ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer citizens are finally getting a first look at designs and plans for the newest addition to the Gilmer County Charter School System.
While the plans are available to the public for viewing, Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs made sure to note that the plans are still in their preliminary stage. These plans can and probably will change in the coming months as the Board, Administration, Breaux & Associations Architects, and Charles Black Construction Company alter and address issues during the project.
During their recent meeting, the Board of Education noted that the plans for the new school were a “compact design” based on visits and analysis of another school they visited in March. The compact design is helpful with the school’s position as the Board wants to take advantage of the higher ground at the location.
The green line in the plans indicates a hill that will be cut and “tabletopped.” This allows the school to sit on earth that the Breaux & Associates Architects representative said is already “compacted by nature,” instead of sitting of fill dirt or looser foundations that might cause differential settlements.
The compact design will only cover 86,000 square feet in the school building alone, with a 212 car parking lot and space for bus traffic, playgrounds, and extra space unused in the current plan.
The third page shows the interior layout of classrooms with the central “core” being facilities including the cafeteria, gym, media center, offices, and more. Additionally, the architects have already left space on the ends of the wings for further expansion.
Additional design points are yet to be finalized, but the architects pointed out considerations for stonework on the exterior and skylights in the central area of the four-classroom “pods.”
Current plans are to finish designs by the end of 2019 in order to bid and begin construction in early 2020. They also indicated that they hope to have construction done and the school in use by the 2021-22 school year.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Approaching the coming school year, the Gilmer Board of Education is covering last minute changes to the coming year with their July Meeting.
Receiving some good news, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs informed the board that while the State originally told them they would not be receiving bond money for bus purchases, they will now be receiving enough for two more buses.
Instead of increasing the planned four buses to six now, Downs recommended the board continue with four bus purchases using two from the state bond money and two from the school systems ESPLOST.
Reducing the ESPLOST purchase from four to two, according to Downs, will allow the BOE to save more money to put towards their construction projects like Clear Creek Elementary School.
As of now, the BOE approved maintaining four bus purchases and they are currently leaning towards continuing to purchase gas buses instead of Diesel.
The board also had last minute changes to Personnel as some resignations and staffing coming even between the Work Session and Regular Meeting in July.
Dr. Downs said the last minute changes are not unusual during this time of the year, even coming in so close to that start of the new school year. The BOE approved Personnel unanimously.
Additionally, the board’s agreement with the Boys and Girls Club of Gilmer was renewed with Boardmember Jim Parmer clarifying that the agreement covered changes to the systems elementary school redistricting done earlier this year.
The School System, said Downs, had already thought about these needs and addressed them in the agreement. The unanimous approval will continue with the school providing transportation to the Boys and Girls Club.
Installation of the new Centigex Security systems is also moving forward with final challenges coming through incorporating the different intercom systems in the different schools. However, Downs told the board that the new badges are being distributed and are already set for codes to instantly alert proper authorities to the level of incidents.
Downs also assured the board that she fully expected the installations to be resolved before school starts.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Despite a delay preventing them from announcing the millage rate at their work session earlier this week, the Gilmer County Board of Education announced and approved advertisement of the 2019 Millage Rate on July 25, 2019.
Looking at the tax digest representing a 3.33 percent increase in the net digest, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs recommended the Board stated to the Board, “After accounting for the reassessment of real property and the inflationary growth, the calculation of our 2019 Rollback Millage Rate is projected to be 14, 248 mills.”
Board Member Jim Parmer questioned how major the difference would be between the current and rollback rates. Downs answered him saying, “Not much.”
With the Superintendents recommendation, the motion to acceptance of the Rollback rate was unanimously approved for advertisement.
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.
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.”
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.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Two coaches spoke during the Gilmer Board of Education’s (BOE) Public Comments this week on a policy change close to approval.
The item is in its second reading this month for the BOE and is set for the vote on Thursday, March 21, 2019. The contention on the policy comes with changes to Community Coaches. The policy, IDFC Community Coaches, is seeing changes in requirements, pay, and eligibility for those wishing to serve, as noticed by the strikes and bold print in the policy. Those who spoke had each had one issue in common, though. The pay limit on community coaches, “lay coaches” as they are also called.
