Bedden prepares schools for 'battle'

Amid a pep rally atmosphere Tuesday at the Bell Auditorium, Richmond County educators heard where their school system has been, where it is going and how it will get there.

Superintendent Dana Bedden acknowledged educators face many challenges, including the third budget shortfall in less than a year. But he emphasized that the success of the school system is vital to Augusta's work force.

Playing a clip from the 1996 movie Independence Day , Dr. Bedden rallied the thousands who attended the convocation, the first in 10 years. In the clip, Bill Pullman, who plays the president, delivers a speech as a group of aviators prepares to launch a counterattack against aliens.

"When you came to work yesterday, you started putting on your flight suits," Dr. Bedden said. "On Aug. 11, we go to battle, and after today we start fighting for our survival ... The question is, will we go quietly in the night?"

To survive, the school system has been undergoing tremendous change, the superintendent said.

"He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery," he said, quoting author Harold Wilson.

Dr. Bedden urged working with the community and local businesses. The convocation was funded entirely by business donations. Dr. Bedden admitted his passion for education is personal. His son is a gifted student, but his daughter, a special-needs child, struggles. His mother has an eighth-grade education, one of his brothers died in prison, and another brother has spent most of his life behind bars.

"I did not have that silver spoon," Dr. Bedden said. "When you see that passion, it's because that kid (on the street) could have been me."

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