Teacher’s arrest causes tension as BOE considers resignation

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Last week’s news of a teacher’s arrest on charges of allegedly carrying out an inappropriate relationship with a student resulted in the following day a letter of resignation submitted to the Gilmer County Board of Education.

This culminated at the Board’s meeting when voting on personnel. Nathan Sutton’s, the teacher in question, resignation was a part of the agenda item.

Board member Ronald Watkins asked to vote on Sutton’s resignation separate from the other personnel changes. While the general personnel passed without issue, Sutton’s resignation was questioned.

Watkins said he wanted the Board to not accept his resignation as it allows him to part from the school board with a letter of resignation rather than being fired for the incident. Watkins referenced another recent resignation, saying it was similarly a situation of allowing a resignation before an investigation could prove any improper behavior.

While the Board was originally split with Board member Tom Ocobock saying he agreed that he wanted it to say on record that he was fired. Ocobock also indicated that he didn’t want Sutton “let off” with a resignation after the alleged incident. This was stressed even further as they both noted Sutton’s alleged confession.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Ronald Watkins

However, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs suggested to the board that the school system would proceed with whatever they voted, she counseled them to accept the resignation on the grounds that the if the Board wished to proceed with firing him instead, they would reject the resignation and continue paying Sutton as a teacher and keeping him as an employee, at least on paper, until the proceeding could go forward with the schools firing policy. With the investigation and the school board’s process to fire him. It could take up to a couple months or even 90 days was suggested as an extreme possibility.

Some of the complicating factors revolved around the victim not being a student anymore, new policy updates for Title 9 with the schools, and proceeding with the termination in face of a resignation letter.

Downs said that she has already filed paperwork with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) for an ethics complaint on record regarding the incident, and that the police would be moving forward with their investigation. The complaint with the GaPSC also requested to pull Sutton’s certificate for education.

According to the GaPSC website:

Title 20, Education, of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.), outlines the legal guidelines, which govern the state education program.

Title 20 creates the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) and assigns it responsibility for providing a regulatory system for “certifying and classifying” professional employees in public schools. Title 20 also requires the professional employees of all Georgia public schools to hold state certification.

Downs added that the resignation allows the board to separate from Sutton immediately without the full process of investigating themselves and firing Sutton on those grounds. She said that as far as him going to another school or getting another job, there was little difference in firing Sutton or accepting the resignation. The difference was in paying him until they could fire him or terminating the contract now.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Tom Ocobock

Ocobock said that he still wanted him fired, but with Downs saying she had filed the complaint and as long as he could not go to another school for a job, he was okay with the resignation path of separation.

However, Watkins still pushed for the official process saying that he was really discouraged that he has had two people know that will be allowed to resign instead of being fired. He stated, “I want to know how bad something has got to be to where I can fire someone.”

Indeed, with a motion on the floor to accept the resignation, Watkins made his official motion to proceed with the firing process. The motion did not receive a second and died. However, the Board then proceeded with approving the motion to accept Sutton’s resignation 4-0 with Watkins abstaining.

Watkins did make one comment saying he felt he was appearing like “the bad guy” because he abstained from the resignation, but was reassured by other Board members. Ocobock told him he wasn’t the bad guy saying, “You’ve got to think about what it’s going to cost the school and the disruption in the high school where now we’ve got to find another teacher to replace him.”

State Superintendent Richard Woods visits Ellijay Elementary

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Group at Ellijay Elementary

ELLIJAY, Ga. – On a tour through several schools in North Georgia, the State Superintendent Richard Woods visited Ellijay Elementary School last week to tour the school and speak with administrators on the beginning of the new school term considering much of the changes and challenges this year.

State Superintendent Richard Woods speaks with administrators at Ellijay Elementary during a tour of schools as they return to class.

State Superintendent Richard Woods speaks with administrators at Ellijay Elementary during a tour of schools as they return to class.

Woods arrived at Ellijay Elementary late in the day to see how the school handles transportation, social distancing, and cleanliness and prevention practices during that process.

Met by school administrators and Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Woods toured part of the school and spoke about the challenges that schools are seeing as they return to class. Through the line-up, car window tags, and computer system for parents picking up students, Woods saw the stream-lined system the Ellijay Elementary uses to identify parents, call for the student, and allow students into cars one at a time with space between.

