Gilmer Schools redistricts county

Bobcat's Corner, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Progress on constructing the new Clear Creek Elementary School is moving forward as the School System has officially redistricted the county based upon the concept of hosting three elementary schools.

This is the first step in kicking off the major changes to come in Gilmer’s Educations system in the next few years as renovations, redistricting, and redistributing students to different schools are all a part of the steps forward.

Some of these changes to come include a new elementary school to be built in the Clear Creek area and the current Gilmer Middle School facility to be converted to a College and Career Academy as part of Gilmer High School.

According to the Gilmer County Board of Education, “Each of the three elementary schools will serve students in pre-K through 5th Grade and Clear Creek Middle will serve all students in grades 6-8. Administration for each of the schools will remain stable. This plan will allow students to experience less transitions during critical early learning years and will improve efficiency of bus routes for community schools.”

Plans for the changes have been in place for over a year, included in the 2018 Spring Board Retreat, revolving around the Five-Year Facilities Plan which also include renovations upcoming and currently underway for Ellijay Elementary School and Mountainview Elementary. With the construction of the Clear Creek Elementary School, the BOE will not be using Ellijay Primary School. The school has been prone to floods and damage over its 50-year life.

This Board has presented a map (seen above) to clearly outline school zones using Highway 515 and Highway 282 as zone boundaries.

School System Administration said, “Letters will be sent to parents based on registered primary address confirming assigned school zone by April 12.”

However, with some citizens already saying they want a certain school, the system is looking to accommodate families who wish for their children to attend a school outside of their assigned school zone. The district will provide parents the opportunity to apply for “School Zone Preference.”

School Zone Preference:
Bus transportation will be provided only for the assigned school zones as presented on the map; however, a parent or guardian, may submit a School Zone Preference request to have their child possibly placed in another elementary school within our school system as long as the school district has determined that there is available classroom space at the requested school after all assigned students have been enrolled.

If a parent elects to exercise this School Zone Preference, the parent assumes all responsibility for transporting the student to and from the selected school. School bus transportation will be provided only for the school zone determined by the school zone map.
An application for School Zone Preference will be posted on the Gilmer Schools Website from April 15th- April 30th for parents to apply for the school they prefer their child to attend. Parents will be notified by May 15th if their request was fulfilled.

Students on an Attendance Support Team (AST) Contract at the time of registration for School Zone Preference will not be eligible for transfer. If a student, has been selected for the School Zone Preference and is placed on an Attendance Contract during the school year, they may be transferred back to the school zone determined by residence address so they can take advantage of school system transportation.

With these changes only months away, Parents are encouraged to look for these letters and follow up with the Board Representatives or the School Administration offices for more details on applications.

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Ethics and Security questioned in Gilmer Administration

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Citizens are questioning the Gilmer County Board of Education this week after reports have surfaced of the involvement of and connections between the school systems Superintendent, Dr. Shanna Downs, and her husband’s, Jeff Downs, career in a company that the school is now engaging to install a security system in the schools.

Jeff Downs

Jeff Downs,  Senior Vice President of Sales

While allegations pointed that Shanna Downs financially benefited from this contract between the school and the company known as Centegix, where sources say Jeff Downs serves and Senior Vice President of Sales.

FYN looked deeper into the contract and Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was headed up by Gilmer Schools Director of Technology John Call. According to hid RFP listed, the criteria of the RFP included:

1. Bidder’s total proposed price
2. Product quality/appropriateness/compatibility/performance
3. Bidder’s qualifications/experience
4. Bidder’s ability to provide support/service
5. Bidder’s warranty/maintenance
6. Proposed product meeting the district’s present needs as well as future needs through
enhancements and upgrades.

Call headed the reviews and RFP process, according to Downs, who said, “When I realized that my husband would likely accept a position with Centegix in November,  I notified the board and I placed our technology director, John Call, in charge of the competitive bidding process for the security system.  I asked that I be left completely out of the process.”

