Board splits on approval of Foley as principal

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Gilmer BOE 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. – As the Gilmer County Board of Education went through usual approvals for administration in January for the coming school year, an unusual take on the votes came as Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said she was requested to go through approvals one at a time instead of all together.

Those individual votes came so a no vote could be given to Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley. She was approved in a 3-2 decision with Tom Ocobock and Ronald Watkins as the dissenting votes. FYN later asked these two why they voted no. However, they simply commented that they had their reasons.

Watkins specifically said, “Hopefully, things will straighten up and next year will be a yes vote.” He did note simply that he wasn’t satisfied with the position, declining to explain further.

Ocobock did agree that he wanted next year to be a yes vote, but also declined further comment.

One other dissension came with the Central Administration positions. As Bob Sosebee was recommended for Director of Facilities and Transportation, Ocobock spoke in the meeting saying, “I’m giving him the yes vote, but I want to see marked improvement in maintenance on these schools in this year.”

Ocobock said he has seen trash and alluded to more as he repeated that he wanted a marked improvement.

With these approvals of administration, the Board will move forward next month with recommendations for staff and contracts for the coming school year.

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Mountain View Elementary Honored by State

Bobcat's Corner, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Honors and recognition have gone from the local Board of Education meeting to Statewide recognition for Mountain View Elementary this month as the office of State Superintendent Richard Woods officially released, December 4, the 2018 list of Title I Distinguished Schools, the highest-performing Title I schools in the state.

Mountain View Elementary Principal Charles Walker

Mountain View Elementary Principal Charles Walker

Mountain View Elementary made that list for an exceptional year. Readers will recall the schools praise during the Board’s review of Milestones scores in “MVE jumps in 2018 Milestones scores.” This praise came from a 14.4 point jump, from 70.1 in 2017 to 84.5 in 2018, in CCRPI (College and Career Ready Performance Index). According to Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, the CCRPI scoring is what the state uses in distinguishing these schools saying, “This recognition is for scoring in the top 5% of Title I elementary schools in the state. CCRPI scores are based largely on milestones data, but takes other data into account as well.”

Mountain View Elementary School Principal Charles Walker credited the school’s entire staff for the achievement. He said, “We are absolutely excited. It is a team effort and it’s the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people.” Mountain View holds classes in both elementary and pre-k grades, however, only the elementary classes are graded on Milestones. Walker said Mountain View was a family that has worked extremely hard for their students making it all the more rewarding to see their efforts recognized.

A sentiment echoed by Downs who said, “I am so very proud that Mountain View Elementary has been recognized. I commend the hard work and dedication of everyone in the MVE family in earning this recognition and being named as a top-performing Title I school by the Georgia Department of Education.  Everyone in the school did an incredible job and the best part is that our students are the ultimate beneficiaries of the achievement.”

She went on to add that this recognition is only a part of what the Gilmer School system is accomplishing as the system has now scored above the state average for two years in a row, calling it “another indicator that our system is truly moving in a very positive direction.”

According to a release by the Georgia Department of Education, State Superintendent Richard Woods said, “In addition to identifying schools in need of additional support, it’s important for us to recognize and applaud schools when they’re doing well. These public schools are among the very best in the state and are doing extraordinary work on behalf of their students and communities. I extend my thanks and congratulations to every teacher, administrator, staff member, student, parent, and community partner who contributed to their success.”

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Six new inductees join REACH

Bobcat's Corner, News
Gilmer's 2018 signees into the REACH program, pictured here from left to right, (front) Emma Bell, Ben Becerra, Naydelin Ajiataz-Arreaga, (back) Annalyssa Brown, Alba Monraga-Telles, and Candelaria Raymundo-Bautista.

Gilmer’s 2018 signees into the REACH program, pictured here from left to right, (front) Emma Bell, Ben Becerra, Naydelin Ajiataz-Arreaga, (back) Annalyssa Brown, Candelaria Raymundo-Bautista, and Alba Monraga-Telles.

