Archive for April, 2009

Great blue wonders

heron-1-close-up1

Great blue herons have long been my favorite Kentucky water birds. I love watching these huge creatures with their six-foot wingspans floating so gracefully and silently in search of fish. As my former college classmate and colleague Todd Kleffman at the Advocate-Messenger in Danville describes them, they seem like prehistoric “pterodactyls hovering” … “We floated by beneath them in hushed wonder,” he writes of his canoe trip with his daughter Kindle in “Great Blue Wonders.” Visit www.winchestersun.com to read the story.

New GRC will be bigger than old one

Some of the school facilities plan is starting to make a little more sense now.

According to Sun reporter Fred Petke’s latest article, which will be published today in the newspaper and at www.winchestersun.com, the new George Rogers Clark High School will not be smaller than the present building, as has been reported at previous meetings. The latest plans for the high school call for a 1,900-student facility (including a new technology center), which is about 500 students more than the present GRC building and vocational school. It would also have a bigger cafeteria, which would give students more time  to eat lunch. And the architect has said he thinks the school will cost less than the last official BG-1 estimate of $50 million. At the special school board meeting last Wednesday night, he said he thinks the cost of the 252,000-square-foot facility, including the freshman academy, will come in within the $47 million available bonding capacity.

It should be encouraging to many Clark Countians to learn that school board members appear to be prepared to compromise on other parts of the facilities plan, including considering other options for middle school students. This is a good step in the right direction.

Reasonable alternative for schools

Editorial, The Winchester Sun

When the school facilities construction committee began working on a new building plan a few years ago, the district’s most dire need was to renovate or replace some older elementary schools that were in poor condition.

The committee, and subsequently the school board, however, veered sharply off course by deciding to build a new high school first.

Tomorrow the Clark County Board of Education has an opportunity to correct its mistake by reordering its priorities.

First, let’s look at where we are and how we got here.

The board’s current $81 million plan calls for building a new George Rogers Clark High School on land recently purchased on Boonesboro Road for $2 million. Both Conkwright and Clark Middle School’s students would occupy the old GRC campus, and the middle school buildings would become new elementary schools. The district would then close its rural schools — Trapp, Pilot View and Providence — and someday replace its most run-down elementary schools, Central and Fannie Bush.

This plan was approved by the state, which is not surprising because the state is pressuring districts to close their small schools, despite evidence showing that they outperform large schools.

The main problem with the plan, however, is not that it closes the county’s best and smallest rural schools, but that it does nothing in the short term to alleviate the worst facilities conditions.

We’ve never been able to get a satisfactory answer about why the high school should be first. Proponents say they want something “nice” that would benefit all students and serve as a source of community pride and cohesion. But the school board’s charge isn’t to foster school spirit, it’s to improve school facilities.

And if GRC’s current campus is no longer suitable for a high school, how could it be adequate for a 1,400-student middle school?

The board also needs to think about what taxpayers can afford. Since the plan was approved in 2007, the bottom has fallen out of the economy. Businesses are struggling or failing, and many people in Clark County are losing their jobs and homes. It isn’t a good time for steep property tax increases.

Furthermore, constructing a $46 million high school could tie up the district’s bonding capacity for many years while the school buildings that are in the worst shape continue to crumble.

Fortunately, there is an alternative proposal that would solve the school district’s immediate facilities needs at a fraction of the cost and buy the board some time to take another look at its long-term construction plan while it rides out the recession.

Judy Hicks, who chairs the school board, has endorsed the plan to build a fifth-and-sixth-grade center on property the school district already owns near Strode Station Elementary.

By moving sixth graders out of the middle schools, the district could relocate ninth-graders from the high school to the middle schools, thus easing overcrowding at GRC.

That wouldn’t be unprecedented. Other districts have done the same thing because officials felt ninth-graders needed more maturing before being placed in a high school setting.

The fifth-and-sixth-grade center could be built for about $15 million, and the board would have enough money to rebuild Central Elementary School near its current site, close Fannie Bush, and move most of the latter’s students to the enlarged Central and the remainder to Shearer Elementary.
The rural schools, which are generally in decent condition, would remain in use awhile longer, and the high school could accommodate growth.

We believe this commonsense alternative plan is better for Clark County’s taxpayers and most importantly, better for their children’s education. It should be given serious consideration, and we encourage residents to speak out in favor of it at tonight’s public meeting at 6:30 Wednesday at George Rogers Clark High School’s auditorium.

