Monday, April 18, 2011

Editorials on Ryan School

The following letter was published in The Arab Tribune on April 6, 2011:

Ryan School supporters: speak up to Morgan County board


Since I can remember, there has been talk of closing Ryan School. Now, however, that possibility is more real than ever.

Two Morgan County School Board members are actively seeking its closure. The new superintendent, Bill Hopkins, has not told this writer what he plans to do.

Having dealt with politicians for a long time, the whole matter just does not look good. A "public hearing" is supposed to take place in the community "before a decision is made." The purpose of this public hearing, I have been told, is to see if the community still supports Ryan School.

Just to be plain, what foolish person who lives anywhere in the surrounding communities would want this historic school to be closed? Maybe someone who would want to hurt the community and its families - maybe - but who on earth would be that stupid? Who would want to hurt these children, the vast majority of whom are on free or reduced lunches.

The trend should be toward little community schools, not busing children many miles away.

Nevertheless, the Morgan County board is going to meet on April 7 to "get the numbers" on the costs of Ryan School and go from there. Apparently the next option will be this public hearing.

I cannot overstress how important it is for the friends of Ryan School to be at this public hearing, whenever it is to be held. Unless the superintendent and the board have already made up their minds to close the school, this public hearing will seal the school's fate. Once closed, probably always closed!

I know that The Arab Tribune will keep us informed about the public hearings date and time.

Instead of trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor students at Ryan through this "capital punishment," coming up with alternative solutions is a much better solution. I am told that the pupil-teacher ratio at Ryan School is just too low to keep the school operating, about 10 students to every teacher. The ratio of 10-1 is a goal for which almost every school system strives.

Closing the school and busing these students to the Union Hill school is a drastic step to take, one which no other school board has seriously considered. A fairly new board and a new superintendent should not come along and undo what generations of people, including our parents and grandparents, have worked hard to achieve.

Let us take the superintendent at his word, that his mind is not made up, that he is open-minded. Let us give him the benefit of any doubt. You and I would want the same thing.

This is an important decision for a lot of people. The decision is the superintendent's to make. The board cannot close the school unless he recommends it. I hope that his decision is to keep the school open, which I thoroughly believe is best for the 102 students currently enrolled in grades K-8.

The entire issue of possibly closing the school is disturbing and has upset a huge number of people and voters, but now the outcome will rest finally with those who love Ryan School.

Our parents provided the alumni of Ryan with good lives through our education there, which has brought to ourselves, our families and to our society many, many good things and moral rectitude. The issue, my friends, may very well rest in the hands of those who should be appreciative most of all: Those who love a little community school - like Ryan School, there since 1888 - where no child is left behind or ignored.

Joe Cottle
Ryan School, Class of 1967
Montgomery, Ala.

On April 13, 2011, this response was published by The Tribune:

Drastic times, drastic measures: Nothing should be off the table


This letter is in response to Joe Cottle’s letter to you, published 4/6/11, regarding Ryan School.

Mr. Cottle’s letter is obviously meant with the best of intentions for Ryan School. All alumni should be so honorable to their schools. However, once it leaves the emotional realm, his argument falls far too short. He wants people of the Ryan community who love their school to reach out to the Morgan County Superintendent, Bill Hopkins, to keep Ryan School open because it is “where no child is left behind or ignored.” The letter brags on Ryan’s low student-teacher ratio.

One BIG problem here: Ryan’s test scores are lower than the Morgan County average.

The means for providing the best education for the children of Ryan may be more counter-intuitive and against his emotions than Mr. Cottle cares to discuss. But even those type arguments are exactly what Mr. Hopkins is wanting from the community during a meeting at Ryan on the evening of April 26th. But in the end, he and the board must do what is best for ALL the children of our county.

I don’t believe what is best for the children of one community is mutually exclusive with the benefit for all. But we must remember that Mr. Hopkins is charged with saving an entire SYSTEM, not one school. Yes, it is THAT bad.

AEA’s Joe Reed recently published an article wisely calling for even greater school consolidation, combining entire school systems, not just schools. Our communities are no longer as isolated as they once were and better educations can be offered on greater economies of scale.

