Pickens BOE sets millage after Executive Session for personnel

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JASPER, Ga. – A special called meeting of the Pickens County Board of Education met this week and put the final approval on the board’s millage rate.

Upon calling the meeting to order and approving the agenda, however, the Pickens County Board of Education retreated to an executive session to discuss, as Board Chair Sue Finley read, “the appointment, employment, compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee. Or to interview applicants for the position of superintendent.”

The board took no action upon exiting executive session, but instead moved on to the regular agenda.

An official motion came to approve the Board of Education’s millage rate at 14.30 mills. Board Member Aaron Holland made the motion with a second from Steve Smith.

This sets the millage rate 0.53 mills lower than last year and continuing the steady decline according to the school’s 5-year history of the tax levied.

BOE Budget, millage

BOE FY 22 Initial Budget

The system estimates, according to the 5-year history, $22,648,385 in total M&) taxes levied. The budget denotes $24,908,755 in local taxes.

Finley said, “I would like to thank Mr. Young and Ms. Smith for their hard work to make this happen to bring our budget to the point where we can have our millage rate at 14.30 and still have our budget in the black. Thank you very much.”

A unanimous vote for both the millage rate and the FY 22 budget saw the board passing an initial budget for the year.

That budget totals $48.7 million, estimating that the school system’s fund balance will remain at $10.5 million.

 

Gilmer Schools responding to COVID case increases

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Gilmer Schools have seen an explosion of positive COVID cases and quarantines throughout this week.” Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley read a statement during the Gilmer County Board of Education this week on Thursday night, August 19, 2021, during their Regular Scheduled meeting.

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley, COVID

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As of that meeting, the total cases in Gilmer’s school system surpassed a district wide 900 students in quarantine and 100 positive cases in students and staff.

That explosion also culminated in the cancellation of the season opening varsity football game against Pickens on Friday, August 20, 2021. The school system stated, “Decisions such as these are not taken lightly, and we must prioritize the safety and well being of all student-athletes and spectators for both teams.”

Dr. Ridley said in a letter to parents about COVID restrictions earlier this week that the school system would be mandating masks and face coverings starting on Monday, August 23, 2021. He stated, “I feel it is imperative that we act now in an effort to keep our students safe and our schools open.”

In efforts to notify and share the information well in advance, that letter was sent out. However, at the Thursday meeting, Dr. Ridley also informed citizens that while working with the Department of Health, new guidelines will be coming next week in implementation. He confirmed that he would be discussing these with the press on Monday to inform citizens more about those changes as the school looks to continue implementing DPH guidelines into the schools.

As of now, Monday will see masking on school buses only with strong encouragement to wear masks throughout the day. Dr. Ridley also urged others to consider using masks and getting vaccinated against the virus. During his statement in the meeting, Dr. Ridley stated, “Students and staff who are fully vaccinated or masked during exposure will not be subject to quarantine.”

Additionally, the Board of Education also approved COVID leave time for staff that have exposures and positive tests. Superintendent Ridley stated that the official numbers will be updated on their website tomorrow, August 20, 2021.

COVIDWith the announcement of new COVID guidelines made and implementation on the way, the school system is currently working on the “logistics of implementing this new guidance as early as Monday or Tuesday of next week.”

Gilmer is continuing with quarantining for 10 days and requirements to be fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medications with an improvement of symptoms.

Additionally, Dr. Ridley previously told FYN that virtual academy was not being implemented for the start of school, but Gilmer does have the option if the need arises. He did not mention virtual academy at the meeting.

As the Superintendent shares more information on the changing guidelines FYN will continue to share new articles with the updated information.

County approves Millage Rate for Property Taxes

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – After originally approved for advertising in July and a special called meeting from the Board of Education, final approval came this month for the County’s Millage Rates.

These rates have been advertised for 14 days and were approved in Gilmer’s Board of Education before moving over to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners for approval to then be processed by the Tax Commissioner for collection.

Gilmer’s Board of Education approved their rate at 12.624 mills.

Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners approved their rate at 6.222 mills.

Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners also approved a decrease in their Bond Millage Rate to 1 mill. Another quarter mill reduction after last year removing a quarter mill and giving indications that they would be looking to drop it again this year.

Many citizens have been waiting and calling for this reduction over the years after the Bond Millage was increase previously due to economic issues not fulfilling the bond payments.

The BOC has reduced that back down to the original 1 mill to cover bond payments in addition to SPLOST being used to pay the bond payments.

As for the main Millage Rates, increasing property values, according to the Tax Assessors office, has individual homes revalued annually. Though the Rollback Rate was approved, lowering the Millage Rate, this Rollback Rate is calculated to determine, roughly, the rate that will bring in a similar amount of money as last year.

Individual citizens should still check with the Tax Commissioner to determine what this means for their individual property taxes. With those revaluations, the Tax Assessors’ inspections have shown increasing values, meaning the decrease in the Millage Rate, however, many citizens may fluctuate on their own property taxes and the Millage Rate reduction balances against the value increases.

With final approval, the county will soon be preparing to move into September and October when they usually work toward and then hold their public hearings on individual departments for budgeting. By October’s end, Gilmer will have a solid look at what next year’s finances should look like.

New Superintendent Ridley approved with Work Session Vote

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Hal Brian Ridley

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education made Dr. Ridley official last night with a unanimous vote during their monthly work session for their new superintendent.

Dr. Hal Brian Ridley was named the finalist of the school system’s Superintendent search during a special called meeting on June 26, 2021. According to the Board of Education, “The Board voted unanimously to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the position and announced its intention to name him as Superintendent after the 14-day period of public notice.”

Ridley

Board Chairman Ronald Watkins, right, signs the Superintendent contract with Dr. Hal Brian Ridley, left.

Nearing the end of July now, the Board is trying to get Dr. Ridley in and ready before the start of the school within the next two weeks. Most teachers are returning and final preparations are coming into play this week in the school system such as teachers rooms being moved into Clear Creek Elementary today.

Normally, most votes don’t happen until the boards Thursday meetings as it is the regular session of the government entity.

During the meeting, the board voted to enter executive session along with Ridley. Returning a few minutes later, the official motion came to approve Dr. Ridley as the new Superintendent along with comments during the meeting about the school system and a special thanks to Kim Cagle, who served as Interim Superintendent over the summer.

Now approved, Ridley is likely to be taking his first meeting this Thursday as his first official meeting as Gilmer’s Superintendent. The board is also holding a reception on Thursday at 5 p.m for Dr. Ridley and to allow the public time to meet and speak with him before their Regular Meeting.

Dr. Ridley and the Board signed the contract after the meeting, right before the board retreated into their usual executive session for personnel.

Dr. Ridley stated, “I would like to thank the Board for this opportunity. And thank you to Kim Cagle, she has been very welcoming as I try to get myself oriented to this new job. I’m looking very forward to working with all of you and we’re going to do some great things in Gilmer County.”

Gilmer Board of Education announces Superintendent Finalist

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Schools has initiated the final steps in inducting its new Superintendent into the system. With a formal motion over the weekend to announce the finalist, they have also released information on him.

That finalist is Dr. Hal Brian Ridley.

The school system is already making plans for a formal motion to employ Dr. Ridley and is hoping to have him in position before school starts again. This plan has been in place since the announcement of Dr. Downs retirement earlier this year.

Gilmer Schools has issued the following press release about Dr. Hal Brian Ridley.

The Gilmer County Board of Education named Dr. Hal Brian Ridley as the single finalist for the position of Superintendent of the Gilmer County Schools at a called meeting on June 26, 2021. The Board voted to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the fourteen-day period of public notice as required by Georgia law.

After reviewing applications and interviewing a number of excellent candidates, the Gilmer County Board of Education determined that Dr. Ridley is the best applicant for the position of Superintendent. The Board selected Dr. Ridley from among the pool of 29 applications received from across Georgia and the Southeast. The Board voted unanimously to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the position and announced its intention to name him as Superintendent after the 14-day period of public notice.