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education celebrated on Friday, October 19, to welcome its six new students into the Gilmer County REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Scholars Program.

The six 8th graders were hosted at Clear Creek Middle School with a ceremony for their signing of the program agreement in the presence of the Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, and Chris Green of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

The six students included Naydelin Ajiataz-Arreaga, Ben Becerra, Emma Bell, Annalysa Brown, Candelaria Raymundo-Bautista, and Alba Monraga-Telles. Each student celebrated the day with family members and member of the community in concerted agreement of support and encouragement for their years in high school and their plans beyond.

David Ralston speaks at Gilmer's 2018 REACH Signing Ceremony.

David Ralston speaks at Gilmer’s 2018 REACH Signing Ceremony.

REACH Georiga is a needs-based scholarship that begins in 8th grade. REACH Scholars are paired with a mentor and an academic coach throughout high school. Scholars must maintain good grades with a 2.5 GPA in core courses, good behavior, and good attendance throughout their remaining middle school and high school years.

Scholars who successfully complete the program and graduate from high school are awarded a $10,000 scholarship that can be used at HOPE-eligible institutions in Georgia.

Ralston praised the commitment of the students and schools in this effort saying, “If Georgia is to continue being the envy of the nation, if we are to going to continue to be the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business, we’ve got to also lead in preparing our young people for success in college and in their careers.”

Chris Green, Georgia Student Finance Commission, speaks to Gilmer Students signing into the 2018 REACH Program.

Chris Green, Georgia Student Finance Commission, speaks to Gilmer Students signing into the 2018 REACH Program.

He continued to thank the students and schools for their work in the program saying the ceremony reaffirmed the commitment to education and seeing every student succeed. He also noted the states full funding for Georgia’s QBE (Quality Basic Education) program and increases in the state budget for securing our schools. He also spoke to the student’s futures noting the state’s financial contributions to the new campus. “A dream come true,” as Ralston called it during their groundbreaking ceremony according to UNG.

Green added to the sentiment as he noted the HOPE Scholarship program has already awarded over $10 billion to over 1.8 million students in its 25 years. As the REACH program follows those eligible institutions, Green asserted the commission’s efforts to spread the program to every school in the state. Congratulating Gilmer’s Scholars on their signing ceremony, he said he was proud to partner with the schools as the commission pursues its mission to help every Georgian to access post-secondary education.

 

 

Make sure to check out more photos of the signing ceremony at FYN’s Facebook Photo Album.

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Fannin offers memorial jersey to honor Larry Walker

Bobcat's Corner, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – It may seem like a small gesture to some, but for those in Gilmer County, Georgia, a simple jersey is relating a lot more than meets the eye as they receive a memorial jersey to honor Gilmer’s middle school principal, the late Larry Walker.

With a special moment before the middle school football games between these two schools on September 19, Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney took to the field with Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee for a special ceremony in order to present the jersey hosting the emblems of both Gilmer and Fannin.

After a few words about Walker’s life and a moment of silence honoring him, Gwatney and Downs shared their own moment holding the jersey together. The announcers explained the meaning of the ceremony saying,

“The jersey being presented to the Gilmer Middle School football team bears the name of Walker with the #1. Also on the jersey is the Fannin County School insignia and the Gilmer County School insignia. The jersey being presented is in memory of Larry D. Walker, principal of Gilmer Middle School, and signifying Fannin County and Gilmer County are together as one, both in spirit and community.”

With the funeral today, many are still dealing with the loss as they prepare their final respects. Others are coping in their own ways. But as a community comes together and the true reach of one man comes into focus, they are responding to the show of support. Kayann Hayden West offered her thanks on social media saying, “Thankful for the support of our community and the Walker family up and down the 515 corridor. Rivals on the field but united in purpose and heart.”

 

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“Vaping” incident part of a larger problem

News

Ellijay, Ga. – An incident report from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed reports of a student “blacking out” and suffering seizures after inhaling a substance from a SMOK Vape device.

