OPINION: Brandi O.

Brandi Moorehead-Owczarz is the managing editor of the Calhoun Times. You can find her on Facebook or email her at bowczarz@calhountimes.com.

I can’t catch a break lately with this Gordon County School mess. Just when I think we’re coming to an end of new revelations, I get a call, a letter in the mail, or an email that changes everything.

Imagine my surprise on Wednesday when I received an email concerning the Gordon County Schools’ Personnel Handbook, found on the Gordon County Schools website, which lays out the guidelines of all personnel of Gordon County Schools. On page 35 of said handbook, it was pointed out the policy on Employment of Relatives, and the fact that principals shouldn’t have employed, in their specific school, immediate family members, complete with a list of what defines immediate family members.

“GCS is committed to the employment and assignment of employees in a manner that best meets the needs of the school system,” the policy reads. “In keeping with this commitment, the Board realizes the importance of eliminating any question of impropriety in personnel practices which have the potential to foster staff conflict of interest, charges of favoritism or otherwise adversely affect the orderly operation of the system.”

Charges of favoritism? My opinion is charges of favoritism passed us in the rearview mirror with that under qualified choice of assistant principal at Sonoraville High School. But I digress...

So here we are with a principal with THREE, yes...THREE immediate family members working in their school, which appears to violate the School System’s Personnel Handbook policy.

Disclaimer: I am in no way blaming the principal or the three relatives because of this snafu; they probably had no idea. However, this is a direct violation, by school officials, of their own policy. And it's not human resources fault...this was an appointment, a "lateral move" by the head of the school system.

Look, I’m so over this mess. I began this school year with my youngest son, my little boo baby, enrolled at Sonoraville Elementary. As I’ve said many times, my family is a Calhoun City family, with my parents, aunts, uncles, myself, my brother and my two oldest children going through the system. And we have to admit, Calhoun City is a great school system. But something’s a little different with my Riley. His best friends go to school in the county; we live in the county and he just has that county mentality...he fits in better there. He’s been so happy this year.

And let me switch gears and say, this isn’t a teacher or staff issue. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen such great teachers as I have in this county system. Riley’s teachers are top notch and I’ve been so impressed with everyone at his school.

And even with all these accusations we are checking out, the personnel at human resources and finance and other departments...I’ve never met such helpful people. They are just at the system, doing the best job they can. They don’t make the decisions that are being made- they take marching orders. And I guess like, with any job, if you don’t do what your boss says, you’re fired. And these people work hard and don’t want to lose their job. They’re in a tough place, and I don’t blame them a bit for all the appearances of shady this school system throws out.

And I could, in a heartbeat, pull my son out of Gordon County Schools, and put him back at Calhoun. But I’m not going to. We live in the county. My son loves his school, he loves his teachers and he loves his classmates.

Our students at Gordon County schools deserve the best, and I’m going to do my part in fixing this mess, and it starts right here, right now.

First of all, as I preach all the time, don’t believe everything you see on social media. I see some comments and my skin crawls at the inaccuracies from people who think they know what’s going on.

So, Gordon County Schools has a superintendent. This superintendent is watched by a school board of seven members.

On Wednesday, I called Bobby Hall, one of the longtime Board members, and asked him about this personnel issue with the principal. He told me it wasn’t a big deal, they’ll just move those three teachers. My concern was the possibility of a lawsuit by employees they have already moved due to the personnel policy. He then went on to accuse me of reporting negatively about the school system, and that it’s my reporting that’s hurting morale. He then explained to me that five of the Board members (remember, there’s seven total) are in full support of the superintendent.

First of all, my reporting exposes shady things, as it’s supposed to do. It holds elected officials accountable.

Secondly, the “waiving” of standards comes from the superintendent. She’s the one that has the power to do that. 

So, for me, the problem is a majority Board that supports shady decisions. So this is what I did, me personally, not the Calhoun Times...this is what Chanin Brandi Owczarz did at the polls during early voting to do my part in rectifying the situation.

The Gordon County School Board, according to Bobby Hall, swings 5 - 2 in favor of the superintendent. Four seats are currently up for election.

Charlie Walraven has been a strong voice in what a bad idea it is to waive these professional standards...he professes that our children deserve better and I agree with him. He has no opposition, so I voted for him.

Now, the two woman on the Board up for re-election, Republican’s Nan Barnette and Dana Stewart, both have opposition. Nan is facing fellow Republican Kacee Smith. Nan is a huge supporter of Remillard and she supports the waiving of professional standards. I go to church with Ms. Nan and you will not find a finer Christian woman, but in this day and time, there is no reason to waive standards for our children. They deserve the best and, with all the shady going on in the school system, I do not have faith in the superintendent. Smith has mentioned in public that he does not support waiving of professional standards, so I voted for Smith.

Stewart’s race will not be decided next week as she has Democratic opposition in Allen Dutch. Stewart has denied that the system has lowered their professional standards, but anyone who read Wednesday’s Calhoun Times knows that’s not the case. Stewart has also maintained her full support of the superintendent. I watched Dutch in the Political Forum, and he is a very smart man who works in higher education, and he expressed concern that waiving standards will hurt teacher morale and voiced that Gordon County Schools should do what it takes to keep our excellent teachers. So, in November, even though I’m a registered Republican, I will be voting for Democrat Allen Dutch because during the November Election, you don’t have to stick to your party of voting. You can cross-choose who you vote for during the November election.

