The past year, as they say in the sports world, was a rebuilding year for Augusta.
We changed players and managers and, in many cases, positioned ourselves better for next season.
Nowhere was the rebuilding process more evident, or more painful, than in the Richmond County schools. The school board and Superintendent Charles Larke battled for much of the year over his performance, contract and eventual agreement to retire in early 2007. Meanwhile, a number of the district's schools worked to get off the state's "needs improvement" list - as the school board began the search for a new leader.
St. Joseph Hospital also changed hands, and thankfully will continue adding to the area's truly excellent package of health care facilities.
Augusta said goodbye to its third disgraced politician in two years, with the imprisonment of former state schools Superintendent Linda Shrenko. She followed former area legislators Charles Walker and Robin Williams into federal custody as she began an eight-year sentence for siphoning $600,000 in education funds to her campaign for governor.
Things are looking up. In November, voters overwhelmingly re-elected Mayor Deke Copenhaver to his own term, after he finished the last year of former Mayor Bob Young's term.
And, as several companies announced expansions or relocations to Augusta, Copenhaver's performance as mayor, and his ability to calm and unite and invigorate Augustans, has been nothing short of remarkable, and his optimism for the city is utterly contagious.
His monthly Mayor's Prayer Breakfasts also set a tone for racial reconciliation that few other efforts have been able to.
In short, 2007 could be a breakout year for Augusta.
Here are some New Year's resolutions we'd like to see our leaders and community pursue in order to realize that breakout year in 2007:
- We hope Richmond County schools will hire a knockout superintendent, and then the board will work hand-in-glove with him or her to radically reform local public schools. Officials will need great courage to do what's necessary - which we believe is an extensive expansion of the wildly successful three-facility magnet school system, and greater school choice for parents and students.
School choice will also bring another huge benefit: It will give school officials more power to regulate behavior in schools, as chronic class disrupters can be expelled more easily and sent to alternative schools.
- We hope school board members and Augusta commissioners will hold summits to discuss ways to cooperate in improving Augusta's business and family climate. The fate of the city is inexorably tied to how well our schools do, so it's time all our leaders conferred together on how to improve them.
- We hope cooperation between Richmond and Columbia counties only increases. In recent years, the two counties have gone their own ways on several fronts - and that's not necessarily bad, to a point. But legislative and business and civic leaders in the two counties need to find more common ground and plow it.
- Speaking of common ground, our most fervent wish for the New Year is an unprecedented racial reconciliation in Augusta.
This means action, not words.
We hope the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast continues its encouraging path toward unity, and leads a renaissance in solidarity. Economic opportunity must be high on our list - and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and neighbors must believe we care. More than that, they must see it.
The key, for all these resolutions, comes down to one word.
If our political, business and civic leaders aren't out there spreading hope to the discouraged and disenfranchised, then Augusta won't realize its vast potential in 2007. Hope - for racial equality, economic opportunity, educational excellence, safe and attractive neighborhoods and a better life for our children - should be the city's theme for 2007.
Let's hope for great things in the year to come.
And then let's get to work on making it all happen.
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