Thursday, November 15, 2007

Weathers: Al Smith wrong about Warford

An Op-Ed in today's C-J written by Bill Weathers smacks Al Smith's hand for being dismissive of commish candidate Jim Warford. Bill scores a couple of pithy quotes, and you gotta love a guy who uses the word "piffle."

It would merely sadden me to see a journalist of Al Smith's nearly iconic stature in Kentucky traffic in such piffle, but the fact that his arguments are disingenuous, to put it charitably, about the selection of a Commissioner of Education leads me to respond.

The most ridiculous is that the finalists' average age is 61, so they must be on their way out to pasture. Al used to have a sense of irony. I've enjoyed numerous conversations with him, watched him for years on TV, and even appeared on "Comment on Kentucky" at his invitation at least once when I was covering education for The Kentucky Post in the early 1980s.

But if a trim, robust, energetic, quick 58-year-old, which describes finalist Jim Warford perfectly, is too long in the tooth, then it may be a little past the time when Al Smith should be tinkering with the levers of government.

I've known Jim for 40 years. We were fellow students at Western Kentucky University. Jim was reared on a Shelby County dairy farm, and the fact that Al calls him only "a Floridian" demonstrates why courts ask for "the whole truth." Far more out of line is the dismissive remark that Jim's resume has been "challenged," or, if
Al's going for double entendre, is "challenged." Just what does that mean, Al?

There is nothing whatsoever amiss about Jim's resumes, now or in the past, and every word of them is true. No one has seriously questioned Jim's lifelong record of integrity.

Patently absurd is Al's assertion that Jim's career has been "lackluster." He successfully ran Marion County, Fla., schools, which have some 42,500 students, posted dramatic closing of the African American and Hispanic students' academic achievement gaps, and moved a substantial number of schools off the failing list. If you care about relevant facts instead of generalizations and innuendo, go to, the site of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or to, the Florida Department of Education's Website.

Named Florida's Chancellor of kindergarten through 12th-grade, Jim oversaw a $16 billion budget for 2.7 million students and did a great job until his independence from then-Gov. Jeb Bush cost him his position. Jim said out loud that Bush's plan for performance-based pay for teachers wouldn't work and declined to implement it.

Florida's loss can be Kentucky's gain if we bring Jim home to do here what he has actually done in Florida, which is to focus a large education bureaucracy on helping students learn to the best of their abilities. Not one of the other candidates' experience comes close.

By William Weathers

I had occasion to work with Bill in northern Kentucky when he was with the Kentucky Post. I particularly recall his coverage of the natural gas explosion at Simon Kenton High School in the late 70s. Bill now works with the Covington Schools as Director of Community Relations.

KSN&C did a bit of research on Warford and concluded that his credentials were solid, if not stellar. Smith's allusion to resume problems do not rise to a level of concern as they did with Barbara Erwin. KSN&C did not come across any of the kinds of concerns we found with Barbara Erwin's past.

OK, there is this one amusing story questioning whether songs he says he wrote for Kenny Rogers and Olivia Newton-John were in fact true, and whether claims he made were really as big as he made them out to be. But he's going to have to tell much bigger whoppers and cling to them as if they were true if he expects to get into Barbara Erwin's league.

Warford's intended Kenny Rogers song, "Thanks for Leaving Lucille," was recorded by Sherri Jerrico, on Gusto-Starday records, in 1977, and peaked at No. 95 on the country chart.

Can any of the other commish candidates beat that?

If there is an area of concern it had to do with his entanglement in certain policies of Jeb Bush. Particularly his promotion of the Christian-based "All Pro Dads"program through the public schools is bothersome. Getting more Dads in the schools is good. Promoting Christianity in the schools as a basis for that effort is a problem.

The Palm Beach Post reported in July 2005:

Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he wanted every public school in Florida to host a Christian-based program designed to increase fathers' participation in their children's lives.

The program, All Pro Dad, combines a biblical foundation with the draw of popular professional athletes to promote the belief that "the father is the head of the household" and that men should rely on God to help them be better parents and keep their marriages intact. It also encourages Bible reading……

But critics say the program, which has a direct link on the Florida Department of Education Web site, clearly has Christian overtones and is part of a national effort by evangelicals who view public schools as recruiting fields…

Last month, however, Florida K-12 public schools Chancellor Jim Warford touted the program to the state's 67 school superintendents.

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