the fact that she works for the Bibb Board of Education. It is how she came about the job, the high salary, and the job itself that angers people. She made a larger salary than veteran teachers with graduate degrees teaching students but I hear Dr. Smith reduced her salary to a more sensible range in line with other personnel. people are also rightfully suspicious that her job title seems to have been created specifically for her by Dallemand and no one else was even seriously considered or interviewed for that position. Few are even clear if her position is even needed or is simply superfluous especially now that the Welcome Center is thankfully kaput.

But what most in the community find even more galling is soon after she was hired by Romain Dallemand, you began to sing his praises from the mountaintop. You became Dallemand’s hired public relations shill and continue to do so to this day. That the public very much minded and I know this because I have received dozens of private emails telling me that. I try to be their voice since you seem deaf to these people. I feel sorry for your wife because she might be very good at her job but you sabotaged her from having a fair chance. Your editorials continuing to praise Dallemand made her guilty by many simply because you won’t shut up or admit your mistake. 

They are grateful that I have not let your snarky and inaccurate editorials go unchallenged. After I embarrassed you with proof that Cliffard Whitby was involved in the Promise contract you turned tail and ran…for a while at least. Your little accounting series came to an abrupt halt and don’t think many didn’t notice.

But instead of learning any lesson and just avoid writing about Dallemand or Education entirely, you continue to sing the praises of Romain even though he will likely end up in prison in the not so distant future. You also attack the new members of the BOE like Jason Downey and Lester Miller at every opportunity while never having a bad word for people like Ella Carter, Tom Hudson, or Wanda West who deserve your scorn.

Under your editorial today in the comment section Jim Sandefur made a comment I think worthy of inclusion.

Hey, Charles, he’s just a superintendent, not God, so your groveling for his attention is downright embarrassing. Also, automatically becoming every superintendent’s groupie without exercising any discretion is not something to brag about. And, NO, teaching Mandarin to students who can barely speak English was not brilliant. It was a laughably stupid idea by a man who is a total waste of protoplasm.

Well said Mr. Sandefur! Teaching Mandarin was always a ridiculously stupid idea. It might make more sense in places like California in cities with a large Chinese immigrant population,  Chinese companies, and a lot of trade with China but here in Middle Georgia it made zero sense.

Unlike you Mr. Richardson I actually speak multiple foreign languages and I have a far better understanding of what it takes to learn Mandarin. I have travelled to China on six occasions and know Americans that speak it fluently. On average it takes around three times longer for a typical American to master Chinese than it does to be proficient at Spanish, French, or German for example. There are no cognates, it uses a completely different alphabet and writing system, the four tonal sounds are extremely difficult to master. To become remotely proficient at Chinese would also require a level of dedication few students have for any foreign language let alone one as difficult as Mandarin which requires much more dedication and effort.

Let me absolutely clear that I think learning foreign languages is a fantastic idea and I encourage all students to try and learn one or more languages. Studies have shown it can help in other subjects as well. But, that is far easier done if Bibb would simply invest in programs like Rosetta Stone which offers courses in dozens of languages.  I know more than a little about CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) since I helped create one of the very first successful CALL based programs in Japan. I also gave lectures and published academic articles explaining how this can be done successfully. Unlike you I know of what I speak from actual experience and expertise.

Rosetta Stone sells licenses for entire districts that are far more affordable than hiring Mandarin teachers. Students could then have a choice to learn Mandarin, Swahili, Vietnamese, Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, and any other other language and do so at their own pace and a far cheaper cost. There is still a need to offer languages like Spanish and French in the classroom by a trained teacher as well. But why should we squash the enthusiasm for a student eager to learn a practical language like Spanish by forcing them to learn Mandarin. And by that same token, for any students eager to learn Mandarin, Russian, or Arabic we need to offer those students that opportunity as well. One size does not fit all and the most important ingredient to learning a foreign language is eagerness by far.

Even for students studying Spanish in a classroom with a teacher, a product like Rosetta Stone can be an amazingly useful additional tool to assist both slow learners which allows them to go at their own pace. High-achieving  students eager to jump ahead or possibly learn a third language can also benefit from CALL programs. But your pal Romain made sure to hire the most incompetent IT people he could find and wasted around $30 million on useless dumb terminals presently collecting cherry blossom pollen in a warehouse instead of buying iMacs with a Rosetta Stone license that would actually be used and useful.

In fact computer assisted learning works wonders for all subjects and this is exactly what Bibb needs but now has far less money to procure the hardware and software thanks to all the money Dallemand flushed down the toilet.