It is great to hear Mr. Cottle bragging on his education from Ryan. However, it is without a doubt that his successors five years after 1967 and following received an immeasurably greater education and more opportunities at Brewer High School.

There are some tough questions to answer. I submit these for us all:

1. How many children living in Ryan’s district will return to Morgan County Schools from Arab or Parkside if they are redistricted to Union Hill, Cotaco, or Eva? The parents of these children need to be heard as well.

2. Do other schools need to be consolidated? Is Falkville not a high school version of Ryan?

3. With the successes at Brewer as a high school, would we not gain the same educational and economic benefit from consolidating the same middle schools?

We are in drastic times. These call for drastic measures. Nothing should be off the table. Times may be hard, but it is NOW that our leadership has the OPPORTUNITY to strengthen our position for the future. The obstacle won’t be the economy.

The only things that can prevent proper progress are emotions, improper politics, and pet projects. I am thankful to know that Bill Hopkins is without these things and I look forward to what he is able to lead the board to do. I am most confident in his motive to listen to all and act for all.

Kerrick Whisenant

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bowling Resigns

Priceville principal, Guy Bowling, who was placed on administrative leave in January pending a State Department of Education investigation, has submitted his resignation to the Morgan County Board of Education.

Superintendent Bill Hopkins called an emergency board meeting Friday afternoon for the sole purpose of considering this one issue. State law allows such a meeting to be called to consider a single personnel matter.

The board unanimously agreed to accept Bowling's resignation.

"We are glad to receive some closure on this issue," Hopkins said. "This will allow Morgan County Schools, Priceville High School, and Mr. Bowling and his family to move forward. We wish all parties involved well."

If you didn't catch it, Hopkins' statement includes a clue as to why he was able to bring finality to a matter that Bob Balch could only mangle: Motive. Mr. Hopkins' only motive was for what was best for all parties involved - especially the students. He crossed his "T's" and dotted his "I's" administratively as well, but underneath he was absent the ingredient of selfish, political payback. This was ultimately the key to a resolution.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Principals Now Free To Work

If you're not a select few of readers in the Union Hill or Ryan areas, you probably have not seen this recent editorial in The Arab Tribune. You can read it here:

The Tribune is spot on. Mr. Hopkins' transparency and support of the local school entities continues to breathe fresh air into a school system that has been totally absent of servant leadership.

The recent incident with Guy Bowling will also prove this to be true. This website never held that Mr. Bowling's actions or any alleged problem he has was defensible in his occupation. Rather, it was specifically maintained that the Balch administration and the previous Board totally botched the handling of the previous Bowling incident. By not administrating the issue properly, providing due process, and crossing all the necessary T's, it is now Mr. Hopkins' issue with which to deal.

When the state and local investigations are complete this time, there will not be a trail of political improprieties, garnered testimonies, or break-downs in process that would allow a federal arbitrator to render the Board's actions illegitimate.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Same song, but much different verse

The tune of Guy Bowling being on administrative leave is sadly not unfamiliar to Priceville or the rest of Morgan County. But at least for all those involved this verse is much different and confidence abounds in the school circles that this will be the last refrain.

After meeting with Mr. Bowling on Monday, Superintendent Bill Hopkins placed the Priceville principal on indefinite administrative leave.

"I asked Mr. Bowling to come meet with me to discuss a recent incident," Mr. Hopkins stated in a phone interview Tuesday, "and after that meeting, he and I agreed the best thing would be for him to be on leave pending further investigation of the incident."

Mr. Hopkins stated that, due to legal reasons, no other comments could be made on a pending personnel investigation until it was closed and there was no indication how soon that would be.

"Things always take more time with attorneys involved," he said.

"We will always be transparent," Hopkins said. "I was sure that the teachers at Priceville High School knew of Mr. Bowling's leave before the press, so they didn't have to find out about it in the paper."

As stated on this website before, regardless of Mr. Bowling's actions or anything they deserve, the previous administration took actions that prevented a resolution beneficial to any party involved. This was especially true considering the legal bill that amassed from the Bowling case - ultimately a contributing factor to the system's current financial crisis.

