Friday, June 24, 2011

A community of watchdogs

Light a candle; June 25 marks the first birthday of the Your Schools blog.  The past year has blown away my expectations.

I thought a blog would be a chance to give the most education-oriented readers more information than we can squeeze into print, and it has done that.  We've topped 325,000 page views so far.

What I didn't anticipate was the community of readers that has developed.  Based on the flaming and ranting that takes place on stories,  I had a pretty bleak view of online comments, especially the anonymous kind.

Somehow, this forum turned out to be different.  CMS teachers and other employees who felt voiceless during one of the most harrowing years in memory offered tips,  views and insights.  Readers posted links and data to bolster their opinions. The decision-makers have been reading.

Our best-read post was on Jan. 11,  when Superintendent Peter Gorman rolled out a preview of the 2011-12 budget,  complete with plans for 1,500 job cuts.  The staff handed budget documents to reporters just before the gavel banged,  and I started posting live.

I quickly learned that CMS had emailed the same documents to all employees at about the same time -- and that employees had key information that had been omitted from press copies.  As I swapped questions and comments with readers,  the missing material landed in my inbox,  sent by teachers who were following the dialog.  Our online staff quickly got it posted for other readers -- all of this in the midst of a crucial school board meeting.

When I finally caught my breath it hit me:  This really is a new era of reporting.  Having so many new voices in the mix can be exhausting,  but it's exhilarating.   Sometimes it's like having a staff of research assistants -- among the great tips from blog readers was the heads-up that CMS was working on 52 new tests as part of performance pay.  Sometimes it's like having a panel of extra editors -- y'all do not hesitate to say what you think.  Most important:  There's a whole pack of watchdogs empowered to watch public leaders and reporters.  That's a good thing.

The milestone is particularly rich for me because this week also marks the 30th anniversary of the day I reported to work as a reporter for The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph.  No internet, no faxes, no cell phones -- we did have word-processing computers, but they were new and buggy enough that the older reporters viewed them with suspicion.  The ensuing decades have brought a lot of surprises, some of them unpleasant.  But I'm glad to be around for this.  Thanks to all of you for being part of it.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

You've done a great job with this blog Ann. I know it's extra work on you, but it's well appreciated. Thank you!!

Big Mac said...

Happy "ANN"iversary!!! Keep up the great reporting!!!!

Nosey Neighbor said...

What will you do, now that's Gorman is gone?

Larry said...

The Observer is like a Rich Mother In Law.

You may not like Her but you have to keep friends knowing she is always undermining you but your Wife wants you to keep friends.

And maybe one day, She may change and actually do something nice and outside Her nature from what you have seen.

So Happy Birthday.

Wiley Coyote said...


You told me a few weeks ago on here to a comment of mine you were "just a blogger", to which I replied that was not the case, that what you and Eric do is heads above anything else posted on - in my opinion.

Why they "furlough" you is beyond me.

You could 24/7 and still not report on all of the minutia that goes on within CMS and public education in general.

Wiley Coyote said...

Insert "work" in the appropriate place in my last comment.

Typing alligator style cramped on a flight back from the west coast..

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ann - your blog has been the most relevant local reporting done this year and it helped unravel Pete Gorman's hold on information.

Ann Doss Helms said...

OK, the image of myself as Larry's rich mother-in-law is definitely my laugh for the day!

Thanks, all!

Anonymous said...


This blog has distant relatives in days gone by: The Federalist Papers, the pamphlets and maybe even Sarah Palin's Paul Revere. It's is not hard to imagine how the Civil War would have been changed if the Emancipation Proclamation had had the benefit of a blog. Just imagine Bill James' comments.

“Larry” isn't too far-off with the Mother-in-Law thing. In the 1940's a radio disc jockey named Barry Gray, first introduced audiences call-in at his NYC station. It was wildly successful. He became known as “The hot mama of Talk Radio.”

Every generation has it successes and every successful person gets tagged with an embarrassing title. I'd do my best to avoid Larry's.

But back to the point. Thanks for the blog. It's a newspaper press that never stops. The 4th Estate has been given new life.

Bolyn McClung
June 24, 2011

YouCPCC connection said...

News from CPCC, where they are more concerned with new buildings than adequate security:

Today around noon, two people (not associated with the College) were involved in an off-campus altercation. They chased each other by car onto Central Campus and entered Student Deck 3. Another altercation occurred there and one person showed a weapon. No one was injured in this incident and the suspect fled the scene in an older Grand Marquis, orange in color.