Downs further stated that Call and Stuart Sheriff, Assistant Superintendent, contacted Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins Attorneys at Law on November 12 for legal advice. As they saw no problem after Downs recusal, Downs says she informed the Board of her husband’s potential future employment with Centegix.  She says, “Mr. Call assembled a committee of building level administrators to review and score the responses to the Request for Proposals (RFPs).   Details of that process can be found in our board minutes from December 13, 2018.  Until that process was complete, I stayed unaware of the selection of the product.”

Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

Downs made one further note on her husband’s involvement saying, “My husband began work with Centegix on December 3rd and will not make any commission off of the purchase.”

The RFP continued under Call and received two proposals, one from Centegix and one from ETC in Ellijay. When questioned as to why only two proposals were received, Call noted that other companies did inquire about the RFP, but never submitted a proposal. Without an official submittal, there is no record of these inquiries and their company’s interests in the request.
The RFP advertisement did reach statewide as Call publicized the request in not only the school’s website, but on the state procurement website as well. According to the Georgia Procurement Registry, they directly emailed 231 contacts over 122 companies about the RFP while also being searchable to any vendors accessing the website.
Call further stated that the full product and network that Centegix offered isn’t easily found in other places. He indicated that Centegix, LLC, together with its parent, 34ED, LLC, and affiliates Kloud-12 and Dooley Education Solutions, has done something that many companies are just beginning to get into.
It isn’t so much any individual technology they have that others don’t, according to Call, but rather the way they “marry the technology together.”
Centegix’s proposal offered an alert button system alongside classroom camera systems that operates on a singular network incorporating a campus-wide CrisisAlert System, classroom cameras, and classroom educational video capabilities. It also provides exact location information through ID Badges that hold the alert button system with configurable presses to notify emergencies on two levels, campus-wide emergencies and local individualized incidents.
ETC’s proposal offered Camera system integration and wearable IneractWear control buttons to initiate camera recording and notifications to administrators for incidents or sever emergencies requiring 911 intervention.
According to Call’s recorded scoresheets filed with Gilmer Schools, the difference between the two proposals came down to only $10,698. However, with a full 1.742 points difference, the scoring was based on the six criteria of the RFP noted earlier.
FYN has also received the individual scorecards of each of the six people on the committee to judge the RFP responses, including Ashley CoatesTiffany Boyette,  Stephanie BurnetteNicole Pike John Call, and  James Jones.
With the final vote having been taken for the security proposals in December, Call presented these results to the Board who accepted Centegix’s proposal and are already well into the installation process in every school except Gilmer Middle School and a partial install in Ellijay Primary.
The school system has decided to move forward with installing the CrisisAlert system buttons as they attach easliy to the drop ceilings and operate on battery. With the ease of removal and moving the system, they intend to transfer this system to the Clear Creek Elementary School when constructed.

Centegix Proposal:

ETC Proposal:

ETC – Alert System – RFP – Additional InformationETC – Alert System – RFP – Additional Information

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Gilmer Schools CTAE Month

Bobcat's Corner

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is ending its last week in February celebrating the month of CTAE success in both the county and state.

February has been CTAE (Career, Technical and Agriculture Education) Month in Gilmer County. The official month is Gilmer Schools’ way of sharing the program with the public to showcase some of the highlights and accomplishments.

According to Gilmer Schools WBL (Work Based Learning) and YAP (Youth Apprenticeship Program) Coordinator Janet Davis, the CTAE program is all about connecting the dots between the pathways of education in order to prepare students to be successful as they transition to college and the workforce.

The success of these programs is a part of what new Board of Education Member Doug Pritchett alluded to in a recent interview when he explained that the county has seen more investment into the students in whatever path they choose through projects like the new Agricultural Center. While Pritchett has only been on the board for two months now, he was quick to point out these programs as an integral part of Gilmer’s recent progress.

Davis went further this month when she said in an official release, “CTAE classes provide career awareness, spark interests, identify aptitudes & abilities, teach skills, combine academic knowledge with specific career & technical knowledge and create co-ops, internships & apprenticeships.”

While we celebrate the major successes across the state like a fourth consecutive year being the number one state for business for the fourth year in a row by Site Selection
magazine, February focuses on the educational influences and foundations in that achievement.

The program utilizes career clusters framework as an instuctional and guidance model as students prepare to transition out of high school. Regardless of their paths to college, careers, or the workforce, CTAE equips the necessary skills for the industry ahead.