In addition to this, Woods viewed several classes lining up for buses. Through the redistricting that Gilmer did last year, less buses come through the elementary school and reach homes far faster. This means less time on the bus, and less time spent with students from other schools.

As a part of the loading process, school personnel and the bus drivers spray sanitizer on students hands before the enter the buses and use assigned seating for students on the bus. Administrators also told Woods that, when possible, family members are kept together on the bus as well.

Personnel and Bus Drivers spray hand sanitizer on students hands as they line up to get on buses at the end of the school day.

Personnel and Bus Drivers spray hand sanitizer on students hands as they line up to get on buses at the end of the school day.

Woods also asked about the sports program at stadiums with schools returning to football. Dr. Downs replied saying they would be requesting those displaying symptoms stay home, and would be encouraging social distancing with fans. Yet, they did not want to distribute limited tickets to families as they had dealt with similar issues in previous years at graduation.

Continuing along, Woods has been asking the schools he visits how he and the state could help.

Dr. Downs noted that teachers in the state are not considered essential employees by the governor. That moniker means something as teachers who may have a possible exposure through detailed contact tracing or similar means are being sent home to quarantine for 14 days. Gilmer has had issue here as people who aren’t sick are being forced to go home. Some flexibility in the area could mean a world of difference.

Dr. Downs said that someone who may have had a possible contact could come to work with an N95 mask and fall under daily monitoring and observation. This way, at the first sign of any issue, they could be sent home then, but many teachers have been identified as a possible contact and gone through quarantine without ever getting sick or showing any signs. Downs added that those who feel the need to quarantine could still follow that procedure.

Dr. Shanna Downs, Lauree Pierce, Richard Woods, and Melinda Fonteboa pose for a photo during Woods visit to Ellijay Elementary School.

Dr. Shanna Downs, Lauree Pierce, Richard Woods, and Melinda Fonteboa pose for a photo during Woods visit to Ellijay Elementary School.

Downs clarified that they don’t want to put sick people in school, but rather avoid stigma and over-reactions to extended contact tracing that is sending a large number of people home and putting a strain on the school system which is struggling to provide substitute teachers. This comes from a dwindling pool of substitutes as those “at-risk” have decided not to substitute for the schools this year.

As the visit neared its end, Woods said he understands that every county is adjusting to their own needs and a “one-size-fits-all approach” would never have worked. But he made the visits to see the schools and hear their needs.

Woods is set to return to the state department and share all that he saw and learned from his tour. He has said that he wants the state to continue supporting the counties in their individual responses.

Woods said, “Please let us know how we can help and things that we can do to support what you all are doing… Success happens her.”

Gilmer Schools returns to free meals with USDA funding

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Charter Schools has stated today that they will begin offering free meals of both lunches and breakfasts to all students attending classes in person on Gilmer campuses.

According to their statement, “Effective Tuesday, September 8,2020 all Gilmer County Schools will begin serving free breakfast and lunch meals to all students attending in person classes.” This does not rely on applications or normal free and reduced lunches with the school’s normal program.

Gilmer Schools has operated for years in programs like “Seamless Summer,” pictured here, where they provide meals to students during the summer. Other programs like “Seamless Lunches” have branched off of the same idea due to needs arising, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak this year.

System administration said today that the USDA is the source of funding for lunches for the remainder of this semester only. Gilmer Schools has already moved to free breakfasts in the past in efforts to increase participation. They also provided lunches through bus routes in March, earlier this year, for students as a part of a “Seamless Lunches” program feeding kids during the school year. The school year was cut off due to COVID-19 outbreak. That program fed students as they adapted to classes at home and “distance learning” under quarantines as the outbreak first spread.

Today, the new program is set to continue free meals until December 31, 2020. The school system said, “This will allow the school nutrition program to serve nutritious meals to all students who attend in person classes, at no cost to families. Students who purchased a school lunch September 1-4, 2020 will be issued a credit on their meal accounts.”

The program ends over the break between semesters and usual meal prices will resume in January, 2021.

Administration said they “strongly encourage families to complete an application for free and reduced meals” before then.

Lunch price for elementary and middle school students is $2.15 and $2.30 for high school students. Reduced price lunches are $.40 for all grade levels.

