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OPINION PAGE - NOVEMBER 17, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
November 17, 1999
Cronic is wrong about
school 'good' news
Jackson County Board of Education chairman Barry Cronic sometimes gets a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease - saying things in a public meeting before having thought about what's being said.
Such was the case at the last BOE meeting when he attacked this newspaper for not printing the "good things" that happen in his school system.
We're not sure how Mr. Cronic defines "good things," but here's a rundown of some recent headlines from schools in the Jackson County School System:
"JCCHS Tri-M chapter holds first induction ceremony"
(photo) "Kyle Presley wins at state fair" (Presley is a JCCHS student)
(photo) "Best school-wide attendance at MES"
(photo) "WJMS students mark 'Red Ribbon Week'"
"Former Panther playing for Middle Ga."
"Parr runs fifth at state cross country meet"
"Kyle Banks named 'Kid of the Week' by radio station"
"EJMS names honor students"
"NJES announces perfect attendance"
"EJMS FFA team competes"
"JCCHS Marching Band rated 'Superior'"
Well, we could go on and on, but that's a brief sample of the kind of routine school news that runs each week in this newspaper.
Perhaps what Mr. Cronic is really upset about is not the "good" news, but rather that we don't ignore what he may perceive as "bad" news. While we do cover the schools in Jackson County for their achievements in the classroom and sports, we also cover the political and educational issues that happen at the top. When school board members squabble over policy or personnel issues, we report it. When test scores rise or fall, we report that as well. We also report when a public official's private actions reflect on his or her public duties.
What Mr. Cronic and some others apparently fail to understand is that while a newspaper can support its local schools, it is not a PR firm for those schools. Our job is to be fair and accurate in presenting the news, good and bad.
So here's a challenge to Mr. Cronic: Clip all school-related articles for two months and put them in a scrap book. Label each story "good" or "bad" and bring the scrap book to us.
If there aren't more "good" stories than "bad," we'll buy the chairman a good lunch.
But first, he'll have to remove his foot.



Letters
The Jackson Herald
November 17, 1999

Says homeschooling 'alive and well'
Dear Editor:
As president of a national organization that serves homeschool students, I am one of the parents of the 186 schooled-at-home students here in Jackson County. Our office is located in downtown Jefferson and from there we assist families who have taken the responsibility for the education of their children.
Overall, I have been very encouraged by what I have seen locally and nationally. A recent national survey showed that these students score over 10 percent higher on standardized tests than their public school counterparts (and testing is required by Georgia law, contrary to what was reported in last week's Jackson Herald). What I am particularly encouraged about is the "attitude" that these young people are able to maintain: respectful and courteous and patriotic yet having ambition and social interests that rival any public school student I have seen.
But as I told Superintendent Anderson Byers on the phone, I am thankful for him and the job he and his staff are trying to do to educate our county's young people. Families in Georgia have a constitutional right to public education and we in Jackson County owe it to our children to have the best school system we can have. And all of us have a vested interest in our public schools whether we school at home (as I do with my six children), use a private school, or utilize the local public school. These young people will one day be our neighbors, employees, and fellow church members.
Lest anyone be misled by the well-meaning front page article, homeschooling is alive and well in Jackson County, in Georgia and in America. All of us should commend families who are legitimately attempting to tackle such a feat. There simply isn't time nor room for animosity, jealousy or the like. Let's all work together to encourage the children of Jackson County, no matter where or how they get their education. They are all our future.
Sincerely,
Tim G. Echols
President, Family Resource Network
Dry Pond



Column
By Mike Buffington
November 17, 1999
Home school programs need hard data
I love my kids. I'd do anything for them.
Almost. The one thing I'd never attempt is to home school those two little boys. Neither they nor I would benefit from such an arrangement - our collective sanity would soon be lost.
So I have a lot of admiration for those who do home school their children. I've always believed that a child's education is ultimately a parent's responsibility, not the government's. Those who home school take that responsibility to heart by doing in the home what
the rest of us allow academic institutions to do. While many of us limit our parental education role to selecting a school and being involved with our child's academics as a sideline cheerleader, home school parents choose to be coach, cheerleader and quarterback.
So I wasn't surprised at the outpouring of letters we received about last week's news article that quoted superintendent Andy Byers as expressing "concern" about some of the local home school situations. Some 186 children in Jackson County are being home schooled (plus another 13 in the towns of Jefferson and Commerce), but Byers believes about half aren't really receiving instruction.
There are no hard numbers to back up that belief because getting such data is virtually impossible. Although home school parents are supposed to keep records and have the child take standardized tests, those provisions are generally not enforced. While many parents do all the right record-keeping, there's no way to make sure all parents do.
What Byers and many other school administrators see, however, are the two extremes in home schooling: They see parents who are committed to the task and do a good job, or they see parents who use the home school exemption to pull a child out of school when they get angry with a teacher or administrator.
This last problem is a concern we should all share, especially those who have legitimate home school programs. Every time someone uses the home school exemption for the wrong reasons, it undermines the credibility and effectiveness of legitimate home schoolers. For the rest of us, those who abuse this program often later put their unprepared children back into school, thus hurting our children who are trying to stay on an academic track. Our children shouldn't suffer just because a teacher has to review material to help catch up a child who was pulled out of school for a year.
So what should be done about these problems? First, legitimate home school parents should use their network in the county to administer and compile results of standardized tests. Let local school administrators know how many home school students took those tests and how their results compare to the local public schools.
Secondly, local school administrators should hold annual meetings with those doing home schooling in an effort to maintain a consistent dialogue. Many of the younger home schooled students will eventually enter public schools and it's in the school system's long-term interest to keep communications open.
Finally, those who abuse and misuse the home school law should be identified by both the school systems and the legitimate home school parents. Although enforcing the law is difficult for school administrators, those children may have other risks in their lives that need attention. It's in all our interests to see that those children don't slip through the cracks because of bad decisions being made by their parents.
Although I'd never try it, home schooling is a trend that is growing in our community. But it's more than just academic instruction; it's a lifestyle choice that some believe is best for their children. It involves academic issues and, very often, religious and social issues.
I admire those who take that route. But I also share superintendent Byers' concerns that some are taking that route for the wrong reasons, or are unprepared to be effective home school teachers.
The depth of the problems will never be known until our community has hard data from which to make valid judgments.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



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