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Barbara Corcoran, right, the woman who brought the 'Today' show to Decatur with her 'bad schools' remark, reacts to the introduction of Decatur High School students acting the part of 'Today' show personnel during  her visit to the school Friday. At left is DHS Principal Mike Ward. Behind them are Jeanne Payne, head of curriculum at Decatur City Schools , and Superintendent Sam Houston.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Barbara Corcoran, right, the woman who brought the "Today" show to Decatur with her "bad schools" remark, reacts to the introduction of Decatur High School students acting the part of "Today" show personnel during her visit to the school Friday. At left is DHS Principal Mike Ward. Behind them are Jeanne Payne, head of curriculum at Decatur City Schools , and Superintendent Sam Houston.

'Today' show
in Decatur

City schools show off
for network TV crew

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Decatur City Schools used violins, robots, music, "7 Habits" and lots of food Friday to persuade "Today" show correspondent Barbara Corcoran that her original assessment of the schools was wrong.

The city had about 41/2 hours to show off to the morning correspondent, who said Decatur had "bad schools" during a Sept. 20 segment on housing prices.

Corcoran said she "learned a life lesson" in Decatur's schools today. She based her statement on Decatur's test scores, which the "Today" executive producer later said were outdated.

Corcoran said her lesson was, "Education is not just numbers." She said she saw the passion and pride Decatur's people have in their schools.

"Decatur has the students from the most advantaged students and the most disadvantaged, but they offer all the programs to suit everyone," Corcoran said. "Everyone has a place and something to do. I didn't see anyone who wasn't smiling today."

Superintendent Sam Houston said he believes Decatur school officials accomplished their mission of convincing Corcoran that they have a good school system.

"I think she knows that there's certainly more to Decatur than a piece of data can convey," Houston said.

Corcoran and "Today" Producer Paul Manson arrived at Huntsville International Airport at about 10 a.m. After meeting with a cameraman and soundman from Memphis, they arrived in Decatur at about 11:15 a.m.

They began their visit with a Big Bob Gibson's lunch and a view of the Tennessee River at the Sexton Foundation. They started their work with an interview with four Decatur women — Ann Marshall, Daily Advertising Director Crystal Brown, Dee Dee Suggs and Suzanne Woller — with children either in or graduates of the city system.

Choosing Decatur

Corcoran was particularly interested in Marshall's story. The wife of United Launch Initiative Vice President Phillip Marshall, she told Corocoran about her family's move to Decatur from Colorado and how they chose Decatur after visiting its schools. She said her family wouldn't have moved to Decatur if it didn't have a good school system.

The caravan then took a scenic route to Chestnut Grove Elementary, riding through Old Decatur past the city's newest school, Banks-Caddell Elementary.

At Chestnut Grove, students like Hannah Braudaway and Bailey Reeves greeted the visitors with a cheerful, "Good afternoon."

Principal Lauretta Teague showed Corcoran a video of the SNEWS network, a daily student morning show that highlights the lessons of the "7 Habits of a Highly Successful Person," a business theory that Chestnut Grove and several other Decatur schools use to teach respect and responsibility.

Corcoran joked that she thought she was watching a group of professionals, not a group of elementary students.

Aislinn Cain, a third-grader in Shannon Cook's class, calmly told Corcoran about the data notebooks, despite a camera in her face and a boom mike hanging over her head.

"I told them we write our spelling words in it," Aislinn said. "We write about what's coming up next and record the things that our parents need to sign. We also write down when we read 30 minutes every day."

The caravan then headed out to Danville Road, passing Cedar Ridge Middle School, before racing to Country Club Road and seeing the luxury homes on Brookmeade Road. The group headed through several Southeast Decatur neighborhoods before finally reaching Decatur High School.

The Decatur High chorus and Director Carl Davis welcomed the group with song. They raced across the campus to a pep rally at Decatur High Development Program.

Austin High was not left out of the visit. The robotics team showed off its new robot, built and ready for next week's competition at Calhoun Community College. The Austin marching band performed for Corcoran at Ogle Stadium.

Honorary captain

They attended a Decatur High pep rally, and football coach Jere Adcock named Corcoran an honorary captain of the game against Sparkman. Corcoran got into the spirit, grabbing a cheerleader's pompoms before getting a game jersey from Adcock.

The "Today" crew finished the day with a return to Old Decatur and Bank Street. They shot in front of the historic home of Lynn and Ken Schuppert. Corcoran, because real estate is her specialty, interviewed Kim Hallmark, president of the Morgan County Association of Realtors.

Corcoran admitted she was "scared to death" at how Decatur might receive her after her negative comment, but everyone she met greeted her with a smile and a welcome.

"I felt so at home here, and that's pretty amazing after spending only four hours here," Corcoran said.

Manson said the segment featuring Decatur would probably air Tuesday morning.

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