Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More from Valdosta

I toured more of the campus and spoke to students at Valdosta State University, who were an incredibly friendly and obliging bunch. Everyone was very helpful and had real insights into what was going on- rare when you do man-on-the-street type interviews. Jax-State University President Bill Meehan had his first public forum and I was glad to hear the depth of the questions the faculty asked. They obviously have a vested interest in who gets the job here.

No clue as to what his chances are- today was "dead day" where students were out of class and preparing for final exams. So there wasn't as much student representation as I think some were hoping.

Interesting side note; Dr. Meehan and his wife are staying right across the hall from me in the hotel here. I haven't knocked on the door to verify this, but suspect it will help me if I need to do some late night fact-checking. :)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Valdosta State University trip

Dan, this is the artist rendering of the Student Union –let me know if you need photos of anything else on campus

Valdosta State University, like other schools in Georgia, is preparing for an influx of students. The collge expects 16,000 students by 2020 and is in the middle of a $263 million expansion project. It's a bit bigger than Jacksonville State University already and will continue to grow for the next decade or so.

Here's some pictures a took today, as well as a complete rundown of expansion projects at the University from their communications office. VSU building...

Students celebrate last day of classes.

Pictures of new dormitory

The following is an overview of the 3-phase construction ($263 million) In 2004 VSU revised its master plan and embarked on an aggressive campus transformation that includes additional degree programs at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels; major partnerships with local governmental entities, school systems, and the medical community; and a total projected $263 million in capital construction projects, with $47 million from direct state appropriations. The capital construction projects are divided into three phases, all designed to improve campus life and increase density and quality of service. Phase I began in 2004 and was completed by fall 2006. It represented a $36 million comprehensive housing plan that provided new construction of Centennial Hall East and West and total renovation of three existing residence halls. The new residence halls incorporated study areas, classroom space, and music practice areas to enhance the university’s living-learning environment.
With Phase I, the economic impact on two of the residence hall renovations (Patterson and Lowndes) and the Palms Dining renovations generated to a total economic impact of $6.7 million and created 104 new jobs in the Valdosta-MSA.
Phase II began in July 2007 and represents $150 million in projects, including two new residence halls on main campus and renovation of an existing residence hall; an athletic field house; two multi-level parking garages, a new student health center, and a student union. The student union will become the university’s newest signature building and its grand architecture will be visible to students and visitors entering the campus. The student union will complete the Phase II project list, and its design incorporates the current and future facility needs of a growing university, as well as recognizing the academic, cultural, recreational, and social needs of current and future students. The new 120,000 square foot facility will feature a ballroom with seating for 800; theater seating for 350; meeting room space, offices for student organizations, a new bookstore, food court, and administrative offices. Phase III of the transformation will represent one of the most significant advances in VSU’s history, and directly responds to the state of Georgia’s critical need for more healthcare professionals. The new $45 million Health Sciences and Business Administration facility establishes a partnership with South Georgia Medical Center and the region’s medical community that will represent a tremendous economic impact on South Georgia and provide the needed facilities to increase educational opportunities within various health-related areas of study. In addition to this state-of-the-art facility, an additional $30 million in residence halls, dining facilities, and related infrastructure will bring the total cost to more than $75 million. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON CAPITAL PROJECTSResidence Halls (Phase II)Demolition of Hopper Hall began July 2007 and will open in August 2008 with four levels, 513 beds, office space, multi-purpose rooms and even a 24/7 diner. Summer of 2008 will bring the demolition of Georgia Hall, another 200-bed, all-female residence hall. The new Georgia Hall will be an attractive 486-bed facility with additional options. Historic Reade Hall will retain its bed number, yet transformed to an honors hall with expanded footage for public gathering space. Both Georgia and Reade will begin serving students in 2009. Ambling University Development Group has been selected as the developer for all three residence hall projects. This group was also responsible for the renovation projects of Lowndes and Patterson as well as the construction of Centennial Hall. Ambling will use the architectural firm Niles Bolton Associates to design the new Georgia and Hopper Halls and IPG Architects and Planners for the renovations of Reade Hall.
Parking Decks (Phase II)Construction on two multi-level parking decks, one located in the current Oak Street lot and the other in the current Sustella Street lot behind the Student Recreations Center, will begin at the close of the fall 2007 semester. The Sustella Street lot will boast offices for Parking and Transportation, a rental center for Campus Recreation, and a substation for University Police, and Auxiliary Services. The team of Tim Haahs and Cooper Carry, along with local architectural firm McCall & Associates will perform the design work on the parking structures. Student Health Center (Phase II)Farber Health Center serves VSU students with a medical staff consisting of a physician, nurse practitioner, registered nurses, a medical technologist, a pharmacist and office staff. The group of qualified professionals will be able to expand their services with a new facility that will be constructed on Georgia Avenue, next to the current International Programs building. The brand new, state-of-the-art facility will offer 27,185 square feet — a significant increase from the current 6,900 square feet. The highly technical facility will improve the healthcare needs of VSU’s increasing student enrollment. Lott and Barber Architects will serve as the architecture team for the project that will begin at the close of fall semester 2007 and open for the spring term 2009 Student Union (Phase II)The existing union is home to The Loop Pizza Grill, Student Life, the on-campus newspaper and many other offices. It is located in adjacent to the University’s old gym, which houses several athletic offices. Both of these buildings will be demolished and replaced with a new 120,000 square foot student union that will provide an impressive visual presence from Baytree Road for those approaching from Interstate 75. It will hold offices for Student Life, Student Government, Campus Activities Board, the Spectator and the Dean of Students, and it will feature a large ballroom, auditorium, new bookstore, students’ lounge and food court with national known concepts. Ellis Ricket & Associates will collaborate with WTW Architects on the design of the student union project.Athletic Facilities (Phase II)Construction will begin on a new athletic practice facility in November and is expected to be completed by early fall 2008. The first phase will include a parking area and building to house coaches’ offices, a conference room, video editing stations, classrooms, a break room, two computer labs, locker rooms, training rooms and much more. The second phase will establish two football practice fields and a practice soccer field. Health Sciences and Business Administration Facility (Phase III)In looking to address a shortage of professionals in the healthcare industry, VSU is working to establish a health sciences facility that will improve the education of various health-related areas of study. It will be located on North Campus and house a variety of health related departments including the College of Nursing, Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, Communication Disorders, Exercise Physiology and Sports Medicine. The College of Business will also share the new building. This project has an anticipated cost of $47 million that has been endorsed by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, and now awaits state appropriations funding. The total for the North Campus expansion is $72 million with $47 in state funds for the Health Sciences and Business Administration facility and the remainder in student services facilities (housing, dining, etc).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blogging from Valdosta