Along with the information they gave, GCCS said, “We understand that these are trying times for everyone and are hoping this will relieve some of the financial hardship that is being felt by many in our community. If you have any questions, please contact the School Nutrition Office at (706) 276-5000.”

Board of Education advertises Millage Rate

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rate

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education presented advertising for their 5 year Tax history and a Tentative Millage Rate to seek final approval in August.

Looking back over recent years and comparing to 2020, the digest saw an overall 4.6 percent increase countywide. According to Director of Finance Trina Penland, the county’s exemptions increase by 3 percent as well. Part of the increase came from a senior’s exemption increase of roughly 10 percent.

According to Penland, Gilmer is the only county that has unlimited senior exemptions in the tax digest. But because that exemption is a local exemption, the school still pays taxes to the state on the funds not collected due to the exemption.

The current millage rate sits at 14.248 mills for the Board of Education. As they look at the calculated rollback rate to prevent them from collecting any more that last year, Penland presented the Rollback Rate to the board at 13.963 mills.

If the board does not accept the Rollback Rate, Penland stated they would be collecting an additional $351,000.

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs presented her recommendation that the board accept the Rollback Rate, and with a motion and second, the board unanimously approved the rate.

Millage Rate

Gilmer County Board of Education’s Director of Finance Trina Penland

Additionally, Board Member Jim Parmer, stated that he appreciated the work that the finance staff and Dr. Downs put in. He went on to say, “Honestly, If we were going to do furlough days, I would say let’s keep our rate. But ya’ll have said you’re not doing that…”

Through additional discussions, Penland stated that the Rollback should collect just over $17 million. But adding in a look at the history, Penland stated, “If you look back at the history. When you look back in 2009, that was before the first recession, the school collected $24.7 million in property tax revenue. We have cut back. We have cut programs, benefits. We have cut everything to be as close as we can on the budget.”

She also noted several rollbacks including one that rolled back more than the recommended rate.

The Rollback Rate will go through the advertisement process and see final approval in August before sending the rate to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners for their approval alongside their millage rate and implementation into the new tax year.

Employee from February incident out on bond

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Mary Elaine Newberry, bond

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – February saw a threat and incident at the Gilmer Schools’ Transportation Depot as a single woman allegedly walked into the facility with a firearm. Now, nearly 150 days later, Mary Newberry has left the detention center on bond.

Allegedly the woman behind the incident, she faces felony charges of Aggravated Assault and Carrying a Weapon in School Safety Zone among others, according to information on the Sheriff’s website for the Detention Center. She also face misdemeanor charges of Simple Battery, Pointing or Aiming a gun at another, and Loitering at or Disrupting Schools.

CCMS Clear Creek Middle, bond

Clear Creek Middle School in Gilmer County 

Posting the bond late last week after it was set by Superior Court Judge John Worcester, she has been placed under 15 conditions according to documents filed with the Clerk of Superior Court.

Those conditions include the bond payment, house arrest, “no contact” orders with a 500-foot distance for witnesses and alleged victims, “no contact” orders including a 500-foot distance from properties of the Gilmer County Charter School System, restrictions on employment with any school system, ankle monitoring, restrictions from firearms, voluntary searches, and other restrictions against committing crimes in general.

In addition, the documents do reference a reasoning as for the bond coming now. The documents stated that both parties “have reached a consent agreement (due to the alleged present physical health conditions of the defendant at the request of the Gilmer County Jail) to the amount of bond and the conditions of bond for the Defendant…”

The alleged incident occurred on the afternoon of February 27, 2020, around 1:30 p.m. and caused the nearby Clear Creek Middle School to go into a “precautionary lock-down.”

As Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs reported at the time, there were no injuries from the incident.

Gilmer Schools asks for opinion on exempting Georgia from Testing and CCRPI

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2020-201 Calendar, graduation, Renovations, Financial Distinction, return, testing, resignation

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer Schools is reaching out to parents, students, educators, and citizens to offer their opinions on Milestones testing and the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) through a survey.

Although linked on Gilmer Schools’ social media, the Georgia Department of Education is marked atop the survey as they seek a response about their request for waivers of these annual tests and reports

According to a joint statement from Governor Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods of the Georgia Department of Education:

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we have urged common sense regarding compliance in Georgia’s public schools, and a focus before anything else on the health, safety, and well-being of students, families, and school staff.

