Request for 8th Graders to march with band denied

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band

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.

IMPACT Pickens calls for resignations from Pickens BOE

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IMPACT Pickens

JASPER, Ga. – In a meeting all there own, IMPACT Pickens, a group of citizens who have banded together against certain members of the Pickens Board of Education, called for resignation of Board Chairman Sue Finley.

They did so with a large presentation showing text messages. The massive collection of 350 pages obtained through an Open Records Request showed the text messages and statements of Finley, Young, and references to other board members. The entire presentation is available (video to the left) and the group is more than willing to offer digital copies of the texts on thumb drives.

These texts vary from fragments to whole sections of conversations. They were presented by the Impact Pickens Organization during the town hall meeting that many, including former Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend, attended. Though Dr. Townsend didn’t speak much, he did answer a couple of question from citizens about timelines and extra funds the school had.

IMPACT Pickens President Steve Lowe expressed his aggravation and frustration that board members would be “plotting” anything, but said these texts show the plans set into motion to oust Dr. Townsend as Superintendent and bring back former Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson. These texts, Lowe showed, happened during meetings as well as during executive sessions at times. With the main focus of the presentation on this plan to bring back Wilson, there were also other points when Chris Pence, Treasurer of IMPACT Pickens and main presenter at the Town Hall, pointed out plans to get Finley appointed Chairman and Steve Smith appointed as Vice Chairman.

IMPACT Pickens

Chris Pence shows a text message obtained through the IMPACT Pickens Open Records Request during a presentation on April 24, 2021.

While Finley was appointed to Chairman, Smith was not appointed Vice-Chair. In one text, Finley stated, “The Queen is not happy.”

Pence said this was appalling as the text references the vice-chairman appointment. He said these texts messages and the fact that board members and administrators are planning things and discussing votes and intentions to vote outside of open board meeting, constitutes SACS violations. SACS is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Their better known parent company, AdvancED, operates accreditations and certifications and was among the main concerns of citizens when Townsend was in the process of being terminated.

That process was drug out as citizens’ outcry over the $500,000 payout and other implications came in to focus. That process continued as the Board of Education attempted to negotiate with Townsend to find a different position in the school system for him instead of Superintendent.

With Townsend declining the offers, the Board moved forward with the buyout.

Besides Townsend, the texts included plans for the appointment of Aaron Holland, allegations about Holland, and implications for future plans. One text from Young to Finley stated, “If those two knew Aaron it wouldn’t be 4-0. Lol”

The texts evolve between Holland and Finley discussing plans and motions, willingness to do something in his first meeting, and possibly waiting until January.

Other texts openly admit to an “underground network” with orders to praise “him” to his face to ensure good evaluations while Sue says they are working as fast as they can to “correct the situation.”

Pence also posed allegations that Board Attorney Phil Landrum allowed Finley to redact certain sections of the text messages at her choosing.

Many of the texts continue following and leading towards the removal of Townsend with Finley allegedly  steering much of the operations to her own plans and desires. IMPACT Pickens highlighted only a portion of the texts in the packet, showing what they showed as the high points of the scheming.

One of the text messages from Tony Young specifically admits a meeting with “Phil” and “Amy” discussing a buyout number ready. IMPACT Pickens said this is a major issue as the text occurred on January 11, 2021 discussing buyout information and the termination of Dr. Townsend days before the emergency called three-hour executive session meeting of the Pickens BOE on January 15, 2021, or the “Emergency Called Meeting” of the Pickens BOE on January 18, 2021, discussing the termination of Dr. Rick Townsend.

IMPACT Pickens

Meeting in the Community Room, IMPACT Pickens presented their allegations against members of the Pickens Board of Education calling for recalls on April 24, 2021.

Additionally, early text messages before these emergency called meetings asked if the board should “bring Tony in before we ask Dr T to leave the room or after?”

The Organization has already spoken with SACS accreditation, Georgia’s Attorney General, and other agencies requesting investigations into the Board and these allegations.

Additionally, they are collecting signatures and moving forward with court cases of their own. Seeking board members and the Superintendent Tony Young to step down, the organization is pursuing recalls and any options they have available. They called for school personnel as well, but were warned that many teachers and staff have to worry about retaliation to their jobs or even their children in the school system.

