ELLIJAY, Ga. – May 3 saw exciting news for Gilmer county as State School Superintendent Richard Woods made the announcement of Gilmer County Charter School System as the second highest score in the Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading in Georgia (L4GA) grant by the Georgia Department of Education.
Over sixty districts applied for funding and a panel of trained reviewers scored the applications. The districts with the highest scores received the grant.
Chief Academic Officer of the Gilmer County Charter School System Lottie Mitchell said, “We are so very proud of the hard work and dedication of our site facilitators, district, community and school literacy teams.”
According to Mitchell, Georgia was awarded a total of $61,579,800 over three years through the federal Striving Readers grant competition. Ninety-five percent of the funds are sub-granted to 38 districts. The funds are distributed on per-pupil allocations to achieve the goal of the L4GA initiative, to improve student literacy learning.
With this grant in our county, Gilmer will receive approximately $1.46 million dollars over the next three years. These funds are allocated for students in schools within a feeder system (including birth-age 5 childcare providers and elementary, middle, and high schools).
Gilmer County Charter Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes expanded on the excitement saying, “As your superintendent, I could not be any prouder of this team! The dedication and commitment to the students and teachers in our district is overwhelmingly outstanding! I am so proud to work alongside of all of you every day!”
Though the school system does not have specific details yet on exactly how the money will be spent, Mitchell states it is to be dedicated specifically to the improvement of literacy in the schools.
“It’s a great day for literacy in Georgia,” said Woods. “I am confident the $61 million Georgia is now able to invest in local schools and communities to support literacy will impact the lives of thousands of students. I commend each L4GA grant recipient – the competition was fierce as we received an unprecedented number of applications. Making sure Georgia students are reading on grade level remains mission-critical, top-priority work for us and I have no doubt these districts – who submitted clear, focused, student-centered plans to improve literacy outcomes – are going to use these funds to make a tremendous difference for kids.”
Additionally, the $61,579,800 Georgia received through the federal Striving Readers grant competition, the “parent grant” Georgia received from the federal government and is subgranting to 38 of its districts, was the highest award received by any state. Georgia was one of three states to receive the funding a second time after the initial grant cycle (2011-2016).
According to a recent release from the University of North Georgia, they have been awarded “$2.6 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Education’s Upward Bound Program to help promising low-income high school students in Hall and Gilmer counties prepare for college.”
Split between our two counties, 120 students will have the opportunity to take advantage of tutoring, counseling, and advisement to help them become academically successful.
Gilmer specifically has local access to the University through a Blue Ridge Campus Branch where they can take courses as well as participate in the Blue Ridge Scholars program integrating course instruction with student support groups for first-time freshmen.
According to a UNG article by Sylvia Carson, the President of the University, Bonita C. Jacobs, said, “Through these grants and the Upward Bound program, we will be able to provide vital support to students in our region as they prepare for higher education and future career opportunities.”
UNG Blue Ridge Campus Director Sandy Ott leads the grant for Glmer High School saying, “Introducing the Upward Bound program in Gilmer County has the potential to greatly increase the progression of low-income students and first-generation college students through the academic pipeline.”
FYN followed up with Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes for more information. She offered anyone interested in the program to attend the Board’s June 12 meeting as they will have a full presentation on the award, the partnership, and Gilmer’s future alongside the University of North Georgia.
ELLIJAY,GA – At their May meeting, the Gilmer Board of Education approved an agreement with the Gilmer County EMS to provide two older buses from their fleet.
The buses are to be outfitted as Mass Casualty transport vehicles according to Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett. The process will involve taking out all of the seating and replacing them with medical beds as seen in this photo. Pritchett stated they have already begun talks to receive a grant to retrofit the buses.
Each bus will house 12 beds. The capability to transport numerous patients at once will allow the service to respond to events such as the bus crash on Highway 515 where ambulances are not enough. The process is accomplished by ready made conversion kits which they are currently preparing to install. Pritchett did not state a specific time frame for the process, but has already begun discussions on where to house the buses in a central location.
However, it is not only Gilmer County that will benefit from this agreement. Until now, the closest county with a similar buses is Floyd County. Now, Gilmer may be called upon in neighboring counties, something that is common for emergency services in need, as we will soon house the two mass casualty buses with the mass casualty truck and equipment.
Beginning the process to gain a new resource for Gilmer’s emergency services, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes and Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett formally signed the agreement during the meeting.
ELLIJAY, GA – The Gilmer County Commissioners saw possible progress for the Cherry Log Fire Station in the form of an Ordinance Change along with an update on this years Tax Anticipation Note (TAN).
The County accepted the First Reader and Public Commentary Meeting for a change to ordinances regarding Purchases of the Board of Commissioners. Attempting to deal with one of the issues delaying the Cherry Log Fire Station, this new change is set The new change will allow the Commissioners to increase the spending limit with a single vendor in a year without bidding from $20,000 to $50,000 if the capital project is already in the County Budget. Additionally, the Commissioners added a new requirement that any purchases over $25,000 would require two separate signatures from the County Commissioners.
