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DECEMBER 31, 2003


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OPINIONS
Angela Gary
Cheers, tears and jeers to the newsmakers of 2003
Local news is always informative and often entertaining. The news that made the headlines in 2003 from across Banks County was varied and caused readers to nod their heads in agreement, laugh out loud or even cry.

Shar Porier
For Mom
Her silver white hair was washed and ready to go. I began curling her hair, one small section at a time. Mom had always liked me to do her hair and I was happy to have this last opportunity to play hairdresser.
She looked beautiful in her favorite blue suit.


SPORTS
Leopards get first win at Christmas tourney

The Banks County Leopard varsity boys’ team came away with a win in their first game of the Christmas tournament ‘Battle of the States’ held at Towns County High School Saturday.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
— Newsmaker of the Year Concerned Citizens of Jackson County files lawsuit against BOC
Citizens’ group seeks more input on courthouse decision
A lot of people grumble about government. Only a few step forward to fight back against what they believe to be abusive government policies.

Infrastructure, Improvements Highlight Year For Commerce
A look back over major events in Commerce during 2003 provides a surprising litany of improvements and a whole lot of construction. Those amount to the Number 2 story reported during 2003 in The Commerce News.

News from
MADISON COUNTY
New county jail finally completed
Voters approved $2.3 million in sales tax money for a new county jail in 1998. Five years and another sales tax vote later, the project was finally completed this year, with inmates moving in this past September.

Voters approve millions in sales tax projects
Madison County will receive approximately $19 million in sales tax revenue over the next five years, thanks to voters' overwhelming support of two sales tax renewals March 18.

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All about attitude

A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE Since new superintendent Chris Erwin took over the school system in June, he has markedly improved attitude and outlook throughout, from the students to the teachers to the parents.

— 2003 Newsmaker of the Year —
New school superintendent brought right attitude to the table
When the school year ended last May, the Banks County School System sat in a volatile position.
It needed a new superintendent, assistant superintendent, special education director, two principals and nearly 30 teachers.
But as June began, the school board closed a six-month long process with the hiring of new superintendent Chris Erwin, who was at the time principal of Central Carroll High in Carrollton.
Erwin came in at a vulnerable moment for Banks County. But during his short seven months at the helm of the county’s schools, he has jump-started a system that was much in need of some morale work.
His success in giving the Banks County School System a new attitude earns him the title of Banks County Newsmaker of the Year.
BAPTISM BY FIRE
When Erwin came into Homer and began work on June 10, he sat in a very difficult situation. He had several administrative vacancies and a bevy of teaching positions to fill.
“We were trying to hire the best employees in a short amount of time,” he said. “That was a challenge. But I’ve been pleased with the individuals we have hired into the system.”
As the days quickly passed and the start of school drew ever closer, Erwin managed to get those critical positions filled. Two principals were hired. He brought back a former principal to be the assistant superintendent. The special education director was hired back into the system. And slowly, the teaching vacancies began to fill.
Yet Erwin and his staff had another beast staring them down — a $23 million budget. But Erwin and chief financial officer Michael Beasley were able to churn out a product that normally takes several months. And they did it in less than two.
“We’ve already started the next budget work now,” Erwin said. “Once the people were in place and the budget was set, we were able to go in the right direction. It was tough at times.”
‘ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING’
In-between getting the “must dos” out of the way, Erwin had to focus on leading the school system.
He said coming in that he would make few changes in his first year, though a big change would be the implementation of a new classroom instructional model.
The system has implemented the new model and have nearly completed training on it. Already, teachers are using what they’ve learned about curriculum delivery under the new plan. And Erwin said he’s happy that teachers have accepted it with a positive attitude.
“If we have a plan, we’ll be more successful than everybody using their own plan,” he said.
But Erwin also made another big change when he took office — a change that could reshape the direction of the school system for the better. He mandated a better attitude.
“Proper attitude is what we need first,” Erwin said. “I’m going to enjoy what I do and people around me will too.”
Erwin generated a slogan for the school system, “attitude is everything.” Soon, the slogan popped up on T-shirts, letterheads and school correspondence. And the whole change of attitude caught on like wildfire when the school year began.
“The overall attitude of the system is very good,” Erwin said in his office just before the Christmas break. “It benefits the children.”
Erwin’s talk about attitude improving isn’t just a bunch of hype either. He’s got the physical data to support it.
Employee attendance has improved. Fewer teachers are staying home. Student attendance has steadily climbed each month. And the lunchroom participation rates have been some of the highest in recent years.
A TEAM APPROACH
Perhaps the biggest single factor in the turnaround in employee morale has been Erwin’s attitude toward others.
“All of us together are smarter than just me,” Erwin said. “I’m a very collaborative person.”
Erwin started a cabinet within his office comprised of the top heads within the school system. This cabinet functions as the day-to-day decision makers for the school system.
“I do not believe in micromanaging,” he said. “I hire people for talent and skills in their position and I expect them to use it. I pride myself in good hiring. I find the best person and let them do the job they are hired to do. They report to me, but they still need to do their job.”
Erwin said he values the input of his in-office “experts” on their various subject areas, realizing that others in his office may know more about transportation or special education or instruction. But in the end, he’s still the final say-so on day-to-day operations.
GOOD SUPPORT
Erwin said another key to the success he’s seen within the school system so far has been the support his office has gotten, especially from the school board.
“I couldn’t have expect the support they’ve given me,” he said. “Our board of education is making this system.”
He also pointed to his co-workers, the teachers, the parents and this newspaper with helping build what has been a successful school year to date.
BIG TIME BUILDING
The budget and filling vacancies aside, Erwin has overseen several major construction strides during his brief tenure.
He helped open the new athletic complex at the high school. He has overseen the majority of the construction on the new middle school.
Erwin has started working on plans for a classroom addition at the primary school and renovations at the current middle school building. And there have been improvements already to several facilities, including work at the elementary school.
“A building does not make a good school, the people do,” he said. “However, a good building can enhance good instruction.”
Erwin added that the work on new buildings can make schools healthier and safer and that he expects every student in the county to be in a classroom less than 15 years old within the next few years.
“We need to think ahead so we’re not the next Gwinnett County with trailers wrapped around the schools,” he said. “We’ve got to get ready for growth. Brick and mortar is better than a trailer.”
He also said he’s excited that the new buildings are being constructed with sales tax revenue through a SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax).
Because of Banks Crossing, Banks County has the ability to draw a significant amount of revenue from the sales tax to fund building and renovation projects, taking the burden of new construction off of property taxpayers.
THE FAMILY LIFE
Though Erwin does have the job of leading a large rural school system, he also has a major obligation to a family. He is, after all, a husband and the father of two, a ninth grade son and a sixth grade daughter.
“My kids are getting a good education in this system,” he said.
Erwin had the difficult task earlier this year of asking his family to uproot themselves out of their community and move clear across the state of Georgia to a place they had probably never been before. And though the move was tough at first, Erwin said his family has settled in now.
“They are doing great,” he said. “They love it here. It’s been the best move for my family and my career.”
He added that his family had a lot of help coming into the community from his new church home at Homer United Methodist Church, including the Rev. James McLendon.
“We feel very received at that church,” Erwin said. “A lot of our ability to settle in is thanks to him and that church.”
‘EVERY DAY GETS BETTER’
Now that Erwin has almost thoroughly settled in, he can turn his attention to building a future for Banks County’s School System.
The system has already started reaching the goals he helped establish when he took over in June. Attitude has improved, the system is providing resources for its teachers and student achievement has started to inch ever higher.
And during a recent school board retreat, Erwin and the board of education began stealing visions from the business world to create a professional mission statement and guiding principals to carry the school system through the coming years.
Banks County has not gone away from the slogan “attitude is everything.” But the school board has adopted the vision “educating and empowering for success.”
And Erwin said he eagerly waits to see how well the future of the Banks County School System will shape up.
“I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings,” he said. “Every day I’m amazed at the people here. Every day gets better. We are exceeding and accelerating our plan. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