In a separate video, Pence spoke to citizens thanking them for support. The organization operates through donations that they said they have used to acquire information such as the 350 page open records request for texts. He said, “I really think that now we’re showing the elected officials that the citizens are tired. We are tired of them wasting our money. We are tired of them not being ethical or moral.”

Lowe also commented on the response the organization has received from citizens saying, “We are really grateful for all you have done. It’s been humbling to see people come out…”

Watkins announces final term in Board of Education

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Gilmer, BOE, calendar, Watkins

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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Search

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.”

BOE tours CCES in final stages

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CCES

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With only a month left as representatives from Breaux & Associates Architects said the Clear Creek Elementary School (CCES) should complete near the end of June, school officials toured the interior of Clear Creek Elementary School with representatives from the architectural firm.

CCES

The entrance of CCES will be blocked by a glass wall as a security entrance, directing visitors to the office via a window access or door.

The Board of Education has told the public for months that the project would complete and be ready for teachers to move in before the start of next semester. This is coming to fruition as Board members requested to tour the facility and advertised a called meeting to do so. The entire board arrived on site at 6 p.m. on May 26, 2021, along with Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and both county and CCES administrators looking to explore the new facility. While some are being allowed into the facility, like the guide tour, general visitation and teachers are not yet allowed in during the final stages.

CCES

With angled access doors, four classrooms can be viewed from a single spot in the hallway as they are grouped together.

Teachers have mentioned in previous meetings that they are looking to move in to the new school as soon as possible so that they may have the time they need to move in their furniture and prepare the rooms for students. Everything from desks and supplies to decorations and alternative seating have been used in Gilmer’s elementary schools with teachers utilizing their classrooms to provide an environment for students. The BOE has seen these efforts as different schools present new efforts, programs, and other points of interest to the board during the monthly meetings.

Though bare now as no furniture or personalization has been brought in by teachers, yet. Classrooms are nearly completed and ready for the coming school year.

CCES

Food preparation is still awaiting larger appliances which Breaux said would be some of the final equipment brought into the new school.

Much of CCES mirrors itself on both sides as the facility hosts smalls “pods” as Douglas Breaux of Breaux & Associates called them. Four classrooms connect to each other in their corners, allowing someone standing in the hallway to view into all four rooms from a single spot. Eight classrooms are in each hallway with four halls of classes not including larger rooms like music, art, and gym.

Breaux said that the facility is in the final phase with virtually all of the major construction steps done. Now, they are finishing up the details of the facility, finishing floors, starting to bring in furniture, applying fixtures, and painting are a few of the remaining steps.

The Media Center, pictured, is near the front entrance of CCES with central access by the school’s inhabitants, but also designed by the architects to be a “show piece” as one of the first rooms visitors will see upon entering.

CCES

CCES’ cafeteria includes a stage which administrators already have plans for. It can be accessed by two hallways or by outer doors to the rear of the building.

Also mentioned during the tour, the complete facility has already prepared room to expand. According to Breaux, their is graded land already prepared should the board ever need to expand further, 16 extra classrooms could be added, eight on each side of the school with the halls expanding to include one more “pod” of four classes each.

This school is preparing for a full return of students in late 2021 as the new school year is planned to completely remove distance learning from the lower grades in Gilmer County, marking a return to pre-COVID proceedings.

CCES

With more room, administrators are already planning on how to best operate the back side of CCES, pictured, where students will go for daily drop-off and pick-up.

Daily pick-up and drop-off and bus traffic will all be directed through the rear of the facility and administrators have already begun planning on how to handle the daily operations now that they have seen the facility nearly completed.

While the larger rooms like the cafeteria, music room, art room, and media center do not yet have the major furniture in them, the general layouts can be seen. The media center is wired for a full technology area along one wall and has its main desk up. The cafeteria has its stage finished where administrators say they will utilize the area for presentations and awards when needed, but also have a daily uses planned like a special dining area at different style table where certain students with good behavior are allowed to sit, supporting PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) programming. The art room already has a space prepared with necessary ventilation for a kiln. Something the school received through a grant but has not yet been able to use in this school.

