GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – “We will shift our focus away from contact tracing and quarantine to monitoring children for signs of illness,” says a new statement from Gilmer County Schools as the announcement comes today that COVID response and state guidelines are changing again. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said it was a return to focusing on educating kids in school and not being an “arbiter of quarantines.”
Dr. Ridley sent the letter out with this statement today, notifying the community of the change. He added that he wants to be a partner with parents in their care for their children.
Ridley noted that the change is coming after the governor and the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced changes in their guidelines for COVID response,acknowledging the hardships that families have had due to quarantines on any possible exposure.
Now, instead of instantly quarantining students who have been around others in school who have tested positive, they will be allowed to stay in class while being “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask. His letter this morning stated 10 days, but Dr. Ridley said that continued updates have made that a misprint as the schools will be encouraging mask usage for 5 days.
Additionally, the statement extended this same change to those currently in quarantine due to exposure. While the last update on the school systems website noted 77 students currently in quarantine, Dr. Ridley said this number is not up to date with these changes as well as another set of changes to guidelines that the schools just received last Thursday.
The school system will continue notifying parents when their students have been exposed and will be sending out letters “notifying you that your child was in class, on the bus, participated in a sport, etc. with a positive case just as we do with any other communicable disease.”
As such, some tracing will still be done with this new response as the school is still asking parents to monitor their children and notify the school if they test positive. Dr. Ridley stated, “We will continue to notify DPH when a notifiable disease is reported and alert DPH of concerns with clusters and outbreaks which may require immediate public health intervention.”
But this isn’t contact tracing as it has been in the last year, these notifications will not continue for those that have been around someone who was around someone who was exposed to a student that tested positive.
The school system is asking parents to continue monitoring your child each morning before sending them to school. They also noted that students showing any signs of the virus or any illness should not be sent to school.
The school system is also taking extra steps for parents in understanding the change or with further needs as Ridley’s statement asked parents to contact their student’s school if they have any concerns of if their child might need extra help for a medical vulnerability.
Superintendent Ridley did confirm that he had discussed the new response individually with members of the Board of Education before implementing them. While he said they mostly agreed with the new format, he did confirm that the board could still add or reinstate any extra steps and precautions should they feel the need arises.
The school system had just posted recent changes on January 4, 2022, with updates from over the December break, but the state is already updating new changes with this today. Dr. Ridley also said in his letter, “While the constant change in guidance has been frustrating at times, we want to thank our Gilmer County families for their support throughout this pandemic. We hope that with the help of our parents, we can even more effectively monitor students for symptoms while also meeting the new DPH standard of keeping healthy students in class.”
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – A new statement from the National Weather Service has authorities in Gilmer County returning to caution and delaying schedules tomorrow in addition to early closures today.
Statements from the Gilmer County Courthouse and Gilmer County Schools have reported early closures for today. Both ended the day two hours early, roughly 3 p.m. for the county and 1 p.m. for schools. However, in addition to early closures both have issued statements for tomorrow, Friday, January 7, 2022. This is the second time this week that winter weather has caused a delay for the county.
The statement from the courthouse said, “The Gilmer County Courthouse will be closing at 3:00PM today and will delay opening tomorrow until 10:00AM due to incoming winter weather events that we anticipate will make driving difficult and perhaps dangerous.”
The statement from Gilmer Schools said, “Tonight’s weather forecast is predicting some severe Winter weather in the Northern end of Georgia, including parts of Gilmer. Therefore, the Gilmer County Schools will operate on a 2-hour delay on Friday January 7th, 2022.”
The National Weather service stated, “A strong cold front will bring cold and windy conditions to much of north Georgia tonight into Friday morning. Northwest winds of 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph this evening will gradually decrease overnight. However, with the very cold, sub-freezing temperatures, wind chill values will fall into the teens across north Georgia with readings in the single digits in the mountains.”
Closures and delays are not the only response coming through as Gilmer Public Safety is also responding to the extremely low temperatures by opening the Civic Center Warming Center. They said, “The Warming Shelter at the Civic Center – 1561 S. Main St. – will be open today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) from 5:00 PM to 7:00 AM for all those in need of protection from freezing temperatures. Visitors are asked to bring a bedroll if available. Pets are welcome.”
With slight rain today in areas of the county, some estimation totals have reached between a quarter and half of an inch possible. Lows are estimated between 17 and 20 degrees just before dawn. Some forecasts have even set the wind chill down to single digits in the area.