“On March 16, Georgia became one of the first states in the nation to suspend standardized testing requirements in the wake of the COVID-19 school closures, and later received approval from the U.S. Department of Education for the cancelation of all remaining standardized tests in the 2019-2020 school year.

“Given the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic and the resulting state budget reductions, it would be counterproductive to continue with high-stakes testing for the 2020-2021 school year. In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth, and the safety of students. Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.

“Georgia will submit a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education for the suspension of the 2020-21 Georgia Milestones assessment and CCRPI school and district rating. To our knowledge, Georgia is the first state in the nation to make this announcement for the upcoming school year. Additionally, effective immediately, the Georgia Department of Education is suspending the teacher evaluation (TKES) summative rating for 2020-21.

“These efforts are in line with our longstanding shared belief that assessment has a place and a purpose in education, but the current high-stakes testing regime is excessive. Though the legislative session was shortened due to COVID-19, we are continuing to pursue Senate Bill 367, which aims to get Georgia’s state testing requirements in line with the federal minimum and maximize time for instruction.

“We are hopeful the federal government will recognize that the upcoming school year will not be ‘business as usual’ and will accept our request for a standardized testing waiver.”

The posted survey asks which county you live in and if you agree or disagree with this request, but also leaves ares for comments and written opinions on the topics as well.

FYN reached out today to Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs for comment on the waiver and the survey and is currently awaiting response.

BOE enters July without Budget as they await State information

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instructions, budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Despite a back and forth with state and Georgia Board of Education officials, Gilmer is still awaiting details to approve its budget for  2020-2021 school year. A now officially-approved spending resolution is allowing them to move forward despite that obstacle alongside other financial approvals for past budget and purchases.

The resolution came with itemized reports for extra expenses for academic supplies and subscriptions as reported in BOE to seek spending resolution tomorrow. utilizing one-twelfth, equivalent to one month, of the final amended budget from the previous year.

In their monthly purchasing policy report, the schools are continuing to expand the chromebook ratio to students as previous discussions show that the board is preparing for possibilities to return or not return to school in the fall. These discussions could see a final decision in July. The purchasing policy showed $49,140 for Chromebooks across Clear Creek Elementary School, Ellijay Elementary School, and Mountainview Elementary this month.

The board also approved their academic supplements for FY 21 including instructors and coaches for several extracurricular “academic” teams. Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs explained that some changes from last year and inclusion of Winterguard and Band in the Academic Teams as it is not recognized as a sport yet by GHSA.

A GHS Furniture purchase also saw approval as Downs explained that the “not to exceed $125,000” recommendation was to ensure any surprises as outfitting a number of rooms and spaces including mostly science classrooms.

Moving forward with their meetings into the year, the board is changing on date in September now that they have found the approved school calendar will coincide their September meetings with Fall break. Therefore, they approved a change moving the meeting dates from September 21 and 24 to its new date of September 14 and 17.

BOE to seek spending resolution tomorrow

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Gilmer BOE 2019, school closed, Graduation, Board, Education, Spending Resolution

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Because the State has not yet passed a budget for FY 21 it has been recommended across the state that districts pass a spending resolution for July until we receive final numbers,” said Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs at this week’s work session of the Board of Education.

A Spending Resolution, Downs explained, will allow use of one-twelfth, equivalent to one month, of the final amended budget from the previous year. Allowing for debt service and capital expenditures, Downs said that Gilmer has a number of items that are mostly curriculum related subscriptions. The entire Itemized List is included in the Spending Resolution posted by the BOE on their website. This list is set to be voted on tomorrow. These items must be approved above the one-twelfth allowed spending resolution.

The resolution will move the board into its new fiscal year without a fully approved budget as they await those numbers of the state budget and what that will allow for the county in state money.

Additionally, the board will be voting to approve their Financial Summary. Comparing with April of last year as the board begins looking at what financial impact the outbreak of COVID-19 has had, Board Member Tom Ocobock made note that, financially, it wasn’t as bad as some expected. According to the summary, April of 2019 saw revenues at $35,804,009, and April of 2020 saw revenues at $37,638,750. The difference totals a $1,834,741 increase.