Ready to see furniture, teachers, and students, CCES is on track for the 2021-2022 school year as the Board of Education is ready to finally move from its old location at what was once Ellijay Primary School to its new location neighboring Clear Creek Middle. Leaving behind the old facility, this move marks one culmination of the system’s 2019 redistricting for its elementary schools to serve geographic portions of the county.

The plan, as stated in 2019, “will allow students to experience less transitions during critical early learning years and will improve efficiency of bus routes for community schools.” Downtown Ellijay may also see slightly less traffic in the area as it only serves one school now, not two.

 

BOE tours CCES in final stages

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CCES

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With only a month left as representatives from Breaux & Associates Architects said the Clear Creek Elementary School (CCES) should complete near the end of June, school officials toured the interior of Clear Creek Elementary School with representatives from the architectural firm.

CCES

The entrance of CCES will be blocked by a glass wall as a security entrance, directing visitors to the office via a window access or door.

The Board of Education has told the public for months that the project would complete and be ready for teachers to move in before the start of next semester. This is coming to fruition as Board members requested to tour the facility and advertised a called meeting to do so. The entire board arrived on site at 6 p.m. on May 26, 2021, along with Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and both county and CCES administrators looking to explore the new facility. While some are being allowed into the facility, like the guide tour, general visitation and teachers are not yet allowed in during the final stages.

CCES

With angled access doors, four classrooms can be viewed from a single spot in the hallway as they are grouped together.

Teachers have mentioned in previous meetings that they are looking to move in to the new school as soon as possible so that they may have the time they need to move in their furniture and prepare the rooms for students. Everything from desks and supplies to decorations and alternative seating have been used in Gilmer’s elementary schools with teachers utilizing their classrooms to provide an environment for students. The BOE has seen these efforts as different schools present new efforts, programs, and other points of interest to the board during the monthly meetings.

Though bare now as no furniture or personalization has been brought in by teachers, yet. Classrooms are nearly completed and ready for the coming school year.

CCES

Food preparation is still awaiting larger appliances which Breaux said would be some of the final equipment brought into the new school.

Much of CCES mirrors itself on both sides as the facility hosts smalls “pods” as Douglas Breaux of Breaux & Associates called them. Four classrooms connect to each other in their corners, allowing someone standing in the hallway to view into all four rooms from a single spot. Eight classrooms are in each hallway with four halls of classes not including larger rooms like music, art, and gym.

Breaux said that the facility is in the final phase with virtually all of the major construction steps done. Now, they are finishing up the details of the facility, finishing floors, starting to bring in furniture, applying fixtures, and painting are a few of the remaining steps.

The Media Center, pictured, is near the front entrance of CCES with central access by the school’s inhabitants, but also designed by the architects to be a “show piece” as one of the first rooms visitors will see upon entering.

CCES

CCES’ cafeteria includes a stage which administrators already have plans for. It can be accessed by two hallways or by outer doors to the rear of the building.

Also mentioned during the tour, the complete facility has already prepared room to expand. According to Breaux, their is graded land already prepared should the board ever need to expand further, 16 extra classrooms could be added, eight on each side of the school with the halls expanding to include one more “pod” of four classes each.

This school is preparing for a full return of students in late 2021 as the new school year is planned to completely remove distance learning from the lower grades in Gilmer County, marking a return to pre-COVID proceedings.

CCES

With more room, administrators are already planning on how to best operate the back side of CCES, pictured, where students will go for daily drop-off and pick-up.

Daily pick-up and drop-off and bus traffic will all be directed through the rear of the facility and administrators have already begun planning on how to handle the daily operations now that they have seen the facility nearly completed.

While the larger rooms like the cafeteria, music room, art room, and media center do not yet have the major furniture in them, the general layouts can be seen. The media center is wired for a full technology area along one wall and has its main desk up. The cafeteria has its stage finished where administrators say they will utilize the area for presentations and awards when needed, but also have a daily uses planned like a special dining area at different style table where certain students with good behavior are allowed to sit, supporting PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) programming. The art room already has a space prepared with necessary ventilation for a kiln. Something the school received through a grant but has not yet been able to use in this school.