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

The male student was hospitalized from the incident and later released. The incident, however, did prompt officials to call in K-9 units to search for other drugs. Authorities found two additional SMOK Vapes with one testing positive for containing marijuana. While the

original vape has been tested, no official response is available identifying the substance in the original device.

However, according to the incident report, it was reported that the student was told by a fellow classmate that “there was a vape in the boy’s restroom and he should go smoke some of it.”

With the investigation in Gilmer CID’s (Criminal Investigations Division) hands, no names of the students nor additional information is available.

However, FYN spoke with Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs who confirmed the incident is part of a larger problem facing the schools today. She told FYN that last year, the school system confiscated eight vape devices over the course of the entire year. This year, they have already collected 25 devices since the beginning of school a few weeks ago.

Each instance results in disciplinary action for the student as it is a violation of the code of conduct, according to Downs, but as the rise in using other substances in the devices continues, the charges against students get far more serious as they deal with controlled substances.

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Downs went on to say that she has spoken with other Superintendents to see if Gilmer is alone in the rise of vape usage. Though she declined to name which counties she had spoken with, she did confirm that Gilmer was not alone.

Confirming the rise in popularity of these devices in several counties, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee made a press release stating, “Within the last week, several teens in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties have experienced medical emergencies as a result of “vaping,” by use of electronic cigarettes. These medical emergencies necessitated treatment by both EMS and treatment at hospitals.”

Many of the vape devices found being used are very small handheld devices easily concealed within one’s palm or bag, like a purse or book bag, or even in one’s pocket as several designs become thinner and shorter. Downs confirmed they have found Juul brand vapes and last weeks incident report confirmed the males vape was a SMOK brand. Sosebee notes, “Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.”

As the use of vapes themselves are intended to be used with nicotine for adult smokers, the rising concern is the ability to swap out the common “juice” for homemade cocktails or drugs. Downs confirmed that reports have been made of students crushing Adderall and other things to make the “juice.”

According to Juul’s website, “These alternatives contain nicotine, which has not been shown to cause cancer but can create dependency. We believe that these alternatives are not appropriate for people who do not already smoke.”

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Sosebee also commented on other substances that have been found in the devices saying, “The liquid that is inhaled, known commonly as “vape juice,” can contain any number of substances: it can contain flavoring; it can contain nicotine; it can also contain drugs and illegal substances such as THC oil, fentanyl and LSD. Of great concern, the user may or may not know what they are inhaling, what their reaction will be to the substances, what they are exposing others to and may erroneously believe that they are simply inhaling “harmless water vapor.” There is nothing harmless about what is occurring.”

Downs went on to say that some parents may have purchased vapes for their kids not knowing that they are swapping out the contents. The feeling was echoed by Sosebee as she called for parents to “be aware of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”

With concerns rising from parents, administration, and law enforcement alike, investigations are continuing as programs and events are attempting to educate the community about the devices and their popularity.

Downs said the Gilmer Administration is stepping up efforts in educating and building awareness in their staff about what to look for and also to educate our parents in the community saying, “I feel like there is a real lack of knowledge and lack of understanding among our community in relation to this… This has blown up overnight to the point that I feel like its almost epidemic.”

 

 

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Mountain Cinemas Donates to GHS Film

Bobcat's Corner, News

Ellijay, Ga. – The GHS Film program has cause to celebrate this week as they have received a $1,000 donation from the Georgia Theater Company, owners of Mountain Cinemas who held a special day for them in June at their grand opening.

The day was held specially to celebrate the theater’s opening, but is a part of a larger program that occurs every year where theater managers like Mountain Cinemas’ Lauren Chastain get to choose a cause they want to donate proceeds towards.

FYN caught up with Film Program Instructor Nathan Sutton to ask what the donation means. He replied, “We’re incredibly thankful for this donation. While our department does a wonderful job at providing needs and wants, it’s always nice to have money in the account to cover those spur of the moment fixes for cameras, tripods, and microphones.”