Another financial vote to be held will be for Budget amendments. Downs noted that this could  include shortfalls, carry over, and even additions from state funding. This budget amendment for approval is the “Budget Amendment for Grants” and will also be up for vote at tomorrow’s 5:30 p.m. Regular Meeting for the Gilmer Board of Education alongside the Spending Resolution and Financial Summary.

BOE receives Financial Distinction award again

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2020-201 Calendar, graduation, Renovations, Financial Distinction, return, testing, resignation

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Gilmer has won a Financial Distinction award again this year as it draws closer to the end of its 2019-2020 year.

Won it “again” because it is starting to become a common thing in Gilmer Schools Administration as the financial department, led by Director of Finance Trina Penland, won the award last year and the year before. They also received the award two years prior, meaning that while this is the third year in a row that Gilmer Schools and Penland have achieved this award, it is actually the fourth time in five years that they have gotten it.

While a representative from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts was not at Gilmer’s meeting to deliver the award this year as they have done previously, Downs said this was due to the current outbreak situation, they did deliver their congratulations through Dr. Downs saying that they wanted to make the board aware of another year of excellence.

The “Award of Distinction for Excellent Financial Reporting for Fiscal Year 19,” as Down named it, is rare among the counties that are reported under this group. While the Board of Education and Penland did not know the numbers this year, previous reports on FYN confirmed that only 32 of the 159 entities audited in 2018 and only 27 of the 150 entities audited in 2017 received this award.

Dr. Downs accredited the hard work of the the entire Financial Department and Trina Penland as the Director to not only have achieved this goal once, but three times in a row. These awards are not just for one area, but include requirements from reporting, annual audits, and documentation.

Gilmer updates Graduation plans with tentative dates

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Gilmer BOE 2019, school closed, Graduation, Board, Education, Spending Resolution

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Students are getting more updates as the administrative staff of both Gilmer High School and the Gilmer County School System continue working towards tentative dates for graduation ceremonies for seniors this year.

Throughout April, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs has constantly updated parents and students of their work to offer recognition and honor for these students despite the viral outbreak and shutdown. That continued with their Special Called Meeting this week as Downs revealed specific dates for their plans.

Dr. Downs did say “tentative” dates for these events as the school system is still planning and looking at the changing environment.

The current plan does include other grades as those schools wish to hold a celebration for their students to collect some items they may have left, to see friends and teachers, and to provide a little closure to the school year.

Ellijay Elementary School will hold theirs on July 6, 2020. Clear Creek Elementary School and Mountain View Elementary School will hold theirs on July 8, 2020. Clear Creek Middle School will be held on July 9, 2020. Specific times or a time range have not been set yet as plans and events continue to formulate.

Answering the most asked question of recent weeks, Gilmer is attempting to address both Graduation and Prom this year. Dr. Downs announced during the meeting that they are looking to hold their actual graduation ceremony on July 17, 2020, with prom the Friday before, July 10, 2020. Again, the specific time has not been finalized yet, though some time slots are already being considered.

Gilmer is, currently, still planning on a televised recognition video on May 22, 2020, in recognition of students and their honors and achievements, but also wants to give students the actual chance to hold their real graduation in July. Filming will be going on in early May as students, staff, and the school board plan to be a part of the video.

 

Seamless feeding set to transition to Seamless Summer in May

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs took a few moments to correct some confusion among the community this week addressing the Seamless Feeding program.

The current bus routes and Seamless Feeding Program will continue through May 22, originally scheduled as the last day of school, according to Downs.

She went on to say, “After May 22, normally, post-planning, we do not do meals. However, given to the current situation, I’ve asked Ms. Waters to just immediately transition into the Summer Feeding Program.”

Also due to the current situation, this year’s summer program will be drastically different. Maintaining the social distancing orders, there will not be the same level of engagement possible as usual. Dr. Downs said that this year, volunteers will not be staying for hours as they have normally done activities like reading, coloring, or playing games among others.

This year, the program will only have four sites with the food coming from the Mountain View cafeteria. Those deliveries will occur very similar to how the feeding program is going now, bringing the meals and passing them out while maintaining distancing orders. They will then leave the sites shortly after. Downs said that while the program may have lasted from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. most days, these sites will likely be closer to 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

These sites will include Tower Road, Mulberry Street, the Gilmer Health Department, and Ellijay First United Methodist Church.

The school system is still concerned with finding volunteers to help and trying to fill gaps with some administrative staff where possible.

