Friday, November 19, 2010

State super-elect shakes up the department

I'm not sure if you all read the article in yesterday's AJC about the new state superintendent-elect, John Barge. It seems he has already selected his leadership team. The article states that he is keeping Brad Bryant as general counsel, or top legal adviser, but replaced Erin Hames, the woman who was chief of staff and heavily involved in Race to the Top. His new chief of staff, Joel Thornton, currently president and CEO of the International Human Rights Group and a former classroom teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School and Model Middle School in Rome, has his own blog. Here's an excerpt (the post goes on, but I'm pasting only the first handful of paragraphs).

Whatever Happened To America’s Moral Center?

Published 18 March 2010

I believe we are in the midst of a crisis of conscience in this country. What was once considered normal is suddenly considered abnormal. What was once considered abnormal is suddenly considered normal. It truly is a world turned upside down. Matters that seemed unthinkable only a decade ago are suddenly becoming the standard by which we are measured in public.

The biggest change we have experienced is a loss of our moral center. Our founding fathers understood the moral center that comes from a biblical world view—even the founding fathers who were not Christians understood this value. Our grandparents and our parents understood the value of the Ten Commandments.

Benjamin Franklin summed it up when he said, “I believe in one God, creator of the universe; that He governs it by his providence, that He ought to be worshipped,…As to Jesus of Nazareth,…[I] have some doubts regarding Jesus’ divinity.”

My point is this; Christianity was so prominent in our founding that even those who did not believe felt that there was a great value in the system of Christianity that allowed the governance through democracy in a republic form of government.

We no longer have that moral center. Now, we find ourselves in a culture that not only does not believe, but actually mocks belief in one God. We have gone from the place where it is okay to make fun of belief in God in limited cases, like a Hollywood movie or a book. At the same time, it was not okay to make fun of the core beliefs that surrounded the belief in God.

Now we do not have the mockery limited to Hollywood, it is the core of how our average citizen thinks. We cannot offer any type of spiritual help to struggling youth because we have no place for God in our schools. We have nothing to base our moral core on because we suddenly do not believe in moral absolutes.

Then we wonder out loud why it seems that evil is so much more present in our society. Why is there a problem with drugs? Why do we have an increase in out of wedlock pregnancy? Why are we in a seeming downward spiral?

I believe it is all tied into the fact that we no longer value the things that God values because we no longer really believe in God. He was good for our ancestors. He was okay for children, but we are enlightened and have no need for God.

From the AJC:

The announcement of a new chief of staff was viewed as surprising. Erin Hames, who had served as policy director for Gov. Sonny Perdue and had been deeply involved in Georgia's Race to the Top application, was put on the job only weeks ago.

Barge asked her and two others -- Courtney Burnett, coordinator of external affairs, and Buck Hilliard, the agency's liaison to the state board -- to resign, a DOE official said.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting this. I had been tempted to yesterday, but worried about being to off topic.

The appointment of this gentleman makes me very uncomfortable.

The dismissal of Hames is problematic as well with the RTTT funds not yet distributed. I am concerned that without the master architect that the state will improperly use the money and end up needed to pay it back.

Anonymous said...

Additionally, I would like to see some out of staters brought in from successful states. Someone with a proven track record.

Anonymous said...

I love this blog and think it is a great resource -- thank you for all your work in keeping it going. While I am not happy with the election of Barge and his appointments I have to point out that the portion of his blog post was a bit inaccurate -- his last comment was "It is a disgrace that those who have no faith offer more to the betterment of this world than those of us who know the key to understanding and living in eternity." -- which brings a whole different meaning to his words.

Anonymous said...

His precise words, while some may be interpreted as alarming and some as tolerant, are not the main area of curiosity and inquiry. When I saw that the current COS was asked to resign and looked into Thornton's CV, it was significant, to me, that his entire career has been steeped in heavy advocacy on behalf of the legal school of thought that, while the First Amendment secures freedom of religion, it in no way provides a separation of church and state. If you review the position statements of his long-time employer, The American Center for Law and Justice, you will see that Georgia may well become the next center of attention with respect to efforts to teach creationism/eliminate teaching of evolution, to establish a strong voucher policy for public tax dollars being used for private education, and to ingrain other education policies favored by far right-wing advocates into the fabric of our Official Code of Georgia. If Barge's/Thornton's work of the last 20 years are any indication of their goals for the State School Superintendent's Office, Georgia will be hard pressed to attract federal governmental, or philanthropic or corporate financial support for legitimate attempts to improve educational outcomes for students. Rather, Georgia will be well-known not just for being near the bottom in rankings for education, but for its status as a battleground over the role of conservative Christian religious philosophies in our public education system's curricula. This is a time when, more than ever, local school systems like DeKalb, need constructive partners and supporters in their state departments of education. Barge's appointment of Joel Thornton is a very unsettling harbinger.