First to speak, Softball Coach Kim Charles addressed the board saying that as a head coach, she had always wanted to make the major decisions for her team. She felt that the revision was restrictive to the teams who use lay coaches more. She advocated for these coaches calling them “great people” and “very involved in the community.” She went further saying she wanted to remain loyal to these lay coaches who have and will serve in sports programs to the benefit of the students involved.
Charles said she didn’t want this to be a cut to current coaches, turning into a force to drive off those who have volunteered loyally over the years. She said they are the ones who have tried so hard to build and improve the kids when the head coaches need help. These coaches, said Charles, have proven themselves in their areas. She also pointed out that several of the sports that have seen success over the years have had long years of the same lay coaches, providing the stability needed to foster that kind of success.
Second to speak, Track Coach Josh Snider echoed the feelings that restricting and limiting the community coaches of the county would only detriment the sports and those students involved. He noted that the track programs work with three lay coaches and go through certifications at their own costs to become certified for their positions. The revisions in this policy also require GHSA community coach training and a rules clinic and assessment to become certified to coach their desired sport.
Snider also commented that he wanted to add to the policy that community coaches might also have their past experience in the sport with Gilmer Schools under consideration when they apply. When this is considered, Snider noted you might have a coach who meets the requirements but didn’t “mesh well” with the coaching staff or students in that sport.
He further agreed with the sentiments spoken by Charles as he noted several sports who are seeing success and past lay coaches who have also been well received and went on to further and enhance their sports and areas.
The third speaker, District Athletic Director Rodney Walker, began his address quoting a statistic of Gilmer Schools utilizing 75 percent of its coaches as certified staff coaches and 25 percent of them as lay coaches. Walker urged the board to move forward with the revisions. Though he said he had no issue with lay coaches, he noted that having so many puts the county at risk. He said he was thankful that the county had many willing to serve and admitted that there has been success with community coaching. Walker pointed out that the intent isn’t to get rid of lay coaches, instead limiting them in favor of certified personnel.
Walker said, “There’s no way that a guy that goes to college, or a lady goes to college, and they train and they get paid to do this job. And then we’re bringing people off the streets, and they may be good people, they may be great people, great coaches. But they shouldn’t make the same thing as a certified personnel. That’s just not right.” Walker pushed for the limited pay saying that the county needs to hire the best qualified people to teach in the school and be a part of the programs.
Walker also noted accusations that the revisions was put in place to give the football coaches more money. He said they have one coach they hired. He also said they were fortunate enough last year to have hired three coaches that now coach a second sport. He noted that his biggest push was to get coaches who are also in the school teaching. Walker said that these coaches who teach and coach build better relationships saying, “If we can get these people in the building, that’s what I think helps. You can’t tell me it doesn’t help to be able to have them.”
Ultimately, Walker said he is trying to take care of the system, to protect it.
This issue is already in the second reading before the board, meaning that if citizens are wishing to speak at the meeting or weigh in on the subject they must sign up with the Superintendent before Thursday to be allowed to speak at the regular session. Additionally, citizens are encouraged to speak with board-members about how they want their district’s representative to vote.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Walk into a restaurant and check the health scores, chances are, you won’t see a lot of 100’s. Sure, you will, hopefully, see a lot of high 90’s scores, but not that elusive 100.
This week, however, the Gilmer County School’s Nutrition Services not only managed to score a 100 in the latest health inspection, but they found that score in every school within the system.
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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With a few changes in details sparked from a recent state committee wanting state control over calendars, the Gilmer BOE is moving forward with its annual community vote.
Citizens are encouraged to visit the Gilmer County Charter School System website in order to participate in a vote over six possible calendars created by the schools in our county.
As educators and administrators have spent the last few months considering and creating the calendars up for the vote, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said they have actually identified which school created the calendar this year.
She said in February’s work session that she hopes this furthers peoples’ understanding that these options are not just thrown together, but planned and meticulously built by the schools for the school’s and student’s needs.
Downs is asking citizens to “Please review each of the calendars carefully, vote for the calendar of your choice, and remind others to vote as well.” The survey will be posted until March 8. After that, the results will be presented at the March 18 work session.
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.