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Bertis Downs on the State of Athens Schools

Best known as R.E.M.'s lawyer, for many years Athens resident Bertis Downs has been an advocate for—and become something of an expert on—public education.


In it, Downs argues for continuing the decentralized approach that the Clarke County School District agreed to pursue when it became a charter system. 

"We need to increase our social workers, our after-school programs, our mentoring programs, our health clinics—all the things that true community school models do," he says. "We're perfectly set up for that if we just go by that. I really believe we're all in this together."

Video in Flagpole here

Teachers are Not the Problem with Clarke County Schools

Several years ago, a wise principal told me, “You know, the real problem is that teachers have less and less control over what goes on in their classroom, but more and more responsibility for the results.” (“Results,” of course, meant standardized test score results.) That was right about the time I started noticing how many good teachers our local schools were losing—the kind of teachers every parent hopes their kids will have, the kind of teachers we had when we were kids ourselves. The teacher shortage is a national problem, but it hurts when you see it happening with real teachers at real schools in your town, too. This year, the Clarke County School District saw an even higher number of teachers leaving than usual, as documented in the Aug. 8 issue of Flagpole. That cannot be a good sign, friends, not if we want good schools for all kids.

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Wanted: Strong Candidates Who Believe in Public Schools by Jeff Bryant, Bertis Downs

  A few years ago, I decided to quit bothering with politics. I’d had it with politicians who say one thing and do another, who say they support public schools but abandon this conviction once in office. Talk is cheap, and when it comes to public education, political talk is especially cheap.

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Colm Toibin visits Clarke Central HS: A somewhat extraordinary hour of high school on an otherwise ordinary day

In this post, an Athens resident describes a recent event that occurred at Clarke Central High School. Famed Irish writer Colm Toibin visited and engaged with students, not the usual activity on a regular school day but one that captures some of the extraordinary things that happen in this school district.


Our town was just treated to a three-day visit by the Irish writer Colm Toibin. He stayed busy presenting readings, public conversations and classes at the University of Georgia as the Delta Visiting Chair for the Willson Center for the Humanities and Arts, our remarkable and vital public humanities center. Thanks to the efforts of the organizers of his trip, he spent an hour with some of the students at Clarke Central High School.

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100+ Days of Action: Getting Involved in Public Education

When I am asked how to best “get involved” on public education issues I guess I think of a few salient things:

1)  Volunteer at whatever level is best for you: your local school, broader local issues, statewide or national policy issues. Our schools need the help everywhere and each of those levels have their own importance.

2)  In my advocacy I always try to focus on the connection (or disconnection)  between policy and practice. How do the laws that are passed in Atlanta and Washington affect the teaching and learning that goes on in classrooms every day?

3)  Happy and fulfilled teachers are an essential feature of any properly functioning school – – as a wise person once said: “a teacher’s working conditions are my child’s learning conditions.”   Teachers, and the other adults in a school community, truly are doing the Lord’s work— they deserve our thanks, our encouragement and our support.

4)  Acknowledge and celebrate what works in our schools, the many miracles and lives affected every day; at the same time,  we all need to work to address the many challenges that our schools face.


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Washington Post, Answer Sheet: Parent: Why school ‘choice’ doesn’t mean the same thing to me as to Betsy DeVos

is is School Choice Week, the annual exercise when well-funded, corporate school reform outfits pour money into advertising and marketing o promote charter schools as well as vouchers and other programs in which the public pays for private and religious school tuition.

School Choice Week coincides with the confirmation drama of President Trump’s nomination of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary, who has said the public education system in the United States is a “dead end,” and who is seen by critics as a supporter of privatizing public education. DeVos stumbled at her Senate confirmation hearing last week, displaying a lack of understanding of key education issues, and Democrats have sought — unsuccessfully — a second hearing before the Senate Education Committee votes on whether to approve her nomination.

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File Under Tilting At Windmills--Virtual school operator K12 Inc. faces challenge from stockholders demanding transparency

Virginia-based K12 Inc. is the largest operator of for-profit charter schools in the country and is a national leader in running online full-time public schools in numerous states. The company, based in Herndon, has long been a target of critics who have questioned the quality of its schools as well as its spending and lobbying practices — and now, the company will face new questions, this time from stockholders.

The new shareholder effort is being led by Bertis Downs,  a public school advocate in Athens, Ga., who spent his career providing legal counsel and managing the rock group R.E.M., and who bought K12 stock a few years ago. Asked why he is taking this action, Downs said in an email:

"My motivation in filing for this disclosure of K-12’s lobbying activities stems from my overall curiosity and interest as a parent and a shareholder in knowing more about what lobbying is done, whether through ALEC or directly, that leads to the so-called “education reform” laws being passed all over the country. How much does the company spend and how do they spend it and what results do they get for it? And is any of that good for meaningful teaching and learning in our schools? And is it good for the company and its shareholders?"

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The results from Georgia— Victory in the Battle Against a State Takeover District

Nov 22, 2016

by Bertis Downs – Athens, GA parent and Network for Public Education Board Member and Janet Kishbaugh – Atlanta, GA parent and Public Education Matters- Georgia Member

For those of us who support public education, a real bright spot in the November 2016 election was the defeat of Amendment 1 in Georgia. Amendment 1 proposed to allow the state to create a state-wide “Opportunity School District” (OSD) that would take over and privatize so-called “failing schools,” patterned after similar districts in Louisiana, Tennessee and Michigan.

. . . . 

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The State of Things in Georgia — Vote No on Amendment #1

by Bertis Downs, Athens GA parent and board member of Network for Public Education and Janet Kishbaugh,  Atlanta parent and co-founder of Public Education Matters-Georgia

A big battle looms in Georgia, pitting the usual big-money, backroom supporters of a state takeover school district against the rest of us. It is the same battle being fought all over the country in the struggle against The Chaos Theory plan for public education “reform,” but in this instance those of us fighting against the persistent and well-funded forces of privatization and standardization have reason to be somewhat optimistic, despite the uphill battle we face.

. . . .

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Introduction of Copyright Law Symposium of the Georgia Journal of Intellectual Property Law



Bertis Downs  

The papers in this Symposium address some of the issues surrounding copyright law and its abundant knock-on effects in the age of the "world's biggest copy machine," also known as the internet. In the issue you are holding in your hand, six authors present six diverse approaches to various aspects of the collision between real world, age-old rights, and new world, virtual channels of distribution and communication. In the winter semester.

Recommended Citation

Bertis Downs, Symposium Introduction, 17 J. Intell. Prop. L. 1 (2009). 
Available at:

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Addie Downs Blogs About Her Dad Turning 60!

About a year ago my dad started brainstorming what he wanted to do for his 60th birthday, which is today. As his present to himself, we invited really close family friends from home in Athens to the lake house in New Hampshire back in June. Eliza and I basically did dishes for four days straight, but it was so fun. We got to share our most sacred place on Earth with our dearest friends. Now, we are at La Colombe D’or Hotel in St. Paul de Vence with some more very special friends. I say he planned very well.

My father has many amazing qualities. He is generous and determined and loving and will always drop what he’s doing to help someone. And his hair. It’s gorgeous.

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