I'll be leaving bright and early tomorrow morning and head toward Valdosta, Ga., the setting for Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan's two days worth of public interviews. Expect semi-regular updates and photos about the trip. I'll also be working to knock out some of my other assignments later in the week as well.

If anyone knows where I can get any good food down that way, holler at me on my comments section.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Back from the meeting

Joan Frazier is now the permanent superintendent of Anniston City Schools.

In a 4-1 decision the board voted to give Frazier the top job.

And, contrary to my earlier 'spider sense,' there was very little acrimony involved. Vivian Thompson voted no, but there was no heated debate. At the end, some of the parents even gave her a round of applause.

There were some people in that room who weren't happy who talked to me after the meeting, however.

You may think that, being a journalist, we're only happy when people start throwing furniture around at these public meetings. In fact the opposite is the case; we often expect the worst and are pleasantly surprised when the opposite happens.

Tonight was one of those cases.

Spidey sense tingling

Some of you may have read this story about tonight's Anniston Board of Education meeting. Based on some of the rumblings I'm hearing from the community, it should be a hot one.

If the board selects Interim Superintendent Joan Frazier as its permanent superintendent (something similar to what happened 10 years ago with Jan Hurd- which is another story) there are people who are not going to be happy about it. Parents have already expressed frustration that they feel out of the loop on what's going on in their schools. Picking a new leader without involving them in the discussion probably won't make them feel any better, according to one parent I spoke with this morning.

Councilman Ben Little is sending a letter to the school board saying the same thing.

The meeting is at 6 p.m. in the central office at 4804 McClellan Blvd.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Get real paid

I offer this because I couldn't find a place for it in tomorrow's story. Former Anniston Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton, through his attorney, sent the following letter to the Anniston Board of Education regarding how they would pay him the remainder of his contract, which is up next year. It includes an interesting turn of phrase, which I've placed in italics.

BOE Attorney's Response- By letter dated February 8, 2008, a copy of which is attached hereto and incorporated herein as Exhibit “B,” Dr. Felton, through counsel, made demand on the Board for payment of the severance pay due under paragraph 8(f) of the contract in the following terms:

How I want to get paid. There are three outstanding
payments: the February, 2008 pay check, 30 days unused
annual leave, one years salary and benefits.

