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April 19, 2007 Issue

Board arms school officer
Officers are treating death as a murder pending crime lab results
Howard named state principal of the year

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Board arms school officer

• Jefferson County BOE votes unanimously for deputy to carry a handgun while on school campuses

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Jefferson County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday, April 10, to require Resource Officer Freddie Hill to carry a weapon on school grounds.

Carl Bethune, the school board’s superintendent, said the issue has been discussed for sometime.

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“It’s been a concern for a number of years that our resource officer was not armed,” he said. “We’ve not had a need for him to be armed to this point but the concern from the board was you just never know in this day and time what problems might come into your building from the outside.”

Although the issue was not an agenda item, the agenda was amended to include the issue. “Mr. (Bobby) Butts made the motion to amend the agenda to include this item,” Bethune said. “Georgia (Hunter) made the motion to approve the weapon.”

Bethune said it was a unanimous vote with a main concern being the weapon being secure while worn by the officer.

A meeting was held at 5 p.m. prior to the scheduled board meeting. In order to not violate the Open Records Act, there was not a quorum present and other board members discussed the issue at 5:30 p.m. in a separate meeting, again avoiding having a quorum present.

“We’ve been discussing it for a couple of years and we had a couple of board members to meet and decide to put it on the agenda,” the superintendent said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins, Hill, school board attorney Franklin Edenfield and Dr. Molly Howard, the high school’s principal were invited to the second meeting.

Bethune said this is a very complex issue. “It’s been a little faster than I thought, that’s why I didn’t have it on the agenda,” he said.

Hutchins said he attended the meeting in order to support Hill and added he himself was not present during the public board meeting.

“I mainly was there to support Freddie,” the sheriff said. “My biggest concern for Mr. Hill wearing a weapon is for his safety and the safety of the students. Freddie’s a certified peace officer and he is capable of carrying a weapon. A weapon would be for the safety of the students and the faculty from any risk from the outside.”

Hutchins said Hill still works part time as a deputy for Jefferson County.

“They (the school board) decided if I would let him use the weapon he uses when he works for me, they’ll buy him a holster for his side and it’s going to be a level 3.”

Hutchins explained a level 3 holster is the most secure type. “There’s a lock on the holster,” he said. “He’s got to work the mechanism a certain way in order to access that weapon.”

The weapon Hill will carry is a Sigma 9 mm, according to the sheriff.

“If there was a weapon discharged on school property and someone was injured, the GBI would be called in,” Hutchins said, adding it is standard procedure to call in an outside agency to handle any investigation pertaining to a county agency. “The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office would assist the GBI but they would be called in,” he said.

Hill would continue to be stationed at Jefferson County High School and also remain available for response to any public school in the county. Dr. Molly Howard, the high school principal, has worked with Hill since he’s been on staff.

“It’s probably one of the most complex and sensitive issues,” Howard said. “You’ll never know if you made the right decision until it’s hindsight. I hope and pray that in my lifetime we never regret it.”

Howard said there has been no incident or even a culmination of situations that prompted this change in policy. “It’s the state of society,” she said.

Howard said she and Hill discussed the issue of Hill carrying a weapon. Her concerns focused more on times when there is an unknown adult population on the premises, such as during sporting events, than during the school day when visitors are limited, she said.

“We have other safety measures in place other than a gun,” Howard said. One of those measures is to secure all doors that open into the building from outside, except the main door at the front of the school. “Officer Hill and the custodians monitor the entrances throughout the school day,” she said. “My concern is that we’ve spent 12 years building a culture that is based upon respect and self control. I feel it’s a more effective learning environment. It’s a very fragile culture because it’s a new culture.”

Howard said she knows this will be controversial and believes some students and their parents will feel the school is a safer environment and some won’t.

“There’ll be a range of reactions,” she said. “It’s a sad commentary when an educator has to become knowledgeable about weapons.”

Howard said the school board did not poll the staff, a measure she would have liked to have been done.

“I believe the board did what they think their constituents wanted,” she said, adding, “I have trust in their motives.”

Hill said he doesn’t think his carrying a gun will change how the students act.

“It’s better for the kids,” he said. “The kids don’t look at me as a police officer. They see me as a role model, a resource officer. The kids here know what we expect and they know we would not tolerate that (violence).”

