City DopeNews

Is Superintendent of the Year Phil Lanoue Really All That?

Clarke County’s Phil Lanoue is National Superintendent of the Year. Out of all 14,178 school superintendents in the U.S., he’s the very best.


The easy thing to do would be to join the chorus praising Lanoue; he’s already got a big enough fan club, though. Somebody has to rain on the parade. The daily newspaper has stopped running editorials for fear of upsetting someone and has abdicated its civic responsibility to do any kind of watchdog reporting, so it’s gotta be me—even if it makes me feel like Kanye at the Grammys. (Give your award to Beyonce, Phil.)

In 2008, the year before Lanoue took over, CCSD’s four-year graduation rate was 63 percent. “We’ve got to do a whole lot better here, a whole lot better real fast,” he told the Athens Banner-Herald. In 2014, after some ups and downs, the graduation rate was… 63 percent. Lanoue threw his students under the cheese wagon, attributing the disappointing figure to “a number of hardships and challenges with this year’s graduating class,” specifically an unusually high number in special ed.

More than a third of our kids are dropping out. We have to demand better.

If more students aren’t graduating—which is the point, after all—then something isn’t working. Look, Lanoue is a personable guy who’s impressed a lot of powerful people. One of them is the daily’s publisher. Lanoue can dial up Scot Morrissey and have impertinent editors fired. Due to budget cuts, one beat reporter is trying to cover K-12 in addition to UGA. We try, but Flagpole lacks the resources to entirely pick up the slack. The school board is a rubber stamp. Lanoue’s political skills and palace guard of a PR department make any real evaluation of his performance impossible. Too much spin is coming out of Mitchell Bridge Road, and there’s no one to sift through it all.

Let’s also keep in mind that the American Association of School Administrators’ track record isn’t exactly sterling. It named Atlanta’s Beverly Hall the nation’s top superintendent in 2009. When reports surfaced that she oversaw a vast cheating conspiracy to goose standardized test scores, the Atlanta elite rallied around her. Before she died Monday, Hall was out of a job and under indictment. (I’m not accusing Lanoue of anything untoward—his response to Clarke County’s mediocre test scores has always been to say they don’t matter much, and he’s right.)

Educating public school students in Athens is a tough job. We have too much poverty, too many struggling families, too many folks who send their high-achieving kids to private schools for us ever to be as highly rated as, say, Oconee County, with its affluent, educated two-parent households. I believe our teachers are dedicated, and our schools are better than the numbers indicate. But more than a third of our kids are dropping out. We have to demand better.

With this new line on his resumé, Lanoue’s probably not long for Athens. He’s made some needed reforms and here’s hoping he’s put us on the path. It may be up to the next superintendent to show concrete results.

Media Matters: Since we’re on the topic of the local broadsheet, they finally—FINALLY—are getting rid of the anonymous commenters who’ve been embarrassing the city for years. But leave it the ABH to botch even that. Briefly, the website revealed commenters’ real names. At press time, their commenting system didn’t appear to be working at all.

Recently, Optimization Editor (whatever that means) Jim Thompson’s been swinging the banhammer pretty hard, and that’s helped, but requiring commenters to use their real names is a major about-face. For a long time, higher-ups at the Banner-Herald encouraged a cesspool of ill-informed racism—even as irate readers boycotted the website and sources stopped talking for fear they’d be ripped to shreds—because those commenters brought in clicks. From a journalism standpoint, though, holding commenters accountable to the same standards as sources and old-fashioned letter-writers only makes sense.