Jackson County Opinions...

April 4, 2001



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 4, 2001

Florida, Rain, Fishing And Bureaucracies
We slipped out of town last week for a mini-vacation to spend three nights with my sister Laurel and her husband Larry in Titusville (pronounce that with a long I, please), FL. I had my eye on a little fishing for redfish in the Indian River.
Florida has been under a drought more severe even than ours, but to celebrate our arrival, Mother Nature dumped 2.9 inches of rain into the nearest rain gauge, an amount that probably would have been greater but for the fact the water was traveling horizontally.
I mention this only to enter it into the record; I'm fairly certain that the Beardsleys have never taken a trip to Florida, however brief, that has not rained. Once I document this hypothesis, it is my intention to offer (for a fee) to visit Florida monthly as a means of assuring that the Sunshine State get its needed supply of rain to replenish the aquifer so the orange trees and Disney Enterprises can continue to grow.
The fishing was largely without merit, due primarily to a combination of my lack of knowledge (since rectified) of where to go and wind that would hurl a lure back into your face. But I got to fish in Mosquito Bay (obviously no one cleared the name in advance with the chamber of commerce), which is in the Merritt Island Wildlife Preserve just north of Cape Canaveral.
If the fishing lacked, certainly there was no similar lacking of wildlife. I spotted a bald eagle, a river otter, enough ducks to titillate the entire Ducks Unlimited chapter, wading birds of all sizes and descriptions, alligators and, my first ever, roseate spoonbills.
It seemed that all of Brevard County is but one big marsh. This is probably not the greatest thing in the world during the summer months, but in mid-spring (summer is almost there already), it's quite nice. With their home backed up to a protected marsh, the unimpeded view off the huge back porch is assured of remaining intact. It is a birdwatcher's paradise, not to mention self-proclaimed redfish capital of the world.
Interstate 95 runs through the county, and the Georgia DOT could teach its Florida counterparts a lot about traffic engineering. If you think our roads are created by deranged engineering drop-outs, you'll feel better after experiencing the I-95 corridor. The first thing you notice on I-95 leaving Florida is how much nicer ­ and safer ­ it is once you enter Georgia. Florida also leads Georgia in "We Dare To Bare" establishments, but that's another issue.
There is talk of closing road access to Merritt Island. NASA has been told to make up some cost overruns on the space station from its operating budget; the first thing it will do is to quit maintaining the network of roads in the area, which it will close to the public, creating (NASA hopes) a groundswell of anger from citizens who will lobby Congress into increasing the funding. NASA needs the roads for security anyway, but closing them to the public creates a mandate for more spending.
Florida's drought and roads may be worse, but it's got the same kind of bureaucrats. They'd close a national treasure to the public in a political ploy to get more funds. Some things are the same everywhere.
Mark Beardsley is editor of The Commerce News.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
April 4, 2001

College campuses unfriendly to free speech
The battleground over free speech has shifted in recent years to the campuses of our nation's colleges. It began several years ago when a number of colleges and universities adopted "speech codes" to eliminate what many called "hate speech." Students are sensitive, don't you know.
The latest fight over free speech on college campuses centers around a paid advertisement that denounced the idea of paying slavery reparations. Conservative commentator David Horowitz attempted to place the ad in college newspapers all across the country. The ad, titled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea - and Racist Too," did run in a few college papers, but was rejected by many others.
On several of the campuses where the ad did get published, the reaction from liberal students was harsh. At Brown University, newspapers were stolen en mass as an act of "civil disobedience." At the University of California, Berkeley, the editor of the college newspaper ran a front page apology for having published the ad. At least 15 college newspapers, including Georgia Tech, rejected the ad as being politically unacceptable.
We thought college campuses were supposed to be a place where intellectual discourse was encouraged, where ideas were debated and exchanged. Apparently that is no longer the case.
We don't argue that these college newspapers didn't have the right to reject the ad. That's perfectly legal. This newspaper has also rejected ads if we know the information to be false or potentially libelous or if the ad is crude and in bad taste.
But the Horowitz ad was not some KKK broadside against African-Americans. It was not spreading false information, nor was it libelous or in bad taste. It was a legitimate response to a growing debate over whether descendants of American slaves should be paid billions of dollars by the federal government. Horowitz opposes such a plan and outlined why in his advertisement.
That so many college newspapers refused to publish his views is another sign that our college campuses have become a bastion for liberal orthodoxy which tolerates no dissenting views.
And when our colleges slam the door shut to free speech and open debate, can the rest of our society be far behind?

Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 4, 2001

Raising academic standards a good move
For several months, leaders of the Jefferson City School System have been working on a plan they believe will push their students academically.
That's a rare event in today's public schools - more often than not, public schools have celebrated mediocrity, not excellence. It isn't often that we've seen schools raise academic standards.
Just by coincidence, Jefferson's plans also fit with this year's move by Gov. Roy Barnes to end social promotion in schools. While many other school systems are just now beginning to plan for the end of social promotions, Jefferson is six months ahead of the curve.
The genesis of Jefferson's plan came when school leaders realized the system would have some space available next year after its new middle school is completed. With growing classroom demands in the system's elementary school, leaders began to look for a way to use its old middle school building to relieve some of that pressure.
Leaders considered several ideas, but the one that made the most sense was to use the old middle school to house fifth grade students. From that sprang the idea of creating a "Fifth Grade Academy" in the facility to focus more attention on that critical elementary school grade.
School officials have long noted the difficult transition between the fifth and sixth grade years. Students who enter the sixth grade without a solid academic background often struggle to survive their middle school years successfully.
So it only makes sense for a school to focus on the fifth grade year in an effort to better prepare students for the challenges of middle school. The key to Jefferson's plan is to raise academic standards and to provide a more intense and expanded fifth grade curriculum. One part of that is to provide extra assistance to students who are not performing up to fifth grade levels.
By housing fifth graders in their own facility, school leaders also hope to create a more focused atmosphere where academics will be the priority. The goal is to have students doing some work at the sixth grade level by the time students finish the fifth grade.
Although it was not the initial focus, leaders hope that setting high academic standards in the fifth grade will also ripple both up and down through the school system. If the tougher fifth grade standards work, the curriculum below the fifth grade should become more challenging to meet the new fifth grade demands. Likewise, if fifth graders learn and achieve more, the standards of the upper grades should climb as well.
While this plan to raise academic standards is sound, some parents have expressed concerns about the effort. Most of the questions I've heard ask why this move is necessary in the first place, or express a fear that the system is being "too hard" on its students.
While it's true that overall Jefferson students generally perform well on standardized testing, they are not at the top of the list in North Georgia. For example, last year JES was 23 out of 106 elementary schools in Northeast Georgia and 248th statewide. Schools in Forsyth County, Oconee County, Habersham County, Hall County, Morgan County, Madison County, Barrow County and Commerce Elementary School all outperformed JES on standardized test results. In neighboring Gwinnett County, 36 out of 52 elementary schools outperformed JES.
On another scale, CRCT results from last year's JES fourth graders showed that 30 percent were not meeting state standards in reading, 31 percent did not meet standards in math and 24 percent did not meet standards in English. Those numbers are about average for the area, but still clearly show that there's a lot of room for improvement, especially since the CRCT will soon become a "gateway" test for grade promotions.
As for the new standards being "too hard," I doubt that will be the case. In reality, the curriculum in most American public schools is far less rigorous and demanding than in many schools of other industrialized nations. Students can achieve far more than we think if they are challenged. In fact, some other school systems, including the neighboring Gwinnett County system, have already set higher curriculum standards. What Jefferson proposes to do is no different from that.
In addition to the higher academic standards, Jefferson's plan for a Fifth Grade Academy also include a variety of new enrichment programs. That's a huge need at JES. The school's fine arts and enrichment programs are lacking when compared to many other area schools.
It will be a few years before the results of this Fifth Grade Academy are known. But any move to raise academic standards in a public school are important because such efforts are rare in today's anti-intellectual cultural environment.
Jefferson leaders get an "A" for this effort. Hopefully, it will be the students who make the grade in the long run.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
April 4, 2001

Regional Reservoirs
Not All That SimpleThe Georgia Department of Natural Resources' top water official was quoted in the Athens newspaper as saying Georgia needs to build a number of reservoirs to protect itself against future droughts. He calls it "common sense."
Nolton Johnson, head of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's Water Resources Branch, points out that in 1989, in the aftermath of the previous drought, state funds were approved for the construction of 13 regional reservoirs in North Georgia.
Only one of those was built. The Bear Creek Reservoir in southwest Jackson County is alone among the regional projects - and it is being constructed without state funds. There are several reasons why more reservoirs are not built.
For starters, they are terribly expensive, which is why a regional approach is favored. But a regional reservoir requires political and public cooperation among a multitude of jurisdictions that just doesn't happen very easily. The Bear Creek Reservoir project involved only four counties, but it would never have gotten off the ground but for the leadership of Wendell Dawson, then chairman of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners. Dawson managed to keep Athens-Clarke, Jackson, Barrow and Oconee officials at the table, a feat only marginally less miraculous than Moses' parting of the Red Sea.
The federal and state permitting processes are formidable obstacles as well. Neither the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nor the EPD provides a smooth, clear-cut way to get the permits needed to impound a large body of water. From a permitting standpoint, building a regional reservoir is the local equivalent of constructing a nuclear power plant.
But the largest obstacle may be the state's interest itself. It is assumed in rural Georgia that the state government covets the power to control all water resources in Georgia. Local governments have a hard time putting up the kind of money it takes to build a reservoir when the state appears ready to assume decisions for how that water is used and maybe even where it goes.
The state's best line of defense against future drought lies not in building more reservoirs, but in reducing per capita water usage. Just as the nation's lifestyle is based on cheap, abundant energy, so is it also based on cheap, abundant water. We're just beginning to see energy prices soar; water costs will ultimately follow as Georgia's rapid growth rate continues, drought or no drought.
Water is our most precious and most wasted natural resource; we treat it as if the supply were infinite and as if pollution were a constitutional right. And when we run short, the automatic reaction (like that in the energy crisis) is to run and find more, when we ought to look more closely first at our habits of consumption and the unchecked growth virtually all of Georgia encourages.
Building more reservoirs might very well be prudent for Georgia; developing better water management practices on both the local and state levels might be wiser yet.

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