So no, I don’t think you are a saint or a sinner, just not terribly bright and with a massive chip on your shoulder. The fact that you admitted to blindly supporting every superintendent and interim superintendent whether they deserve that support or not proves that you are incapable of being insightful or a force for positive change for Bibb County schools. You are simply a vacuous cheerleader with nothing constructive to add to the conversation.

There were a few lines in your editorial I agree with that I felt worth expounding on. The performance of Bibb schools is appalling and has been this way since the 1990’s at least. Many people look back on the 70’s and 80’s as the golden age of education in the U.S. and also in Bibb. Back then we were doing exactly what high performing countries like Finland, Singapore, Japan and others are doing now.

Both President Bush and President Obama sold the soul of education to companies like Pearson with programs like No Child Left Behind and other well-intentioned programs that turned our schools into corporate profit centers for testing companies.  Teachers were forced to teach to tests instead of teaching content or to the students.

Companies like Pearson make billions off of forcing both students and teachers to take endless tests. If you want to know why Education in the U.S. is in trouble, I strongly suggest you read this article. 8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests. Until the U.S. pushes companies like Pearson out of schools again, teachers will continue to fight an uphill battle.

It is true that other counties have to follow the same rules as Bibb. So there does seem to be something amiss here in Bibb that needs to be addressed. In your editorial you said “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 think you are absolutely correct. Even a broken clock gets the time right twice a day. Though I would include your wife in your description as someone currently profiting from the status quo of an incestuous relationship.

I would add to your list that Bibb has an inordinately high number of inefficacious teachers that need to be removed or at a minimum retrained. Bibb has a lot of excellent educators as well working their butts off under very difficult circumstances, but it also has its share of bad teachers that simply were never cut out to teach. 

Since I started this website I have been inundated with stories from teachers, parents, and students that told me stories me of  many incompetent teachers working in Bibb. Some may have simply been suffering from teacher burnout and others were never a good teacher at all, nor will they ever become one.

Houston County on the other hand doesn’t seem to suffer from this problem nearly to this degree. This comment might anger some teachers who may resemble this remark, but it needed to be said. For too long we have danced around the invisible elephant in the room. There is one college in middle Georgia in particular that turns out a lot of graduates that are simply not qualified to teach. In fact it was sanctioned by SACS  and is still on shaky ground.

That is not to say excellent teachers don’t also come from Fort Valley State and  Ivy League schools don’t produce bad teachers as well. But it is certainly a widely known if little discussed weakness endemic to Bibb county schools that needs to be addressed post haste by Dr. Jones. Two of the best teachers I ever had were Fort Valley graduates. My 4th grade teacher Dorothy Blackshear and 7th grade teacher Mr. Singleton at Porter Elementary. They were exceptional teachers and I owe them a great deal. I heard Mr. Singleton passed away but if his family reads this I want you to know what a great teacher he was. He taught us some basic French which lit off a spark in me to pursue studying French and other foreign languages later.

Let me also be perfectly clear that being a good or bad teacher has nothing at all to do with race or the school you attended. There are plenty of good and bad teachers from all races, genders, and ethnicities. I am not trying to single out anyone or any group in particular. Without good teachers you will never have good schools or well-prepared students so it is time to separate the rotten apples from the good ones. To all the great teachers in Bibb, thank you and this does NOT apply to you guys. In fact you are the ones who begged me to bring this issue to the forefront.

The students at Bibb schools are desperate for good teachers but many of the best teachers have been leaving for other counties, private schools, and now charter schools because they are tired of seeing bad ones get promoted while their efforts go unnoticed. They are tired of not getting the support they need and deserve or even the basic supplies. There is also no shortage of qualified and eager teachers waiting to be given a chance once the bad ones can be weeded out. This will be Dr. Jones biggest hurdle by far to making improvements to Bibb Schools, but it has to be done if things are to change. You can’t have good schools without good teachers. We still have a lot of good ones left, but we need all our teachers to be on their A-game not just a majority. We also need to stop the bleeding fast before we lose more good teachers and reverse the trend.

Some teachers simply don’t have a clue about the content they are teaching or need some refresher pedagogical courses. The GACE exam is a joke. Almost anyone can pass these exams with very little effort with the exception of certain STEM subjects which are more challenging. Passing the GACE alone does not mean you are a good teacher, but for teachers that had to take it a dozen times before they passed that is a good place to start.