Anonymous said...

Oh My Gosh! i just went to his blog and read about 10 entries. I was looking for something positive about public education but found anti-science, anti-Muslim, negative comments about our President, anti-choice, etc.

I realize his blog and his writings are created as a private citizen and respect that. But I hope that he truly understands that he is now a 100% government employee charged with supporting a public, secular education for the entire state.

Anonymous said...

These type of people are what you get when you vote based on party affiliation only or on the "kick the bums" out mindset.

Anonymous said...

OMG! This guy is nuts. Just what we need. More crazy Christians in power. I love how he blames lack of God worship for problems like drugs and violence. Hay, moron, have you ever looked at these thugs tatoos. I see a whole lot of crosses on their arms.

fedupindcss said...

I have a sinking feeling Georgia is about to become Texas. I guess I can take heart that 1) I no longer have to worry about my children being exposed to this frippery, and 2) the state DOE might succeed in making the DCSS BOE look reasonable and rational. Sigh.

I may go into business, though. I will promote a homeschool curriculum for parents based on actual knowledge that will get you into college and get you a job (outside of GA). And unlike future public education in GA, it will not be religion-based.

No Duh said...

Maybe he has a daughter who will one day be on Dancing with the Stars.

Anonymous said...

I again urge everyone to promote (really urge) our legislature NOW to adopt legislation that prevents the state DOE from developing curriculum which uses our children as guinea pigs -- the legislation could restrict DOE to choosing from the "best of the best" for any discipline -- find a state doing it right in the top 10 and implement it -- in toto -- no toying with it... once Georgia is in the top 10, we can talk. That might cut off some of this ... we will need to continue to point out (I think) that states that only use the abstention curriculum wind up with much higher teen pregnancy rates... the teens need to learn about birth control and diseases and how to pay child support!

Anonymous said...


Good luck with that. I suspect that many of our state legislators share Thorton's basic beliefs.

And, I am certain, so do many of their constituents.


I share your concerns.

Anonymous said...

Barge had originally wanted to opt out of Federal funding all together. HE did eventually soften his tone, but it will be interesting to see how he proceeds moving forward. He wanted no part of RTTT until he found out how much money it would be.

Now he has fired the chief architect of RTTT. Problematic? You bet!

The US Dept of Ed people had told Maureen Downey that they weren't worried about GA's upcoming election because the bureaucrats would be running the program. I wonder what they will think when they hire this latest news.

Hames is an attorney as well and I wonder if that made Barge and his people uncomfortable, you know that whole messy separation of church and state issue.

Anonymous said...

The AJC editorial board is calling for Hall to resign.

And here is an editorial support of her:

Anonymous said...

Beverly Hall will not return when her contract expires in June.

I wonder what, if any, impact that this will have on the search for a superintendent for DCSS.

David Montané said...

Anonymous at 9:17 PM said "These type of people are what you get when you vote based on party affiliation only or on the 'kick the bums' out mindset."

I heartily agree! Although Kira Willis got more votes than any other Libertarian, there are way too many voters who believe the myth that voting Libertarian is "wasting your vote". Do the math, people - a vote FOR the third party in a 3-way race does NOT mean a vote AGAINST one of the other parties.

For those who were worried about too much power going to the Democrats (a knee-jerk reaction in state voting based on federal issues), a vote for Kira Willis would not have meant that Joe Martin had a better chance of winning. At worst, John would have still won outright. At best, there would have been a runoff, in which case everyone could have taken a closer look at John and Joe, and voted for the "less worse" candidate.

Per Einstein's definition of insanity, keep voting for the less worse big-party candidate when you have a third choice, and you will keep getting the same result - big government interfering in the free market, in this case, the market of ideas regarding the fundamental question of the origin of the species.

