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'Today' gets
good grade

Correspondent gets message: Data
don't show quality of schools

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

A "Today" show correspondent went to school in Decatur and got a lesson, she reported Tuesday morning.

After an outcry of protest for her "bad schools" comment about Decatur in a Sept. 20 segment on housing prices, real estate correspondent Barbara Corcoran visited the city Friday to see for herself.

Corcoran based her comments in the original segment on the city's test scores, but Tuesday's segment, named "Lessons in real estate," warned someone considering moving to an area to visit and "not just sit on their butt" and base their opinions on test scores found on the Internet.

"What my Internet search was missing is firsthand accounts and information on special programs, things that make any school unique," Corcoran said.

A delighted Superintendent Sam Houston said he thought it captured the spirit of his school system and Decatur. He said he believes Corcoran left Friday knowing that the city has good schools.

"This was the message we were trying to convey," Houston said of the piece. "The quality of the schools and the learning experiences available shows true substance that Decatur City Schools is bigger than any number."

John Seymour, president and chief executive officer of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, called the segment "perfect." He credited Decatur's citizens for the e-mail campaign that he thinks brought "Today" to the city.

"I'm very proud of the people of Decatur for rallying around the schools," Seymour said. "We got them to see that we have a good school system. Sure, we've got things we could do better, and we're always working on them."

The segment featured Chestnut Grove Elementary and its SNEWS (School News) network, the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" curriculum and the Violins! Violins! program. Corcoran said her statistics found on the Internet didn't mention the program in which every third-grade student learns to play the violin.

Corcoran and her crew then went to Decatur High School, where she featured the developmental program and the International Baccalaureate Program, and the crew shot scenes from a pep rally. Austin High's robotics team and marching band went to Decatur High to perform for the New York visitors.

The segment featured Ann Marshall, Suzanne Woller and Crystal Brown, The Decatur Daily's advertising director. All three are mothers of current, past or future Decatur students.

Seymour said the women, interviewed first after the lunch at the Sexton Foundation, set the tone for the visit because Corcoran saw the passion they have for educating their children.

Decatur High Principal Mike Ward said he appreciated "Today" allowing the school system to turn a negative into a positive.

He disagreed, however, with host Matt Lauer's statement that the school system put on a show.

Ward said they did bring Austin students over because Corcoran's visit was so limited on time. He said his cheerleaders hold a pep rally for the developmental program students every week, and they didn't change any class schedules for the visit. In fact, the photographer was unable to shoot a science experiment because the students needed the lights off.

"We didn't make up anything for them," Ward said. "These are things we do every day. Everything they saw happens in Decatur City Schools."

The impact of the segment has already been felt. Houston said Terry Bergeson, superintendent of public instruction for the state of Washington, called and thanked him for the segment. He said Bergeson said the segment got across the point that the quality of schools is more than test scores, and that's something many school officials across the nation have been saying for years.

A woman from Birmingham did not leave her name, but Ward said she called him and thanked him for the positive story about Alabama's schools.

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