During Thursday’s Cobb County Board of Education work session, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s top lieutenant gave a presentation on the district’s communication department.
John Floresta, whose official role is the lofty yet vague title of “chief strategy & accountability officer,” ticked through the various methods, goals and policies of the communications staff.
And at the end of the presentation, he touted 29 awards the comms staff have received.
“Over the course of the last three years, from the three largest PR and communication organizations in the country, our staff, our local school staff and divisions, have received a number of awards that just speak to the quality of the content and the quality of the communication that goes out from our staff and from our schools,” Floresta said.
Floresta got some feedback from the Democrats on the school board, however.
“A few of us on here are parents as well,” said board member Charisse Davis. “And we’ve had our own questions. And people ask us, because we’re board members, and we’re supposed to know the information. And when we don’t know, people feel like, ‘Wait, why don’t you know?’ And it’s something that’s being hidden from them, which is not necessarily the case, right? So, I think we have some room to grow in that. And that’s the feedback I’m getting. And I know that the entire cabinet has gotten it, particularly through this pandemic.”
The superintendent chimed in to defend the district’s communications during the pandemic.
“I have said many times, the decisions I made about the pandemic, half the people hated, and the other half just didn’t like,” Ragsdale said. “It was a lose-lose situation. Did we communicate? Absolutely. Are there things that we could have improved upon? Absolutely, it was a pandemic.”
Board member Dr. Jaha Howard also weighed in.
“Anytime there is communication that could be considered hard or controversial, it seems like we go into kind of a reputation-protection mode, where the communication just ceases,” Howard said. “And that is a consistent perspective that I hear from families. We are great at communicating at things that are seemingly easy to communicate. … But when there are things that are hard, it is very difficult for families to engage our district.”
Specifically, Howard said the district has dropped the ball when communicating about race, gender and sexuality, and other hot-button social issues that have inflamed tensions in school systems across the country.
For those tougher discussions, Floresta said individual communication is more effective than public statements.
“We believe that’s the most effective way to get individual communication, individual situations as opposed to using, to your point, a very large mouthpiece that we have, that’s maybe not as applicable to all 110,000 families inside of our community.”
Howard reiterated his concerns, and said the district has also had trouble communicating about poverty and language issues.
“Again, we should celebrate our wins. And I know we’re all very good at that. But it’s OK to have difficult conversations,” he said.
The district’s apparently sterling communications were referenced later, during the meeting’s public comment period, by activist Jennifer Susko, a former elementary school counselor who made headlines when she resigned over the school board’s ban on the teaching of critical race theory.
Susko spoke about the group of Campbell High School students who have protested at board meetings, demanding the board address racism issues at their school.
“Your silence amid their reports of racism and white supremacist slurs does not demonstrate a focus on students,” Susko said. “Please use all the award-winning communication skills the district has to implement the basics — a simple response of any kind — to the student stakeholders who reached out for your support.”
RELATIONS BETWEEN Floresta and the Dems got even more awkward at the meeting Thursday night.
It came time to approve the personnel report, which includes hirings and transfers of principals and other senior staff. But this time, the board was also voting on extending the contracts of Ragsdale’s cabinet for another year, through next June.
Davis inquired whether the personnel actions had to be approved all at once. Board attorney Suzann Wilcox responded the board has to vote on the entire slate, or first amend that list.
Howard then made a motion to change the list and hold a separate vote on Floresta’s contract. The motion failed 3-4, along party lines. The board then unanimously approved the entire list.
After the meeting, Floresta and Howard both declined to comment.
JANUARY 6: The House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol would like a word with Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville.
The committee announced Thursday it was requesting Loudermilk’s cooperation in talking about a tour of the Capitol he is said to have led the day before the riot.
“The foregoing information raises questions to which the Select Committee must seek answers,” a letter to the congressman reads, mentioning reports of “outside groups” surveying the Capitol in the days before the riot.
“In response to those allegations, Republicans on the Committee on House Administration — of which you are a Member — claimed to have reviewed security footage from the days preceding January 6th and determined that ‘[t]here were no tours, no large groups, no one with MAGA hats on.’ However, the Select Committee’s review of evidence directly contradicts that denial,” the letter adds.
Loudermilk’s press shop directed us to the following statement, released jointly with Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis:
“A constituent family with young children meeting with their Member of Congress in the House Office Buildings is not a suspicious group or ‘reconnaissance tour.’ The family never entered the Capitol building.
“The 1/6 political circus released the letter to the press before even notifying Mr. Loudermilk, who has still not received a copy. The Select Committee is once again pushing a verifiably false narrative that Republicans conducted ‘reconnaissance tours’ on January 5th. The facts speak for themselves; no place that the family went on the 5th was breached on the 6th, the family did not enter the Capitol grounds on the 6th, and no one in that family has been investigated or charged in connection to January 6th.
“We stand by our previous Ethics complaint against Representative Mikie Sherrill and 33 other Democratic Members of the House who made unsubstantiated claims that Republican members gave ‘reconnaissance tours’ of the Capitol. Any member who pushes false allegations against another member should be held accountable.
“We call on Capitol Police to release the tapes.”
FOR THE RECORD: Earlier this week, we reported that the Vinings Exploratory Committee, which is advocating cityhood for the area, received donations from supporters in Atlanta and Cobb. Cityhood committee member Taryn Bowman would like to correct the record, telling us the Atlanta addresses listed in the financial disclosures form are business locations and the group is 100% funded by Vinings residents.
JAIL DEATHS: Thursday’s death by suicide of Nicole Smith in the Cobb County jail — a woman who was already under suicide watch, incidentally — marked the sixth inmate to die in custody since Democratic Sheriff Craig Owens took office in January 2021. Owens, you will recall, rode to victory on a campaign to end deaths happening at the county jail under his predecessor, former Republican Sheriff Neil Warren. He was assisted in that effort by just about every left wing group in town. Yet, since Owens took office it’s been crickets from these groups. Their silence has been deafening.