College Security and CMPD are investigating the incident at this time.

Anonymous said...

I discovered your blog during one of your live posting sessions during the middle of the day near the beginning of the year. The classroom I worked in (I'm a RIF'd TA today) just dropped off our children to their afternoon special (PE). I forgot what the issue was specifically, but your blog was the ONLY source of info that we had on what was happening w/in CMS. We knew more via your blog vs. administration (and they didn't know anything either!!)

So, Congrats on the 1 year with your blog. Please keep it up, as my friends and former collegues really love the posts and the comments.

Oh, and did you know that most genral blog sites are blocked on CMS computers (99% of However, yours is NOT!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Ann,
As one of your Gaston "neighbors" I've enjoyed the characters, idiots, thinkers, informers, and CMS employees in the discussions of the day. It's a joy to see the administration squirm in their cesspool of misinformation.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is the first and only blog I've ever blogged on. How about that? I've enjoyed being part of the eclectic ensemble of distinguished idiots, characters, thinkers and informers who post here.


Did Pamela leave for China already?

Anonymous said...

I wish we had had this blog in the late 90's and early 2000's during the great busing debate. Perhaps there would have been less acrimony if both sides could have been heard. As it was, in the press we just heard how selfish the suburbs were and how they got all the perks in their schools.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ann for providing this forum. Happy Anniversary and may it continue for years to come.

With all of the bad news trickling out and I am sure with more to come, is everyone recognizing why Pete has bailed and won't comment to the press about anything?

Ann Doss Helms said...

5:26, I don't know Pam's travel schedule and generally try to avoid informing the world when anyone's away from home. But for our purposes, Pam says she'll have computer access in Asia, so she won't be gone at all!

Anonymous said...

Ann, if we inquire about other posters on this blog will you check up on their schedules and computer access as well?

Wiley Coyote said...

In case anyone is interested, I'll be in my garden all morning and making pickles this afternoon.

I will have computer access during that time.

Tomorrow is a still a toss-up.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't Pam just tell us that?

While this blog has often been very informative about all things CMS, it has also served as a promotion tool for certain advocacy groups. I continue to believe that a reporter (even if she is also a blogger) should never show favored status to a person or group she uses as a news source, even if politically she's right in line with that source.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Blog Ann.

It has given CMS rank and file the opportunity to share some of the insanity that goes on within a district which is more interested in headlines than actually educating.

It's also shown us a side of the citizenry which fundamentally is against public schooling, and is using the 'reform' movement to undermine the very idea.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 9:47 said....

It's also shown us a side of the citizenry which fundamentally is against public schooling, and is using the 'reform' movement to undermine the very idea.

You'll have to explain that one in a little more detail.

Reform movement? Against public schooling?

We NEED a reform movement in public education because for the past 40 years, the current model isn't working.

Reform depends on how you look at it.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Wiley.

Incidentally, I recently had a discussion with a well respected and active CMS teacher. She said that there was a large group of teachers in her school that, while they had concerns, did not agree with the stridency of the teachers and advocates who have been so vicious in their attacks on Dr. Gorman and CMS. And they realize that changes are needed. Do you suppose that they are opposed to public education?

Wiley Coyote said...


I would have to look them in the face, ask the question(s) and see what their expressions are to the answers...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Wiley. My question about opposition to public schools was actually directed at 9:57.

Again, regarding your 10:10 comment--well said.

Still waiting to hear if Ann is going to keep us up to date on everyone's summer plans and computer access.

Wiley Coyote said...

"Reform" to some parents is a return to busing.

One of Ann's favorites on here supports busing to achieve integration but her problem in achieving that goal is the fact there aren't enough whites left in the system to do it.

This same person has contempt towards her neightbors who send their kids to private schools and magnets and not to "her" school.

What she fails to get is that those parents, like her, made a choice for their kids and what they felt was in their best interest.

Anonymous said...

Ann's favorite is not alone in favoring a return to busing. See Little doubt about what agenda Steve Johnston wants our new superintendent to have.
While many on this board celebrate the end of Dr. Gorman's superintendency I hope they will be very wary of what some of their "leaders" really want for CMS.

Anonymous said...


I refute your assertion that "one of Ann's favorites" has contempt towards her neighbors (and I'm assuming you mean others) who send their children to private and magnets schools and not to "her" school. This simply isn't true.