Gilmer is along the southernmost reach of the Winter Weather Advisories reach across the entire northern tip of Georgia coming from the front of “arctic air.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer Schools and the Gilmer courthouse are both delaying this morning’s start in favor of caution as reports of snow in the forecast have come over recent days.
The National Weather Service has both a winter storm warning in effect until 9 a.m. for Murray, Fannin, Gilmer, Union and Towns Counties and a Wind Advisory between 15 and 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph for most of North Georgia until noon.
Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said, “The weather forecast for our area indicates that winter weather will likely occur overnight in the Northern part of the county which could potentially create hazardous road conditions in the morning. As a precaution, our Professional Learning Day will be delayed two hours. Staff should report at 10:00 a.m.”
Dr. Ridley said nothing about further delays or any other effects. The district calendar is still set for students return on Wednesday, January 5, 2022.
The courthouse has also issued the same delay for employees, opting for the later start and allowing a few hours of sun.
Concerns raised for the day were not of snow or buildup, but instead the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office specifically noted black ice as a major concern.
According to a special weather statement shared by the Sheriff’s Office, “As the rain exits the region this evening cold air will filter into the are quickly behind the rainfall… many area roads and bridges will not have an opportunity to dry off and subsequently have an opportunity to freeze overnight and into the early AM resulting in areas of black ice.”
With no expectation of continuing weather throughout the day, most warning and advisories are ending before or at noon. Citizens should still exercise caution after the delay when traveling to work and be aware of the roads as they continue improving.
Temperatures are still ranging in the 20’s and 30’s so those in the higher elevations of the county could see worse conditions lingering throughout the day.
HAYESVILLE, Ga – Clay County Board of Education issued a mask mandate just a few days before the start of the school year.
The policy will revisit the decision on September 7 to determine if the mask requirement needs to continue. On July 26, the board decided masks could be a parent option. At that time, Clay County reported only 10 active cases.
As of August 18, Clay County recorded 64 active cases, 2 positive school staff, 1 quarantined, 13 positive students, and 21 quarantined students.
Federal regulation already mandates masks to always be worn on buses. Disposable masks will be available on every bus. Additionally, the school system will provide five cloth masks to students.
Towns County Elementary closed this week because of staff and student cases within the school. Towns County began the 2021-2022 year just two weeks ago.
Several factors went into the decision including NCDHHS and Strong Schools quarantine guidelines and learning habits of Clay County Schools (CCS) students.
“The goal is to have face-to-face instruction at least five days per week as close to normal as possible,” Superintendent Dale Cole explained. “Our second graders have never had a full year of school.”
NCDHHS policy states that students within close contact with a positive case while wearing a mask do not need to quarantine. However, both students the positive case and potentially exposed child need to be properly wearing a mask at the time. The quarantine exemption does not include extracurricular activities or athletics, just the classroom setting.
“Optional masking will likely lead to multiple quarantines among students and staff creating default remote instruction for much of the time the next few months,” Cole stated. “So as the situation changes, we have to make decisions.”
Board Chairperson Jason Shook explained that a majority of students struggled to adjust to online education and forcing a child to juggle between in-person and online isn’t beneficial to them.
Data from last year showcased the learning hurdles, especially in math. For the majority of 2020-2021, students were either online or only in person two to three days a week.
The health department has final authority on who needs to quarantine or not. The school can’t override a decision made by the health department.
Online Learning Option
The virtual option will continue to be available for parents who requested it. As of August 18, 44 requests had been made. Superintendent Cole explained the number could drop with a mask mandate in place.
The cost of virtual learning per student is between $1,500 – $2,000 for K-8 and $3,000 for high schoolers. CCS has federal funding to cover these costs. The board will revisit the necessity of the online option for the second semester.
To try and limit community spread, the schools will be disinfected on Wednesdays and weekends. Field trips will be canceled or postponed for the next month.
Visitors will be allowed in the office area only and must wear masks.
As far as sporting events, masks must be worn on the sidelines and on activity buses. Spectators aren’t expected to wear masks at this time. Gyms will be disinfected after every game. CCS policy for athletics mirrors the procedures in place with the rest of the conference.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With warning continuing to come in from the National Weather Service and public safety officials, Gilmer Schools has issued a statement to plan on a two-hour delay for school on Thursday, March 18, 2021.