Because of the importance of Superintendent selection, the Board devoted a great deal of effort and time to the Superintendent search and followed a structured and deliberate process over a three-month period. The Board advertised the position widely and considered community and employee input to develop the profile and selection standards that were used in the search process. In making its decision, the Board considered skills of each applicant, knowledge of and familiarity with Gilmer County schools and the community, and fit of applicant leadership style with the people and needs of the system. The Board also considered each applicant’s potential and previously demonstrated ability to unify the school community, to work collaboratively with all categories of employees, and to raise important measures of student achievement such as graduation rates and career and college readiness. The Board specifically sought a Superintendent who would work with all elements of the community and school system to establish goals and who would lead the school system to achieve those goals over time.

Dr. Ridley currently serves as Assistant Superintendent of Haralson County Schools. He has 25 years of experience in education including time as a Middle School Principal, Elementary School Principal, and Band Director.

In the coming weeks, details of Dr. Ridley’s employment will be developed by the Board and formal action to employ him as Superintendent is expected at the next regular Board Meeting. After action to formally employ Dr. Ridley, he will cooperate with Ms. Kim Cagle, Interim Superintendent, to transition into the Superintendent’s position.

Dr. Ridley has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Berry College, a Master of Music Performance Degree from the University of West Georgia, a Specialist in Education Administration and Supervision from the University of West Georgia, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of West Georgia.

Dr. Ridley said about himself, “I am a principle-centered leader with a “no excuses” attitude and a focus on problem solving through innovation. I exhibit strong conflict resolution skills and I am experienced in dealing with difficult public relations and personnel issues in a professional manner. I am adept at building relationships among various stakeholder groups and fully intend to serve as a positive school representative within the community. I am truly excited by the possibility of bringing my dedication and knowledge to your school district.”

Currently the Assistant Superintendent of the Haralson County School System in Tallapoosa, Georgia, a system with a work force of over 500 employees serving approximately 3,500 students.

As part of the process, Gilmer Schools is publishing their release along with Dr. Hal Brian Ridley’s Resume and Cover Letter for 14 days to allow public input and feedback before the next Board of Education Meeting. They have also provided his Ridley Certificate to Publish.

As the process continues, citizens are invited to comment and add their input on Ridley. If wishing to speak publicly, the Board of Education allows public comments at their work session, or citizens could speak at the Regular Meeting if they sign up early.

 

Request for 8th Graders to march with band denied

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – In March 2021, the latest revisions to Board Policy IDE(3) were made for Competitive Interscholastic Activities. This month, Band Director David Wiebers submitted a request to allow a waiver to the policy for the band.

That waiver would allow a small number of students in the 8th grade to march with the high school band. Wiebers told the board that the waiver would help the band as it has had middle schoolers march before. With stated benefits to the students, retention rate, the high school band, and the middle school band, the request would allow the continuation of the practice in spite of the policy.

Policy IDE (3) states,

The Board of Education (“the Board”) hereby adopts this policy regulating competitive interscholastic activities.

1. Each middle and high school principal is responsible for properly supervising and regulating competitive interscholastic activities in his or her school and shall ensure that all staff members adhere to the school system’s athletic guidelines, this policy, and related rules of the State Board of Education. The principal may delegate responsibility for supervising one or more student activities and clubs to a member or members of his or her professional staff, provided such individuals must act under the principal’s direction.

2. A student wishing to participate in interscholastic competitive activities must be enrolled full time in the school that sponsors the competitive activity. (Dual Enrollment students are included in the “enrolled full time” group eligible to compete.)

3. Retention of students for athletic purposes is prohibited by the Gilmer County School System.

4. Each principal of a school covered by this policy is responsible for ensuring and maintaining documentation of adherence to the requirement of this policy.

5. Permission must come from the Superintendent or Superintendent’s designee for a coach to have practice on a non-school day (Ex: snow day).