In Georgia Public Schools, 61.75% of middle schoolers and 67.88% of high schoolers enrolled in at least on CTAE class during the 2017-2018 school year. Davis noted that 19,394 students participated in the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) and 98.8% of employers would recommend the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program to other companies. She also pointed out that 49,911 students with pathway completion took the end of pathway assessments in FY 2017 as compared with 44,057 high school students in FY 2016 (a 13% increase).

These are just facts of the program, but success entails much more than facts. It is measured in the intangibles. Davis points to moments when she sees engaged students and inquisitive minds instead of blank stares and disinterest. She says that she sees the dots connect when she sees students smiles and listens to conversations about the future. Success is more that statewide facts and numbers, CTAE success is seen when individual growth takes place.

Author

Officers and Construction updates for new year in BOE

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Entering the new year, the Gilmer County Board of Education began discussions about the plans of moving into Phase 2 of the High School Renovations this summer.

With talks going back and forth on Calendars and the possibility of state involvement in school calendars, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said that even starting in the first week of August as the current calendar plans are incorporating the summer construction plans. The uncertainty comes that if the State moves forward with recommendations to extend the summers with schools starting the first Monday of September, and ending around June 1.

While no indication comes on what the future may hold on this, Downs assured the Board that the plans for construction and summer renovations can be fit in with the school systems currently planned summer break.

Additionally, the Board elected its new officers for 2019 with nominations and approvals for Michael Bramlett to continue as Board Chairman and Ronald Watkins as Vice-Chair.

 

Author

Less school for more economy?

News

North Georgia – According to a recent article by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), a senate committee has recommended longer summers for Georgia Students.

Instead of quoting test scores, educators, or studies about student learning, the committee suggested a school year starting the first Monday of September, and ending around June 1.

The basis for this suggestion? Economic analysis.

According to the AJC’s article, the committee was devoid of teachers, school leaders, or PTA representatives. Their suggestion bypassed academics and said that the longer summer, roughly three months, would help tourism grow and increase summer workforce.

Taking a local response from Gilmer County Charter Schools System Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and Fannin County School System Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney, the consensus seems to be that these systems are appalled at the thought of economic interests waylaying the education system in favor on money.

Dr. Downs told FYN that shortening the year would not only decrease the breaks that the local school system has in place for students, but would make testing in the first semester almost impossible. She noted an immense testing impact if students were to go through first semester and Christmas, only to then come back in January for end of course testing.

A sentiment that was separately echoed by Dr. Gwatney who also noted how much work these school systems put into their calendars, over 6 months of effort and staff input are taken by each of these two school systems before a final handful of calendars are presented for community input in the Board of Education. Finally, the Board approves a final Calendar in the spring for the coming school year.

Additionally, Dr. Gwatney pointed out how far the effect of these calendars reach as he also brought in fellow administrators to speak on the issue.

Fannin County Schools Deputy Superintendent Betsy Hyde(heading up the District’s Charter), Fannin County Nutrition Director Candace Sisson (also the Calendar Committee Coordinator), and Fannin County Assistant Superintendent Robert Ensley (Administration and Personnel) all agreed that stepping into the local schools in such a way without any representation from schools on the committee was not the way the state should be looking at the issue. From the time spent working on the calendar to allowing each individual county to cater to their student’s and county’s needs, these representatives of Fannin County exerted the necessity of individualized calendars.

Downs also noted this importance in Gilmer County as she noted that each school presents its own calendar that is put together by teachers and administrators and then put out for citizen input. Noting the influence of educators of the process, Downs said she was against the thought of a committee placing importance of economy over education.

While both these counties gain a lot from the tourism industry, they annually balance their own festivals, events, and economies against the education calendar. Local people provide local input from local expertise as they continually deal with this problem.

Though the recommendation is non-binding, it leaves citizens asking the question of how much control the state should have and exert over local governments. Though not directly related, they still recall the Governors “Opportunity School Districts” campaign in recent years. A campaign shot down at the polls. If moved forward and put in place, regulations on the school year may shift discussions from the economic benefit to the state as a whole and focus solely on the overreach of State Government into local communities.