That leaves one race up for grabs, between Republican incumbent Larry Massey and Republican Eddie Hall. Massey was appointed to the Board on Sept. 15, 2017, so he’s had just eight months on the Board so far, but he’s the one that is doing all this research and asking all these questions. He’s the one that exposed the whole assistant principal qualifications in a meeting the Calhoun Times attended that got all of this started.

I’ve read on social media where he voted for the superintendent’s contract extension in December so he’s not worthy of re-election. But let’s use common sense: in December when that contract was voted on, Massey had spent less than three months on the Board. Now, when elected to office, it’s smart for one to slowly get acclimated to what is actually going on within the system before they start voting against everyone else.

Let me give you an example: You drive through downtown Calhoun and see that caboose sitting empty that’s had more than $35,000 invested in it and it’s going to sit empty for a while...that’s because a newly elected official got into office and decided to start barking orders to people to get things done and she wanted a caboose to sell ice cream from. So now we have an empty, useless caboose that wasted taxpayer money. THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS when elected officials go into office and try to rock the boat without really understanding what is going on.

Massey, from my understanding, slowly began seeing that things were not right and has been very vocal since just after the first of the year on things he sees don’t quite add up. He’s even REQUESTED that, before hires are made, HR provides the Board with a list of qualifications of candidates before the Board votes. He got beat up for that from people saying don’t ask, DEMAND. Unfortunately, as I said above, we have a 5 to 2 split on the Board, and he’s one of the 2. So at this time, he really doesn’t have a majority vote, and these things require a majority vote.

Massey’s opponent seems very nice, however, Hall resigned his position early when he served on the Board of the Calhoun City Schools, as reported in 2012 in the Calhoun Times. He cited a potential conflict of interest between his position on the board and his role as the owner of a t-shirt business. That t-shirt company is now out of business, and he works at Prater Ford as a car salesman. By the way, Gordon County Schools has purchased two vehicles from Prater Ford just this school year. Is it going to be a conflict of interest? I don’t know, but I don’t want to chance it and now that Massey is finding his groove, he got my vote.

So, if that scenario played out during the election, the tide would shift on this Board and it’d be more even. While you couldn’t remove a superintendent, because the superintendent’s contract requires a five-sevenths Board majority, you would at least be able to hold her feet to the fire and make sure things were above the board, no pun intended.

And in two years, if I’m still around this paper, I’ll be reminding the community of Mr. Bobby Hall’s words that five of the seven members were supporters of the superintendent. That means the other three on the Board who are up for re-election in 2020, Mr. Bobby Hall, Chris Johnson and Jason Hendrix, will be on my list of people not to vote for.

Because at the end of the day, this isn’t about supporting a superintendent, especially one who has way too much power. It’s about the children, and their teachers, and making sure the school system is moving forward.

Moving forward? Why isn’t it moving forward?

Well, because by waiving the standards and not promoting hard-working teachers and staff who have successfully obtained advanced degrees, we are settling for basic bachelor’s degrees.

*NOTE: This is not Brandi knocking anyone having a bachelor's degree. What I'm knocking is the promoting of people in the educational field with just the basic, entry level bachelor's degrees over more highly qualified, higher-degreed candidates. In some professions, a bachelor's degree isn't even required or is more than sufficient. In education, however, the whole purpose is to obtain the highest level of learning. A bachelor's degree, in education, is just basic.

Another thing Mr. Hall told me was how high the graduation rate for the County Schools is now...it’s in the 90 percent range. Why, 30 and 40 years ago, it was just seventy-something percent.

And you know what we had 30 years ago? Teachers and staff who didn’t have anything above a basic bachelor’s degree, because it wasn’t required. I don’t remember many of my teachers having advanced degrees past their bachelor’s degree. There was no Georgia Professional Standards Commission 30 years ago (it wasn’t created until 1991), so there were no real requirements of leadership or being certified and having specialized skills.

Things have changed since those days, and teachers having advanced degrees and advanced training should be commended as that’s the reason graduation rates rise. That’s the reason test scores rise. It’s not the superintendent. It’s not the superintendent’s minions. It’s awesome, extremely qualified teachers that put in the extra time and hard work...the sacrifice to obtain the highest level of knowledge possible, so they can "be the best they can be" so they can pass being the “best you can be” on to our kids.

But let’s go ahead and lower standards, and while we’re at it, put a basic, entry-level teacher that in 24 years has never had an inkling to try to advance her degree into an assistant principal’s position and just turn our heads to the fact that she’s the identical twin sister of the Curriculum Director. Hopefully our kids will not suffer.

So that’s what I’ve done, as my part, to try to fix the problem, because a weak Board of Education will continue to allow the changes the superintendent is making at the detriment of our students. Gordon County Schools deserves so much more, and to get there, there’s got to be a shake up in the Board.

Brandi Moorehead-Owczarz is the Managing Editor of the Calhoun Times. You can contact her at bowczarz@CalhounTimes.com or find her on Facebook by searching Brandi Moorehead Owczarz.