Because of line 2 in the policy requiring a student to be “enrolled full time in the school that sponsors the competitive activity,” a student of Clear Creek Middle School cannot be allowed to march competitively with the Gilmer High School band.

Wiebers said that middle schoolers who have marched with the high school return to their middle school program with stories and experiences to share, increasing interest in the high school program. It also increases the level of excellence for those students involved as they are introduced to the higher level program earlier than normal. Wiebers said that since only the highest level members of the middle school band are allowed to participate, it keeps the number lower while maintaining quality.

Wiebers said, “I don’t view it as a high school position, I view it as a six through twelfth grade band program.”

Assistant Director Holly Kinsey also spoke during the meeting supporting the request with her own story of when she was in middle school band and was given the opportunity to march with the high school. She spoke about how the experience reinvigorated her desire for band. She said she was bored with band at the time, and it was the gifted program for marching with the high school that gave her a bit of a push to continue.

However, all of this would be in direct violation of the policy due to IDE(3). Thus, the request for a waiver.

Even with participation, students have faced restrictions and extra requirements when participating in high school band as a middle schooler, according to Kinsey. They must be accompanied at all times as Kinsey spoke about busing the students and following in her car to the high school. Additionally, in long or overnight trips, these students must be accompanied by their parent and they would room with the parents in overnight situations.

The board also unanimously approved the policy, as it currently exists, in March, two months ago. Additionally, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs stated in the regular meeting, “I can’t, in good conscience, with the feedback we’ve received, recommend a change to that policy.”

Much of the board agreed as the motion came to approve a waiver from board member Joe Pflueger. A second to the motion never came, meaning the motion died and a waiver was not approved. Thus, eighth grade band members cannot participate in high school band due to the standing Policy IDE (3).

Gilmer Schools lifts masks mandate on buses

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Step by step, little by little, Gilmer County is lifting restrictions and slowly moving back to far more casual life. Leaving behind masks and other PPE, the entire nation is taking steps as people are returning to sports arenas and school events like proms and graduations are showcasing the step back to life without certain constraints.

This week saw Gilmer’s Board of Education take another step on that same path as requests came for the board to lift the mandate for masks on buses.

This mandate has been in place all school year since Gilmer welcomed students back into class with the options for in-person or virtual learning. Now, a week before graduation, the board unanimously agreed that the time has come to step back from such restrictions. This does not mean you won’t see masks anymore. Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs made note that lifting the mandate only means they are optional now. Each student and parent are still the ones talking about the choice. According to Downs, many students do still wear the masks and have their own ready.

Downs said that many drivers have noted that students who don’t wear masks throughout the day will tend to forget them in a classroom. Bus drivers have some available, but the need for more has gone up as more students have laid down their masks throughout their standard day.

Board member Ronald Watkins, who has voiced opinions in favor of personal choice before, commented in the work session saying, “I say let them take them off.” Watkins advocated in favor of the request as he said to give the kids the option to wear them or not.

When questioned, Downs said that she has seen more masks used in elementary levels as opposed to higher grades.

While some comments were made among the board that this is only taking effect in the final days of this school year, it does set an indication as to what the board plans moving forward. As of now, this means that masks will continue to be optional on buses into the next school year.

Of course, should things change, the Board could always reinstate, but for now, it is 5-0 vote for lifting the mandate and allowing students and parents to make their choice on masks.

Watkins announces final term in Board of Education

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Referencing the recent dissension over the school’s 2021-2022 calendar, board member and current Chairman Ronald Watkins said he has caught major backlash over the issue.

Watkins announced in the BOE’s public comments session this month that he will not be running again in the coming elections. Dealing with much of the frustration from the public and what he stated as “people telling a little bit of the truth and a little bit of lies,” Watkins voiced his anger over the issue and the backlash to him as a public official.

Ronald Watkins, Member of the Gilmer County Board of Education

During his comments, he denounced citizens who, according to Watkins, claimed he voted based on his own vacations. Saying that he raises chickens, he said he could not plan vacations on the calendar regardless of which one it was. He went on to say that if he had his choice, Gilmer’s Calendar would be that of Murray County.