According to the AJC, the committee includes chair and state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the Department of Economic Development Kevin Langston, Georgia Chamber of Commerce designee Michael Owens, Director of the Georgia Travel Association Kelsey Moore, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus Jay Markwalter, former state Director of Community Affairs Camila Knowles, State Board of Education member Scott Johnson and Grier Todd, chief operating officer at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

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Gilmer Schools Dedicates EES Auditorium

Community

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A single letter. One person’s thoughts is what ultimately led to a recent ceremony by the Board of Education to dedicate the auditorium at Ellijay Elementary School.

With the idea brought up in the Board’s meetings in recent months, Hefner’s family and the community of Gilmer County joined together to celebrate Hefner’s life and service in education.

Speaking at the event, Retired Superintendent Ben Arp said, “As I came to know Homer Hefner, I found him to have the traits of a good father.” He shared about Hefner’s lover for Esther, his wife, and how much it meant that Hefner was such a good example in his life.

He went on to speak of Hefner’s intensity and dedication through his life and how he took that through Gilmer High School, North Georgia College, and service in the United States Army. Returning to Ellijay after the Army, he came home to Ellijay to serve more through a 38-year career in education.

Hefner stretched through many facets of education as he served as a teacher, counselor, administrator, and, eventually, Superintendent.

Arp said it was Hefner’s leadership that was an integral part of Gilmer’s success during a changing and challenging time in education. Setting Gilmer as a beacon that many systems looked at and visited to learn from.

Also, Hefner received the Citizen of the Year Award in 1999. He was more than an educator as he volunteered in the community and organizations to grow Gilmer as a county alongside the education system.

The dedication ceremony also offered remembrance of Hefner with songs from the Ellijay Elementary School Choral students, led by Katie Mayfield, and a special plaque unveiled after the ceremony.

Author

BOE Member Nick Weaver Resigns

News

Nick Weaver was sworn into Office on December 19, 2016.

ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer County Charter Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs has confirmed that Board Member Nicholas Weaver has tendered his resignation from the Board today, September 11, 2018.

According to the Board’s Official Statement, the resignation comes as he has moved out of the Post 3 area of Gilmer County, he can no longer hold his Post 3 position on the Board.

His resignation becomes effective immediately leaving the board down one member for the work session in two weeks on September 17. It is possible that they will move through this month without a fifth member, but plans are already in motion as an election will be needed to replace Weaver. However, the deadline has already passed to place anything new on November’s ballot.

Until the Board can officially hold an election for the seat next year, they will be looking to appoint someone to fill the space until then. Citizens will recall that current Board Member Ronald Watkins filled his position from a vacancy in 2016 before later running in the election.

As more details become available and the Board selects a replacement, stay with FYN as we continue to update you on this story.

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BOE Awarded for second year of Excellence in Financial Audit

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education has received an award from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts for Excellence in its Financial Audit for the second year.

The press release for the award states:

The Gilmer County Board of Education earned the” Award of Distinction for Excellent Financial Reporting ” issued by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts for FY 2017. This award was established to recognize excellence in financial reporting and controls. It encourages governmental organizations to go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and recognizes individual organizations that are successful in achieving this goal.

Trina Penland, Gilmer BOE Director of Finance

Trina Penland, Gilmer BOE Director of Finance

Though the Board receives the award as the reporting entity, they lay the recognition at the feet of Chief Financial Officer Trina Penland and the finance staff who manage the preparations and reporting for the Board.

According to Mary Dilbeck of the Department of Audits and Accounts, they delivered only 32 of these awards out of the 159 entities they do the audits for, stating the rest are covered by CPA firms. The award showcases a reporting excellence recognized by the state agency. However, it was also noted that many entities pay consulting firms to prepare the financial reports. The Gilmer BOE does not pay an outside firm as Penland and her staff prepares the documents and filings themselves.

This award is presented to organizations that submit quality financial statements and supporting documentation in a timely manner. To receive this award, the organization’s annual financial report must also be free of any significant deficiencies or material weaknesses, comply with all Transparency in Government requirements, and be given an unmodified audit opinion.

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