Since the subject of separation of church and state has been introduced, I also want to point out that in this context we are talking about the separation of church from state SCHOOLS. If we had a separation of schools from state, this whole issue would disappear because the church schools could teach their children creationism if they want, and parents could also choose among schools that teach evolution, or could subscribe to FEDUPINDCSS's homeschool curriculum. (You go girl, or go man go, as the case may be.)

Hmmm.... Seems like maybe the U.S. Constitiution needs another amendment for this issue? There was no such need for this separation of powers when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, since there was no such thing as a "public school".

Anonymous said...

I did vote for Willis. I really believed there would be a runoff in that race as well as the Governor's race.

David -- Can you enlighten me on why people will tell the pollsters they are going to vote Liberterian but then do something else in the voting booth?

Anonymous said...

This is very, very disturbing. Maureen Downey blogged on this appointment yesterday.

Cerebration said...

It should be noted that these blog comments are from his professional blog - not political. As I understand it, he is an attorney who represents people in their right to religious freedom and evangelizing in the world. (There are places where you take your life in your hands to share the Bible.)

I don't disagree with his premise - call it a religious or a moral/value void, we are suffering a great lack of empathy, concern and respect for others in this country. We had pondered before whether this was "teachable" and then found the federal study showing that it doesn't appear so.

I think the resulting assumption we can make is that this is a breakdown in the family (where these values should be taught, regardless of religious beliefs) and is therefore a societal issue.

Schools (teachers) cannot fix what ails our society. A return to a traditional value system and respect for each other will require social and healthcare services, adult literacy intervention, and better rehab in our corrections facilities (Georgia has the most persons incarcerated per capita in the US).

David Montané said...

In response to: "David -- Can you enlighten me on why people will tell the pollsters they are going to vote Liberterian but then do something else in the voting booth?"

Since Libertarians have little history of winning, people really think their vote "won't count". It's an irrational fear based on the mistaken notion they can somehow negate the votes of others voting for the other big party. In making that mistake, they don't realize that their vote really DOESN'T COUNT!

We need to redefine "winning" for Libertarians as causing runoffs, so that we can leverage some real changes with the big-party candidates.

Anonymous said...


I was the poster that asked you the question.

I was counting on runoffs and was sorely disappointed.

I lean libertarian and believe that your redefinition of winning is a great path to take.

Anonymous said...

The State Superintendent ought to be appointed not elected. It is an appointed position in many states and it allows the governor to hopefully find the most qualified person to do the job.

Cerebration said...

Interesting article on the job give-aways by Perdue as he leaves --

Perdue staff climb pay scale

Erin Hames, Perdue’s policy director, landed at the Department of Education as chief of staff. Her salary working for the governor was $74,800 last year. With the DOE this year, it’s $144,200. However, a DOE official said last week that she has been asked to resign as a new school superintendent takes over in January.

There's a nice, long list in the article of folks who got a very nice new job courtesy of Perdue.

Anonymous said...

Mr.Barge is part of the race to the bottom and we are "winning".

Anonymous said...

Not sure where to post this but more "good" news (NOT!) from about education and our newly elected Governor - says something about how much education is valued in our state, doesn't it?

Deal Says More Education Spending Cuts Likely
Posted: 6:33 am EST December 8, 2010
Updated: 7:11 am EST December 8, 2010

ATLANTA -- Georgia's incoming governor has said that state budget woes may require further cuts in education spending.

Gov.-elect Nathan Deal said that the state's lottery-funded HOPE scholarship can't continue on its current path and drastic measures may be needed to save it.

The Georgia Student Finance Commission, which oversees HOPE, projects a roughly $244 million shortfall for this fiscal year and estimates the shortfall for fiscal year 2012 at $317 million.

Deal said the book allowance will likely be ended and grants for students to take remedial programs in college could be cut.

Deal didn't provide specifics on cuts to K-12 funding but said a lot of "tough choices" will need to be made.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the funding is that schools are not spending the funds that they already have in an effective and efficient way. You could not run a business with the top heavy, over paid administration staff and keep it going. Until schools get their spending in check, I do not blame the government for cutting funds as the money just isn't there.

Anonymous said...

There are small school systems in GA that don't have top heavy central offices that are so poor that they have cut student school days. Do you know that there are counties where a SPLOST doesn't raise enough funds in 5 years to even begin to build a school? There are lots of really poor parts of GA.

Barge will be no help. He won't advocate, he won't argue and he won't say that enough is enough.