The history and press coverage involved with Mr. Bowling may make a good case example for us to see a major difference in last and current superintendents.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Bill Hopkins is here. The change Morgan County Schools began to experience today is not an arbitrary political idiom or catch phrase without meaning, merit, or definition like those we hear spun from the national political scene. The presence of this change was as obvious as the chairs in the board room of the central office this afternoon as the new superintendent was sworn in and participated in his first board meeting.

While the room was filled with Hopkins' family, friends, board employees, and other local leaders, it wasn't the added guests or refreshments that brought change that was so real it could be felt. The breath of fresh air came via Hopkins himself - specifically in his leadership style that commanded the room, but seamed to put everyone at ease.

Honestly, I was anxious to see how he would handle it. He made some things perfectly clear right up front and continued to reiterate them through the meeting: He is humble, self-deprecating, and is very serious about not taking himself too seriously.

"I was worried I wouldn't be able to see over the desk up here," Hopkins said, joking about his height.

This and other self-deprecating jokes, along with his passion for the business of our schools, let his employees and constituents alike know it is not he or his ego that are important, but the efficient education of the students that should be the priority.

All board members wished the new superintendent well in their closing comments, but new-comer, Jeff McLemore, District 7, added another fresh breath of change to the board.

"Mr. Hopkins," McLemore said, "I think you'll do a great job and I'll tell you if I ever think you're not."

It seems additional accountability has also been promised. And the tone set by Mr. Hopkins more than welcomed it.

Words can't really describe the change in mood throughout the entire room; the smiles on faces; the unity that only comes from confident hope in leadership.

Hopkins was the last of the newly elected school board officials to take office with McLemore and District 4 representative Paul Holmes having joined the board in November.

Anticipation is high, but the task at hand looms large. Hopkins and most board members were vocal about the financial difficulties they face. But if this attitude of being servant leaders who invite accountability continues, they will find themselves with more help than they can imagine and the future of Morgan County will continue to be brighter.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Starting to Listen

When things seem as bad as they can get and the biggest room in the house is the one for improvement, it's easier to notice the slightest positives. This was the case in last Thursday night's meeting of the Board of Education.

Don't get me wrong, it was a three-ring circus as usual lately. But at least one board member, Carolyn Wallace, has taken note that all incumbents are on their way out if things don't change quickly.

Illegal Hiring Practices

The biggest controversy of the meeting centered around four (4) personnel recommendations by Bob Balch, filling positions made vacant by non-renewed employees whose contracts terminated at the END of the school year on June 2, 2010.

Bayne Hughes' article in The Decatur Daily excellently explains the details. You can find it here: Be sure to read the comments too, as those that further describe Carolyn Wallace's tirade are very spot-on.

The bottom line of this issue is that Balch's recommendations were illegal because the jobs were not vacated during the school year.

Jimmy Dobbs - apparently the only board member to do his due diligence on the matter - was also the only one to properly abstain from voting on these items. "Voting on them at all is illegal," Dobbs said after the meeting.

AEA Uniserve Director, Gloria Johnson, pleaded with the board to "put off these votes until the next meeting and comply with the law this time."

Getting the message

Wallace stood to respond to Johnson, specifically expressing her displeasure for Johnson's sarcasm and accused her of playing politics.

"I don't appreciate your sarcasm, I'm sick of the politics, and I'm tired of all the negativity," Wallace said. Continuing, she also included this website by reference and called it "negative", then said she was there "for the students."

"I want to know the same things other board members know," she said, accusing Johnson of solely tutoring Dobbs on the illegality of Balch's recommendations.

Wallace's accusations went dim when Dobbs said he got his information from Chairman Mike Tarpley and did his own research.

Ultimately, Wallace gave us all a refreshing glimpse of a change in the right direction when she committed to vote against the four recommendations, saying "there's no reason we can't wait and ensure we are doing the right thing."

The other five board members continued to show their lack of independent thinking and blindly followed Balch off the cliff of irresponsible management. Two of them will be gone in November.

