JCHS is 10 years old
By Regina Reagan
In the fall of 1995, Jefferson County High School (JCHS) opened with a mission to increase the education level of Jefferson County's citizens.
"Ten years later we've accomplished that goal," said Dr. Molly Howard, JCHS principal since its beginnings.
During its first school season, at a time when only a little over 50 percent of the county's adult population had a high school education, the 145,000 square foot building welcomed 1,047 young members of the county's next generation of adults.
Since that time, Dr. Howard has seen the dropout rate at the school cut in half from approximately 8.5 percent to 4.2 percent and has watched the high school completion rate grow to exceed the state average.
"We were among the highest dropout rates in the state," Dr. Howard said. "I'm most proud that more students are seeing high school completion.
"To do that it'd be assumed that you've lowered your standard so those struggling can graduate."
Dr. Howard says that exactly the opposite has taken place over the past ten years.
"We've increased the graduation rate and the standard," she said. "The focus for the last two years has been to increase expectations for all students. We are keeping those who struggle the most and still increasing our standardized test scores.
"I think it's been a huge success. I attribute this to our faculty and staff's commitment and innovation. We have created ways to provide extra opportunities for struggling students and personalize the learning program for each student."
Dr. Howard mentioned the school's block schedule, which allows students who have failed a course one block to retake that course the next.
Another huge innovation, which has occurred during the past four years, is the school's adoption of the Southern Regional Education Board's (SREB) High Schools That Work (HSTW) design and the implementation of a school improvement model as a result of a Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) grant.
"That's helped lead to many of the changes we've made in increasing expectations, reducing lower level classes and retooling teachers with engaging instructional strategies," Dr. Howard said.
Among the many victories experienced as a result of the HSTW design and the school's reform efforts was the school's ability to eliminate lower level courses in all subject areas.
Over the past ten years, as the lower level classes were being eliminated, many classes were added to provide students with an abundance of opportunities and keep up with the changing job market. The school also adopted more opportunities for students in the area of student organizations and clubs.
Among those added were Key Club, which Dr. Howard described as a "real important, very vital organization," Spanish Club and Math Team.
Included in the courses added were the human services program, the professional foods program, the teacher cadet program, the health occupation program, broadcast journalism, 3rd year Spanish and Advanced Placement Spanish as well as calculus and Advanced Placement calculus.
In the fine arts program, chorus was added.
"We continue to have a strong fine arts program that we're proud of," Dr. Howard said. "The addition of the choral program has been tremendous for opportunities for fine arts students."
Another addition followed as a direct result of the addition of the choral program; a choral suite was added onto the end of A-wing recently.
So, while the programs of studies were growing, the building itself grew too.
Dr. Howard sees another expansion of the building coming in the near future. She wishes to add space onto the career wing of the building, C-wing, by adding an industrial kitchen for the professional foods program. Until then, she said, it will never be industry certified.
Three of the five career cluster areas offered at the high school are currently industry certified-business, technology and carpentry.
Dr. Howard sees the addition of future industry certified career and technology programs as the job market changes.
Dr. Howard also sees the addition of wrestling within the next 3-5 years.
Consistency over the years
The only addition to the school's athletics in the past ten years has been boys' and girls' soccer.
"They've been real competitive," Dr. Howard said.
In a league with National Champions Richmond Academy, the Warrior and Lady Warrior soccer teams have held their own.
Dr. Howard also said the same for the school's Lady Warrior fast pitch softball team and weightlifting.
The Lady Warrior softball team has been known as a highly competitive team for many years, and since the school's weightlifting program entered competition approximately 5 years ago, it has come from finishing close to last to a consistent second behind Washington County.
This past year they came closer than ever to Washington County, with a difference of just 5 points between the two teams.
Dr. Howard feels the weightlifting program is beneficial for all athletic programs, citing that it improves athletes' physical condition and strength.