Sutton has far more plans for the donation than saving some for maintenance costs, though. He went on to say, “Personally, I’m a big proponent of the notion that the students are what make this class and this program. So, I’ll be sitting down with some of my after-school students and we’ll discuss what direction we want to go, what we want to spend where, and really let them be involved in the process because this has always been their class and their program after all.”

Connecting a movie cinema with a film program seems like a match made in heaven as they fuel tomorrow’s directors, writers, costume designers, cameramen, and others, completing a cycle into the future of film. Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs commented on the donation saying, “I am pleased that a business that is new to our community is taking an interest in this aspect of our high school program.”

While Sutton said the money will be discussed with students on how to use it, he did note that one project the film program has had is to convert some connecting rooms into writing rooms. “We have some extra rooms attached to our primary class and we’re looking at creating “writing rooms” so that student groups can go in and have a space to work, brainstorm, and discuss their short films in a more peaceful, group-centric setting.”

While the exact usage is still up in the air, the program continues to grow in the community as this year saw the second GHS Film awards in the spring. Now that a new school year has begun, we expect to see even more from this year’s coming awards show.

I am pleased that a business that is new to our community is taking an interest in this aspect of our high school program.

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Gilmer Schools: Increasing Security

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Over the past two months, the Gilmer County Board of Education has listened to proposals from Kloud-12 on possible changes to their school system’s security.

Stretching back further than that, even when planning the renovations of Gilmer High School, security increases have grown more accustomed to their spot in the forefront of discussion. The renovations saw the High School go from an open glass lobby with multiple ways into the school, to a single point, secured entrance.

Not uncommon in today’s world where school shootings and threats are on the rise, this style of an entrance is already in Gilmer County at Clear Creek Middle School where visitors and parents are guided into the front office before gaining entrance to the school as a whole.

Now, the Board of Education is moving again on the security front. A tentative approval came this week for the board to move forward with proposals from Kloud-12 to implement two new features into the school system. In her phrasing of recommending the motion, Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and the board indicated a 2-phase implementation.

The first phase garnered the most support with changing the id badges of employees in the schools to incorporate an electronic button that they can use for instant communication. The button is flexibly programmed to the board’s desires for levels of alert and levels of notifications. For example a single press could immediately notify the school’s principal and key staff in case of a medical issue, fight, or some simple call for help, holding the button could signal could signal a real medical emergency notifying 911, and rapidly and repeatedly pressing the button would notify police and authorities for an active threat such as a shooter. This is just an example as  Brent Coleman with Dooley Education Solutions representing the Kloud-12 service said the Board could set up the program however they wanted.

The badges are not coded or restricted in any way, meaning that there is a possibility of accidental presses or “false alarms,” but Coleman said continuing changes to the system are combating that likelihood with the button recessed and set on an id badge instead of somewhere open. I was later noted that this could help if a teacher had a medical emergency and a student needed to push the button to call for help.

Coleman has shared with the board over these two months his pitch for the service noting that in several of the recent shootings across America, an expedited response would have helped with response time and saved lives. The badge button not only notifies administration, but a proper input would immediately set alarms off across the school initiating an instant lockdown. The process takes seconds instead of the common way of finding a way to notify the office and then spreading the message to initiate the lockdown.

The system also operates on a “mesh network” allowing the system to operate on its own network outside of the wi-fi system and also to allow the system to work around outages. This means if one receiver should fail, others would be ready and able to pick up the signal and operate normally without interruption.

This system for crisis management is designed to work alongside another system that the board saw hesitation on from staff members. Video integration is the Phase 2 of the motion. Separating the item, Downs said they were awaiting clarification for the board’s Tech Department on technical specifications, data storage, recurring licensing, support fees, and other areas.