It's 2009. Do you know where your soul is?

U2 singer Bono

U2 singer Bono

This New York Times op-ed by U2 singer Bono is one of the best Easter messages I’ve read. This man is the first to admit he’s no plaster saint, but when it comes to the biblical mandate to show compassion for “the least of these,” there are few advocates who have a bigger microphone — or a bigger heart. You can read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/opinion/19bono.html

Thirteen tears: A Columbine legacy

Rachel Joy Scott was the first of 13 victims killed at Columbine High School 10 years ago on April 20.

Rachel Joy Scott was the first of 13 victims killed at Columbine High School 10 years ago on April 20.

In death, Rachel Scott
was a witness for faith

By Randy Patrick

Rachel Scott was having lunch with a friend outside when the horror began to unfold at Columbine High School near Denver on April 20, 1999.

Two of their classmates, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, approached with guns and fired several shots, wounding both.

As the boy lay stunned and Rachel tried to crawl away, Harris lifted Rachel by her hair and asked, “Do you believe in God?”
“You know I do,” she answered.

“Then go be with him,” Harris said, and shot her in the head.
She was the first to die that morning.

Rachel was 17, and in the year before her murder she had grown more committed in her relationship with God.

Like most teenagers, she struggled with things like sexual temptation and alcohol abuse. She was no perfect saint, but something had changed. She had become kinder to others, including those like Dylan and Eric, who were part of the “trench coat mafia” — teens who dressed in black, listened to nihilistic music, played violent video games and hated Christ and Christians.

In an Internet video, Klebold said, “Thank God they crucified that a______.”

Rachel counted the cost of her decision to follow Christ and suffered the deep pain of loneliness when her friends at Columbine turned away from her because of her faith. But she would not go back.

In one of her journal entries, dated April 20, 1998 — exactly one year to the day before she died — she wrote: “I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything … I will.”

A few days later, she wrote: “This will be my last year, Lord. I have gotten what I can. Thank you.”

She often told friends she believed she would die young and wouldn’t live long enough to marry or have children.

Sometime after she died, her father, Darrell Scott, received a telephone call from a stranger in Ohio. The man told Darrell “you’ll probably think I’m crazy when I tell you why I called, but I have had a recurring dream about your daughter. …”

In his dream, the man said, he had seen a stream of tears flowing from Rachel’s eyes, and they were watering something, but he couldn’t see what it was.

Would that mean anything to him or his family, the man asked.

No, Darrell said, it didn’t mean a thing. But he took down the man’s number and promised to call if it ever did mean anything.

Darrell had forgotten about the strange message until seven days later when he got a call from the sheriff’s office telling him he could pick up the contents of his daughter’s school backpack, which had been riddled by bullets.

Sitting in his truck, Darrell sorted through Rachel’s belongings and read through her final diary. When he got to the last page, there was a picture Rachel had drawn the morning she was murdered. It was of a pair of eyes crying, and the 13 tears turned to drops of blood as they watered a rose that grew out of a Columbine plant.

Thirteen was the number of victims that Harris and Klebold killed that day before taking their own lives.

I heard Darrell Scott tell this story to a crowd of thousands of teenagers at Ichthus in Wilmore, Ky., in April 2002 — days after a similar deadly rampage at a secondary school in Germany.

He believed his daughter knew she would be used by God for something good. She had said she would touch millions of lives around the world. On the day of her funeral, which was a tribute to her faith, CNN had its largest audience ever.

Rachel believed little acts of kindness could make a big difference as others paid them forward.

“I have a theory that if one person will go out of their way to show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same,” she wrote.

Ironically, at almost the same time, Eric Harris had also used the phrase “chain reaction” in one of his hate-filled messages: “We need to start a revolution,” he said. “We need to get a chain reaction going here.”

Some would say these things are coincidences and that it’s naive to think tragedies like Columbine have any meaning. There was a time I would have thought so too. I’m  a journalist with a liberal arts education and therefore prone to skepticism. At times, I have doubted that God exists. But I’ve come to  believe there is a struggle going on in our world between the spiritual forces of darkness and light.

