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February 21, 2002

Wrens Police Chief David Hannah and Louisville Academy Principal Hulet Kitterman review student work produced under the America's Choice program at Wrens Elementary.

America's Choice, Jefferson County's future

By Parish Howard

This past fall Wrens Elementary, Carver Elementary, Wrens Middle and Louisville Middle along with 160 other schools in Georgia began redefining what they expect from student work in the hopes of improving student achievement through the statewide standards-based reform model created by America's Choice.

"It is a standards-based program that operates by showing teachers and students what good work looks like," said Ed Bilinsky, a representative for the National Center on Education and the Economy who led a group discussion among principals at Wrens Elementary in the fall. "It's a whole school reform model."

If everything goes according to plan, Wrens Elementary may begin hosting guests from all over the southeast as early as this spring.

In March, evaluators with America's Choice/Georgia's Choice initiative will be reviewing the school's chances of becoming a model school for the district, and America's Choice Regional Manager Debbie Craven doesn't see any reason why it shouldn't be chosen.

"When I thought about all the schools I cover and the possibility of any of them becoming an America's Choice model school, Wrens is the first to come to mind," Craven said. "That is not to slight the work being done at all the other schools, but Wrens Elementary just seems to be such an optimal choice."

To become a model school, under this program, the institution must "far exceed" the other schools in its area in meeting the goals and standards set forth in the program's curriculum, Craven explained.

"They have to more than meet the standards, they have to exceed them," she said. "We really feel that Wrens Elementary is in a place to do that, mainly because of the excitement and energy we see in its principal, team leaders and staff."

If approved, the school will be strenuously evaluated every six months for as long as it would like to be considered as a model school.

"America's Choice Area Director Debbie Craven was looking for a school she felt was doing real well in implementing the program," Bethune said. "She was particularly pleased with the job the teachers and administrators were doing at Wrens Elementary and decided to hold them up as a model for the other schools in the area."

If the school receives the model school designation, then it will be used as a model to show educators from as far away as South Carolina, Alabama and Florida how the America's Choice plan should be implemented in a school.

One of the closest America's Choice model schools, in Jacksonville, Fla., receives around 30 visiting educators every day from all over the southeast, Craven said.

Classrooms in model schools are used to teach educators just beginning the America's Choice program, how to teach their subjects around the models, standards and objectives set forth in the curriculum.

"America's Choice is a change for the sake of student achievement," Craven said. "That's what it's all about. We want our students and teachers to see what good work looks like and be able to produce it."

Community leaders, school system administrators and other visitors were recently invited to Wrens Elementary to witness the America's Choice program in action. Visitors toured classrooms where they watched students of all grad levels taking part in reading and writing workshops.

So far this year, the students at these four schools taking part in America's Choice have been introduced the language arts portions of the program which involve writing everyday, getting direct response from their teachers as to what standards and goals have been met and which still need to be addressed.

The program helps teach teachers and school administrators how to focus their curriculum and instruction on improving student work so that it meets the standards set by the state.

Wrens Middle has also begun the mathematics portion which all of the other schools are planning to implement next year. Sections on science and applied learning will follow.

Another crucial aspect of the program involves the school's assessment of what is being learned and what is being missed. As a part of the America's Choice program, teachers will give every student a "scrimmage" test every year. Then they will go back and review every student's answer to every question comparing it not only to the rest of the class, but the school, the state and national averages to try and determine if there are any problems with the way certain skills are being taught.

"The teachers will be able to take the tests and tell which students are not getting what," Craven said. "That's the only way to make sure we give them what they need."

The school will be using old copies of the Govorner's Georgia Criterion Reference Test.

"Carl Bethune and the school board were being proactive in seeking to take part in America's Choice," Craven said. "These four schools were chosen to take part after they appeared on the Governor's list of school's whose scores (on the Georgia Criterion Reference Test) need improving."

Schools can appear on the list twice before the state requires that they do something to improve their scores, Craven said, but the Jefferson County education administrators sought help after appearing the first time.

"2001-2002 is the first year the program is being instituted throughout the state, now that the Department of Education has come forward to say that they support the program whole heartedly," said Laura Toburen, Jefferson County's America's Choice Team Leader.

Bethune said that there are 64 different schools sharing a district with Jefferson County.

Ground broken for new tech campus

New Sandersville Tech campus will neighbor Jefferson County High School

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The long awaited presence of Sandersville Technical College in Jefferson County came to a close Friday with the groundbreaking of the school's Jefferson County Center adjacent to Jefferson County High School on Mennonite Church Road.