According to the statement released, “The National Weather Service has warned that our county is expected to experience severe weather overnight and into the early morning hours just before and during our normal morning bus routes. The strongest storm bands show potential to generate damaging winds, hail, and tornados. In the interest of safety, please plan for a two-hour delayed start of school Thursday morning March 18, 2021.”
The school system clarified that bus routes and parent drop-off are also affected, so parents should not drop students off at normal times to wait for class to begin. However, they are planning to dismiss at the normal time in the afternoon.
While the National Weather Service has not issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area at this time, they did issue a statement just before noon saying, “Scattered to numerous strong to severe storms are expected late today through tonight with an approaching strong disturbance and frontal system. While there is some potential for severe storms as early as this afternoon, the primary risk will likely be with an area of storms pushing eastward late tonight into Thursday morning. The main threats will be tornadoes (some of which could be significant or longer tracked), damaging winds over 60 mph, large hail, and flash flooding.”
The decision to delay class is in place for now, but the school system did state that this response could increase if need be, saying, “We will plan to confer with Emergency Management officials in the early morning hours on Thursday and if conditions require a cancellation, this information will be updated.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County High School went under lockdown this morning after a student reported to the principal about possibly sighting a firearm.
According to a statement released by Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, “At approximately 0754 this morning, a student reported to an assistant principal that they saw a gun and ammo in a another student’s book bag.”
Downs went on to say that the Assistant Principal immediately used the Centegix Crisis Alert to place the school on lockdown. Reports began coming in about the lockdown and statements that the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) set up a command center and began searching the facility. According to Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson, the “best case scenario is that it’s a fluid operation and command is being set up while operations is dealing with the issue.”
Downs said, “GCSO and school officials began investigating, questioning witnesses, and viewing both classroom and hallway cameras.”
Thorough searches of involved students, their belongings, and facilities yielded no weapon. According to Dr. Downs, GCSO cleared the building at 8:51.
Sherriff Nicholson also commented to FYN this morning saying, “This morning, a student reported to faculty of GHS that another student possibly had a gun. The school immediately went on lockdown and law enforcement responded. It was quickly determined by Sheriff’s Office personnel and school officials that the student in question did not have a gun.”
As of now, sources say the lockdown has been lifted, including parents who say they have received a call from the school stating the same.
With less than an hour under lockdown, Gilmer administrators and the Gilmer County Sheriff reported, responded, and cleared the suspected. It is not the first time Gilmer has dealt with a lockdown situation this year as another lockdown in December came after a loud noise “like a gunshot” was reported at the Larry Walker Education Center in December, 2020, and Clear Creek Middle School went on Lockdown after an incident at the bus garage occurred in February, 2020.
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.
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.
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.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – As many are beginning to talk about the possibility of returning to school, some are still attempting to wrap up the previous year.
In Gilmer, part of that process occurred this week as students returned to the buildings to collect left-behind belongings. Planned in April, the Board of Education and Superintendent had the day set in order to offer a better sense of closure to the school year as the virus ended normal classes mid-semester. But as they returned, they were met by some unexpected people.
Gilmer County’s Public Safety offered a statement today saying. “It’s nearly school-time with many preparations underway. Part of those preparations is helping our kids understand the importance of good health practices. Gilmer County Community Paramedicine, with the generosity of Parkside Ellijay Nursing Home, paired together for a fun project this week at our elementary and middle schools.”
The project was to meet students in the schools and hand out face masks and flyers. According to Public Safety, the Community Paramedicine team visited three of our schools across the county supplied with the generous donation of 1,000 face-covering masks donated by Parkside Ellijay, and 1,000 informational flyers in English and Spanish.
The team handed out all the masks and 700 of the flyers to students and parents who arrived over the three-day period to collect their end-of 2019 school year belongings.
Public Safety was grateful for its partners in the endeavor, saying, “Many thanks to Michael Feist, Director & Part-Owner of Parkside Ellijay for the wonderful donation of the face covering masks, and to Dr. Shanna Downs, School Superintendent, for allowing our Community Paramedicine team to conduct this very successful service to our school children.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s 2020 graduates have had more than a few setbacks in their senior year due to COVID-19, from missing half a semester, one quarter of their entire senior year, to cancellations of their graduation and prom before rescheduling.
Many school districts in Georgia are trying their best to provide a little extra recognition for their graduates this year due to quarantining practices shutting down the entire state’s school system.
Gilmer is no different as the Board has rescheduled both prom and graduation in addition to providing a digital graduation this Friday. But the community of the county still didn’t think this was enough to make up for months of separation and a lack of closure to the grade school lives.