Watkins said he has been on the board for years working for the public. He said, “I took up for every kid, teachers, and everybody.” He condemned the public’s response on the recent issues referencing something he saw in “emails.”

As if speaking directly to those people in the meeting, Watkins said, “You ain’t going to get to vote against me next year,” as he announced that this would be his final term.

However, the calendar issue may not have been the direct cause of this announcement, Watkins claimed that he had previously spoken with Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs about this being his last term and not wanting to run again. He said he had “made that promise” a while ago.

Linking in another resignation, Watkins furthered addressed the resignation of Dr. Downs saying that she resigned and that “We did not run Dr. Downs off. She had my full backing. You can sit there and shake your head no, I don’t care. She had my full backing. This was her decision.”

While it is unusual to see such an early announcement of decisions on running for office, it was made publicly, in an open county meeting. This makes two absences that the Board of Education will face in its future. However, Watkins did not tender a resignation, meaning that he will continue to serve the remainder of his term as of this time.

The board has faced member resignations in the last five years, which is how Watkins current service began as he filled the remainder of a term left from a resignation before running for office for the following term.

BOE names Kim Cagle as Interim Superintendent

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – As the Board begins its search for a new Superintendent, they officially named Kim Cagle as the county’s Interim Superintendent.

Cagle

Interim Superintendent Kim Cagle

Cagle is currently Assistant Superintendent for Student Services in Gilmer Schools. She will step into the role of Interim Superintendent on May 28, 2021, the final day for current Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs. This will also be when the board transitions from accepting applications to actively pursuing its new Superintendent through interviews.

AS the Interim Superintendent, she will be guiding the board over the summer during the selection process as she was approved as Interim Superintendent from from June 1 until August 31, 2021.

Cagle has operated alongside Downs during her time as Superintendent, bringing experience in the position, the board’s ongoing tasks and operations, and the community.

Official approval for Cagle came after an executive session during April’s regular meeting. There were no other recommendations made and she was unanimously approved.

Cagle

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

Dr. Shanna Downs later stated in a press release, “I believe the Board’s selection of Mrs. Kim Cagle as Interim Superintendent will allow for a very smooth transition and help the district maintain continuity of progress and programs. I feel very comforted to know that I am leaving the district in such capable hands.”

Cagle will be working with the board and alongside King-Cooper and Associates during the search. While the board hopes to review applications and conduct interviews in late May and early June and to select the next Superintendent by July, the board’s approval is effective until the end of August should any delays arise.

Gilmer BOE takes first steps in new Superintendent Search

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With official approval having come on April 15, 2021, in their monthly meeting, the Gilmer County Board of Education has begun its search for the next Superintendent with King-Cooper and Associates search firm.

With a press release, Gilmer Schools made a statement about the search saying that they would accept applications for the position until May 21, 2021. They stated, “The vacancy will be advertised by electronic postings on the school system web site, the search firm’s web site, and on the web sites of the Georgia School Superintendents Association and the Georgia School Boards Association.”

King-Cooper an d Associates was approved as the firm by a memorandum of understanding during the board’s April regular meeting. They are a small search firm based in Thomaston, Georgia. According to their release, “King-Cooper and Associates specializes in customized and affordable superintendent searches for small and medium size school systems. The firm assisted the Board in their last search in 2015 and has conducted over 65 successful superintendent searches in Georgia.”

Because they will accept application until late May, this date falls in conjunction with the previously reported final day of current Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs on May 28, 2021. In the time after, Gilmer’s Board of Education named Ms. Kim Cagle to serve as Interim Superintendent.

Steps of the search will include advertising the position, receiving and processing applications, verifying reference and background information, sorting applications based on the Board’s selection criteria, and the scheduling and facilitation of interviews. Dr. Sandy Addis will serve as the lead facilitator of the search.