What other explanation could there be for the Holocaust or the horror of Rwanda in 1994, when nearly a million people were butchered by their neighbors? How else could one account for the incredible stories of forgiveness, redemption and grace that followed those tragedies? And how else could the death of a 17-year-old girl in Colorado lead hundreds of young people at a rock music festival in Wilmore to come forward to repent of their sins and choose to be reborn into a more abundant life?

I believe that at the end of this spiritual conflict, Christ will be the victor and will make all things new, as he promised. It is a struggle in which no one can remain neutral. Rachel Scott learned that at a tender age and chose a side.

Which side are you on?

Rachel Scott's sister Dana found this drawing by Rachel on the back of a mirror in 2001. It's possible that since her death she has touched millions of lives.

A case of mistaken identity

To promote my last post, an editorial from The Winchester Sun on Wednesday about the appointment of Elaine Farris as superintendent of Clark County Public Schools, I sent out a message to fans of the Sun’s Facebook page announcing that I would have “an illustrated editorial” on Newer World.

Well, it was illustrated, all right. When I typed in the address for my blog and hit “send,” it somehow attached a picture from another blog post, about the growing trend of indoor smoking bans around the world.

So, in case you’re wondering: No, Ms. Farris is not an elderly chainsmoking Irishman in a wool cap who hangs out in pubs. She is the smiling lady in the photograph below.

Great choice for superintendent

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Elaine Farris, Kentucky’s interim commissioner of education and a longtime school administrator from Clark County, was announced as the new superintendent of Clark County Public Schools at a school board meeting Monday.

Editorial: The Winchester Sun, April 15

With so many well-qualified candidates for superintendent of  Clark County’s public schools, it would have been hard to go wrong.
Those in the running included Paul Christy, our school district’s director of operations and Lisa Stone, a former Clark County teacher and principal; Donald Aldridge, superintendent of the Eminence district, and Stephen Dickerson, a longtime Indiana school administrator. Each of these people had impressive credentials. But one nominee outshone the others, and that one was Elaine Farris.
Farris, a native of Winchester who served for 18 years as a teacher and principal for Clark County schools, is currently the interim education commissioner for the state, a position she was appointed to in January while serving as deputy commissioner of the Education Department’s Bureau of Learning and Results Services.
She has also been an administrator in Fayette County, and made history as the first African-American superintendent in Kentucky when she led the Shelby County district.
When her appointment was announced Tuesday, board member Rick Perry called Farris a “beautiful person,” and Chairwoman Judy Hicks said she was “uniquely qualified.”
Many people we’ve talked with say that Farris is a good person who has the right stuff for the job.
We congratulate our new superintendent on her appointment and commend the school board members for their choice.
We hope Farris is someone who will raise educational achievement in  Clark County, work to heal the divisions among school officials and most importantly, put the interests of children first.
And we ask that she follow her predecessor Dr. Ed Musgrove’s example in working with the city and county governments and other local leaders and groups to move Winchester and Clark County in a progressive direction.

Sun's news almost all local Tuesday

wsnameplate300x901There are days when The Winchester Sun’s stories and other content come close to being all local, and Tuesday was such a day. The A-section was all local, including the editorial page, except for an Associated Press story on the Communities page about adopting a dog. And the B-section (sports and classifieds) was all local except for two AP sports stories — one on pro golf and the other on the Cincinnati Reds.

Local content in the Sun has risen in the last five years even as the paper has gotten thinner due to the skyrocketing cost of newsprint — which has made the percentage of local news much higher, although I believe that in absolute terms, we also have more local news on a typical day than we did then.

We define local news as anything about Winchester or Clark County or people from here, and anything written by our staff. By our staff, we mean those who work for the Sun and three other Schurz newspapers — the Advocate-Messenger in Danville, The Jessamine Journal in Nicholasville and the Interior Journal in Stanford. However, with the exception of Larry Vaught’s UK sports coverage, the number of stories and photos we publish from those other local papers is insignificant.