If Bibb has any hope to improve, there needs to be a system wide evaluation that is fair and quantifiable of teachers so that exceptional ones can gain the recognition they deserve and bad teachers can be identified for retraining or termination. I am not calling for a witch-hunt or any extra work for already overworked teachers.  But something needs to be done to ensure that an Algebra teacher understands linear equations, a history teacher doesn’t need to look at their notes to know when Pearl harbor was attacked, or an English teacher doesn’t need to rely on a grammar checker to check their syntax. All of these examples are from emails I received.

The assessments need to be completely above board and transparent. I also think there are bad people in administrative positions that aren’t giving clear instructions or support to teachers, so look to them first before any teacher is fired or retrained. The evaluations need to be quantifiable with data to avoid any possibility that a principal or other evaluators with a grudge or a vendetta against a teacher can’t use this unfairly to target them. This too is a complaint I have heard from current teachers that the current system is bent to reward friends in a clique and punish outsiders not in the clique. Evaluations must be completely fair and unbiased with no room for cronyism or favoritism from personal relationships. Teachers need to know they will be judged on their teaching ability alone and not on how much they suck up to the principal or other teachers. Teachers also need to be able to evaluate admins and principals without fear of retribution. They are not immune to being evaluated either!

If Bibb is to retain or attract good teachers the system as a whole has to show they are wanted and appreciated. That starts with respect and includes a salary commiserate with the important job they are doing. That also means the BOE has to spend the money wisely if people will accept any future tax increases towards improving our schools.

In Japan teachers are called sensei which is a great sign of respect. This is the same title used for doctors and lawyers. For some reason Americans have a warped sense that being a teacher is an easy job. It isn’t. It is grinding and hard but also extremely important and a noble profession.

But one reason Japanese teachers get so much respect and great results is because they are quick to fire bad ones. Incompetent teachers don’t last long in Japan. I know because I fired several of them myself. Once the bad ones are removed the community has to start showing more respect for teachers. The job they do will determine the future of your children so give these people a little more respect and credit for the important role they play. Thank the good teachers as often as  you report the bad ones and if you think  it is easy then please volunteer as a substitute and you might change your mind.

Dear Dr. Curtis Jones:

curtis jones

Dr. Curtis Jones

My message to you will be much briefer. We are very glad  you were hired and we look forward to a hopefully long tenure here. When I first learned you had been hired back in early February I wrote an article welcoming you to our district.

I will not presume to give you any advice in terms of your duties as superintendent. You are eminently qualified and I will defer to your expertise. I am confident you have a plan and a vision and you have my support.

The only advice I have for you is to avoid Charles Richardson like the plague. Don’t have lunch with him and simply ignore him like most of the rest of us do in Bibb. He has lost all his credibility and nothing good will ever come from engaging him in conversation.

Other than that, Macon is a welcoming place and I think you will enjoy living here. We have an incredibly diverse range of eating and shopping venues for a city our size. There are also a lot of good teachers hoping against hope that Bibb has finally hired someone on their side for a change. People are primed and pumped at the prospect that Bibb schools finally has a superintendent willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work instead of eating crabtinis at luxury hotels around the world on our dime as the previous one did.

There are many  students with dreams of going to college if only they could get a good education. They are starving for good teachers in many classrooms around Bibb and they are hoping you will rescue them from the abyss. Dr. Smith did a lot of good work and corrected a lot of past mistakes but there is still much left to do.

I hope your first priority will be to ensure they get the education they deserve by cleaning house the people that were hired not based on merit or talent but rather from connections or politics. There will be a lot of pushback and resistance but you will also have a lot of allies on your side including most of the BOE, all of the students and parents, and most of the teachers. Your first year will be a honeymoon period so act fast.

By this time next year the forces that have caused our schools to suffer for so long will have mobilized against you. The entrenched special interest used to getting contracts or having their unqualified friends and family hired as teachers will not like you shaking things up, but if you are to succeed you will have to do a lot of shaking.

The job of Bibb Superintendent will be very challenging, but you already knew that. But it will also be extremely rewarding because  you are in the unique position to change the lives of thousands of students and teachers for the better. I am confident the BOE hired the right person for the job and for the first time in many years I am excited about the prospects for the Bibb County School District as a whole.

May I suggest you use this as a new motto for a new beginning to Macon-Bibb schools: Hinc lucem et pocula sacra which basically means “From this place we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge” This is the motto of Cambridge University and it stuck me with decades after my short stint there. The literal translation is [From] here [we receive] light and sacred draughts.”here” being the University (or the Alma Mater, nursing mother), and “light and sacred draughts” being metaphors for knowledge.

Good luck and Godspeed Dr. Jones.

 

 

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