The number of athletic program participants has improved over the years, as well. The school's football program, which has no cap on the number of players, has a roster, on average, of 75-80 people, and Dr. Howard said that the school has no problem filling all of the other sports' rosters.
While the athletic programs and participants were growing, the changes made to the athletic facilities included the conversion of the boys' baseball practice field to a regulated girls' softball field and the addition of concession stands and bathrooms there.
With the many changes in the school throughout the years, two things have stayed relatively consistent-the student population and the staff population.
High school of the 21st century
The student population at the school has been around 1,000 students each year, with this year being the first year the enrollment is projected at just below that number, due largely to a decrease in the county's birth rate that is just now catching up with the high school, Dr. Howard believes.
Student participation in the dual enrollment program with Sandersville Technical College has become another one of JCHS's consistent factors. Since the program began, an average of 30 students per year graduate from JCHS with both a high school diploma and a certificate from Sandersville Tech.
The staff population, as well, has stayed fairly consistent.
"One of our strengths is we've had a stable staff," Dr. Howard said.
The faculty and staff numbers for the 2005-2006 school year stand at approximately 105, with 65 certified staff, including teachers, counselors and administration, and 40 support staff, including bus drivers, paraprofessionals and food service employees.
In 1995, the faculty and staff consisted of 52 teachers, one principal, two assistant principals, two counselors, one media specialist and 33 support staff members, for a total of 91 members.
Another consistent factor over the past ten years of the school's history is the certification of its staff.
"We began with all staff fully certified in their areas and they still are," Dr. Howard said. "Nobody teaches out of their area-never have and still don't."
Dr. Howard predicts the first major change in the school's staff is drawing near.
"One of the things I see coming as far as staff is we have a lot of teachers who started with us who will be retiring in one or two more years," she said.
Students returning to the high school this year won't have to worry about a drastic change in the staff this year, but they will have a shock as far as changes to the building. The facility is currently undergoing a major facelift to bring it into the 21st century.
Until this summer, very little has been done to the structure.
"We've been really proud of how our maintenance staff, custodial staff and students have kept up the building," Dr. Howard said.
On more than one occasion, she said, visitors have commented on how the school looked only one or two years old, when in fact it was almost ten.
"We've always taken it very seriously," Dr. Howard said of the school's upkeep. "We are stewards of our taxpayers' resources and we want to be good stewards."
The school has been preserved incredibly well for the number of students who pass through its doors each day and the various community uses of the building, so the recent changes were made as a result of a needed style makeover not because of poor upkeep, Dr. Howard said.
The changes include a fresh coat of paint, with a new color scheme including bright blues and a lime green, a tile floor on the once carpeted C-wing, the addition of mosaic tiles on the columns inside the commons and the addition of Greek key stripes along the sides of each hall.
Dr. Howard said that many of these changes have important functions as well as aesthetic value.
Before they were mosaic tile, the columns in the commons were a teal plaster that, when bumped into by scrubbers and buffers, would chip off. The mosaic tiles are designed to withstand such contact.
Also, the colored stripe lines, which were originally planned in 1995 but were just added, are strategically placed where students will most likely touch or lean against, keeping the rest of the wall its brightest white. Each stripe line follows the specific hall's color scheme.
Finally, the newly tiled C-wing is the only hall out of the three that is not carpeted. That hall was tiled because with the nature of the work that occurs on C-wing, including auto shop and other vocational courses, the carpet was in worse condition in that hall than any of the other halls.
Dr. Howard hopes to see all of the remaining carpet in the building being replaced with new carpet within the next couple of years.
Another addition made to the building this summer was the installation of a new security system. The school added a campus security officer, Officer Freddy Hill, many years ago, but now Officer Hill will have a little help monitoring the grounds with cameras on each hall. During school hours the cameras will be monitored from the front office, but in the case that something happens after school hours, the cameras will continue rolling and each is equipped with video loop.
