ELLIJAY, Ga. – Students all across Gilmer High School were introduced to life after Senior Year through a new event, Adulting Day.
Including students from all grades, the day showcased different experts in areas of the future from college and careers to everyday tasks like tax forms and budgets throughout the day. Students were also invited to speak with representatives from Military branches and colleges during the day.
With more available, a few of the classes we visited included culinary skills at the Steak Parade, speaking with law enforcement about career options and opportunities, learning about traveling with a Travel Agency, local economy with JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford, dangers of Social Media, how to fill out Tax Returns, Budgeting, Healthcare careers, and trade careers. Some classes even dealt with current choices about high school life that will directly affect college or post-graduation life including SAT Prep and Personal Health and Wellness.
The day also included an outdoor experience as students attempted to “drive under the influence” through the use of special goggles and a guided course while driving a golf cart.
The experience used several different goggles that varied through vision and equilibrium impairment based on different BAC (Blood-Alcohol Content) levels. While not overly challenging the course showcased how difficult even simple obstructions become through the different levels of intoxication.
Students attended the classes and college fair throughout the day up to 2:15 p.m. sharing in information from teachers and experts alike. Different from normal college fairs, these classes added the extra step to prepare some who may not choose college or may take alternate paths in life. Additionally, granting these first experiences through necessary events like taxes allowed for questions and advice to be exchanged through the school environment.
The event was hosted by Gilmer High School Administration and Counselors involving the teachers and an additional 30 volunteers.
The Adulting Day event has been confirmed to continue annually as Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley stated, “We will definitely make this a yearly event.”
See more photos of the event at FYN’s Facebook Page.
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.
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 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.”
Have you ever had a goal that you wished to achieve? Something became a driving force in your life as it took a point of focus. It may have been that you wanted to become something, maybe a firefighter, an astronaut, or a soldier. You strove to follow that dream, to grow closer to that goal. The achievement was your motivation.
For some, at least.
Many people will recall the nearly 30 years Mark Henson spent as the Superintendent of Fannin County Schools teaching and influencing the kids of Fannin County. Many may think of this as a life well spent. Henson himself would agree, but it was not always so.
Growing up among a family of educators, Henson knew the life well before he even graduated high school. It was part of the reason he struggled so hard against it. While it may seem like 30 years in the career isn’t the best evasion strategy, Henson says it came down to logic as to why he finally gave in.
After high school graduation, he took his goal of avoidance instead of achievement to heart. “If you go back and look at my high school annual, my ambition was to do anything but teach school because everybody in my family at that time, were teachers,” says Henson as he explains attending the University of Georgia shortly before moving back to Blue ridge to work for the Blue Ridge Telephone Company.
Spending about a year at the job after college didn’t work out. Henson doesn’t speak much on the topic as he says his father knew someone working for Canada Dry in Athens. With a job opening available and good pay to entice him, Henson made the switch to working for the soda company.
Moving to Athens, Henson became an RC/Canada Dry Salesperson over the surrounding five counties in Athens. A hard job that required many hours, Henson said he’d be at work at 6 a.m. and got back home at 8:30 p.m. Though well-paying, the job fell flat for Henson as he came to terms with the long hours and little time for himself. With two years under his belt at the company, he began thinking about Blue Ridge again and his options. As he says, “Teaching didn’t look so bad then.”
Despite the years in opposition, the effort spent running away from the ‘family business,’ Henson began thinking ahead at the rest of his life. Already considering retirement at the time, it was this that ultimately turned his attention back to teaching. It wasn’t family, it wasn’t friends, but rather, it was logic that drew him to the career his life’s ambition avoided.
“I made pretty good money, there just wasn’t any retirement,” says Henson about his time at Canada Dry. As he looked harder at teaching and began seriously considering the career path, he says, “When you look at teachers, you’re never going to get rich being a teacher, but there’s a lot of benefits like retirement and health insurance that these other jobs just didn’t have.” He also notes he proved what he wanted as he retired at 54-years-old.
After much thought, it began with a call to his father, Frank Henson. He told his father he wanted to come home and pursue teaching. Though his father told him to come home and stay with them again, Henson says it was the money he had saved from his position at Canada Dry that allowed him to attend school for a year before being hired as a para-pro, a paraprofessional educator. It was a very busy time in his life as Henson states, “I would go up there and work until 11:30, and then I would work 12 to 4 at what used to be the A&P in McCaysville. I went to school at night…”
The next few years proved to be hectic as he graduated and started teaching professionally “with a job I wasn’t even certified for.” It was January of 1989 and the new school superintendent had been elected in November and as he took office in January he left a gap in the school. To fill the Assistant Principal position the, then, Superintendent had left, they promoted the teacher of the career skills class. With the vacancy in the classroom, Henson was appointed to step in to teach the class. Half a year was spent teaching a career path and skill class to 9th graders in what Henson refers to as a “foreign world.”