Ready to see furniture, teachers, and students, CCES is on track for the 2021-2022 school year as the Board of Education is ready to finally move from its old location at what was once Ellijay Primary School to its new location neighboring Clear Creek Middle. Leaving behind the old facility, this move marks one culmination of the system’s 2019 redistricting for its elementary schools to serve geographic portions of the county.

The plan, as stated in 2019, “will allow students to experience less transitions during critical early learning years and will improve efficiency of bus routes for community schools.” Downtown Ellijay may also see slightly less traffic in the area as it only serves one school now, not two.

 

Superintendent Downs Resigns at Gilmer Board of Education

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Downs

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.

Fire Department called to Gilmer High Gym

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South State, fire

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Parents are receiving messages from Gilmer High School today informing them that the Fire Department had to be called to the school.

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

According to those messages, due to smoke coming from the mechanical room in the gym, school officials called the Fire Department to investigate. Immediately removing all students from the facility, they were taken to the Band Practice Field for safety.

According to a statement from Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, no students were harmed and the fire was quite small.

She added that as of 10:30 a.m, the Fire Department has extinguished the fire and cleared the area for students to return.

While authorities are still looking into the situation, preliminary information from the Fire Department said that the fire could have been electrical in nature. However, this was speculative as they were still looking into it. Reports indicate that only minor damage has been caused to the mechanical room of the gym.

Three hour executive session leads to doubt for Pickens Superintendent

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Superintendent

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.

Governor Lee Calls for Special Legislative Session on Education

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Special Legislative Session

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene for a special legislative session on January 19, 2021 to address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools in the 2021-22 school year.

Preliminary data projects an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math. This loss only exacerbates issues that existed prior to the pandemic, where only one third of Tennessee third graders were reading on grade level.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption for Tennessee’s students, educators, and districts, and the challenges they face must be addressed urgently,” said Gov. Lee. “Even before the virus hit, and despite years of improvement, too many of our state’s students were still unable to read on grade level. I’m calling on the legislature to join us in addressing these serious issues so we can equip our hardworking educators and districts with the resources and supports they need to set our students on the path to success.”

“As we have heard from districts since March, students need their teachers and schools like never before,” said Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “No child’s future should suffer academically because of COVID-19. Not only as commissioner, but as a mother of two school-aged children, I am grateful for the bold solutions that our governor and legislature will provide for our students and schools across the state and the department stands ready to work together to accomplish this mission-critical work.”

“In addition to presenting a public health crisis and disrupting our economy, the coronavirus also created enormous obstacles for our parents, teachers and students. Tennessee has made tremendous improvements in education over the last decade. The virus has begun to put all of that at risk,” said Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “It is of paramount importance that we take steps to reverse the learning loss that has taken place and prevent any further erosion of our progress. I appreciate Governor Lee calling this special session to draw our focus on the pressing needs of education in this state. The Senate will work with the House and the Administration to address these issues in an expeditious and efficient manner to the benefit of our students and our teachers.”

“I support Gov. Lee’s call for a special session on education,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). “The pandemic has caused considerable disruption for our students, teachers and schools.  Our goal is to make sure students are learning in the classroom, teachers have the resources they need, and our students have additional assistance in their educational journeys to improve their chances of success.”

“Over the past few years Tennessee has seen exciting growth in student achievement and we must take all necessary steps to make sure our students continue to learn through this ongoing pandemic,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). “I salute the governor for calling us into special session to address this important problem and thank him for his continued commitment to education.”

“As a parent of two children in the public school system and a Representative of so many thousands of other families, I know it is critical for us to have the best education system in the nation,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland). “I appreciate the Governor calling us into Special Session to ensure our children and teachers have the support they need in these difficult times.”

During the special session, the legislature will be tasked to take up five key education issues: Learning Loss, Funding, Accountability, Literacy, and Teacher Pay. Details on each proposal will be released by the Department of Education in the near future, in addition to the department’s plans to implement a new literacy program, “Reading 360.” The program will leverage one-time federal relief funding to support a phonics-based approach to literacy and will ensure Tennessee districts, teachers, and families are equipped with tools and resources to help students read on grade level by third grade.

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.

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.