Many more changes, too numerous to mention, have taken place between the walls and on the grounds of Jefferson County High School since it first opened its doors in the fall of '95. All of these changes can be traced back to the goal made 10 years ago-increasing the education level of Jefferson County's citizens.
According to Dr. Howard, it's taken years of commitment, hard work and innovation to reach this and other goals set for the school.
"Through our faculty and staff's commitment, we have been able to accomplish the goals we set for our school," she said. "Our faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to create solutions to obstacles that might have otherwise impeded our progress."
Dr. Howard will be the first to admit that the full effects and benefits of many of the changes made at the school during the last 10 years will not always become immediately evident, but she has seen progress made and goals reached.
She even said that she and her colleagues realize that they may not live to see the end results of their hard work, but they are confident that the fruits of their labor will grow and show in due time.
"You have to accept the fact that you plant a seed today and it'll take a long time to grow into a mature tree."
Locals oppose sludge
• Local residents oppose a permit which could allow Columbia County's sewage sludge to be used as a nitrogen supplement on a local hay farm
By Parish Howard
"If sludge is so good, why don't you spread it in Columbia County," one Jefferson County resident asked, as several more echoed they didn't want to become "the bathroom of Augusta."
That was the consensus of the vocal portion of the nearly 75 people who came to Thursday's meeting and public hearing last week regarding the possible land applications of Columbia County's treated sewage sludge as a nitrogen supplement on a Jefferson County hay farm.
Representatives from Georgia’s Department of Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and Columbia County’s water treatment department met with citizens to illustrate the basics of the proposed sludge application plan and invite comments.
A similar meeting was held five years ago which attracted a crowd of over 300 when the same site was originally permitted to receive sludge from Augusta-Richmond County’s treatment plants.
Jeff Larson, Manager of the Permitting, Compliance and Enforcement Program for EPD’s Watershed Protection Branch served as moderator for both hearings and said that he was not surprised about the opposition and concern he heard Thursday.
The proposed plan includes adding six ground water monitoring wells across the site, an addition not required in the previous permit.
“The addition of these wells is somewhat unprecedented,” Larson said.
Due to concern for the site being over an aquifer recharge area and in an attempt to be “conservative,” Larson and EPD Environmental Engineer Mark Beebe explained that there were a number of additions to this plan that do not appear on similar sludge sites across the state.
In addition to the wells, the plan includes reducing application rates by 25 percent below the normal agronomic rate and designating certain fields for sludge from each of Columbia County’s treatment plants to further monitor the source of any potential contaminants.
Representatives for both the EPD and Columbia County explained that the sludge produced from their predominantly residential county shows levels of dangerous metals significantly below the required thresholds, easily meeting all state and federal regulations.
Bill Clayton, director of the Columbia County Water Utility, said that commitments included testing, industrial pretreatment monitoring and environmental stewardship.
He said that his plants discharge treated water back into the Savannah river above the intakes for both Columbia and Augusta’s drinking water.
Many local residents weren’t satisfied.
They questioned the location of the site and expressed serious concern for local drinking water as these fields are located over an aquifer recharge area that supplies water for residents across southern Georgia and into northern Florida.
They also questioned the accumulation of metals from previous Augusta applications and the potential presence of sink holes on the site.
“Why, if you already knew of all the issues in our county, the river, the watershed, the aquifer recharge area, the nearby school and churches, why would you still bring it here and not find a place in Columbia County for it,” asked local resident Geary Davis.
Larson responded, “Because it’s legally alright for them to do this.”
Local residents asked EPD to deny the permit as the plan is, or to go back and look at a number of issues they feel it does not address.
Larry Hodges of Louisville, claims to have witnessed sludge running off the property through ditches and into adjacent Rocky Comfort Creek.
He said the plan has no environmental impact statement, does not take into effect local bald eagle or woodstork populations which are within two miles of the site, does not address soil testing or wind drift, does not test for all toxic chemicals and does not mention surface water runoff.
Other residents said the plan does not account for drain tiles that could carry sludge directly into neighboring waterways.
