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.
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.
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. – 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.
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.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education celebrated on Friday, October 19, to welcome its six new students into the Gilmer County REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Scholars Program.
The six 8th graders were hosted at Clear Creek Middle School with a ceremony for their signing of the program agreement in the presence of the Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, and Chris Green of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
The six students included Naydelin Ajiataz-Arreaga, Ben Becerra, Emma Bell, Annalysa Brown, Candelaria Raymundo-Bautista, and Alba Monraga-Telles. Each student celebrated the day with family members and member of the community in concerted agreement of support and encouragement for their years in high school and their plans beyond.
REACH Georiga is a needs-based scholarship that begins in 8th grade. REACH Scholars are paired with a mentor and an academic coach throughout high school. Scholars must maintain good grades with a 2.5 GPA in core courses, good behavior, and good attendance throughout their remaining middle school and high school years.
Scholars who successfully complete the program and graduate from high school are awarded a $10,000 scholarship that can be used at HOPE-eligible institutions in Georgia.
Ralston praised the commitment of the students and schools in this effort saying, “If Georgia is to continue being the envy of the nation, if we are to going to continue to be the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business, we’ve got to also lead in preparing our young people for success in college and in their careers.”
He continued to thank the students and schools for their work in the program saying the ceremony reaffirmed the commitment to education and seeing every student succeed. He also noted the states full funding for Georgia’s QBE (Quality Basic Education) program and increases in the state budget for securing our schools. He also spoke to the student’s futures noting the state’s financial contributions to the new campus. “A dream come true,” as Ralston called it during their groundbreaking ceremony according to UNG.
Green added to the sentiment as he noted the HOPE Scholarship program has already awarded over $10 billion to over 1.8 million students in its 25 years. As the REACH program follows those eligible institutions, Green asserted the commission’s efforts to spread the program to every school in the state. Congratulating Gilmer’s Scholars on their signing ceremony, he said he was proud to partner with the schools as the commission pursues its mission to help every Georgian to access post-secondary education.
Make sure to check out more photos of the signing ceremony at FYN’s Facebook Photo Album.
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.
Jasper, Ga – The Pickens County Board of Education hosted a no-threat lockdown today on the campus of Pickens High School.
Parents and citizens saw the Pickens County Sheriff respond to concerns saying:
We currently have a team of deputies and K-9 units participating in a controlled sweep of the Pickens High School campus. While the school is being checked, students are being placed in a non-emergency lockdown status. Students are safe and no threat exists at the school.
When questioned about the lockdown, Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson said the K-9 sweep was scheduled for a few weeks ago, but had to be pushed back due to scheduling conflicts with Cherokee County who supplies the K-9 units. As the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has retired its last K-9 unit for medical reasons, Wilson stated it is a part of the agreement with Cherokee County to utilize theirs.
With the lockdown and sweep completed, Wilson informed FYN that no drugs were located during the sweep today. Though he noted it was not directly related to the rising use of vape devices, Wilson did respond to questions about the trend saying that it is a concern in the school system.
Sweeps like this is a part of the school’s enforcement of its code of conduct as well as state and federal law. Though Wilson said there is more going on behind the scenes in the system’s response to the rising vape concerns and to school security in general, he declined to release details saying, “There is a number of things that we are doing and things that we are working with the Sheriff’s Office, some of that we just can’t publicize at the moment.”
More information on these steps like the K-9 sweeps and other programs the school already has in place over its years in operation can be found at the upcoming Monday, September 24, day of events involving the Office of the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and Pickens School district as they hold a meeting for parents for information and the ‘Chat with the Superintendent’ at Pickens High School at 6 p.m.
Wilson went on to note that the school system is being forced to change the way it views vaping devices. While he notes that it is against the law for underage kids to possess cigarettes and vaping devices and they have enforced the law, he did state that the school system may have, at times, not utilized the most extreme forms of discipline available in every situation involving the use of nicotine. He went on to say, “Now that this added ability of being able to vape just about anything, that brings it to a whole different level.”
As part of the school’s efforts to inform parents and students about the dangers that vapes present with not knowing what is in them, the board is working with the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office. Wilson said, “We may have looked at vaping in the past as more of a replacement for a cigarette, and not as a delivery device for drugs… Going forward, we probably would.”
He added later, “We’re going to have to really start disciplining to the fullest extent that we can, given to us by our Code of Conduct or either by the Law to keep our children safe.”
Ellijay, Ga. – An incident report from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed reports of a student “blacking out” and suffering seizures after inhaling a substance from a SMOK Vape device.
The male student was hospitalized from the incident and later released. The incident, however, did prompt officials to call in K-9 units to search for other drugs. Authorities found two additional SMOK Vapes with one testing positive for containing marijuana. While the
original vape has been tested, no official response is available identifying the substance in the original device.