Our poll was hijacked

captain_jack_sparrowThe Indian Ocean isn’t the only place piracy is practiced these days; it seems the Sun’s online poll has been hijacked.
And it probably isn’t the first time.
Monday morning, I checked out the results of the Saturday Web poll that my staff posted Friday night. The question was: “Do you think the Clark County Health Board should follow the Fiscal Court’s recommendation to revise the county-wide smoking ban?”
By about 10 a.m., 1,611 visitors to our Web site had voted, and 94 percent of them said the board should follow the magistrates’ suggestion to amend the indoor public smoking ban. That seemed odd because just a few days ago, more than 70 percent of our readers said the health officials should not rescind the smoking regulation.
I’ll admit, “rescind” and “amend” have different meanings. Still, for public opinion on the smoking ban to shift 180 degrees within a few days is unlikely.
What also aroused my suspicion were the numbers. True, we have more visitors to our Web site than we have readers of our print edition. That is true of most daily newspapers. But the question about rescinding the smoking ban had a total of 7,445 votes. And the latest one, when we took it down just before 4 p.m. yesterday, had 2,400 votes.
A typical poll on our Web site gets about 200 to 400 votes, and a really high number would be 1,000.
So, I was about 99 percent certain that our poll was somehow being manipulated. It just didn’t pass the smell test. Then I got an e-mail from a reader who confirmed my suspicion. He wrote that his daughter — who is a smoker and who signed one of the petitions — had gotten a call from “one of the country store owners” asking her to go to our Web site and vote “yes” on the question.
As soon as I read this, I asked one of my staffers to remove the poll and put up another one on a different subject.
It’s regrettable that something we provide as a service to all of our readers has become a political football for those who choose not to play by the rules of the game.
It would be naive to expect political activists to have the same commitment to objectivity and fairness that newspapers have, but this is Winchester, Ky. We’re supposed to be better than that.

How accurate?
This raises the question: How reliable are newspaper Web polls?
Well, they certainly aren’t “scientific,” and we never claimed they were. A scientific poll involves a random sample, and it has to be a large enough sample to have a low margin of error. A random national poll of 1,000 adults, for example, would nearly accurately reflect the opinions of 210 million people, but a poll of 300 in a town of 5,000 could have a margin of error of nearly 12 percentage points.
This newspaper’s online polls usually involve only a few hundred voters, but they aren’t chosen randomly, as in a telephone poll. Newspaper polls are examples of “open access polls” in which participation is self-selected.
Assuming the people answering the question are honest, a newspaper poll could somewhat closely reflect public opinion. In 2008, we posted a simple poll asking people whether they agreed with health officials that Clark County needed an indoor smoking ban. The results were 68 percent in favor of the ban — which was almost identical to a random survey done by University of Kentucky researchers.
I don’t think we’ve had an accurate poll on the issue since then because some people, in an effort to try to fool others, decided to cheat. That makes the poll useless in gauging public opinion on the issue —  which may have been their purpose.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun.

County must not go backward on smoking

irishsmokerFrom Ireland to Virginia, public smoking bans are being demanded by the people. Clark County’s smoking ban is part of a global trend.

In February, the Virginia General Assembly approved legislation that prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars throughout the commonwealth —which has had a strong tobacco culture for 400 years, since the first English colony at Jamestown.
A month before, David Williams, the Republican leader of the state Senate, called for a similar statewide smoking ban for Kentucky.
Across the Atlantic, the Republic of Ireland, where a pint and a pipe had long been part of the culture of the country pub, in 2004 became the first nation to enact a smoke-free law for restaurants and bars for the entire country. The result: The number of smokers visiting pubs didn’t change, but the number of nonsmokers who frequented pubs increased. Britain, New Zealand and other countries have since followed suit.
In 2002, the city of El Paso, Texas, passed one of the earliest and toughest smoking ordinances in our nation. There was no negative effect on the income of restaurants and bars.
Restaurants in New York City, which has a stringent smoking law, have also prospered.
Lexington’s 2004 smoking ban has had no adverse impact on businesses, and within two years after its indoor smoking ordinance took effect, the number of people who smoke plunged by 16,400, according to University of Kentucky nursing researchers.
Since 2004, many other Kentucky cities and counties have enacted indoor smoking bans, including Danville, Ashland, Louisville, Letcher County, Georgetown and Frankfort, to name only a few. In Madison and Clark counties, it was the health departments that enacted the regulations to protect workers and customers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Do you see a trend here? Throughout Kentucky, the United States and the world, there is a growing consensus: that individuals who smoke do not have a right to smoke around other people who don’t want to inhale it.
Smoking bans are favored by the majority. We don’t know of any government that has reversed a smoking ban after it has been enacted. It would be shameful if Clark County were the first one in the Bluegrass region to do.

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