The sheriff said he believes people who know Hill will feel at ease that there’s going to be upgraded security at the high school. “I totally agree with the culture that (Howard) wants out there and I totally support what she does out there. I just want what’s best for our county and our students.”

Calls to the school board members were unreturned as of press time Tuesday.

Hill is expected to be armed before the next school board meeting in May.



Officers are treating death as a murder pending crime lab results

• Leonard Leroy Dillard charged with strangling Sandra Flournoy; Dillard was acquitted of a 1993 strangling by an Emanuel County jury

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

An investigation into a suspicious death that occurred early Saturday morning has led to the arrest of Leonard Leroy Dillard, 41, of East Artesian Street in Wadley.

Dillard was charged with murder by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office shortly before noon on Tuesday, April 17. Sandra Flournoy, 41, of Bartow, was found at Dillard’s home shortly after midnight on the morning of April 14. She was unresponsive and was transported by ambulance to Jefferson Hospital where she was pronounced dead shortly after her arrival, a spokesman with JCSO stated.

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“Ms. Flournoy’s body was transported to the GBI Crime Lab in Atlanta, Georgia, Saturday morning where an autopsy was performed,” the spokesman said. “Preliminary results from the autopsy showed that she died from strangulation.”

The spokesman stated that Dillard was with Flournoy at the time she was strangled and also con- firmed Dillard is the person who called 9-1-1.

“He was with her; she was strangled. As far as a motive, I don’t know, yet,” he said. “I think the motive was he wanted a relationship with her and she did not want the same type of relationship he wanted.”

Although preliminary results from the autopsy showed that she died from strangulation, authorities are still waiting on toxicology results, which usually take between six and eight weeks.

According to records in Emanuel County, Dillard was charged with murder stemming from an incident that occurred in July 1993, where the female victim was strangled. Dillard was found not guilty of those charges by a jury in January 1995.



State recognition for educator

Howard named state principal of the year

• Dr. Molly Howard is first to be recognized as both Teacher and Principal of the Year in Georgia

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

“Why walk when you can fly?”

That is a song title accompanied by the lyrics and CD framed on Dr. Molly Howard’s wall; a line that she takes to heart each day as she enters her office at Jefferson County High School.

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Before Dr. Howard even makes it through her door, there are pictures, well wishes and notes of gratitude taped to its frame. Inside her office, her desk is covered with papers, work she has to put on hold to spend one-on-one time with over 1,000 students and faculty.

“I try to do no paperwork during the day,” Dr. Howard said. “That time is for people, not paper. But I have to find other time to keep up with it all.

“Students are my priority. The desk does not bother me a bit.

When the summer comes, I reduce the stacks by maybe half. I have to set priorities. If I wanted a clean desk then that is all I would be able to do.”

Her walls and shelves are filled with inspirational quotes, words of wisdom, photos of family, friends, staff and students.

Her accomplishments are also displayed, but the voices of the students who have walked through the high school’s doors overpower all the plaques, diplomas and certificates.

For the last 30 years she has shared her desire for the community to have one heart and one hope for the future of Jefferson County, starting with its children.

This year, Dr. Howard was selected as the state of Georgia’s Principal of the Year. She received a similar distinction in 1990 when she was named the Teacher of the Year for the state.

Officials told her she is the first educator to be selected as both.

“Truly this recognition of being selected as the Principal of the Year is in large due to the hard work this faculty has done for 12 years to restructure secondary education,” Dr. Howard explained. “We are on the cutting edge of high school redesign and this didn’t just start, it began when the doors opened.”

Even applying for the principal position, a position that Dr. Howard felt could bring the students together no matter what town they were from, was something that weighed heavy on her heart when talk began of a creating a new, consolidated high school.

Dr. Howard taught students with intellectual disabilities at Wrens High School for 15 years before becoming the Director of the Center for Students with Emotional Behavior Disorders in Midville, which is now Riverquest. The Center served seven counties. Dr. Howard served those counties for five years.

Then along came a new opportunity, a new position.

“I drove by this school every day as it was being built,” Dr. Howard remembered. “There was a bitter consolidation battle, which I was a part of. I remember asking myself, ‘How will I decide to apply or not?’ I wanted to be principal. I knew I would do it with my heart. I would see each child as an individual.

“I decided to envision the school as it was finished, with children and faculty in its halls. I knew if I felt regret that I was not a part of it, then I needed to apply.”

She applied and was seen as the best choice to bring the county together, while giving students a top notch education and meeting the goals she, the community and the state and federal governments have set.