The Gilmer County Optimist Club pushed forward with a new project this week, and if you’ve driven down Industrial Blvd. this week, you’ve seen the roadside parade of handmade signs that the club has donated and erected to honor these students.
Also recognized at this weeks BOE meeting, the project is getting great appreciation from both the school board and community driving past with honks of appreciation as the project was completed.
The project lead, Lisa Salman, who is also Tourism Director for the Gilmer Chamber, said the idea came together through watching other counties and districts through social media and listening to our own community.
All in the span of about two weeks, Salman pitched the idea to Superintendent Shanna Downs and received approval from the city for a sign permit, then gathered volunteers and donations to buy the materials and hand craft the signs you see on the road. Early Saturday morning, May 16, 2020, volunteers gathered before noon to put up the completed signs. This is the original planned week of graduation.
Graduates each have their own sign recognizing their work and efforts. Salman said that she knew the school was doing things, but said their was meaning in people doing something by hand for the extra recognition. Different volunteers have painted and created different signs, so not all the signs are the same either.
This project is not completed however. Maintenance continues through the week as heavy winds and passing cars have seen a few signs blow down. Salman said they are continue during the week to repair and maintain the project through graduation day.
When asked about the importance of projects like this, Salman said, “We’re friends of youth. Children are so important and I want them to be recognized… I want to make sure they are recognized and t hey could see their name as people drive by and honk.”
The project went up this week to the surprise of all the students as Salman said they spoke with Downs and the City privately to keep this as a Graduation week surprise for the students.
The project saw donations from 35 people and time from 7 volunteers to complete the designs, construction, and finally completion of putting the signs up on the road.
(Photo and video provided by th Gilmer County Optimist Club.)
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Official approval has come for the Gilmer Board of Education and the Gilmer County Schools’ 2020-2021 Calendar for the school year.
From late July for teachers, the approved calendar will have students returning to class on August 3, 2020, and going all the way to the final day, a 2 hour early release for students, on May 28, 2021. Teachers would have have Professional Learning Days on June 1 and 2 of 2021.
The 2020-2021 calendar also hosts five long breaks encompassing 6 full weeks.
The board presented a survey they undertook returning 1,538 responses. Those results showed 60.60% of the vote supporting this calendar over 28.74% for Calendar 2 and 10.66% for Calendar 3. The board also changed this year as they specifically emailed parents, students, and staff of the School System with a one-time use link to the survey. Their release stated that
Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs stated that Calendar 1 incorporated more frequent breaks, Calendar 2 was more similar to previous Gilmer Calendars, and Calendar 3 was more similar to Fannin County’s school calendar.
Board member Ronald Watkins questioned some of the changes about the 2020-2021 calendar’s dates and relation to summer. They also discussed Murray County’s calendar. Going with the majority, the board officially approved Calendar 1 during their regular meeting with the vote 4-1 with Ronald Watkins in opposition.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is one of several northern counties under a Flash Flood Warning today as the National Weather Service issued the warning just over an hour ago.
According to the National Weather Service, “Flash Flood Warnings for… Towns County in northeastern Georgia… Northwestern Lumpkin County in north central Georgia… Gilmer County in north central Georgia… Union County in north central Georgia… Fannin County in north central Georgia… Until 145 PM EST.”
Amid the warnings, Gilmer County School System issued a statement saying they would be closing schools early today in light of current conditions.
They said, “GCSS is working with local emergency management authorities to assess the current road conditions in our area. The Coosawattee and Cartecay Rivers have risen to the “Action” stage, the level before “Flood” stage, and rising rapidly. Streams in the area are expected to continue to rise after the rain stops this afternoon potentially further affecting road conditions. In the interest of student safety, GCSS will release 3 hours early today 2/6/2020. Please subtract 3 hours from the normal time you pick up your child from the school or bus stop.”
Additionally, Gilmer County officially released a statement saying they would also close at noon stating, “Due to flooding and road closures, for the safety of all Gilmer County Government employees, the courthouse and other county offices will close at 12:00 noon today, Thursday, February 6, 2020.”
Unconfirmed reports are already coming in of road closures happening on Highway 52 and other roads already being submerged. The Gilmer County Public Safety Department has issued statements for the following roads,
“Conasaga Rd at Shake Rag Rd has washed away and is impassable… Teague Road is washing away at the creek. Please avoid this area if possible… Portions of Owltown Farm Road are covered with rushing water. Please avoid this area, if possible, until further notice… Johns Way at Lake Paul Dr has become impassable. Do not travel through this area until further notice… Northlake Dr. on Walnut Mountain has rushing water across the pavement. Please avoid traveling that route until further notice… ”
Citizens can stay up to date with more roads information during the Flood Warning posted to the Gilmer County Public Safety Facebook Page.