- Public school parent, private school parent, magnet school graduate.

Anonymous said...

Go to
Scroll down to blog titled Black History Month. Read the entire entry, and especially note the second to the last paragraph.

I believe this is what Wiley is referring to.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 1:06

Refute it all you want but the comments came from her own blog and other postings.

She's made comments as to children in her neighborhood (who are assigned to Shamrock Gardens) going to other schools instead of supporting the one SHE chose to send her child to.

She also likes to state the fact her son's school was the highest funded in the system yet gets indignant when Myers Park Traditional was saved over Oakhurst because of "favoritism".

Read enough of her posts and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Here's one favorite comment:

Over the years, we've had a number of neighborhood parents who have come in every week to tutor Shamrock children, while sending their own kids to more privileged schools.

Yet HER school is the most funded in the system?

Here's another gem:

So much that's done these days in the name of charity is a drop-in, drop-out affair – people reaching out to low-income children while remaining rooted in their own, comfortable schools and neighborhoods.

After you've read much of her postings, you realize it's all about class and what other parents do different than what she and her husband decided for their child.

She fails to get her position carries no more weight than mine or yours and what we decide for our childrens is no different than what she chooses for hers.

I'm still trying to find the one blog about "her neighborhood kids not going to the neighborhood school".

When I find it, I'll post it.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 2:17...

I show that link as dead, so maybe that's why I can't find it.

I think with my last post, they'll get the point.


Anonymous said...

It appears you have to go to this link:, then scroll down to archives and go to Black History Month.

Your last post presents the point quite well, but I think this post is particularly interesting. Makes her position quite clear.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 4:07

Thanks, I had missed that one post...

Our neighborhood is now full of young white couples, and of light-skinned children perched in strollers, riding bikes, dashing wildly down the streets.

As I ride my own bike, or labor in my garden, I see them through the lens of segregation.

All I know – or really care to know – about them is that they will never pass the threshold of our school.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm---and others have been accused of being obsessively concerned about busing.

Anonymous said...

From 1:06 PM

The thought of defending Pamela without Pamela is almost laughable so I'll keep my opinions brief. Forced busing was a failed experiment which contributed to a school system that is now 33% white with over a 51% economically disadvantaged population with wealthier students concentrated at a small percentage of CMS's 178 schools. The demographic makeup of CMS no longer reflects the demographic makeup of Charlotte. The complexities of race and class in the Queen City are just that - complex. Our own African-American Democrat mayor has his daughter enrolled in private school.

However, regarding Pamela's comment;

"So much that's done these days in the name of charity is a drop-in, drop-out affair – people reaching out to low-income children while remaining rooted in their own, comfortable schools and neighborhoods".

Is this comment contemptuous or does it speak a painful truth? Like most people who post here, I wish I had the answers, but I don't.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 8:44

I posted the comments I was looking for in my last post.

I'll post them again so you can see for yourself she has no desire to interact with her neighbors because "she doesn't want to know them because they don't send THEIR kids to "her" school...

As I ride my own bike, or labor in my garden, I see them through the lens of segregation.

All I know – or really care to know – about them is that they will never pass the threshold of our school.

Anonymous said...

While it may not seem quite right to be critiquing Pamela on this blog, we should remember that she has put herself out there and that Ann (as well as the Observer editorial page) has used her quite frequently as a resource. Also, some may not know that she has been quite vocal recently in Wake County concerning their school situation, painting a dire picture of what will happen to their community if they cease busing.

She and Louise Wood appeared on a Raleigh TV station in February ( During this news conference she declared that Shamrock Gardens was a successful middle class neighborhood school until busing ended, a comment which is surprising when one learns that the 1997 Committee of 33 report on Shamrock describes it as a "predominately black school" with "shocking conditions".

The year before she wrote an opinion piece for the News Observer describing what a terrible place Charlotte had become with the demise of busing. She described discord and anxiety producing assignment hearings. No mention though of the discord and the terrible assignment hearings here during the busing years.

Pam has been a dedicated parent at Shamrock Gardens and I'm sure has helped many children succeed. She was quite successful in rallying parents throughout the county against PFP and against Peter Gorman. But she has another agenda as well, one that Ann never mentions and that Pam herself avoids mentioning on this blog unless really pressed. If she's going to be Ann's main go-to person, then it seems that readers should be aware of all that she is working towards.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 12:11

To you it may not seem quite right but Pam has made herself a public crusader (of her opinions) and this blog has given her the pulpit in which to preach.

