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.”

Downs

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.

Pickens County Board of Education, Superintendent

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.”

Board lowers Bond Millage with final approval of rates

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Millage Rate Meeting

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote on Monday, August 24, 2020, saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners follow up on statements from last year where they discussed lowering the Bond Millage Rate in the county.

While they did not approve lowering the rate in 2019, many citizens have continued discussing and pushing for the reduction this year. A few have very vocally called for the reduction of the “extra half mill” that was put on the Bond Millage rate raising it from 1 to 1.5 mills. Additionally, the viral outbreak and subsequent shutdowns of counties and states cast a dark shadow on local economies and doubt for the financial future of Gilmer.

The Commissioners halted capital spending and major projects as they watched and waited to see just what kind of impact it would have, even delaying their pool project that has been underway for over a year now. The pool was closed at the beginning of May in 2019.

However, the last two months have shown quite the difference. Despite the cancellation of major events in the county and increasing numbers from the virus, recent reports show an increase in collections from tourism and SPLOST.

Whether this played a role in their decision, the commissioners did not say, but they did approve a drop in the bond millage rate by .25 mills, taking it from 1.5 to 1.25 mills.

The School-Board-approved millage rate of 13.963 was approved to be implemented by the Board of Commissioners. This is the Rollback Rate calculated for Gilmer County Schools as they have advertised over the past month since the July meeting. The Board of Education approved this rate last week during their regular August meeting.

They also moved forward with approval of the county’s M&O (Maintenance and Operations) Millage Rate of 6.783 mills. This is also a Rollback Rate calculated for the Board of Commissioners and advertised for the past month since their July Meeting.

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