Gilmer County confirmed earlier today that Public Safety Director Kieth Kucera has already initiated preparations to open storm shelters and is monitoring conditions and staying in contact with the National Weather Service to enact emergency plans should the need arise.
Additionally, Public Safety has also stated, “The Coosawattee River is expected to crest at 8.8 feet early this afternoon – (Minor Flooding stage.) However, some roads along the river inside Coosawatee are already under water. DO NOT drive through these areas.”
As always, Citizens should avoid driving through any section of road that is underwater as it is unsafe and drivers cannot fully see if parts of the road have washed away.
Have you ever had a goal that you wished to achieve? Something became a driving force in your life as it took a point of focus. It may have been that you wanted to become something, maybe a firefighter, an astronaut, or a soldier. You strove to follow that dream, to grow closer to that goal. The achievement was your motivation.
For some, at least.
Many people will recall the nearly 30 years Mark Henson spent as the Superintendent of Fannin County Schools teaching and influencing the kids of Fannin County. Many may think of this as a life well spent. Henson himself would agree, but it was not always so.
Growing up among a family of educators, Henson knew the life well before he even graduated high school. It was part of the reason he struggled so hard against it. While it may seem like 30 years in the career isn’t the best evasion strategy, Henson says it came down to logic as to why he finally gave in.
After high school graduation, he took his goal of avoidance instead of achievement to heart. “If you go back and look at my high school annual, my ambition was to do anything but teach school because everybody in my family at that time, were teachers,” says Henson as he explains attending the University of Georgia shortly before moving back to Blue ridge to work for the Blue Ridge Telephone Company.
Spending about a year at the job after college didn’t work out. Henson doesn’t speak much on the topic as he says his father knew someone working for Canada Dry in Athens. With a job opening available and good pay to entice him, Henson made the switch to working for the soda company.
Moving to Athens, Henson became an RC/Canada Dry Salesperson over the surrounding five counties in Athens. A hard job that required many hours, Henson said he’d be at work at 6 a.m. and got back home at 8:30 p.m. Though well-paying, the job fell flat for Henson as he came to terms with the long hours and little time for himself. With two years under his belt at the company, he began thinking about Blue Ridge again and his options. As he says, “Teaching didn’t look so bad then.”
Despite the years in opposition, the effort spent running away from the ‘family business,’ Henson began thinking ahead at the rest of his life. Already considering retirement at the time, it was this that ultimately turned his attention back to teaching. It wasn’t family, it wasn’t friends, but rather, it was logic that drew him to the career his life’s ambition avoided.
“I made pretty good money, there just wasn’t any retirement,” says Henson about his time at Canada Dry. As he looked harder at teaching and began seriously considering the career path, he says, “When you look at teachers, you’re never going to get rich being a teacher, but there’s a lot of benefits like retirement and health insurance that these other jobs just didn’t have.” He also notes he proved what he wanted as he retired at 54-years-old.
After much thought, it began with a call to his father, Frank Henson. He told his father he wanted to come home and pursue teaching. Though his father told him to come home and stay with them again, Henson says it was the money he had saved from his position at Canada Dry that allowed him to attend school for a year before being hired as a para-pro, a paraprofessional educator. It was a very busy time in his life as Henson states, “I would go up there and work until 11:30, and then I would work 12 to 4 at what used to be the A&P in McCaysville. I went to school at night…”
The next few years proved to be hectic as he graduated and started teaching professionally “with a job I wasn’t even certified for.” It was January of 1989 and the new school superintendent had been elected in November and as he took office in January he left a gap in the school. To fill the Assistant Principal position the, then, Superintendent had left, they promoted the teacher of the career skills class. With the vacancy in the classroom, Henson was appointed to step in to teach the class. Half a year was spent teaching a career path and skill class to 9th graders in what Henson refers to as a “foreign world.”
The first full-time teaching position he holds was perhaps the one he was least qualified for. Henson noted his nervousness taking the state-funded program. The previous teacher had gone to the University of Georgia to receive training to fill the position. Talking with the previous teacher about the class, Henson shared his reservations about the lack of training and certification. Receiving note cards and guidance on how to handle it helped, but only so far.