One of the four recommendations failed with only three votes, Wallace voting no, and Dobbs, Hackett, and Earwood abstaining.

Sarcasm, Politics, Students, Negativity

Oh, how the buzz words are flying. The danger of these is that they are often used to insite an instinctive response without giving the definition or details. Here is some clarification for the incumbent board members who want the light to stop shining on the mess they've allowed:

Sarcasm - It's the response to "stupid". (I can't claim this. I heard it somewhere. It's so true.) If Ms. Wallace or any of the other board members didn't like Ms. Johnson's sarcasm about "doing what's right and abiding by the law, THIS TIME," then they need to stand up for what's right more often and stop rubber-stamping every ill-conceived notion Balch has. If they could see the faces he makes during the meetings while they make comments and ask questions, they might not be so congenial.

Politics - the definition to which Ms. Wallace was most likely referring is the idiom form: "(a.) to engage in political intrigue, take advantage of a political situation or issue, resort to partisan politics, etc.; exploit a political system or political relationships. (b.) to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way, as for job advancement." (

Yes, THE BOARD needs to stop this and stop Mr. Balch's attempts to do this, and adhere to the noun version of "politics," (1.) the science or art of political government. (2.) the practice or profession of conducting political affairs (

Students - yes, they should be the focus. Contrary to Ms. Wallace's statement, the board does not work for the students, but for the taxpayers - who obviously want them to do what's best for the students. This can't be just a buzz word in an impromptu speech. It has to be shown through consistent actions.

Ms. Wallace's more famous comment on this subject was in The Decatur Daily immediately after the controversial hiring of Brewer principal, Cliff Booth.

“I think we need to give people a chance,” Wallace said. “I’m all about taking a risk if something good can come from it.” (

So Ms. Wallace likes to take risks for the students? If this is still a good risk, let's move Cliff Booth to Danville next year when Mr. Ellis retires and see how Ms. Wallace likes that risk then. (Yes, this is sarcasm - see above.)

Was Wallace and other board members also "being for the students" when they wanted a Priceville bus driver to force a 1st grader off the bus to be home alone?

Are the students benefiting from the Board allowing Balch to drive the system into the ground, financially?

Negativity - No one, including me, likes bad news. But news reports the exceptional. The reason there are more bad stories on the news than good ones is because it is more unusual. Thank goodness!

What's like a fairy tale is the notion that the reactions from citizens and voters speaking out, or AEA standing up for its members, is the origin of the negativity. AEA can't react to, The Decatur Daily can't report on, this website can't comment on...ANYTHING that does NOT happen. That's why these words start with "re." If they don't like the RE-action, stop being the action!

News reports the exceptional. If the Board and Mr. Balch don't like being the subject of bad news, they need to stop being exceptionally bad.

Being for the students will require actions, not words.

To not play politics, they need to start being public servants who listen to their employees and constituents.

To stop sarcastic remarks, they will have to make more intelligent decisions following more public, intelligent discussions.

No Board member left behind

Had George W. Bush implemented an effort of this kind, the children may have benefited more.

Ms. Wallace showed a great passion for her job and pointed it in the right direction of accountability for the first time in a long while Thursday night, standing against the latest of Balch's antics. This was exceptionally good, but we hope to see more. If Ms. Wallace would team her talents as an orator with the diligence and research of Mr. Dobbs, our students would no doubt be better for it.

If the Board follows Wallace's lead and gets serious about these desired changes, I would suggest that each meeting, right after the Pledge of Allegience, include the reading of Board Policy 'BH - Code of Ethics" (

Considering the past three months of meetings, their score as a whole on this policy is an 'F' with far less than 50% by anyone's measure.

Wallace is vocal enough to make this plus much more happen if she is sincere about changing. If she and any other board members really want what is best for the students, they will do more standing against Balch's last-ditch efforts to saddle the Hopkins' era with Balch hires. They will stop the hiring of any Alternative School principal before late July and they will ensure that Mr. Hopkins is involved this and all other hiring from here on out.