 

BOE updates Distance Learning and Calendar Survey

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JASPER, Ga. – With focused consideration for students “not on track” in classwork, the Pickens County Board of Education heard an update on Distance Learning from Curriculum Director Anita Walker.

Pickens is returning as many students as possible to in-person learning rather than virtual learning. Walker noted that they have had students “not-on-track” returning to in-person for multiple reasons varying from a dislike or disconnection with the Pearson program, including some technical issues the school overcame in the first part of the semester, to issue with difficulty of use and focus to scheduling conflicts with younger children who need parental help with the programs while the parents might be working full-time.

While the schools have some experiencing difficulties, many others are succeeding and progressing in the virtual learning. More success was seen in lower grades, Kindergarten to 4th Grade.

Walker did note, however, that she felt that in-person is usually going to provide better educational experiences for the majority of students.

During her presentation, Walker pointed out some details that may be contributing to those not on track with the program including time spent with the program. She broke down data specifically focused on those in that category based on grade levels and compared them to the number of students spending more or less that 30 hours a week on the program.

Touching on support for the program and changes to bolster their efforts to support students and families choosing virtual learning, Walker noted the teachers efforts such as a tutoring program that virtual and in-person students can take advantage of. They are also putting extensions on some class work to aid in students needing that.

On the other side, with about 60 students moving from in-person to virtual learning for various reasons, Walker said the school encouraged students and families to come in a go over the program so that they would no and understand all of the requirements and needs involved with the program before fully committing to virtual learning.

Distance learning was not the only discussion for the day, however, as the board looked closer at results from a survey over the school calendar for 2021-2022.

Learning, Calendar, EducationNearing the mid-point of the school year, early discussion is already coming in for the next school year as Pickens County is going through the lengthy process of adopting a school year calendar.

According to Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend, a survey was taken with input from students, parents, employees, and residents/business owners.

Of the 1209 replies to the survey, the boards report indicated that 500 were parents, 298 employees, 60 students, and 39 residents/business owners.

The vast majority emphasized a great importance on Thanksgiving and Christmas and not changing those breaks.

Additionally, 70% of the response said they would prefer a digital learning day for snow days or inclement weather rather than making those days up during winter break.

Many comments supported moving back the start date of school into mid to late August, but the board was told that hey would have to do away with several breaks to incorporate that change.

While the recommendation is set to be the same calendar as previously recommended, the board will be voting on the calendar next Thursday, December 10, 2020.

CCMS shuts down 6th Grade in response to COVID-19

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CCMS Clear Creek Middle, Grade

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Starting today, Gilmer County Schools has shut down the 6th Grade of Clear Creek Middle School to attempt to stem a rise in numbers of positive cases within the grade level.

Grade, Shanna Downs, Superintendent

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

Those numbers are coming from both students and staff according to a letter from Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs stating that they would be closing due to the increase.

Effective until November 4, 2020, students will be at home with learning devices as a part of the distance learning platform that the school has had in use since the early spring outbreak of the virus. However, it is not exactly the same program as the school system has since improved and evolved their distance learning programs with added software and procedures.

Since August, some students have already been a part of the virtual classrooms and students in school have received instructions on using Google Classroom as well.

At this time, Downs states that all of the system’s other schools and grade levels will keep operating as they have been, remaining open for students.

In a letter to parents, Downs said, “Recognizing the challenges closures pose for many families in our community, we are making this decision with a heavy heart but for the greater good. Our priority is always the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”

As of last Friday, October 16, 2020, the school system had 7 students absent with positive tests for COVID-19 and 133 students quarantined for possible exposure.

According to the school system’s website;

  • 4125 – Students enrolled in GCSS

  • 7 – GCSS Students Absent with a Current Positive COVID-19 Status

  • 133- GCSS Students Quarantined for Possible Exposure

  • 526 – Total Number of GCSS Employees

  • 7- GCSS Employees Absent with a Current Positive COVID-19 Status

  • 32 – GCSS Employee Who Has Been Exposed and is Quarantined or Reporting to Work as an Essential Employee*

The Board of Education is holding meetings this week as their regularly scheduled monthly meetings. FYN will update new stories if new information becomes available.

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