“Our job is to secure a strong pool of applicants and to assist the Board to select the very best superintendent for Gilmer County,” Addis said. “We handle the details of the search and provide the best possible information for the Board to make a good choice but we don’t tell the board who to hire,” Addis stated. “There will be strong interest in the position because of the positive reputation of the school system, the community, and the Board. Gilmer County is one of Georgia’s most desirable and attractive school systems.”

According to their press release, the Board hopes to review applications and conduct interviews in late May and early June and to select the next Superintendent by July. During April, the Board will conduct surveys to determine what characteristics and qualifications the community and school system employees think are most important in the selection process. A survey for parents, students, and community members will be posted on the system web site at www.gilmerschools.com. A similar survey will be emailed to all school system employees.

They stated, “The Board will utilize survey results in the interview and selection process to employ a superintendent that meets the needs and expectations of the community.”

Superintendent Downs Resigns at Gilmer Board of Education

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East Ellijay, Ga. – A special called meeting of the Gilmer Board of Education was silenced as the personnel section, the only item on the meeting’s agenda, saw Gilmer’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Shanna Downs recommend a motion to “accept the Superintendent’s resignation.”

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Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

The meeting room was silent as no board member made a motion or even a statement for a few moments. But only a few seconds before the official motion came from Michael Bramlett with a second from Michael Parks. The resignation is effect May 28, 2021.

This means that Dr. Downs will remain with Gilmer Schools through the next two months before officially moving on to her new position. In a statement after the meeting, Downs confirmed that she would be accepting the position of Executive Director of West Goergia RESA (Regional Education Service Agency).

She said it felt like the right time as “It’s a good opportunity, one that I didn’t think would present itself again.” Downs explained that positions like the one she will be taking are not often available.

In her resignation letter, she thanked the school board for the opportunity to serve the community saying, “After 6 years of continued improvement and multiple accomplishments for our students to academic achievement, updated facilities, new buildings, significantly lower millage rates, and strong financial reserves, my time has come to pursue a new endeavor.”

With the resignation set to take effect in May, the board ended their Special Called Meeting in Executive Session with no action anticipated. It was stated that they would be discussing a Superintendent search. The board could have two months to find the new Superintendent and complete the interview and hiring process.

She stated, “Given the recent change to the dynamics of the Board of Education, I believe the timing of my resignation will allow the Board to prepare for the FY22 school year with a candidate selected by the board.”

Downs promised to complete her last two months in Gilmer supporting the board’s mission and vision for the school system.

Three hour executive session leads to doubt for Pickens Superintendent

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JASPER, Ga. – Pickens County could be seeing another chapter in its ongoing Superintendent troubles over the years after a three-hour-long meeting was held almost entirely in Executive Session.

On January 16, 2021, the Pickens County Board of Education held a special called meeting posted to host both an Executive Session and General Discussion items on the Agenda.

During the meeting, it was said that the general discussion was originally put in to discuss a different topic. However, some citizens present said they were present to “show support” for Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend.

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Rick Townsend, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools

While the Board of Education spent almost all of the three hours in Executive Session, Dr. Townsend was not present for a large part of the meeting as he was seen exiting the room where the executive session was being held.

The only results of the meeting that were publicly stated as the Board returned from their executive session was the calling of yet another Special Called Meeting for this Monday, January 18, 2021.

However, sources have messaged FYN saying they are expecting the School Board to be dismissing or firing Dr. Townsend on Monday.

The board said in their Friday meeting, “We will have a Called Meeting on Monday at 3 p.m. It will be published over the weekend.” This means they will be meeting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, although there is yet to be an agenda or meeting placed on the Pickens Calendar on their website as of the writing of this article.

stART and CS4GA Computer Science Capacity Grants

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Schools has been awarded two competitive grants totaling $25,000 from the Georgia Department of Education.

According to Director of Federal Programs and Title IX Coordinator Lindy Patterson, the funds will support the Gilmer High School band and the district’s computer science programs.

Patterson released a statement for Gilmer Schools stating, “To promote and further strengthen the award-winning band, stART grant funds will be used to purchase sound and amplification systems for the band hall and outdoor concerts and events. The computer science capacity grant funds will be allocated for the professional growth of teachers working in the computer science field.”

