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Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Tom and Cindy Hamlin at their home showcased on the 'Today Show.' The home is selling for about $500,000 and sits on 11˝ acres just outside the Decatur city limits.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Tom and Cindy Hamlin at their home showcased on the "Today Show." The home is selling for about $500,000 and sits on 11˝ acres just outside the Decatur city limits.

Houston to 'Today': Come look
'Stunned' superintendent reacts to national TV segment saying Decatur 'has bad schools'

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com · 340-2432

Superintendent Sam Houston issued a "y'all come" invitation to the New York studios of the "Today Show" after a segment Thursday morning claimed that Decatur "has bad schools."

Houston sent a letter to "Today Show" officials inviting them to see Decatur's education status. The letter is in response to a statement correspondent Barbara Corcoran made.

In a comparison of $500,000 real estate, she said a buyer could buy a two-bedroom townhouse in a gated community in Tucson, Ariz., or a four-bedroom, 3,800-square-foot house on 111/2 acres with a pond and pool in Decatur. (The home in question is just outside the city limits.)

Corcoran then ended her statement to host Matt Lauer, "What you don't get is good schools. They've got a bad school system. But taxes are only $1,000 a year."

In his letter to "Today Show" Executive Producer Jim Bell, Houston said he was "stunned" to see the segment and that he thinks Corcoran commented incorrectly on his school system.

"You will find a community that values public education and invests in it," Houston writes. "Our teachers and administrators are well trained and highly committed. Our parents are supportive and involved."

Writer-researcher Jennifer Margulis wrote the copy for Corcoran. She told The Daily that she researched Decatur's test scores because the home listing shows it as being in Decatur.

ABC Realty agent Theresa Simon said the Day Road home is not in the city limits. The home is in the Danville schools district in the Morgan County school system.

Margulis used CNN Money to base her finding on the school system. CNN Money said Decatur's reading test scores are 4.5 percent below the state average and math test scores are 3 percent below the state average. The site did not state which test scores it used in the comparison.

"Alabama is ranked 48th or 49th on most rankings," Margulis said. "And Decatur is 3 or 4 percent below average in a state with a poor education system."

Houston told The Daily on Thursday that test scores aren't an accurate reflection of the system's overall quality. Among the highlights he mentioned were:

  • The system received School Match's "What Parents Want" national award for 13 consecutive years.

  • Decatur is the only school system north of Birmingham offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.

  • The city has won the state attorney general's safe schools award 10 times, with Austin and Decatur winning it more consistently than any other school. Oak Park is the only middle school to win the award two straight years.

  • The state Board of Education recently recognized six schools with financial awards for academic performance on the state's accountability testing.

    Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said the researcher also didn't consider demographics and academic programs. He said Decatur's high achievers routinely score as well or better than other states' high achievers.

    "We have a broad demographics with excellent programs to address those demographics," Kyle said. "Our schools do just as good a job with the child whose mother is a crack user as it does with the child whose parent is a general manager of a local industry."

    Morgan County Association of Realtors President Kim Hallmark was excited to see Decatur featured but said Corcoran's statement about the schools "mortified" her.

    She said it wasn't right that the report mentioned housing in Tucson, Brooklyn, N.Y., East Grand Rapids, Mich., Malibu, Cal., and Raleigh, N.C., giving positive aspects of each of these cities, while the Decatur schools comment was the only negative comment in the story.

    "I was tickled to death to be included in that report, but then she made a comment that affects the overall image of our area and the real estate market," Hallmark said.

    Hallmark said the comment is particularly an issue in Decatur as it tries to recruit those moving to the area as part of the Base Realignment and Closure commission's plan. She said she thinks the comment undermines the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce's recruitment work.

    "The chamber has done a remarkable job of getting them to consider Decatur as an option," Hallmark said, "and I'm afraid that those people might get that statement planted in their mind."

    Online extra

    Click here for a link to the “Today Show” segment in which a correspondent said Decatur “has bad schools” and for a copy of Superintendent Sam Houston’s response, please click here.

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