Although no citizens spoke at the Public Hearing, the Commissioners will have the Second Reading for the change at August’s Meetings if citizens still wish to speak on the subject.
The Commissioners also brought up the bid TAN for 2017. Although not yet utilized this year, Chairman Paris stated they expect to begin drawing upon it in Mid August.
Many will recall that the TAN has been needed later and later every year over the last few years. However, last year the TAN was also used in August. Paris addressed the meeting about this saying that while citizens may have originally expected to push the TAN back further this year, one major change to the budget changed that expectation. Beginning in 2017, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners separated close to $800,000 from the General Fund Budget received through LMIG Grants.
Though that Grant is usually left in the General Fund as a “buffer” according to Chairman Paris, the separation of these funds means there is less of a buffer for the year’s expenses. Paris stated during the movie that after losing the major amount of funds from the general fund and still going to mid-August before needing to utilize the TAN is a good sign for the county and its economy.
The general sense could mean that Gilmer still see the TAN used later next year, especially with Commissioner’s expectations for maintaining close to a four to four-and-a-half month contingency fund for the county. Citizens could even see Gilmer forgoing usage of the TAN in the coming years if the county continues financially as it currently is.
Additionally, July’s meeting saw the Commissioners appoint Bill Logan to the Board of Tax Assessors due to an recent resignation. Their appointment of Logan is to fulfill the remainder of that term. They also appointed Mary Ann Cook to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Board.
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ELLIJAY, GA – Offering low income first generation students a path to college access after high school graduation through additional services, the Upward Bound Grant was celebrated with members from both the Gilmer County Board of Education and the University of North Georgia.
Beginning Sept 1, 2017, the program will see two full time staff members at Gilmer High School in addition to extra resources and support for the selected students who participate. While the Grant was previously approved, see “Upward Bound Grant Confirmed for Gilmer Schools,” the press conference held on July 27 was the first official public meeting of the two entities celebrating the new partnership in Gilmer County.
Gilmer County Charter School System Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes opened the meeting saying, “With the Gilmer County Upward Bound Project being the only one of its kind in this area of the state, I am so excited that we’re able to partner with University of North Georgia to offer support for post secondary opportunities to our students.”
The Federal Grant supporting this program equals $257,000 a year. University of North Georgia (UNG) President Dr. Bonita Jacobs commented on the yearly grant to assure citizens, “”We anticipate being here for five years, and it will make a difference… I am extremely excited about this program and about the impact it is going to have across our region.”
UNG currently hosts five campuses throughout northeast Georgia, according to Dr. Jacobs, and is the fastest growing institution in the fastest growing region of Georgia. She continued the conference saying, “As we look at businesses coming into our communities, one of the questions they ask is about workforce. Do you have the workforce?”
Dr. Jacobs also mentioned the University’s REED (Regional Economic Educational Development) Program is launching to work consistently with economic development in the area. The Upward bound program fits into the bigger picture with these other programs in UNG as it opens doors to colleges and career opportunities for these students. It helps them to understand what jobs are out there and how to get those jobs through the various pathways available in high school.
The Gilmer County Board of Education is looking to the second half of its Fiscal Year with tech on the brain.
Discussions are rising on incorporation of new simplifying technology including digitized application forms for the internal and external applicants to the School System. According to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes, this new form of applying will not only incorporate better collection and record keeping through the digital format, but services could also allow applicants to be notified for other similar or non-similar opportunities opening in the system or be notified of a need to reapply.
This would tie in with Substitutes as well as the Board is moving forward with an option for online absence reporting for its teachers. The system will handle situations such as the case of a current teacher suddenly or preemptively needing to call out, say a sick child or sick themselves. Instead of physically calling substitutes trying to find someone to cover them, the new system will incorporate an automated call to a pre-made list of substitutes where they can respond yes or no to cover. The system also automatically removes subs from the list if they accept a position for the day. When they do accept, Dr. Wilkes stated the teacher will receive a message that their day is being covered. Additionally, the system will allow teachers to request specific substitutes for one or several days as well.
The Board is also carrying over their infrastructure project from the E-Rate Federal Grant for which the school had previously applied. The project is set to upgrade and improve the school systems network infrastructure.
Although approved for Category 1 E-Rate Grants involving basic communications and network costs like monthly bills, Gilmer County’s Board of Education is still waiting for the Category 2 Grant specifically designated for the upgrades to the School System’s 6-year-old network. These upgrades will allow for greater loads and more stable connections, especially important as Gilmer County’s standard testing is being done online now.