However, according to the incident report, it was reported that the student was told by a fellow classmate that “there was a vape in the boy’s restroom and he should go smoke some of it.”
With the investigation in Gilmer CID’s (Criminal Investigations Division) hands, no names of the students nor additional information is available.
However, FYN spoke with Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs who confirmed the incident is part of a larger problem facing the schools today. She told FYN that last year, the school system confiscated eight vape devices over the course of the entire year. This year, they have already collected 25 devices since the beginning of school a few weeks ago.
Each instance results in disciplinary action for the student as it is a violation of the code of conduct, according to Downs, but as the rise in using other substances in the devices continues, the charges against students get far more serious as they deal with controlled substances.
Downs went on to say that she has spoken with other Superintendents to see if Gilmer is alone in the rise of vape usage. Though she declined to name which counties she had spoken with, she did confirm that Gilmer was not alone.
Confirming the rise in popularity of these devices in several counties, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee made a press release stating, “Within the last week, several teens in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties have experienced medical emergencies as a result of “vaping,” by use of electronic cigarettes. These medical emergencies necessitated treatment by both EMS and treatment at hospitals.”
Many of the vape devices found being used are very small handheld devices easily concealed within one’s palm or bag, like a purse or book bag, or even in one’s pocket as several designs become thinner and shorter. Downs confirmed they have found Juul brand vapes and last weeks incident report confirmed the males vape was a SMOK brand. Sosebee notes, “Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.”
As the use of vapes themselves are intended to be used with nicotine for adult smokers, the rising concern is the ability to swap out the common “juice” for homemade cocktails or drugs. Downs confirmed that reports have been made of students crushing Adderall and other things to make the “juice.”
According to Juul’s website, “These alternatives contain nicotine, which has not been shown to cause cancer but can create dependency. We believe that these alternatives are not appropriate for people who do not already smoke.”
Sosebee also commented on other substances that have been found in the devices saying, “The liquid that is inhaled, known commonly as “vape juice,” can contain any number of substances: it can contain flavoring; it can contain nicotine; it can also contain drugs and illegal substances such as THC oil, fentanyl and LSD. Of great concern, the user may or may not know what they are inhaling, what their reaction will be to the substances, what they are exposing others to and may erroneously believe that they are simply inhaling “harmless water vapor.” There is nothing harmless about what is occurring.”
Downs went on to say that some parents may have purchased vapes for their kids not knowing that they are swapping out the contents. The feeling was echoed by Sosebee as she called for parents to “be aware of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”
With concerns rising from parents, administration, and law enforcement alike, investigations are continuing as programs and events are attempting to educate the community about the devices and their popularity.
Downs said the Gilmer Administration is stepping up efforts in educating and building awareness in their staff about what to look for and also to educate our parents in the community saying, “I feel like there is a real lack of knowledge and lack of understanding among our community in relation to this… This has blown up overnight to the point that I feel like its almost epidemic.”
Ellijay, Ga. – The GHS Film program has cause to celebrate this week as they have received a $1,000 donation from the Georgia Theater Company, owners of Mountain Cinemas who held a special day for them in June at their grand opening.
The day was held specially to celebrate the theater’s opening, but is a part of a larger program that occurs every year where theater managers like Mountain Cinemas’ Lauren Chastain get to choose a cause they want to donate proceeds towards.
FYN caught up with Film Program Instructor Nathan Sutton to ask what the donation means. He replied, “We’re incredibly thankful for this donation. While our department does a wonderful job at providing needs and wants, it’s always nice to have money in the account to cover those spur of the moment fixes for cameras, tripods, and microphones.”
Sutton has far more plans for the donation than saving some for maintenance costs, though. He went on to say, “Personally, I’m a big proponent of the notion that the students are what make this class and this program. So, I’ll be sitting down with some of my after-school students and we’ll discuss what direction we want to go, what we want to spend where, and really let them be involved in the process because this has always been their class and their program after all.”
Connecting a movie cinema with a film program seems like a match made in heaven as they fuel tomorrow’s directors, writers, costume designers, cameramen, and others, completing a cycle into the future of film. Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs commented on the donation saying, “I am pleased that a business that is new to our community is taking an interest in this aspect of our high school program.”
While Sutton said the money will be discussed with students on how to use it, he did note that one project the film program has had is to convert some connecting rooms into writing rooms. “We have some extra rooms attached to our primary class and we’re looking at creating “writing rooms” so that student groups can go in and have a space to work, brainstorm, and discuss their short films in a more peaceful, group-centric setting.”
While the exact usage is still up in the air, the program continues to grow in the community as this year saw the second GHS Film awards in the spring. Now that a new school year has begun, we expect to see even more from this year’s coming awards show.
I am pleased that a business that is new to our community is taking an interest in this aspect of our high school program.