If clarification indicates what the board wants out of the project, it could increase video footage of the schools. Each school already has cameras watching the hallways and common areas, but this change would see cameras moving into the classrooms as well. With pushback from teachers over being “watched” during the day, Coleman indicated that they could set the cameras to where only administration and select staff could access the feeds and could even give the teachers control over whether the cameras are recording or not.

Meant to work on three levels, the cameras were presented to be used for instruction, safety, and protection. Over the discussions, it was presented that these cameras can be set to record only certain “quadrants of the feed to leave students out if a teacher wanted to make his or her lessons available for replay. This could also be used for snow days or other situations to make the feeds available to students at home. This instructional use could be set for availability by administration or by the teachers.

On the safety and security aspect, the live feeds of the cameras are instantly turned on and set to record if the id badge button is pushed. Coleman noted this feed could be sent live to authorities in threat situations to give a look inside of the school and to aid in locating threats as the id badge system has a built-in location system. In other situations, the button press for a fight could instantly set the live feed to the School Resource Officer and principle for an immediate response without involving police or emergency responders. Aiding in discipline and averting disciplinary situations was a major point of the cameras safety aspect.

Finally, the protection of teachers was presented by Coleman as a tool to aid in allegations against teachers as they could set their cameras to record their class time and student interactions. Providing video documentation to combat false allegations would allow many situations, according to Coleman to be prevented before they escalate.

Throughout discussions, Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley noted she had several teachers questioning why the need for additional cameras as they haven’t had a high amount of discipline issues.

With the board moving forward on these proposals, they are looking at $132,347 for Phase 1 to begin as soon as the board receives its bidding or sole source documentation implementing the id badge system, and $451,224 for the camera system contingent upon satisfactory answers to the outstanding technical questions as well as the bidding or sole source documentation.

With teachers potentially seeing these upgrades as early as Jan 2, they will only see them in Ellijay Elementary School, Mountain View Elementary, Clear Creek Middle School, and Gilmer High School. Downs stated the would not be putting the systems into Ellijay Primary School as they are planning to replace it in the near future, nor in Gilmer Middle School until they are certain of which classrooms will be utilized by the High School in the coming years.

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BOE final decisions on Buses and Millage

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education formally accepted their 2018 Millage Rate this week with unanimous approval from the present board members.

The final vote came 4-0, Nick Weaver was absent, on Thursday, August 23, setting the rate at 14.458 mills for the year.

After discussing the rate on Monday’s Work Session and over the last month since their July Meeting, where Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs informed the board that their calculated rollback rate was 14.458 mills, decreasing from 2017’s 16.12 mill., the final decision lowered the rate by 1.662 over last year.

Downs mentioned in the board’s regular session that no citizens have commented on the Rollback Rate this year or the boards advertisement of it over the last month.

Continuing along the financial discussions, a bid for two extra buses was approved. Coming from extra funding the state found and spread among school systems, this unexpected item set the board with an opportunity to try a different engine. Originally, Director of Operations Bob Sosebee’s Bid Analysis offered the board the bids for both a diesel engine bus and a gasoline bus.

Sosebee said in the meeting that he wanted to offer the board the option of trying gasoline buses instead of diesel with this extra funding as a trend is beginning to see other school systems do similar. Mentioning emissions and testing stresses on the increase, causing a major increase in time spent on repairs, as one point pushing to change, he presented three company’s bids including both engines. the bids include warranty’s on both engines.

The system currently runs its entire bus fleet on diesel engines. When asked for his recommendation, Sosebee suggested the board try the gas buses to be able to compare the two types. Ultimately, approval came from the board as they said they would be willing to use these, as the extra funding came in from the state, as a test pair.

While continuing to replace and grow the bus fleet, Downs noted the Board is still struggling to find bus drivers. Upon a request, Downs is moving forward of increasing the sign on bonus for new drivers from $500 to $1000. As the board discussed the rise and answers to problem, one suggestion arose that the board may look at possibly considering changing the salary as well. Though no real action came except to notify the board of increasing the sign on bonus, indications lean that we could learn more at next month’s meeting.

 

 

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