They didn't have to tell Don Murphy this or look over his shoulder. But at this point, the fact that Balch lacks Murphy's or any other superintendent's abilities or professionalism is far from being news.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Class is out...and so is Classless

The teachers and students of Morgan County had two reasons to be joyful last Tuesday: School ended and the end of the Balch administration began.

Bob Balch had actually made a professional call to Bill Hopkins last Tuesday night to concede the election. But that proved to be a short-lived revival in the wake of pre- and post-election behavior of the now lame-duck superintendent.

Signs of the times

Unfortunately, politics in Morgan County means signs...LOTS of signs. And people who live on main roads often get inundated with requests to sport banners for the potential potentates. Such is the case of Atha Allison, a life long member of the Eva community, who has always allowed any of her political visitors to put up a yard sign. This includes many competitors in races across the county.

Mature politicians understand the position these folks are in. Most of them choose to allow all or allow none, and the candidates - for the most part - accept it.

But in the first week of May, when Bob Balch discovered that Bill Hopkins' signs had joined his in Ms. Allison's yard, he took up his sign and left the following note.

This note being a prime example of what the professional employees of Morgan County have endured and been embarrassed by over the past 3-1/2 years, Ms. Allison was glad to share it with several people leading up to the election.

Love him or leave him

On May 21st, Morgan County politics was centered once again in the town of Eva. The Eva Lions Club held an old fashioned political rally, complete with barbecue and stump speeches. Politicians from all walks in Morgan County participated in the opportunity to speak for up to three minutes.

Candidates wishing to speak dropped their cards or fliers into a raffle drum to be drawn out at random with no regard given to the position being sought.

After entering himself to speak, Bob Balch inquired about the speaking order and requested to go after his opponent, then insisting that he do so. When the Lions explained to him that the rules would not be changed for him, Balch had his card removed from the "hat" and left the gathering altogether.

Speaking after Hopkins was the only way Balch could have gotten away with his less-than-factually complete, standard stump speech (like he gave at the Republican Meet 'n' Greet in Hartselle and at the Lacey's Spring PTO meeting) without having someone come behind him to tell the whole truth.

Head faking the hand-off

In front of family, friends, and fellow employees - including nine (9) other principals - Bill Hopkins shared the news of Balch's call election night, bragging on Balch's professionalism during the call and explaining how Balch offered to let him be involved in the decisions leading into the transition.

Balch received the same treatment from Don Murphy. Murphy left open several positions at the central office so that Balch could hire whom he desired. He even filled one director's position with an interim until Balch could come on board.

Now, according to some principals, Balch has reneged on his commitment to offer the same courtesy to Hopkins. According to The Decatur Daily, he plans to hire a new Federal Programs Director Thursday night. The question that remains is whether the board will go along with this move or insist that the Superintendent-Elect be involved.

Affecting the bottom line

Not only will Balch be leaving the school system in financial shambles, he continues to have a negative impact on the REAL bottom line as well: The students.

Teachers at Falkville are taken back and shaken by Balch's intentional lack of action to post a special education teaching position left open due to a non-renewal. While the system cannot save any money through this state and federally funded positions, the maneuvering being done by Balch and his staff will leave Falkville - a Title I School - without a federally funded IDEA special education unit for the first time in 17 years.

According to teachers there, this means teaching by inclusion in the elementary school will be impossible to do. Inclusion is currently the highest recommended method for special education by both federal and state departments of education.

In addition, it will affect several students at the high school who will no longer be able to be taught part-time by one of these teachers.

Falkville Elementary principal, Layne Dillard, was a vocal supporter of Bill Hopkins and assisted in his campaign.

When asked about the situation, Dillard declined to comment about any potential political motives and would only "commit to doing what is best for the students with what we are given."

Class will resume

Students will return to school on August 9th to the least funded classes since there were cotton patches behind the school houses. While our Board teeters on the brink of borrowing money to make payroll, the faithful backbone of faculty members will continue to pull off the impossible. But it will start to get easier under the quickly rising morale of a now-known, promised day: January 1, 2011 - when class officially returns to the top of Morgan County Schools.