The first full-time teaching position he holds was perhaps the one he was least qualified for. Henson noted his nervousness taking the state-funded program. The previous teacher had gone to the University of Georgia to receive training to fill the position. Talking with the previous teacher about the class, Henson shared his reservations about the lack of training and certification. Receiving note cards and guidance on how to handle it helped, but only so far.
Henson recalled looking at the cards and seeing tips like, “Talk about work ethic for 20 minutes.” He was stuck in a position without a firm foundation. He spent the next semester “winging it” and juggling the class with student placement in businesses. Struggling through the day to day at the time, he now looks back and says, “Apparently, I did pretty good at it.”
The interesting part was that the promotions that led him into this position similarly mirrored Henson’s own path to Superintendent one day. An omen easily looked over at the time, but glaringly obvious in hindsight. Though he wouldn’t take the direct path from Teaching to Assistant Principal to Superintendent, they did set the milestones that he would hit on his way.
He also saw plenty of doubt on his way, too. He never looked at the Superintendent position as a goal, but even maintaining a teaching position seemed bleak as he was called into the office one day and told his career class position was no longer being funded.
Thinking he was losing his job, he began considering other opportunities as well as missed options, he had just turned down a position in Cartersville where Stacy, his wife, was teaching. Worrying for no reason, Henson says he was racing through these thoughts until they finally told him they were moving him to Morganton Elementary.
Taking up a Math and Social Studies teaching at Morganton Elementary, Henson found more familiar territory in these subjects. Yet, having gotten used to the career skills, he says he still felt like he was starting over again. The years proved later to be quite fortuitous as Henson says he still has people to this day stop him and talk about their time learning from him as students. Relating back to his own school years, he admits he wasn’t the best student and he made his own bad decisions.
From situations in band and class alike, he notes that he worked hard, usually sitting in first and second chair as he played the trombone, but he still found plenty of things to get into as he, by his own confession, “made the drum major’s lives and stuff miserable.” Enjoying every opportunity he could get to goof off, it became a trend throughout his school career.
Yet, in teaching, he brought those experiences and understanding to the kids as he tailored his classes each year. He shared one story of a girl that stopped him to speak for a while. Eventually, she asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Admitting that he didn’t, she replied, “Well, you really helped me a lot. I was ADD and you would let me sit at your desk.” He says she went on talking about the way he changed her life.
It seems almost common now to associate teachers with stories like these, changing people’s lives, yet, it’s not often you may think a student causing trouble would become that kind of teacher.
The effort returned in a major way as Henson was elected Teach of the Year at Morganton Elementary in only his second year. The award was a testament to his efforts and success, but also evidence of how much he had changed in his life.
“You get out of school and you work a couple of real hard jobs, you see there might be more to life than goofing off. That got me redirected and helped me get through college and get my teaching degree,” says Henson.
It was more than just awards, though. Morganton Elementary created several relationships for Henson that followed him throughout his career and his life. spending four years at Morganton made it the longest position at the point, but it led to so much more. It led to three more years of teaching at East Fannin Elementary before receiving a promotion to Assistant Principal at West Fannin Middle School.
Moving from a position as a teacher to Assistant Principal isn’t just a promotion, it is a major change into school administration. No longer dealing with individual classes of students, Henson says it becomes far more political as you get pressed between teachers and parents. You walk a tightrope as you want to support your teachers in what they do, and you want to listen to concerned parents and find that middle ground. “You have got to kind of be a buffer between them… You’re always walking a tightrope,” he said.
He served as Assistant Principal to Principal David Crawford who served as Assistant Principal to his father, Frank Henson. Mentoring him in administration, he says David was a “laid back guy” that would still “let you have it” some days. It set him on a steep learning curve. Despite the jokes and stories, he led Henson on a quick path to his own education. In a sort of ‘sink or swim’ mentality, Henson said he was given a lot more authority than he expected, but he enjoyed the job.
How much he enjoyed it was a different point. Though Henson says he has never had a job in education he hated, he did say that his year as Assistant Principal was his “least-favorite job.” Though stressing he has enjoyed his entire career, he noted that the stress and shock of transitioning from Teaching to the Administration as a more big picture job factors into the thought.
Even that wasn’t meant to last long as he moved from Assistant Principal to Principal after just one year.
Nearing the end of his first, and only, year as Assistant Principal, he was called into the office again. This time it was the school systems office as his Superintendent at the time, Morgan Arp, wanted to speak with him. As he tells the story, “He said, ‘I’m looking at restructuring the system a little bit on principals and administrators. I’m not saying this is gonna happen, but if I made you Principal at East Fannin, would that be okay?’
I said, ‘Sure, I’ve been there and I know the people fine.’