In light of that, many of us put forth our opinions in opposition to hers.

I don't question Pam's dedication to her son's education or the school he attends. But when her opinions are given weight by this blog and continuously out there in print, I'm going to voice MY opposition to the ones I feel try to maintain the status quo and continue to throw good money after bad in a public school system that is and has been broken for decades.

Busing, the failed social experiment that lasted 40 years.

Separate but equal had to be dismantled, no question about it, but the ensuing option of busing soley to achieve integration killed public education.

My school district was interested in only one thing, that I was White and they needed me to be bused to what had been a traditionally all Black school. They didn't care anything about my education.

I lived farther away from that school than the school I would have gone to prior to several boundary changes, because most Whites either moved or put their kids in private school. This meant dropping lines farther and farther out from the Black schools.

Only two high schools offered in-depth electronics programs, which I had signed up for through my counselor in junior high.

The school district didn't care. They told my father I would have to do something else and it wasn't until he threatened a lawsuit, which he would have pursued, did they relent and give me an exemption.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Pamela Grundy indeed gets a huge amount of attention on this blog -- most of it from commenters, pro or con. I learned about her trip to Asia via her response to another commenter's question weeks ago. Because she is one of the few who identifies herself by name, I felt comfortable following up on a commenter's question about her.

I am virtually certain that some of all of the anonymous "why does Ann fixate on Pam" comments are coming from someone with whom I have virtually the same relationship I have with Pam. We've corresponded and talked frequently over the years because of her interest in education, and some of those exachanges have included friendly "what have you been up to lately?" chatter.

This person specifically told me she chooses to post anonymously because she does not like being the target of some of the vigorous personal commentary that goes on. So I will honor that. I will also note that she sent me so many "why don't you look into this about Pam" emails that I had to inform her that I just can't devote as much time and energy to Pam Grundy as she does. That remains true.

Anonymous said...

Pamela Grundy's comments carry weight on this blog because Pamela uses her real name which is more than I can say for anyone else except Boyln McClung who could also be accused of using this space as a pulpit.

This certainly doesn't mean I agree with Pam on every school related issue but I admire her hutzpah. Love her or leave her, she walks the talk.

Wiley Coyote said...


anytime you want my name, address and phone number, it is available to you.

Regardless of whether I post my name on this blog is irrelevant. My opinions are the same and I would tell them to anyone face to face.

The Observer has my email and if they need to contact me for any reason, they can.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Wiley, I'm assuming you are NOT the person I was referring to (in fact, I assume you're male, thought I guess the pseudonym could be misleading). I don't need your ID but I am curious. Feel free to email me with an introduction. I'm not sure who at the O has your info but I'd feel pretty silly running around the building asking "Do you know Wiley Coyote?" If it's somehow available via your registration, well, you know by now how tech-savvy I am.

Wiley Coyote said...


All male here.

If Wile E. Coyote is female, I need to go back to childhood and untraumatize myself....

We've never met but I have seen you a couple of times at school meetings I attended.

I'll send you info sometime today or tonight.

Ann Doss Helms said...

For a long time I thought Tweety Bird was the only female Looney Tunes character (Bugs in drag doesn't count), but then someone told me the bird is a dude, too! said...

It is too bad that Pamela and other media personalities cannot seem to have a civil conversation with those who don't see it her way. Personal attacks and nastiness will get us nowhere. I wish some of these demogogues could use their "power for good" and encourage the distillation of tough conversations within a civil and respectful atmosphere. If Charlotte is truly going to address, and hopefully resolve, some of our toughest issues, we need to create a welcoming environment where honest opinions can be put on the table without the risk of personal retribution from those who think they know better! Why can't we just all get along?

Anonymous said...

Wiley Wabbit,
So who is the wizard behind the curtain in the Land of Oz?


Anonymous said...

Woah. Tweetie's a dude?! I dressed up as Tweetie Bird in kindergarten for Halloween, female form. Long before senstors started tweeting their twits. That's all folks!

Wiley Coyote said...

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Nameless said...

I have been posting comments on the Observer since early 2007. It surprised me when Gorman and former Mayor McCrory all took nearly verbatim my Observer posted comments on CMS and used them as their own on WFAE and NPR radio shows. Other bloggers, commenters have also echoed things posted before. Much of the criticism and thinking is moving in the right direction. But I don't see any staff acting on it yet. Griping alone is damaging. We have to follow through.