The program will see a gap on Memorial Day, but will continue on May 26 as normal.

Superintendent releases email to parents and seniors about graduation

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Gilmer BOE 2019, school closed, Graduation, Board, Education, Spending Resolution

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer Seniors received good news about Graduation during the Board of Education’s April Regular Meeting as Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs read an email that was sent from Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley.

The email noted details about the plans for graduation as well as a recognition on May 22, 2020. While some of these are similar to plans discussed earlier in the week at the work session, final details came through the email.

Foley said, “While we must wait to hold a large gathering, we do not want to let May 22nd pass without celebration.”

The school will give each senior an opportunity to walk across the field and receive their diploma with their parents and family members close by. They will video each senior having their name announced and receiving their diploma. Then, after having the videos = edited together, the plan is to air the Class of 2020 commencement proceedings on ETC 3 at 7 p.m. on May 22nd.

While these are the current plans as Gilmer will not be returning to class this year, the plans are in effort, according to Downs, to provide some closure to the year for these students through a graduation as well as a recognition day.

Downs did provide the specific details from the email later: 

  • Seniors will be able to pick up their caps and gowns at GHS on Thursday, April 23rd, between 12-3pm. Please enter the GHS campus via Old 5 and Bobcat Trail, and follow the signs and directions.

  • At that time, each senior will be given a paper with a number (1-265), date (May 6th-8th), and time (9am-3pm) to arrive at Huff-Mosely Stadium, via Bobcat Trail, behind the Larry Walker Education Center. You will not be allowed to enter the stadium via Old 5 or Legion Road.

  • Seniors and their family members (1 carload – maximum 6 occupants, including the senior) will arrive at LWEC no earlier than 15 minutes before your assigned time.

  • We will be working in groups of 5 seniors at a time. The first 5 cars, in numeric order, will be lined up and directed around the LWEC toward the visitor entrance of the stadium.

  • The first senior and his/her family will enter the stadium and check in at the table, and proceed to the podium. In order for seniors to participate in the walking ceremony/taping, all fines and fees must be paid in full. Look for an email indicating if your child owes any money for fees or fines.

  • Once that senior leaves the check in table, the next senior and their family will get out of their car, enter the stadium, and check in, and so on. Please do not leave your car until directed to do so by a Gilmer County Sheriff’s officer.

  • At the podium, the senior’s name will be announced, along with any academic awards and scholarships from the Gilmer Education Foundation they have received. (Applications for Gilmer Education Foundation scholarships are due by noon, on Monday, April 20th, to your child’s counselor)

  • The senior will then proceed to the middle of the field to receive their diploma cover and a folder with additional awards and scholarship information from me, and Superintendent, Dr. Downs. Actual diplomas will be mailed to students after May 22nd. Students need to complete the following Google Form to indicate where their diploma should be mailed: https://forms.gle/RFVfJEVViSNpRwsZA

  • Next, the senior will go to a table to pick up their yearbook. If you haven’t ordered your child’s yearbook yet, it is not too late. You can order online at: https://tinyurl.com/y8rz5q8y , or you can order and pay in person when your child comes to pick up their cap and gown on April 23rd.

  • Finally, there will be a place on the field where parents and family members can take pictures with your senior.

  • Each senior will be given 15-minutes on the field from check-in to picture taking. Please honor this time in order to keep the number of people on the field to a safe capacity for all involved.

  • If you cannot make the date/time you have been assigned, please let me know ASAP. A few time slots will be available on Saturday, May 9th, from 10:30-12:00.

  • If your child will not be participating in this ceremony, please have your child notify their counselor ASAP.

 

Foley also said that the school will plan a graduation event in which all seniors and their families can meet on the field and celebrate their accomplishments should current circumstances change over the summer. “We just don’t want to miss the opportunity to provide something at this time.”

Superintendent addresses schools after closure extension

Community

East Ellijay, Ga. – After the recent release from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announcing an extension of school closures, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs offered an email for staff about the extension.

Downs said, “As you are aware, our schools will remain closed until at least April 26, 2020. This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone.”

Gilmer Schools originally closed until March 20, but mere days later, after an executive order from Kemp extended closures to March 31, Gilmer’s BOE went a step further extending it to April 3, 2020, butting up against their Spring Break, April 4 -12. Now, another order is extending it again.