He said, ‘What about West Fannin?’
I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there a year, I can deal with that.’
He said, ‘What about Blue Ridge Elementary?’
I said, ‘Well, that’s the school I know the least. I’m sure if you put me in there, I could. But the other two make me feel a little more comfortable.’
So the next day I got a call, and I was principal for Blue Ridge Elementary.”
Though comical, Henson said it actually worked out great as he met two of his best colleagues there. Cynthia Panter later became an Associate Superintendent and Karen Walton later became his Assistant Superintendent. Both were teachers he met at Blue Ridge Elementary.
“Blue Ridge was really where I made a lot of later career relationships,” says Henson.
His time as Principal was also a lot easier for him as he says after the year at West Fannin he knew what he was doing and had more confidence in the position. Having ‘matured’ into the job, he says the Principal position has more latitude in decisions. Having a great staff at both schools made the job easier, but the transition was simpler also because he felt he was always second-guessing himself as an assistant principal. His maturity also gave him new outlooks on the choices and decisions made.
“I think a good administrator serves as a shield between the public and teachers who need someone in there to mediate,” he says. Molding things into a larger plan for the schools and taking views from all those who take a stake in their education, “Everybody wants what’s best for the child.”
Surrounding himself with assistant principals and administrators that were detail oriented to allow him to deal with people and focus on the ‘big picture,’ two of his favorite parts of his career as he says.
After three years at Blue Ridge Elementary, the Curriculum Director at the county office resigned. Applying on a fluke instinct, he later got a call saying he got the position. He joined the staff as K-6 Director of Curriculum alongside Sandra Mercier as 7-12 Director of Curriculum.
However, his time in the office saw much more work as he spent time covering as Transportation Director and other fill-in duties. It wasn’t until 2003 when Sandra Mercier took the office of Superintendent, according to Henson, that she named him as Assistant Superintendent and really began his time in the Superintendent position.
He had never thought about going for the position, applying, or even thinking of it. Henson said he did want to be a Principal, but the county offices were beyond his aspirations.
Largely different from transitioning from Teacher to Administrator, the transition into the Superintendent position was far easier says Henson. You’re already dealing with a lot of the same things on a single school scale, but moving to the Superintendent position crosses schools and districts. He did not there is a lot more PR involved, but nothing to the extreme change as he experienced his first year in administration.
Becoming Superintendent in 2007, he says he focused on opening the school system up and growing more transparent than it already was. Sharing information and speaking straight about his feelings allowed a certain connection with people. It seems, in truth, that he never quite outgrew some of the goofiness of his childhood as he recalls joking with colleagues and staff.
Henson says he wanted to have a good time in the office despite everything they dealt with. He pushed the staff, but they also played pranks on each other and shared moments like a school secretary embarrassing her daughter with a funny picture.
Noting one particular instance, Stacy recalls a story with finance running checks in the office. With one office member in particular who would always try to jump scare people running the check machine. Henson quickly opened the door and threw a handful of gummy bears at her. Unfortunately, a few were sucked into the machine and ruined the check run. It wasn’t a good day considering, yet the staff laughed about it and shared in the comedy.
A necessary part of the job is what Henson calls it. The lightheartedness was key to maintaining his staff. “If you stay serious a hundred percent of the time, it’s going to kill you,” he says.
The position wasn’t just laughter and jokes though, tough times came plenty enough. Not all of them were the expected issues that you might expect. Aside from the general politics that face schools daily in these times, Henson even dealt with death threats in his position. Having let people go and dealt with others careers, he admits he had that one employee’s spouse threated his life after a firing.
As he speaks about some of the hardest moments like this, it’s hard to find out how harrowing the event really was. Henson says now that it’s not a big deal, it wasn’t the only threat he had. His wife speaks a little more plainly as she confesses some days, she couldn’t tell if it was worth it for him to be the Superintendent. Yet, even she says in hindsight that she is proud of the honesty, integrity, and openness that permeated his ten years.
Additionally, dealing with things like the shootings and issues that have plagued schools in the last decade, he adds, “It’s a more stressful job than when I started 30 years ago. It’s much more stressful. There are so many things that the state expects, that locals expect, that parents expect… I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in another 30 years.”
Henson agreed that schools have lost a lot of the innocence they used to have within the teachers and staff. As these people continue to rack their brains on following the mission to educate and keep kids safe, they take a lot of the stress off the kids as they are at school. He said, “I don’t know if it’s spelled out, but I think if you’re a good teacher, you feel that inherently.”
It also branched over into policies, with increased focus on testing and numbers, Henson said the position got a lot more into the realm of politics as you deal with the state legislature and handling the constant changes that came from the state adds another item to juggle.
As a superintendent, you don’t need state tests, as Henson says, to tell you how well a teacher teaches. “I can sit in a class for five minutes and tell you if a teacher can teach.”