Henson recalled looking at the cards and seeing tips like, “Talk about work ethic for 20 minutes.” He was stuck in a position without a firm foundation. He spent the next semester “winging it” and juggling the class with student placement in businesses. Struggling through the day to day at the time, he now looks back and says, “Apparently, I did pretty good at it.”
The interesting part was that the promotions that led him into this position similarly mirrored Henson’s own path to Superintendent one day. An omen easily looked over at the time, but glaringly obvious in hindsight. Though he wouldn’t take the direct path from Teaching to Assistant Principal to Superintendent, they did set the milestones that he would hit on his way.
He also saw plenty of doubt on his way, too. He never looked at the Superintendent position as a goal, but even maintaining a teaching position seemed bleak as he was called into the office one day and told his career class position was no longer being funded.
Thinking he was losing his job, he began considering other opportunities as well as missed options, he had just turned down a position in Cartersville where Stacy, his wife, was teaching. Worrying for no reason, Henson says he was racing through these thoughts until they finally told him they were moving him to Morganton Elementary.
Taking up a Math and Social Studies teaching at Morganton Elementary, Henson found more familiar territory in these subjects. Yet, having gotten used to the career skills, he says he still felt like he was starting over again. The years proved later to be quite fortuitous as Henson says he still has people to this day stop him and talk about their time learning from him as students. Relating back to his own school years, he admits he wasn’t the best student and he made his own bad decisions.
From situations in band and class alike, he notes that he worked hard, usually sitting in first and second chair as he played the trombone, but he still found plenty of things to get into as he, by his own confession, “made the drum major’s lives and stuff miserable.” Enjoying every opportunity he could get to goof off, it became a trend throughout his school career.
Yet, in teaching, he brought those experiences and understanding to the kids as he tailored his classes each year. He shared one story of a girl that stopped him to speak for a while. Eventually, she asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Admitting that he didn’t, she replied, “Well, you really helped me a lot. I was ADD and you would let me sit at your desk.” He says she went on talking about the way he changed her life.
It seems almost common now to associate teachers with stories like these, changing people’s lives, yet, it’s not often you may think a student causing trouble would become that kind of teacher.
The effort returned in a major way as Henson was elected Teach of the Year at Morganton Elementary in only his second year. The award was a testament to his efforts and success, but also evidence of how much he had changed in his life.
“You get out of school and you work a couple of real hard jobs, you see there might be more to life than goofing off. That got me redirected and helped me get through college and get my teaching degree,” says Henson.
It was more than just awards, though. Morganton Elementary created several relationships for Henson that followed him throughout his career and his life. spending four years at Morganton made it the longest position at the point, but it led to so much more. It led to three more years of teaching at East Fannin Elementary before receiving a promotion to Assistant Principal at West Fannin Middle School.
Moving from a position as a teacher to Assistant Principal isn’t just a promotion, it is a major change into school administration. No longer dealing with individual classes of students, Henson says it becomes far more political as you get pressed between teachers and parents. You walk a tightrope as you want to support your teachers in what they do, and you want to listen to concerned parents and find that middle ground. “You have got to kind of be a buffer between them… You’re always walking a tightrope,” he said.
He served as Assistant Principal to Principal David Crawford who served as Assistant Principal to his father, Frank Henson. Mentoring him in administration, he says David was a “laid back guy” that would still “let you have it” some days. It set him on a steep learning curve. Despite the jokes and stories, he led Henson on a quick path to his own education. In a sort of ‘sink or swim’ mentality, Henson said he was given a lot more authority than he expected, but he enjoyed the job.
How much he enjoyed it was a different point. Though Henson says he has never had a job in education he hated, he did say that his year as Assistant Principal was his “least-favorite job.” Though stressing he has enjoyed his entire career, he noted that the stress and shock of transitioning from Teaching to the Administration as a more big picture job factors into the thought.
Even that wasn’t meant to last long as he moved from Assistant Principal to Principal after just one year.
Nearing the end of his first, and only, year as Assistant Principal, he was called into the office again. This time it was the school systems office as his Superintendent at the time, Morgan Arp, wanted to speak with him. As he tells the story, “He said, ‘I’m looking at restructuring the system a little bit on principals and administrators. I’m not saying this is gonna happen, but if I made you Principal at East Fannin, would that be okay?’
I said, ‘Sure, I’ve been there and I know the people fine.’
He said, ‘What about West Fannin?’
I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there a year, I can deal with that.’