But the obstacles were already presenting themselves as Dr. Howard took the helm. From day one, Dr. Howard and her administration had to prove that they could bring the students together. She had to change the mindset of those in the community who still wanted a divided county.

“The hardest work is changing the mindset of the community,” she said. “We are one community, not three separate towns. Every child that walks through that door is of equal worth and value. People who didn’t believe that made for some hard days and it took the best of me some days.”

Jefferson County High School students are an 80 percent economically disadvantaged demographic. The poverty level that educators have to fight with, as Dr. Howard believes, should not hold the child back from learning. She hopes the struggle will make them fight more to take every advantage of this free education.

“There is a strong correlation between poverty and under-achievement. It is not because the students are not smart, but they have so many other distractions. Many have never seen first-hand the benefits of an education, so it is hard to dream dreams and see hope for a better life. A student’s race or economic status should never determine future success.”

The core value in her teaching system is that every child can learn at high levels. With that belief, Dr. Howard and the high school’s educators began to build structures to help raise the bar of expectations for each student.

“We have built the structures so a child could get this far and take the next step,” Dr. Howard said.

The steps she and other administrators have built have been proven to work. As the country had the greatest dip in SAT scores in the past 10 years, Jefferson County High School scores increased. But that is not their only accomplishment.

“We surpassed the state’s graduation rate,” Dr. Howard said with enthusiasm. “We surpassed the state by five percent. Our original goal was to improve education and it has been achieved. Now I can’t be satisfied until we have a 100 percent graduation rate. We met the threshold, now we have to dream even higher.”

The state’s graduation rate was at 70 percent, while Jefferson County High School’s was at 75 percent.

“This past fall, we had the highest Algebra 1 scores for the end of the course test. The State Superintendent Kathy Cox was ecstatic over what we accomplished. Someone said when she read the results she was hollering, ‘You’ve got to see this.’ I have been asked to do a workshop for other schools this month to show what we’ve done to create these algebra scores. It is being advertised all over the state to be held at the RESA in Dearing. RESA said they are being swamped with requests to come to see what we are talking about.”

Dr. Howard said the State Department of Education selected JCHS out of over 3,000 schools in the state for the Fordham School Change Award.

“This is for schools that show that you have not only stepped outside of the box, but you have blown the box up so you can’t crawl back in it,” she said.

“We are working to change the relationships that exist in high school. High schools are thought of as cold, industrial, bell ringing, mundane environments. A high school should be based on relationships, not power structure. If we teach children more self-control and respect then they will have more self control in this environment.”

While working to find a way to bring the students together, Dr. Howard and the school administration found a motto that is something they say every day with conviction: Every child, every day.

“We are a zero reject business,” Dr. Howard said. “This is not just 1,000 individual bodies, but children’s hearts. Everything has a holistic approach that you can’t reach the mind if you can’t reach the heart. If there is no feeling in our service then we are just creating robots and I am not going to be a part of a robot factory.

“We do what it takes and we value every child saint or sinner alike. It is not our job to pass judgment on who they are or where they come from. We want every child to be welcomed and respected.”

Through all of the accomplishments of the students and staff, the school continues to increase the rigor of the schools curriculum. Dr. Howard is pushing to have students not only graduate, but graduate ready to move forward in their education whether in school or the military.

After her 30 years in education, Dr. Howard is able to retire now, but she is not ready.

“You want to give as long as you have something to offer, as long as you are still having fun. I would love to be here in 2014 when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) comes to an end, when every school is supposed to be at 100 percent. NCLB has caused principals and teachers a lot of grief lying awake at night wondering what they can do to meet this.

“I don’t want people to think I ran from NCLB. I want to stare it in the eyes and say I stayed and I fought a good fight.”

Much of the faculty, Dr. Howard hopes will be there with her. Many of them have stuck with her through the years, while some have retired and new members have joined the team.

Dr. Howard wants to continue to foster a can-do attitude in her students. She said she wants her children to not accept a culture of failure, but she wants to help them rediscover hope.

A reminder of her personal motto is right in front of her each day in her office.

“In this world there’s a whole lot of cold.
In this world there’s a whole lot of blame.
In this world you’ve a soul for a compass and a heart for a pair of wings.
There’s a star on the far horizon, rising bright in an azure sky.
For the rest of the time that you’re given,
why walk when you can fly.”





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