Upon receiving notification of the stART grant, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs stated, “The Arts are vital to the development of the whole child. The importance of the Arts is clear: while stimulating imagination and self-expression, the Arts hold a significant role in the development of critical thinking, responsible decision-making and cultural awareness. We’re delighted to receive this grant to enhance our overall program for our students.”

Throughout the year, the Georgia Department of Education awards grants through a competitive application and review process.

New elected officials sworn in for Gilmer before 2021

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Among the final acts for Gilmer County’s government in 2020 comes the official swearing in for elected positions. Now that the local elections have long since completed and been finalized, these officials are preparing to take office as soon as January 1, 2021, now that they have been sworn in.

Sworn

Doug Pritchett, left, receives his oath of office from Probate Judge Scott Chastain, right.

While many positions were re-elections like Hubert Parker moving from the special elected term to fill in for the remaining term of former Commissioner Dallas Miller, others are fresh faces in new positions like Gilmer Magistrate Judge Kevin Johnson.

In the realm of the Board of Education, new members Joe Pflueger and Michael Parks met with Probate Judge Scott Chastain to take their oaths on Friday, December 18, 2020. Additionally, Doug Pritchett also renewed his oath of office as he was re-elected after filling in for the remaining time of the previous term.

Sworn

Michael Parks, left, receives his oath of office from Probate Judge Scott Chastain, right.

Two weeks before the new year and their own first days in the position, they met in Courtroom D of the Gilmer County Courthouse for a ceremony with close friends and relatives. Owing to the virus and procedures against it, each brought a very small group to witness the event.

Doug Pritchett was sworn in under oath with his wife, Lynne Pritchett, holding the bible for him.

Michael Parks was sworn in under oath with his wife, Donna Parks, holding the bible for him.

Sworn

Joe Pflueger, left, receives his oath of office from Probate Judge Scott Chastain, right.

Joe Pflueger was sworn in under oath with his wife, Jeris Pflueger, holding the bible for him.

Each member swore two oaths, one for the office and the responsibilities associated with it, and another as a loyalty oath to people and the government,

Chastain told FYN that these would be the final oaths as he had previously administered much of the other renewals during the same day.

Kevin Johnson, left, receives his oath of office from Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver, right.

However, Kevin Johnson, newly elected Magistrate Judge of Gilmer County, received his oath of office on Thursday, December 17, 2020. He was sworn in by Judge Brenda Weaver in the presence of current Magistrate Judge Roger Kincaid and Probate Judge Scott Chastain.

 

Gilmer BOE updates code, meeting dates, and handbook in December

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Preparing for the new year and new board members, Gilmer Schools updated their students code and handbook as they hit their mid-year meeting and prepare for the return for the second semester in January.

Coming late in the year, changes to the student handbook were approved this week in order to provide for students needing certain credits for graduation. Adjusting specifically a world language instead of certain CTAE courses in graduation requirements, this change comes, according to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, as the virtual academy is not able to do those courses online.

Because of this and because some students need to adjust and cover this requirement in their final semester of high school, the Board approved the change to support this digital students as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to require adjustments and changes from organizations moving into the future.

meetingAdditionally, the board is changing an official job title adding a Title IX Director for Lindy Patterson, who is already the school system’s State and Federal Programs Coordinator.

The Board is also looking at new meeting dates next year. They have looked at the dates since November, adjusting and changing as needed. The board of education usually approves these meetings in January of the year, approving the 11 months of that year along with the January Meetings for the following year.

This means that the Board’s two newest members, Joe Pflueger and Michael Parks, will have the opportunity to vote on these in their first meeting of the new year.

The Board is updating its Student Code of Conduct to incorporate new needs as the school shave reached a point when students have Chromebook for use throughout their grade levels. Incorporating information gained through use of a program monitoring what students are typing and reading through the Chromebook. This new update will incorporate the new screenings that the school is using along with protections on the Chromebook usage.

 

Teacher’s arrest causes tension as BOE considers resignation

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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.”

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