He said, ‘What about Blue Ridge Elementary?’
I said, ‘Well, that’s the school I know the least. I’m sure if you put me in there, I could. But the other two make me feel a little more comfortable.’
So the next day I got a call, and I was principal for Blue Ridge Elementary.”
Though comical, Henson said it actually worked out great as he met two of his best colleagues there. Cynthia Panter later became an Associate Superintendent and Karen Walton later became his Assistant Superintendent. Both were teachers he met at Blue Ridge Elementary.
“Blue Ridge was really where I made a lot of later career relationships,” says Henson.
His time as Principal was also a lot easier for him as he says after the year at West Fannin he knew what he was doing and had more confidence in the position. Having ‘matured’ into the job, he says the Principal position has more latitude in decisions. Having a great staff at both schools made the job easier, but the transition was simpler also because he felt he was always second-guessing himself as an assistant principal. His maturity also gave him new outlooks on the choices and decisions made.
“I think a good administrator serves as a shield between the public and teachers who need someone in there to mediate,” he says. Molding things into a larger plan for the schools and taking views from all those who take a stake in their education, “Everybody wants what’s best for the child.”
Surrounding himself with assistant principals and administrators that were detail oriented to allow him to deal with people and focus on the ‘big picture,’ two of his favorite parts of his career as he says.
After three years at Blue Ridge Elementary, the Curriculum Director at the county office resigned. Applying on a fluke instinct, he later got a call saying he got the position. He joined the staff as K-6 Director of Curriculum alongside Sandra Mercier as 7-12 Director of Curriculum.
However, his time in the office saw much more work as he spent time covering as Transportation Director and other fill-in duties. It wasn’t until 2003 when Sandra Mercier took the office of Superintendent, according to Henson, that she named him as Assistant Superintendent and really began his time in the Superintendent position.
He had never thought about going for the position, applying, or even thinking of it. Henson said he did want to be a Principal, but the county offices were beyond his aspirations.
Largely different from transitioning from Teacher to Administrator, the transition into the Superintendent position was far easier says Henson. You’re already dealing with a lot of the same things on a single school scale, but moving to the Superintendent position crosses schools and districts. He did not there is a lot more PR involved, but nothing to the extreme change as he experienced his first year in administration.
Becoming Superintendent in 2007, he says he focused on opening the school system up and growing more transparent than it already was. Sharing information and speaking straight about his feelings allowed a certain connection with people. It seems, in truth, that he never quite outgrew some of the goofiness of his childhood as he recalls joking with colleagues and staff.
Henson says he wanted to have a good time in the office despite everything they dealt with. He pushed the staff, but they also played pranks on each other and shared moments like a school secretary embarrassing her daughter with a funny picture.
Noting one particular instance, Stacy recalls a story with finance running checks in the office. With one office member in particular who would always try to jump scare people running the check machine. Henson quickly opened the door and threw a handful of gummy bears at her. Unfortunately, a few were sucked into the machine and ruined the check run. It wasn’t a good day considering, yet the staff laughed about it and shared in the comedy.
A necessary part of the job is what Henson calls it. The lightheartedness was key to maintaining his staff. “If you stay serious a hundred percent of the time, it’s going to kill you,” he says.
The position wasn’t just laughter and jokes though, tough times came plenty enough. Not all of them were the expected issues that you might expect. Aside from the general politics that face schools daily in these times, Henson even dealt with death threats in his position. Having let people go and dealt with others careers, he admits he had that one employee’s spouse threated his life after a firing.
As he speaks about some of the hardest moments like this, it’s hard to find out how harrowing the event really was. Henson says now that it’s not a big deal, it wasn’t the only threat he had. His wife speaks a little more plainly as she confesses some days, she couldn’t tell if it was worth it for him to be the Superintendent. Yet, even she says in hindsight that she is proud of the honesty, integrity, and openness that permeated his ten years.
Additionally, dealing with things like the shootings and issues that have plagued schools in the last decade, he adds, “It’s a more stressful job than when I started 30 years ago. It’s much more stressful. There are so many things that the state expects, that locals expect, that parents expect… I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in another 30 years.”
Henson agreed that schools have lost a lot of the innocence they used to have within the teachers and staff. As these people continue to rack their brains on following the mission to educate and keep kids safe, they take a lot of the stress off the kids as they are at school. He said, “I don’t know if it’s spelled out, but I think if you’re a good teacher, you feel that inherently.”