Sandersville Tech President Dr. Jack Sterrett said the project, totaling $1.7 million, will include a 10,250 square-foot building housing four class rooms, a lab and offices. Land for the 18-acre satellite school campus was given cost-free by the school board. The Jefferson County Center will be the only technical school in the state with a technical school located on a high school campus, he said.

"This is a partnership between the Jefferson County board of Education and Sandersville Technical College," Sterrett said at the Feb. 14 school board meeting. "Our intent is to make it a model for the state."

Speaking to a crowd of more than 100 at the groundbreaking, Rep. Jimmy Lord said presence of the school is designed to support future economic development in Jefferson County.

"This is a great day for Jefferson County," he said. "I know you are behind the technical school. It is a tool your economic development team can use in recruiting industry for the county. And it will be a big, big tool in that development."

Speakers at the groundbreaking included school board Chairman Jimmy Fleming, superintendent Carl Bethune, county commission chairman Dr. Gardner Hobbs and county administrator James Rogers.

"Jefferson County is rich in land, water and human resources," said Hobbs. "If we're going to be, the kind of county we need to be then we have to educate all of our people."

Sterrett said construction on the facility will begin immediately. The school will open in August even if construction is not completed. A portion of the Jefferson County Center already in operation for nearly two years is the CDL truck driving school west of the new campus on Mennonite Church Road.

Jefferson County commissioners provided 18 acres of county property near the landfill for the project.

State Technical and Adult Education Director Ken Breeden praised the efforts of the school board and county commission toward furthering the educational opportunities for Jefferson County residents.

Breeden also gave much of credit for the project to Rep. Lord.

He said Lord's persistence in "leading the charge" insured that the Jefferson County Center would become a reality.

County cuts funds for senior citizens

Seniors' Center patrons voice concerns over cutbacks

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Answers to questions posed to Jefferson County commissioners over cutbacks and price increases at the county Seniors Center were not well received by those attending the commission's Feb. 12 regular session. That sentiment was still in evidence among seniors Friday at the Louisville center.

At issue was the announcement that the center would operate four days each week beginning Feb. 20 rather than the customary five days. Also at issue are requests by the county for seniors to contribute to transportation costs and a voluntary increase in meal costs.

At the meeting, Senior Citizens Community Advisory Board Chairman Lloyd Long asked that commissioners reexamine county finances to determine if any alternatives exist that would prevent the senior center from having to be closed on Fridays. He said the significance of the issue for seniors throughout the county lies is that they have contributed to the county and society throughout their lives and now, in their time of need, the commission should find a way to contribute to them.

"The feeling I got when I spoke with a group of seniors today at the center, and it was packed, is that they don't want to say home on Fridays," said Long. "They understand that things have to be budgeted. I understand that, too. It has taken a while and a lot of work to get this number of seniors to come to the center. If you cut it back, you are going to lose some of the seniors. When you see seniors come out (to a night meeting), like tonight, it is a miracle. They are here because they are concerned."

Hobbs told seniors the request would be evaluated but maintained that budget considerations and changes in reimbursement items involving seniors center funding must be addressed. Responding to a senior's statement about the increase in the price of meals from $1 to $1.50 and the recent implementation of a $.50 for a ride to the seniors center, he said he believed that center Director Marie Swint had explained the cost increases and that he would come to the center to go over the budget with attendees. Hobbs said prior to the current budget the center had been running 45-50 percent over budget.

"There is no such thing as a free lunch," he told seniors. "It is a costly matter. I'm a senior citizen and I can certainly empathize with all people in this county. We will look at what we have and if we can make some adjustments, we will."

Regarding cuts in the seniors center program, County Administrator James Rogers said Friday that CSRA Seniors Center Program Director Robert Reinert is assisting the county to determine if additional funds are available for needs at the center. He said the problem with funding dollars reaches far beyond Jefferson County.

"She, herself, suggested that we go to four days," said Rogers. "She said a lot of counties are going to four days and some are going to three days. So this is not something unique to Jefferson County or the program. It is because the federal funds have been reduced."

Rogers said federal cutbacks are the reason the county is currently paying 100 percent of the cost of feeding approximately half the seniors being served. That is why seniors are being asked to contribute an increased amount for food, he said. As for the charge for transportation, Rogers said those costs are budgeted through the county Transportation Dept. and are not reflected in the seniors center budget. To help with budgetary concerns the Meals on Wheels program will deliver a hot meal on Mondays along with three frozen meals intended for three of the four remaining week days.

