National TV show accepts offer to visit following uproar over 'bad schools' comment
By Bayne Hughes
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Decatur Superintendent Sam Houston issued a y'all come invitation last week, and now the "Today" show is taking up his offer.
"Today" Executive Producer Jim Bell had planned a two-minute clarification this week on real estate correspondent Barbara Corcoran's Sept. 20 comment that Decatur has "bad schools." But he told The Daily he changed his mind.
Bell is sending Field Producer Paul Manson and Corcoran to Decatur on Friday.
"I just thought we would do something a little better, rather than saying, 'Whoops, we messed up,' " Bell said.
Bell said Corcoran will check out Decatur's schools and, of course, the city's real estate market.
"Real estate is what she knows, but every good real estate person knows that schools are an important part of selling their product," Bell said.
He said the Decatur segment will probably air Tuesday or Wednesday.
This would be the second visit to Decatur for the "Today" staff. The show did a segment in June at Somerville Road Elementary School on then-fifth-grader D.J. Graffree, named the city PTA's elementary student of the year last year. Graffree now attends Oak Park Middle School.
Houston and his central office staff met Wednesday afternoon to prepare for the visit. He said the one thing he wants to get across to Corcoran is "data on the Internet doesn't tell the whole story."
Corcoran based her controversial comments, "What you don't get is good schools. They have bad schools...," on her writer's research on test scores.
"There's a lot more to us," Houston said. "Data doesn't tell about the quality of Decatur's schools and the quality of our community."
John Seymour, president and chief executive officer of Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said he wasn't surprised that "Today" is visiting. He also sent an e-mail to Bell, inviting him to Decatur.
"It's exciting they're coming, and it's exciting how the community rallied about the school system," Seymour said. "I think it made enough difference that they're coming down here."
Seymour said he and his staff are available for advice, but they're letting school officials handle the visit. He expects that "Today" will get to see several schools and programs like the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and the Violins! Violins! third-grade program.
Decatur High School is also holding a National Honor Society program Friday and a pep rally to prepare for that night's football game against Sparkman.
Seymour said the visitors need to see that a person doesn't have to walk through metal detectors when they enter the high school and students are learning in a safe environment.
"We have some unique things that other people don't have," Seymour said. "We need to show them there's balance in our school system and they understand it's not just about numbers."
Morgan County Association of Realtors President Kim Hallmark said she was delighted to hear the news and she would love to talk real estate with Corcoran. She said she tried to arrange a meeting between Corcoran and other Realtors.
While upset with Corcoran for her comments on the school system, Hallmark said the remainder of the segment was complimentary of Decatur and its low-priced home costs.
Corcoran said a buyer could get a two-bedroom townhouse in Tucson, Ariz., when, for about the same amount of money, he could buy a four-bedroom home on 111/2 acres on Day Road in Decatur. (The home is not actually in the city limits).
Hallmark said Corcoran missed a chance to talk about Decatur's positives, although she did mention the low property taxes. For example, she said, Decatur has an interest in the arts and great recreational activities.
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