Bedden points out system flaws

Misconceptions, complacency and autonomy have hampered Richmond County education, Superintendent Dana Bedden said Monday.

Many in the community have learned, often incorrectly, about the school system, through what he called the "street committee," or rumor mill, Dr. Bedden told members of the Kiwanis Club of Augusta. The same people like to compare Richmond and Columbia counties, he said.

To remedy this, his staff is developing a profile of the school system and each of the 60 schools so that the community can get an accurate picture, he said, noting that Columbia County looks nothing like Richmond County and shouldn't be viewed statistically as a peer.

The school board office also needs a point person for the public to turn to for guidance on how to better navigate the education system, Dr. Bedden said.

What Richmond County lacks isn't a staff of caring adults, the superintendent said. It lacks the systems needed to ensure uniform standards and expectations throughout the county.

For instance, individual schools have too much autonomy at times, and the structure in place to ensure accountability is flawed, Dr. Bedden said. He said that the entire evaluation process is broken when it finds that 99 percent of teachers receive satisfactory reviews and the average principal scores a 4.5 on a 5-point scale, yet some schools are failing to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The school board is moving toward being standards-based, and the standards that drive the board will also drive the central office, principals and each classroom, Dr. Bedden said.

Some of that accountability will come with the completion of a system-wide audit that will be presented next month, which he said will likely find that there are too many people in the central office.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

IN HIS WORDS

Superintendent Dana Bedden on:

- Community perception of Richmond County education:

"I'm often amazed at the number of people who really don't know a lot about Richmond County schools."

- School system's size:

"We transport about 22,000 students a day. We are the largest bus fleet in the area. We feed roughly 25,000 students a day, so we're the largest food chain in the area. We actually have 60 restaurants in the region."

- His support for re-establishing a public information officer position:

"Public information is about public information, not about putting a spin on it."

- Nepotism in the school system:

"That's a recurring thing I hear all the time."

- The school board's reaction to the upcoming audit:

"I figure they'll either love me or hate me."