Addressing concerns from students, parents, and citizens about upcoming events. Downs said that the board does not have answers for everything yet, but is working towards those answers while maintaining the current education cycle and Seamless Feeding Program for families.

Downs said, “I have received messages from students who miss their friends, have anxiety about their grades and graduation, and are worried about their own loved ones getting sick – all while still dealing with many non-coronavirus challenges in their lives. I have spoken to parents and caregivers who are worried about losing their jobs, paying rent, and providing 24/7 childcare for their children. I have heard from teachers and staff who have expressed how hard it has been to cope with the abrupt separation from their students while also dealing with their own family struggles. Sadly, things are likely to get even more challenging over the next several weeks. There are many questions about how extended school closures will affect school life like grades, promotion, prom, graduation, and so much more. We are working to develop the best answers possible to those questions.”

However, Downs went on to add a message of hope for staff. She thanked the educations staff, from teachers and administrators to office and support staff saying, “There is no doubt that we are in uncharted territory and an unprecedented time; however, fear will not take us anywhere. We need to be proactive and kind to one another as we stay as safe as possible. We are resilient people. We are all extremely proud of your commitment to our vision and mission during this most trying time.”

As the Superintendent, Downs said she was very proud of the teamwork and commitment being displayed not just to our school system, but to the community at large. She made special note of transportation and nutrition staff working in the Seamless Feeding Program.

Downs final note in the email came as a focus for the future:

Let us keep our current mission at the forefront of our minds:

1)      Teach our students to the best of our ability—We will face challenges and things will not be perfect. As long as we are teaching to the best of our ability and circumstances, we will be successful.

2)     Feed our students—Any hungry children that we might reach.

3)     Do our part to “Flatten the Curve”—Work from home, social distance, and for those still reporting limit contact as much as possible.

Changing instructions generates new response from BOE

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instructions, budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is continuing to change daily amid responses, suggestions, and instructions from state and national levels. The Board of Education is no different as they are developing several changes in their departments like transportation and nutrition as they prepare for the extended shutdown.

A few of those changes have come from established instructions since the beginning of the shutdown. Now, principals and schools administrators are expanding efforts to keep employees working and being paid despite the absence of students. The school system has already publicized efforts to keep teaching students during this time through paper packets in the lower grades and tablets and online learning for the upper grades.

Now, attention has fallen to the less publicized areas as the school attempts to expand its efforts to hourly employees. While the original response sent many hourly employees home, instead asking for volunteers to help support the initiatives like the school feeding program similar to Seamless Summer, now these instructions have changed. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said that legal questions have been raised about allocating public tax funds to employees not working. As such, and upon further consultations with attorneys upon the subject, the schools are expanding efforts and using hourly stuff to reinforce these initiatives to support students outside of the classroom.

In a letter from Superintendent Downs to the staff of Gilmer Schools, she said, “We have received additional legal guidance from Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins in the last couple of days that impacts all of our staff as we look toward more long term closures. Legally, we must document hours to be able to pay hourly employees even during a closure of schools mandated by our Governor. Every staff member will be required to document hours worked. We are asking you for a little grace, patience and understanding as we make decisions throughout the next several days and weeks.”

However, this is not just one area as paraprofessionals, office staff, some nutrition staff, transportation staff, and other hourly workers employees that do not directly interact and teach students will be attending to new work and tasks no usually in their daily routine.

Downs also addressed concerned employees, families, or those that wish to stay home during the Coronavirus shutdown. Downs said that there will be work to be done from home, in isolated offices, or in other forms as assigned by each school’s administrators. Downs said, “There is stuff for people to do, but they are going to do it from home.”

Even those who are coming into the buildings will be working individually in areas that have been cleaned. Additionally, those who need to stay at home will take days of leave through a recent Georgia Act concerning these issues.

With the extra workers supporting the Seamless Feeding program, the schools have altered instructions on how they will be distributing the meals to students in the coming days. In an email released about the changes, Downs said, “The situation seems to be changing daily and we are striving to make the best decisions possible in the interest of student, staff, and community safety. We have no previous experience in this area and will most assuredly make some mistakes in the process.  We will learn and grow together and be stronger as a result.  All of our staff who are physically able, are working either teaching remotely or working to support our students. Our goal is to have only staff critical to serving and transporting meals, building maintenance, and limited technology staff to support student learning entering any of our buildings.”