Wadley resident Randy Cain said that he would like to see more soil testing, as the heavy metals found in sludge “bind tightly to the soil column.” He added that he is also concerned about the presence of nitrogen levels in neighboring Rocky Comfort Creek where it can boost algae growth which can deplete the oxygen levels seriously harming the aquatic habitat.
Ogeechee -Canoochee Riverkeeper Chandra Brown said the sludge should be monitored on a more frequent basis than the current plan allows.
“This is not fertilizer,” said Jefferson County resident John Lewis. “If it is spilled on the side of the road, it requires toxic cleanup.”
Lewis challenged Columbia County to further improve their treatment facilities to the point where they could produce a Class A biosolid sludge, which is considered much safer.
He, and others, went so far as to call the local distribution of Augusta and Columbia county waste products “economic discrimination.”
“Jefferson County is one of the poorest counties in the state and Columbia County is one of the fastest growing,” Davis said. “Why can’t you fix your own problems?”
At the end of the night Richard Hudson, of Hudson Grassing Co. the site’s owners, addressed the crowd. He said that while the property in question is in the county, it belongs to his family and they are simply asking to be able to profit from the use of their private property. The majority of their hay is used in erosion control projects across the state.
“If this stuff is so bad, why don’t we hear about people keeling over at treatment plants all across the country,” Hudson said. “And if this aquifer is so sensitive, why are there hundreds of thousands of homes, septic tanks and industries all over going about day to day business? If it was that sensitive they wouldn’t allow anything south of I-20 and north of Florida?”
Hudson later said that he believed the opposition to the permit is more personal than environmental.
Sludge application programs like this one were created as a means to reuse this waste and extend the lives of landfills where it takes up space and produces gases. There are currently 80 permits like this across the state.
Additional written comments on the proposed permit modifications will be accepted through Thursday, Aug. 4 and should be sent to: Director, Environmental Protection Division, Department of Natural Resources, 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, S.E. Floyd Towers East, Atlanta, GA 30334.
Larson said that after those comments are gathered EPD will take 30-45 days to consider the relevance of all of the information gathered, determine if additional changes should be made to the plan, decide whether or not that plan will need to be resubmitted for public comment or if the entire proposal should be denied.
Development Authority investigates opportunity
• Economic Developer will travel to Norway to look into the feasibility of a company interested in the Forstmann site
By Ben Roberts
Tom Jordan is going to great lengths in his position as Economic Developer for Jefferson County. Later this month, he’ll go to Norway.
Members of the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC) voted unanimously in a called meeting Monday morning to send Jordan and a state-level specialist in the field of recirculating aquaculture to Norway for a two-day research trip in hopes of gaining more knowledge on a possible industrial project. If successful, that project could eventually grow to 300 jobs.
The prospect, known only by the code name Aquatech to Jordan and the DAJC, is interested in the old Forstmann site just outside Louisville. Jordan explained that the company would be producing “farm-raised” marine shrimp and possibly fish and organic vegetables. The group is particularly interested in the Forstmann property because of the site’s water treatment capabilities.
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Since the company would be using recirculating water technology, Jordan said there would not be a tremendous demand on water supply itself.
Jordan told DAJC members that Norway was ahead of the U.S. on this type of technology and that he and the consultant would be touring similar facilities in that country to gain a better understanding of the process. Part of the need for that understanding is so the DAJC could endorse the project in an effort to help the foreign-based company secure financial backing by U.S. banking institutions.
DAJC members approved a budget of $10,000 to cover the consultant’s fee as well as travel expenses for Jordan and the consultant. Jordan said one of the Forstmann property’s current owners, as well as the international representative for the state’s Department of Economic Development, might also meet them in Norway, although the DAJC would not be paying either of their expenses.
One reason Jordan would like to push forward is that there is a second party who has expressed interest in the site. Should the Aquatech project fail to be feasible, Jordan said he’d like to focus his efforts on that second group.