(1) The February 2008 Paycheck. This payment should be
made by direct deposit to Dr. Felton’s account (that account
into which his checks have been going each month) with all
normal, customary deductions being made and with a check
stub forwarded to him as is normal and customary.

(2) The 30-day annual leave. The payment of the 30 day
annual leave is customary. See, Thursday, May 17, 2007
ACB minutes “Reimbursement for Unused Annual Leave.”
See also, Thursday, July 19, 2007, ACB minutes “Payment of
Annual Leave.” Dr. Felton’s annual leave is to be paid with
only the required deductions withheld and deposited to his
account via direct deposit with a check stub forwarded to him.

(3) His one year salary and benefit should have no
deductions. He will assume responsibility for all taxes. His
salary and benefits include the $9,300.00 employer
contribution to PEEHIP, his retirement benefits including the
11.75% retirement match. His is also due his professional
organization dues and the ordinary and necessary expenses for
attending the professional meetings for the year. You have in
the Board’s records of this historic cost data. The total due
him for the one year salary and benefits without including the
professional dues and convention reimbursement or items (1)
and (2) above is $157,849.11. After establishing professional
dues and necessary expenses for attending professional
meetings for one year, add the amount to the $157,849.11.
This payment should be made by direct deposit with a check
stub forwarded to him.

Please see that these payments are made promptly

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bill Meehan could leave JSU

That's the word- Dr. Bill Meehan, who's been with Jacksonville State University for decades and president since 1999- is entertaining a move to Valdosta State University.

We have the story for free on our Web site.

So what do you think? Should Bill Meehan stay if he gets the offer or should he go? How do you pesonally feel about him leaving?

Please post your thoughts in our comments section.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I'm back, I'm back

Back from my honeymoon and I'm ready to roll.

While I was away, I received some feedback from my story about Anniston City Schools. (Subscription required.)

Here are two letters I received.

I joined IBM in 1960 and worked for them for 33 years. During the 1960's and 1970's
we could not build new plant sites fast enough to meet the growing demand for computer products.

When opening new plant sites there were several relevant priorities. At the top of the list was the quality of the local school system. Teams from our corporate headquarters would send out employees to investigate the proposed locations.

Anniston is my hometown and after retirement from IBM, I moved back here. In my days of the 1940's attending Anniston High School, it was one of the best state school systems. I was shocked to see how the school system had degraded to one of the worst in the state based on exit exams.

As long as this condition exists, Anniston will struggle to reestablish it's economic vitality.

Van Allen

I enjoyed the article on Sunday. I hope you keep hammering at this issue.

I have 25 years experience as a teacher, coach, administrator in Public Schools. I retired in 1996 and went to work for an educational computer software company. For nine years I traveled to about 20 states, installing student administration software, and training users in the schools and school district offices. I say this to hopefully gain a little credibility.

There are school districts worse than Anniston’s, but it is not a statement of fact to say that all inner city schools are not achieving their potential. In some places, the result of integration and the migration from the cities to the suburbs has left a decaying city with poverty the root cause for poor performing schools. In other locations, through the right leadership, the inner city schools succeed at providing a successful learning environment. It’s all about leadership.

I believe that Anniston’s problems started in the early 70’s when the white flight started. Anniston, over the years, has reinvented its school system several times. Again, in my opinion, the failure was ineffective leadership, both at the school level and within the school district office.

I don’t believe the Anniston City School system can survive the latest failure to provide a learning environment. Part of it is the failure of the school board to set the policies necessary to bring Anniston out of the abysmal public perception it currently has.

The Calhoun County School System has excess capacity. I think the City School Board should petition the federal judge with jurisdiction over the city’s schools to dissolve the city system, close those segregated schools and merge the schools with the county.


Retired Educator

I'd appreciate other reader's thoughts and comments on this issue.

Monday, April 14, 2008

JSU trustees raise tuition

Updated 1:45 p.m.

Tuition for Jacksonville State University undergraduates will go up 12.4 percent beginning this fall, after the JSU Board of Trustees approved the hike at its Monday morning meeting.

The board also approved an 11-percent tuition increase for graduate students and a $50 per-credit-hour charge for distance-learning courses. Residential housing costs will rise 15 percent and the school’s application fee will increase from $20 to $30.