She also relayed exactly how the schools will be changing and expanding the distribution to incorporate meals and paper assignment packets to students.

Beginning on Wednesday March 25th, buses depart schools at 11:00AM and run standard routes distributing food.  This will allow meals to be distributed directly to the students; however, we will continue to keep our four busiest Seamless Feeding sites open from 11:30-1:00 in addition to these routes.

1)      Tower Road
2)      Mulberry Street Apartments
3)      Ellijay United Methodist Church
4)      Civic Center

Students in grades pre-K through 5 are working on paper assignments that were distributed on the last day of attendance for the first two weeks of closure. New updated packets will be distributed weekly through email, the meal distribution program, and designated pick up locations at the schools. Teachers of students in the elementary grades are also using online means to supplement the instruction. Students in grades 6-12 are assigned Chromebooks so that they can participate in virtual classes and interact with their teachers on a daily basis. For students in these upper grades without internet access, print resources will be distributed in the same manner as the curriculum packets for the lower grades.

School closed in Gilmer in face of Coronavirus

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Gilmer BOE 2019, school closed, Graduation, Board, Education, Spending Resolution

GILMER, Ga. – According to a release from Gilmer County Schools, the system will shut down with school closed next week in the fallout from information and concerns over the Coronavirus in the county.

According to a public release from Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, the closure will last from Monday, March 16, 2020, through Friday, March 20, 2020.

The release states, “Our school district is committed to keeping our community informed about issues relating to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). There are no cases of COVID-19 at any Gilmer County school and currently there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Gilmer County. Our schools are not closing Friday, March 13, 2020, as we need to allow time for students and staff to retrieve needed materials and technology to be prepared for this closure. We will use Digital Learning Days during this closure for 6th-12th grade and paper learning packets for Kindergarten-5th grade to continue teaching and learning.”

Students will be retrieving these materials tomorrow, March 13, in order to follow these instructions next week. The release acknowledges that some hardships will come from this closure but said the plans are being finalized at this time.

While the current announcement is just for the week listed, Downs confirmed that future closures could be possible based on the need saying, “The district will continually review conditions and publish updates. Should additional closures be necessary we will notify you as soon as possible.”

This closure will not just be for students, however. All Gilmer schools and offices will be closed during the week along with all activities including athletics and extracurriculars including GHSA (Georgia High Schools Association) events  being cancelled, and additional closures could continue for these as well.

One point of note for testing, however, Downs said that, currently, SAT testing will still occur this Saturday, March 14, 2020.

With school closed, plans are being made to deep clean the schools and to provide meals in a similar manner to the Seamless Summer Program.

See the full release below:

Gilmer Schools addresses Coronavirus concerns

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GMP, Coronavirus

GILMER, Ga. – Amid concerns from a positive case of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Canton, Georgia, and responses of a possible exposure in Pickens, Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs answered concerns today with a statement about Gilmer’s preparations.

The school system has established health safety protocols already in place but Downs addressed the issue saying, “The Gilmer County School district has not received any reports of COVID-19 cases or contact potential at this time; however, the landscape of this issue has been changing each day. In light of the rapidly changing nature of this issue, our safety team has been working with information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Department of Public Health (DPH), and the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) to plan for possible scenarios.”

As the situation changes and new stories on the Coronavirus develop, Downs assured families that while there is no issue with the virus in Gilmer Schools, they are preparing in precaution at this time.

Downs said, “The district is diligently following the guidance of the CDC and DPH in our response to COVID-19 and will continue to be proactive in keeping our schools, buses, and other facilities clean by utilizing our protocols for health-related conditions. We are also modifying those protocols, when necessary, to include any updated guidance received from the CDC and/or DPH.”

As they do move forward with precautionary measures, Gilmer has one option that Downs pointed out through technology to answer such a need. Downs said “While we are hoping we will not face any closures in the near future, our curriculum and technology departments are working diligently to expedite our 1:1 computer program for 6-12th grade to facilitate online instructional opportunities and building take-home lessons for our elementary students should we face any closures in the future.”

The Board of Education does have their monthly meetings scheduled for next week and we could be hearing more on the Coronavirus as early as Monday’s, March 16, Work Session at 5:30 p.m.

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