Mask Questions Why WSFA and a Montgomery Paper Disparage Elmore County Schools

Barry Mask, Executive Director of the Elmore County Economic Development Authority, recently wrote a letter to the educators of Elmore County regarding some comments made by WSFA and The Montgomery Advertiser about the quality of education our public schools offer. We should all be glad that we have someone in Mr. Mask’s position who is not only an advocate of Elmore County’s schools, but a defender of them when necessary as well. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I have included it below in its entirety:

Dear Educator,

Recently, the top media executives in Montgomery took it upon themselves to make some statements about the quality of the schools in Elmore County as compared to schools in Montgomery.

On Tuesday, July 27th, WSFA General Manager Ken Selvaggi went on air during the 6 o’clock report to do an editorial in which he said, among other things, “Montgomery schools outperformed Elmore County schools.”

Then, two days later on Thursday, July 29th, newly-named Montgomery Advertiser President and Publisher Sam Martin kicked-off the Montgomery Chamber’s “Back to School Breakfast” for business leaders by saying, “There is no need to move to Elmore County to give your kids a good education.”

Personally, I was stunned and baffled at why the two biggest media outlets in our region would single out Elmore County, and I was angered at the inference.  But the more I thought about it, maybe it’s a compliment to all of you and your hard work in raising the bar and achievements so that Montgomery now wants to use Elmore County’s schools as the “bar.”

I emailed Mr. Selvaggi, and he said he got his information from the PARCA (Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama) report released in June of this year.  This report was initiated and paid for by the Montgomery Education Foundation to compare “selected “criteria and categories.  Representatives from PARCA released this report two months ago. Superintendent Langham, Elmore County Board Members, and I certainly didn’t think there was any manner in which one report could be used for anyone to ascertain that Montgomery Schools were better.  I know we have a lot of areas to improve upon, but the Elmore County School System has a solid reputation in terms of scores and achievement.

I also talked with Mr. Martin and expressed my displeasure with his inference.  He assured me no slight was intended. On Monday, August 2, I met with my board of ECEDA to discuss the situation and a proper response.  Our board was equally offended, puzzled, and disappointed.  It has always been the ECEDA board’s policy and my personal belief that you don’t lift up your boat by trying to sink others.  We have never compared ourselves publically in ads or otherwise to any other schools systems.  We believe we ought to be “pulling” for all of our schools.

When the Region’s two top media outlets come out in a 48-hour period making statements based upon a single report and upon “water-cooler” gossip and spin among certain education leaders, city leaders, and a handful of business leaders in Montgomery, I suspect it’s not a coincidence – and we can’t let it slide by without a response.

The unavoidable question I’m sure you have along with those of us at ECEDA is, “WHY?  Why are they saying this?”  I certainly don’t know why, but I do know the growth and success of Elmore County over the past 15 years has certainly aggravated a lot of city fathers in Montgomery.  I don’t understand the issue because we are in one big region really – we need to be pulling for each other and working together.  While Montgomery is the economic engine of our region, it’s not the only game in town.  Working together, we can all prosper.  That’s why we created ECEDA in 2002 to help Elmore County get organized and help the entire region.

I am the product of a Montgomery public school education – having attended Dalraida Elementary, Goodwyn Jr. High, and Lee High School.  I want those schools to prosper as well.  I want Montgomery and all areas in the region to prosper.

For some reason, many Montgomery city fathers cast aspersions on us in Elmore County and try to minimize our assets in the desperate hopes that they can stop the steady stream of people moving up here.  That’s silly. The three major reasons folks are coming here to live and raise their families are 1. schools, 2. safety, and 3. quality of life with assets such as our lakes, rivers, and beautiful land.  We also have some pretty good governmental leaders and bodies who, by and large, watch what they are spending and aren’t trying to tax and gouge us all the time.  Sure, we fuss some and have our issues, but we are frugal.

The major reason folks come here is that they want safe and great-performing schools in a community that cares.  That is a testament to the job you are doing and the community we have created.  Sure, we have some work to do, and there is plenty of room for improvement, but we’re doing pretty good.  That’s why ECEDA has made our schools the centerpiece of our advertising campaign.  (I guess it’s getting to them!)

I want to encourage you to keep on making those improvements in our school system on behalf of our kids, and please know all we do here in Elmore County is under a “double standard” of scrutiny.  In other words, we have to work a little harder to get positive recognition by the Montgomery media market – not only in education, but in everything else. I think if you pay close attention to the news coverage, you would agree.

Personally, I am astounded at how these media entities continue to ignore their second-largest market in the region and the fastest-growing market in the region – a place called Elmore County which will hit well over 80,000 residents when the new census numbers come out.  I think if I were a media executive I would figure out a way to reach out to that market.  Hopefully this attitude will change.  This office will do all within our power to promote this county and, in particular, promote and support our schools – and we won’t be bashful about it.  When someone makes irresponsible statements in a public forum about us, we’re going to take them to task over it.  We certainly won’t promote ourselves by tearing others down.  Rather, we will continue to focus on our accomplishments and improve upon our  shortcomings in a thoughtful, deliberative manner.

I appreciate what you are doing, and, on behalf of the ECEDA Board, let me express their appreciation for what you are doing as educators to make a difference.  Together we will all make a difference for Elmore County.  We already have!

Sincerely, Barry Mask, CAE
Executive Director, Elmore County Economic Development Authority (ECEDA)
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