Richard Hyatt: There are better ways to close a school

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerApril 30, 2013 

It was a night of smash-mouth football played during a week of smash-mouth politics. Unbeaten Kendrick and once-beaten Baker met in a game neither would ever forget.

Postseason dreams were on the line. So was neighborhood pride. But when that bruising game was over the people of Baker had to confront an uncertain future.

Dan Ragle coached Baker and Buzz Busby was in charge of the Cherokees. It was 1990. Kinnett Stadium, unaccustomed to big crowds, turned away fans at the ticket window and those who found seats were treated to a night of memorable football.

Sometime in the first half the newsroom called. A front-page story in the next morning's paper was going to announce the closing of Baker High -- a school so important to the people of South Columbus.

Jim Burns, one of the most controversial school administrators Muscogee County has ever employed, attended a PTA meeting at Carver High that week and the superintendent announced he planned to close Baker and reassign the students to Carver.

And don't tell anyone, he said.

Burns should have been bright enough to realize that the daughter of the Ledger-Enquirer's education writer went to Carver and her mother was in the audience. She did what reporters do. She reported the story.

Only no one bothered to tell the people of Baker. In effect I would be that messenger when after the game I asked coaches and players their opinions of plans to shut down their school.

Baker won 16-7 in what proved to be the Lions final regular season game at home. Approaching Ragle at midfield, I delivered the stunning news. He begged me to tell his team but I sympathetically declined. Ragle took a walk around the track. Then, with tears flowing, he met his players.

News spread quickly and veteran faculty members outside the locker room began to weep. Their tears were angry tears.

It was a good thing Jim Burns wasn't around. I replayed that night when I heard how the faculty and staff at Edgewood Elementary found out about the pending vote to close their school.

A worker with a tape measure was measuring the library, and when asked why he said he was measuring it for the people who would be moving into the building.

So, the past is forgotten.

Once again, the school system is bungling something so personal and final as the closing of a school. It's always hard. No one is happy. No one wants to understand the reasons behind such a decision.

It appears Edgewood isn't the only school facing closure. We can only hope officials will show more compassion when they deliver that slap in the face to the others.

Do it for Dan Ragle.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net

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