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Defending
Decatur schools

State officials show support for system in response to 'Today' show segment

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Support for Decatur City Schools following the "bad school system" comment on the "Today" show is coming from a variety of sometimes surprising places, said Superintendent Sam Houston.

Alabama State Superintendent Joe Morton sent an e-mail to "Today" and Houston on Friday criticizing real estate correspondent Barbara Corcoran for her statement.

Corcoran had stated, "What you don't get is good schools. They've got a bad school system ... " in a Thursday morning segment on housing prices.

"Ms. Corcoran should be placed in a detention class for inappropriate language and be given a homework assignment to fully research education in Decatur, Alabama," Morton wrote.

Gov. Bob Riley said he did not see the "Today" segment, but the comment does not reflect the progress that Alabama's school systems have made in recent years.

"Alabama is investing more in our schools than ever before, and our test scores are going up," Riley said. "These successes are due in large part to innovative programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama Math & Science Initiative and distance learning programs. These programs have been commended by the United States secretary of education as models for the rest of the nation."

E-mail campaign

The city has begun an e-mail and writing campaign to "Today" and Corcoran's Web site, www.barbaracorcoran.com. Houston sent an e-mail to his principals and administrators with talking points on how to defend the school system and pertinent e-mail addresses.

"I wanted to let my principals and teachers know that we support them, and this doesn't change how we feel about them or what we're trying to accomplish here in Decatur," Houston said.

In a response to the controversial statement, Decatur parent Jody Mitchell's e-mail describes her family's situation as Hurricane Katrina evacuees from Metairie, La, who settled in Decatur. She said she has two children at Decatur High, one at Oak Park Middle School and a 3-year-old in Somerville Road Elementary's development program.

Mitchell said her oldest child was failing in Louisiana and that system didn't challenge the two middle children. She writes that she doesn't think her youngest child would get the same disabled services in Louisiana that he gets here.

"Now I ask you, three children, going through a tragedy, but can manage to finish the 2005-06 school year on the honor rolls, does that sound like a bad school system?" Mitchell writes.

Under Corcoran's blog on her site, she gives readers a chance to voice their opinions on her appearances. Comments criticizing her "Today" statements grew from five to eight Friday morning. They are particularly critical that Corcoran could make a statement about the school system when she states on her Web site that her "credentials include straight D's in high school and college ..."

"Today" posted a written version of the segment and gives readers a chance to rate it. As of Friday, 188 users viewed the story and gave it a one star rating out of a possible five stars.

Corcoran's writer/researcher Jennifer Margulis wrote the copy for the segment. She used CNNMoney.com to base her comment about the status of Decatur's schools. CNN Money does not say which test scores it based its findings on, and the CNN Money press office did not return The Daily's phone calls Friday.

Attempts to reach Corcoran or "Today" Executive Producer Jim Bell were also unsuccessful.

Houston said he has not received a response from Bell to a letter he e-mailed to "Today" inviting him to visit Decatur to witness the city's education status firsthand. He wrote that Decatur's schools received numerous national and state honors for the quality of education and programs the system provides.

Houston said he plans to follow the e-mail with a letter through Postal Service mail. Even though this is a national show, he said, he expects Bell will respond.

"I would hope they would be responsive and big enough to respond and do something about what was said," Houston said.

Daily Staff Writer M.J. Ellington contributed to this story.

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