Due to an issue on the Federal level, last years application has not completed the cycle from our school system. However, anticipating the possibility of the reimbursement funds arrival before next month, the Board pre-approved spending $658,000 on the improvements to the School System’s internal network and wireless infrastructure. Dr. Wilkes assured FYN the approval is based upon the grant approval and will not be spent without the estimated $588,000 maximum reimbursement ready. Tom Ocobock, one of the two newest members to the Board, noted on the Grant and the approval, “I think this is very, very important for the school system to get up to speed on technology. I’m in a high tech job, and we need people. So, the quicker we get our kids trained up on high tech stuff, the better jobs they’re going to have here, not necessarily leaving Gilmer County.”
However, Technology wasn’t the only thing on the agenda for the night. The Board approved several organizational details for the new physical year including the election of Officers, which they voted to keep the same officers of Jim Parmer as Chair and Michael Bramlett as Vice-Chair, as well as the Meeting Dates for 2017.
Additionally, the Board’s usual report and votes on policy changes included First Readers for BBA Board Officers, BBD-R(1) Board – School Superintendent Relations-Protocols, IDE(3) Competitive Interscholastic Activities, Grades 6-122, and LA Inter-Organizational Goals and Objectives as well as Rescinding BBD-E(1) Board – School Superintendent Relations-Protocols. Second Readers and adoption came for BCBI-R(1) Public Participation in Board Meetings, EE Food Services Management, EEE Wellness Program, GBC Professional Personnel Recruitment, IBB Charter Schools, JCDAE Weapons, and JGFGB Concussion Management as well rescinding BBFB Governance Teams.
The BOE also spoke on its Financial Efficiency Star Rating for 2013 – 2015. This Rating is used by the State Board of Education to track, on a scale from one-half star to five stars, the Financial Expenditures for School Systems and Per-Pupil Expenditures against their CCRPI Test Scores for an “estimation” on how efficient a school spends its money for student achievement. This State will also use this as a part of the school system’s CCRPI.
Our school system’s rating has averaged around 3-stars looking back at the last three years, according to Trina Penland, Chief Financial Officer for Gilmer County Charter School System. It is also estimated to remain at 3-stars for the next report, though Dr. Wilkes did note that government financial grants are now accounted for the spending rather than just focusing on the Board’s basic budget. This means that projects that have received additional outside funding, such as the School’s cannery at the new Agriculture Center by Clear Creek Middle School, could in fact hurt the school’s rating by being counted as “school spending” even though it may be state or private funds. For more financial information on the school, check out the Financial Summary Report, 2010 ESPLOST Report, and 2015 ESPLOST Report.
Requirements have been met and the Gilmer County Board of Education has approved submission of their application to be recognized as an Exemplary Board by the GSBA (Georgia School Boards Association). Recognition involves extensive training and involvement by the Board to better it’s community including incorporation of at least fifteen of the Georgia Vision Project‘s recommendations into it’s Strategic Plan.
The approval for this application was made at Thursday’s, September 22, Meeting. If accepted, the Board’s recognition will happen in December according to the GSBA.
Also in their meeting, the Board has approved an increase in lunch prices for adults. The $0.50 increase will affect prices for both staff, going to $3.50 now, and visitors to the school, going to $4.50 now. According to the Director of School Nutrition, Kim McBurnett, “USDA requires adult meal prices to cover the cost of the meal and commodity food at a minimum. The current rate of $3.00 does not.” This increase will be enacted to cover this year’s government reimbursement rate of $3.24.
Also in Nutrition, the Board of Education was approved to receive a grant to begin offering an alternative breakfast in the mornings. Sometime in October, Gilmer Middle School, Clear Creek Middle School, and Gilmer High School will begin offering “Grab and Go” style breakfasts. McBurnett states, “There are a total of 26 mini grant winners nationwide and Gilmer is one of those.”
The Grant is offered by the AASA, American Association of School Administrators, which is an separate entity from the Georgia Department of Education. When asked how the new breakfast would work, McBurnett stated, “The students will pick up their breakfast and take to the classroom to eat, rather than eating in the cafeteria. The children still are required to pay as normal, if they are a paying or reduced paying student.”
October will also see a change in the annual Apple Festival. A contract has been made between the Gilmer County Charter School System and the Gilmer Chamber to utilize school buses for transportation from parking lots during the coming Apple Festival in October. This contract will not only save money as the Chamber has been utilizing outside services for the recent years, but will also keep that money in our county as the agreement will also utilize local bus drivers to run the buses. The School System is set to provide both for the Chamber’s use during the two weekends of the Festival.
As the Board of Education considered the contract during their monthly Work Session in September, Board Member James Waters suggested an option to also staff the buses with one Chamber Employee to talk about our County and other places for visitors to go see after the Festivals. These “Guides” to our county were suggested as an additional information source to support our local businesses commerce. Though the Board talked about the idea and Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said she would offer the suggestion to the Chamber, when FYN asked her about the option, she stated that such an idea would not be a part of the contract. Rather, that option would be for the Chamber to consider on their own.
For more information on this month’s meeting check out the Finance Statement, 2010 ESPLOST, and 2015 ESPLOST reports made during the meeting below.