Reinert said Tuesday that a prospective cut to the nutrition component of Richmond County's five senior centers by that county's commissioners had been reviewed and reversed.

"A cut had been considered by the Richmond County Board of Commissioners," she said. "The money was not cut and it was restored to the senior's nutrition budget."

Contacted Friday at the seniors center, many of those in attendance voiced their disapproval at what they heard at the Tuesday night regular session. Center President Martha Harmon said living on a fixed income makes even small increases sometimes difficult to bear.

"We are seniors," said center President Martha Harmon. "We need to be treated fair but they are not treating us fair. It is a matter of respect. We pay our taxes and we vote. (Commissioners) are there because we helped put them in office. We just want to be respected as seniors."

Seniors voiced concern about the price increases for meals, transportation to the center and to medical appointments and the announcement of the center being closed on Fridays. Seniors said they try to pay their way at the center even though some charges, such as the price of meals, are voluntary. Harmon also spoke about the intrinsic value the center provides.

"I come to the center every day," she said. "It makes me sad to think that we will only be able to come four days. It will be a hardship because we get together here, we communicate. A lot of us live alone and coming down here you have somebody to talk to and communicate with in place of staying home. I live by myself and I get more joy out of coming here and talking with my friends."

Local AARP President Alma Williams questioned the logic of the current Meals on Wheels plan to deliver a hot meal on Monday's along with frozen meals for the remainder of the week.

"You've got all kinds of people that are housebound," said Williams. "Some seniors can't see well, others can't get around. Some people may be physically or mentally unable to heat the meals correctly. When they have gotten to that age or in that kind of condition, they need their meals already cooked and hot and they are not going to get it."

Manufactured home ordinance considered

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Glascock County residents expressed overwhelming support Feb. 12 for adoption of a manufactured home ordinance in unincorporated areas of the county. Nearly 30 of the more than 80 residents in the courthouse voiced an opinion at the public meeting, with almost all who spoke taking the position of favoring an ordinance that could be implemented without restricting the rights of property owners.

Commissioners requested input from residents on any thoughts and concerns they might have on either side of the question of regulating the presence of manufactured homes in Glascock County.

Commission Chairman Thomas Chalker opened the meeting by asking, "Where do we want to be in the next five years? What's best for us and our children?"

Responses by residents, while overwhelmingly in favor of some type of ordinance, ranged significantly in terms of criteria and regulations that might be mandated, the possible need for a temporary ordinance until a permanent ordinance can be adopted and the possibility of having an ordinance put to a vote through a referendum. Echoed throughout the meeting were concerns that, if adopted, an ordinance not reduce or restrict the rights and freedom of property owners. Some said they believed the ordinance should be kept simple, comprised of requirements that are fair for everyone while and preserving the rights of property owners.

Many residents referred to the specific requirements that might be included in an ordinance. Those included potential stipulations such as the age of the home coming into the county, lot size, the number of homes allowed per site, upkeep and beautification issues, health and sanitation concerns, underpinning and handrail requirements.

Other residents spoke against the adoption of a manufactured home ordinance. Some said an ordinance would pose too many restrictions on property owners, effectively preventing them from exercising their rights to use their property as they saw fit. Another said an ordinance would require enforcement, with a subsequent cost to taxpayers, because money generated from the sale of permits would not cover the cost of enforcement.

Also surfaced at the meeting were concerns from several residents on the presence of out of county hunters in areas of Glascock. One resident wanted something done about members of hunting clubs who drink excessively and otherwise compromising club privileges. Another resident said his contract with hunters has a clause prohibiting drinking and smoking. He said he is willing to confront hunters if a problem, adding that some landowners in the county use revenues from hunting leases to help pay property taxes.

A third resident explained that he visits with new hunters in his area, requesting and extending respect. He said most hunters want to maintain their lease and do not want to jeopardize it.

At the conclusion of the meeting, commissioners asked for volunteers from the community to serve on a committee to examine the issues, concerns and options available to the county for possible inclusion in a manufactured home ordinance.

Committee volunteers include Kevin Simpson, Benny Thigpen, Gary Sheppard, Wayne Williford, Craig Reece, Marilyn Peebles, Eric Hardin, Jack Williford, Don Finch, and Troy Hadden.

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Last modified: February 20, 2002