Cobb Board of Education Vice Chairman Randy Scamihorn said following Barge’s loss in the primary, Barge called him to talk about education in Cobb.
“It was a very short conversation,” Scamihorn said. “I would say three minutes. Five at the most. He said something about ‘Have you selected your superintendent?’ I said, ‘Yes, we have Chris Ragsdale, he’s the interim.”
During that phone call, Scamihorn said he told Barge that the board had decided to make Ragsdale’s appointment as interim for one year before deciding on a permanent superintendent.
Barge disclosed to Scamihorn he couldn’t wait that long, given his term as state superintendent expires at the end of the year.
“I do recall him saying something to the effect of, ‘Well, I’m looking now’ or ‘I’ve got to have a job before then,’” Scamihorn said.
The MDJ asked to speak with Barge about the topic on Friday, but his spokesman, Matt Cardoza, said he was unavailable.
Scamihorn said if Ragsdale continues the performance he’s doing, he wants him to stay on as the permanent superintendent.
“It’s Chris’s job to lose,” Scamihorn said. “He started out with a fantastic start. He’s put in place an A-plus-plus team, and we have had the best start of the school year that we’ve had in recent years.”
Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci did not seek another term on the school board, but hopes her successors will offer Ragsdale the position.
“I support Mr. Ragsdale,” Angelucci said, adding she had heard Barge had made inquiries about the job but he has not approached her about it.
Scamihorn believes Ragsdale has the support of the rest of the board as well.
“I think he’s won all the other board members over as far as I know. I’ve not heard anybody say they’re not happy with them,” Scamihorn said.
Board member David Banks agreed.
“We just have a lot of positive momentum going right now, and I think as long as he keeps that going when we get down to talking about a permanent, I think he’s got an excellent opportunity,” Banks said.
Board member David Morgan said it was premature to talk about a permanent superintendent, but he too is happy with the job Ragsdale is doing.
Banks and Morgan said they hadn’t spoken with Barge. But like Banks, Morgan said he is pleased with Ragsdale.
“I think that he has galvanized the district,” Morgan said. “I think he thinks student success, achievement is very important to him, and I think that he has a very good grasp of the district, and the dynamics of the district, and how we keep ourselves moving forward.”
Ragsdale, meanwhile, said the decision to make his job permanent is “up to the board.” He said he’s pursuing his goal of “One Team, One Goal: Student Success,” to get everyone from his executive cabinet to the board on down working together.
“I think the start of the school year is a testimony to that teamwork approach working,” Ragsdale said, adding he wants to maintain that momentum and keep it going.
Ragsdale, Angelucci and Scamihorn met with the MDJ’s editorial board Friday where the superintendent’s position was discussed, along with the district’s plans for new schools.
Ragsdale said the district is in the early planning stages for the replacement Brumby Elementary School, which will be paid for with funds from the 2013 education special purpose local option sales tax.
The district purchased a 35-acre property on Terrell Mill Road earlier this year to build the new school. The state requires a minimum of 15 acres to build an elementary school, but the actual footprint the new Brumby Elementary will make on those 35 acres will be determined by enrollment projections.
Ragsdale noted the current Brumby Elementary on Powers Ferry Road has the largest number of portable classrooms of any Cobb school.
“We’ve got to make sure we build a school big enough for the current zoning and current enrollment,” he said.
Once Brumby Elementary does move —Ragsdale doesn’t expect construction to start until 2016 or 2017 — the school board is envisioning selling the previous property.
“It’s always been kind of the thought process that as we rebuild Brumby Elementary and relocate it that we could recoup some revenue from the disposition of the property. That’s the ultimate goal,” Ragsdale said.
As for the remaining property on Terrell Mill, the school board members said relocating East Cobb Middle School there is an option, but they haven’t made any recommendations yet.
Another school scheduled for major renovations from the same SPLOST funds is Walton High School.
Ragsdale said student population projections, along with the school’s landlocked property, are causing hiccups with that project.
He said the district was originally looking to accommodate 2,700 to 2,800 students, but a recent study gives a 10-year projection of 3,600 students.
Ragsdale said the district isn’t going to tear down the entire facility, and it is looking at building a multi-story, main academic building on the campus’ existing site.
“The lay of the land there, that plot is really, really difficult; it’s challenging” he said, explaining the back side of the property has power lines which limit what can be built near them and the proximity to them.
Plans also call for relocating the school’s softball fields and tennis court.
About $40 million has been set aside for Walton, but Ragsdale couldn’t estimate what the final cost will be.
Backlash on education initiatives
Angelucci and Scamihorn were vocal about their dislike for educational “fads” such as No Child Left Behind, Common Core and recent changes to the state’s curriculum for its AP U.S. History course.
It’s very concerning to me, not just as a school board member but as a Georgian that this is OK to rewrite history,” Angelucci said.
The College Board says the history course presents a balanced view of American history to prepare students for college-level history courses, but Republicans have blasted it, saying it emphasizes negative aspects of U.S. history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.
Angelucci said she was disappointed the state Legislature didn’t repeal Common Core in its last session and wants Georgia to “have more courage” to take a stand against it.
“As a district we kind of get our marching orders from the state and so that’s where I think we need to make our concerns made,” she said.
Scamihorn predicted Common Core will eventually go the way of No Child Left Behind: “It will be a shell of a program” … and then we’ll try to move on to something else instead of getting down to the fundamentals.”
Angelucci said she was a product of another education fad that didn’t work: open classrooms and a huge graduating class of more than 700.
“That was supposed to be the next thing, the best thing. You’re supposed to glean all this learning from what’s going on around you and it was a huge failure.”
Angelucci likened the educational initiatives such as Common Core and open classrooms to New Coke — Coca-Cola’s attempt in the mid-1980s to reformulate its signature beverage that was a huge flop among consumers.
“If you repackage something, you’re showing your stakeholders and your board of directors that you’re making these so-called changes for the good and you’re really not,” she said. “You’re going to go back to the original product because it was good.”