JSU President Bill Meehan said the increases are necessary because of proposed higher education budget cuts being considered by the Legislature. He said Alabama Gov. Bob Riley had proposed a 13.4-percent cut for JSU, which would reduce its funding by nearly $6.6 million.

“We would not be able to meet operating costs without raising tuition,” Meehan said. “We really did not have a choice in this matter.”

The tuition hike means that the cost per credit hour for undergraduates at JSU will rise from $169 to $190. Meehan said the increase will cost less than $85 per month for a student enrolled for 16 semester hours in the fall and spring semesters.

JSU has not raised tuition in two years.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Saks, Alexandria high schools compete in NASA moonbuggy race

Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

ALEXANDRIA — Saks and Alexandria high schools have been rivals in football, baseball and basketball for generations. Now the rivalry has been taken to the moon and back.

Both schools built "moonbuggies" for NASA's Great Moonbuggy Race. The schools not only competed against each other but against more than 50 other teams from North America and Europe.

John Moore, the gifted specialist from Calhoun County Schools who organized the teams, said the racers cheered for each other, but there was an obvious desire to come out on top.

"There was some camaraderie there, even though both schools wanted to whip each other," Moore said.

In the end, Alexandria probably had the edge taking the "Most Unique Buggy" award, but both pedal-powered rovers limped across the finished line with bent or warped rims.

But just finishing was enough to put both local teams above much of their competition. Of the 56 buggies that entered the competition only about 30 reached the finish line, according to Moore.

The simulated craters and obstacles on the course were designed to test the buggies by punishing and at times mangling the steel.

"We were praying just to get over the first one and we were proud of that," said Alexandria junior Morgan Cox, who drove the buggy. "Then we just kept on going."

Full story (paid)

Video: Moonbuggies in Alexandria

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Trantham finalist for teacher of the year


A third-grade teacher at Alexandria Elementary School has been named one of the top four educators in the state, and more awards could be on the way.

The teacher, Amber Trantham, is among the Alabama State Board of Education's "final four" in the teacher of the year running.

The field of 147 nominated teachers was narrowed to 16 in March, with the final four announced Monday.

Trantham and the other finalists will go through a last round of interviews before the winner and alternate are announced on May 7 in Montgomery.

Oxford High School math teacher Deedee Adams also made the state's top 16 list.

Trantham on Monday said that the announcement was a huge honor, considering the quality teachers all over the state. She said the judges seemed to be most interested in her work with students before and after school, and she thinks that is what has pushed her to the top.

"All teachers do the things in the classroom," she said. "We're all completely committed from eight to three."

Full story (paid)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Randolph, Talladega, Clay school closing early for storms

Updated 1:42 p.m.

Several local school systems are dismissing students early this afternoon due to concerns about bad weather.

All Randolph County and Talladega County schools will dismiss at 1:30 p.m.

Clay County schools will dismiss at 1:45 p.m.

Calhoun County and Jacksonville City schools officials said there were no plans to dismiss early. Cleburne County officials said they were considering early dismissal when contacted at 1:30 p.m. today, but had not made a decision.

Storms that caused havoc in Arkansas and elsewhere are moving east through Alabama today and were expected to reach east Alabama by mid-afternoon.

The Star is working to contact other local school systems.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wellborn student earns national merit scholarship


It's a first, as far as June Bentley can tell.

The social studies teacher at Wellborn High School, who has been teaching for 13 years at the school, thinks senior Erica Bell is the only national merit achievement scholar the school has ever had.

Bell is at least the first in recent memory.

"She just looks intelligent," said Bentley, who is teaching Bell economics this year.

On Wednesday Bell was one of 21 public high school African-American students in the state to be recognized for the scholarships, which range from $500 to $10,000 per year, according to a press release.

Full story

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nightmare or Dream Come True? Computer bug eats Ind. students' grades

I can remember a few times wishing this would have happened to me. I am a little skeptical because this story did come out on April Fool's Day. -aj

Computer bug eats Ind. students' grades

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) -- A computer malfunction wiped out a month's worth of grades at three high schools and one middle school, giving struggling students a second chance but dismaying others.

The Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. announced on its Web site that the malfunction occurred during spring break.

Students at Harrison High had mixed reactions, depending on how the second semester was going for them, senior Ibrahim Dughaish said Monday.

"Some are really upset because they worked hard for five weeks," but others saw it as a reprieve, he said.

"My son is an honor roll student and I prefer him keep his grades. He works hard for them," said parent Teresa Hayes.

Full story