It also branched over into policies, with increased focus on testing and numbers, Henson said the position got a lot more into the realm of politics as you deal with the state legislature and handling the constant changes that came from the state adds another item to juggle.
As a superintendent, you don’t need state tests, as Henson says, to tell you how well a teacher teaches. “I can sit in a class for five minutes and tell you if a teacher can teach.”
In the face of everything, Henson said he wouldn’t burn any bridges about returning to education, but he’s enjoying his retirement.
Henson has already reached the “what’s next” point in his career as he retired last year. One year into retirement, he says he is just as busy as ever with his position on the Board of Tax Assessors and putting a daughter through college at the University of Georgia. On top of maintaining his own projects, he says he’s focusing on being a parent and husband and making up for time lost in his position as Superintendent.
Once he hit ten years in the office, Henson said he felt like he had done what he wanted, it was time to hand it over to someone else for their impressions and interpretations. Though retiring from his career, he didn’t fade into obscurity. With Stan Helton asking him to sit on the Board of Tax Assessors and others still seeking advice and counsel, he simply transitioned once more.
- Union County Schools will be CLOSED Monday, September 11th and Tuesday, September 12th due to Gov. Nathan Deal declaring a state of emergency for all 159 counties in Georgia. Please continue to monitor here for further updates.
- Fannin County Schools will be closed for students and all personnel on Monday, September 11 and Tuesday, September 12, for students, as well as all faculty and staff, except for 12-month personnel, district directors, and principals. As long as it is safe to do so, all 12-month personnel, as well as district directors and principals, should anticipate reporting by 9:00 a.m. on September 12. These personnel should note, though, that this expectation may be revised, depending on the weather conditions overnight; nonetheless, if you ever believe it is unsafe to report, please notify your immediate supervisor. In addition, the Board of Education work session meeting that was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 12, has been cancelled. Please continue to stay safe!
- Pickens County Schools closed Monday, September 11th – TWELVE MONTH EMPLOYEES REPORT AT NORMAL TIME. Schools will also be closed on Tuesday, September 12. Twelve month employees will be contacted late Monday as to whether they will be required to come to work on Tuesday. All school activities, including athletic events and after-school programs, will be canceled.
- Gilmer County Schools will be closed Monday, September 11th and Sepember 12th due to Hurricane Irma. We have made this decision after consultation with local emergency management authorities and careful consideration of safety factors, such as the probability of severe winds especially at higher elevations, debris, dangerous road conditions and downed power lines left in its wake. Only 12 month staff should report if safe to do so.
- Dawson County Schools will be closed on Monday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Twelve month employees will operate on a 2 hour delay.
- Lumpkin County Schools closed due to the weather forecast for our area, Lumpkin County Schools will be closed on Monday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 12, 2017. The anticipated high winds pose a significant threat to our students and staff. We understand that weather predictions are not always accurate, but we cannot ignore the potentially dangerous situation that this storm poses. Our number one priority is to keep our students and staff safe! Wednesday will still be a early release day as planned so that teachers will be available for parent conferences. 12 month employees should report if it is safe to do so.
- Towns County Schools closed Monday, September 11th and Tuesday, September 12th for all students. All employees should report at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, September 12th if safe to do so.
- White County Schools due to the severe weather forecast, White County Schools are closed for students and staff Monday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Please be safe!
- Murray County Schools closed Monday September 11 and Tuesday September 12, due to the possible impact of Hurricane Irma. We have made this decision after consultation with local emergency management authorities and careful consideration of safety factors, such as the probability of severe winds, debris, dangerous road conditions, and downed power lines. We understand that weather predictions are often incorrect, but the size of this storm cannot be ignored. It is our hope that Murray County is spared from any of this storm’s impact, but we will always choose to error on the side of caution. All events planned for Monday and Tuesday evenings are also cancelled. This includes the September 11 MCPS Board meeting. This meeting will be rescheduled for Thursday, September 14 at 6:15 p.m. All maintenance, grounds crew, and transportation employees will meet at the transportation office.
Several counties are currently under a winter storm warning until 7am Saturday. Periods of snow (1-4 inches) are expected making difficult travel conditions. Road conditions are expected to deteriorate through the day and into the evening. The safety of students and staff is always a primary concern and for that reason the following Schools will be closed today December 8, 2017.
Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns, Lumpkin, White, Dawson, Murray, & Cherokee County North Carolina.
Please use caution as you travel. FetchYourNews will update on conditions as the winter weather continues to effect our area.