In the face of everything, Henson said he wouldn’t burn any bridges about returning to education, but he’s enjoying his retirement.
Henson has already reached the “what’s next” point in his career as he retired last year. One year into retirement, he says he is just as busy as ever with his position on the Board of Tax Assessors and putting a daughter through college at the University of Georgia. On top of maintaining his own projects, he says he’s focusing on being a parent and husband and making up for time lost in his position as Superintendent.
Once he hit ten years in the office, Henson said he felt like he had done what he wanted, it was time to hand it over to someone else for their impressions and interpretations. Though retiring from his career, he didn’t fade into obscurity. With Stan Helton asking him to sit on the Board of Tax Assessors and others still seeking advice and counsel, he simply transitioned once more.
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.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County School System has updated their announcements saying that they will be canceling school Thursday, instead of an early release. While they will hold a partial day for staff, they will release at 1 p.m. in order to allow for those wishing to attend services.
The school has also added details about Thursday’s After School Activities in their announcement as follows:
To honor and remember Gilmer Middle School Principal Larry Walker, we plan to cancel classes for all students and hold an in-service day for staff only on Thursday 9/20/18 releasing early at 1:00 so that staff and students who wish to attend funeral services may do so.
Updated Extra Curricular Activities:
GHS Athletic Activities for Thursday 9/20/18:
JV Football will be at home vs. Lumpkin 5:30
Volleyball will be at Fannin (Fannin/Pickens) 6:00
Softball will be at home (varsity only) for senior night vs. Pickens 5:45
Football and Cheer: Rescheduled from 9/20/18 to 9/19/18 at Fannin
Softball: Rescheduled from 9/20/18 to 9/19/18 at Fannin City Park
Tennis: Plans Pending
ELLIJAY, Ga – With the school system still reeling from the death of Gilmer Middle School Principal Larry Walker, official announcements are coming for the next step.
With preparations made, the family will receive visitors on Wednesday at Bernhardt Funeral Home from 2 p.m to 8 p.m. The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday at First Baptist Church. However, according to the Gilmer County School System, a request has been by Bernhardt that parents and students attend a live feed of the funeral at the Ellijay Elementary School Auditorium.
Furthermore, the school system is officially announcing that it will be dismissing class early on Thursday for students and staff wishing to attend the event. While the specifics are yet to be finalized, the School System’s Facebook page updated confirming the early release.
Citizens across the county are continuing the mourning process and many more have begun using the #OneGilmer to unify the county. Others have adopted a “Larry-ism” as some call them, saying that Mr. Walker would be telling them to #FinishTheDrill. Just a few examples of the community like these show exactly how deeply this one man touched others.
A memorial fund has been established for the family of Larry Walker. Donations may be made to the “Larry Walker Memorial Fund” at any United Community Bank. While the school has already held a special meeting at the Middles School Gym last Sunday, September 16, for counselors and ministers to aid those in grief, the County’s mourning is far from over.
Continuing the conversation on the tragedy in the community, Good Morning From The Office held a talk with Dr. David Markwell, Licensed and Board Certified Professional Counselor, about the situation and the coping process.
ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer students and staff are waking to awful news this morning as reports are coming in about a tragedy involving Gilmer Middle School Principal Larry Walker.
The news came late in the night as Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs says she alerted her administration and the schools. Making the news public, the schools are already preparing a welcoming of those in need as they make available counselors and ministers today at 2 p.m. An official statement from the school is as follows:
It is with the heaviest of hearts and many prayers that we make our community aware of the passing of beloved Gilmer Middle School Principal, Larry Walker, following a tragic accident late yesterday. We wake this morning deeply saddened and shocked. Our district is in the process of making arrangements for counselors and our local ministry to help our staff and students in this time of great sadness. The Gilmer Middle School Gym will be open today at 2:00 with counselors and members of our local ministry available.
His death comes from an accident involving a tractor. As the family makes preparations, the school system is in mourning as they await further details.
ELLIJAY, GA – Due to citizens asking and continued confusion in the community, the Gilmer Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes asked Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley to explain the situation of stadium parking at their August Meeting.
Foley explained that the high school has discussed in previous years the option of charging for parking at the football stadium. She stated other schools in the region charge for parking and the thought arose to use the parking to aid in funding our other sports programs.
Early in discussions, Foley states, a post reached Facebook about the charge before discussions had concluded causing confusion on what it would be and how it would be collected.
At the meeting, Principal Foley clarified that other sports programs are going to be present at home games to collect a donation for parking. At the end of the season, the donations will be divided out among the programs involved. Foley also stated that the collection is a donation, and not mandatory for parking.
Additionally, Foley reminded citizens that the parking lots will continue to have a transit system in place to take spectators from the lots to the stadium via bus.