 


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— Economic Story of the Year —
Home Depot announces plans to locate in Banks County; sets 2004 opening
The biggest economic news in Banks County in 2003 was an announcement that The Home Depot would be locating a store in the county. The store wasn’t in operation in 2003, but was under construction for much of the year with a January 2004 opening planned.
The announcement of the Home Depot store coming to the area and the construction of the facility at Banks Crossing has been selected as the “Economic Story of the Year.”
“It’s going to really help us out,” board of commission chairman Kenneth Brady said of the new Home Depot. “We are really proud they chose Banks County to locate in and I hope they do real good here. The better they do, the better we do.”
Brady predicted the new store could bring in between $25,000 and $50,000 per month in additional sales tax revenue.
Banks County has used its sales tax revenue to build new fire stations, buy new fire trucks, build a new jail, construct a recreation building and improve the water system.
The county also gets LOST (local option sales tax) revenue from retail sales. LOST funds decrease the amount of taxes on property owners. Brady said LOST revenue accounts for over $2.5 million per year in property tax reductions.
The school system will also benefit from sales tax revenue that Home Depot will bring to the county.
“Other than a large industry, Home Depot and Wal-Mart are the two types of businesses that have the most impact on our SPLOST (sales tax revenue),” Banks school superintendent Chris Erwin said. “I’m excited about it.”
The school system uses funds from the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) to construct new buildings and renovate old ones. Though the school system can’t legally use the sales tax revenue to pay teachers or buy supplies, Erwin said having funds coming in for construction projects takes that cost off of the county taxpayers.
“It can only be a good thing for our county’s educational system tax wise,” he said.
Another impact the store could have on the area is the increase in commercial development around it. Traditionally, stores like Home Depot have been a draw for other commercial establishments and restaurants.
“This location is good for the community,” said Ray Velez, human resources manager for the store. “It can affect the growth of the community without completely ruining the countryside.”
The store, which is just slightly smaller than the Athens location (about 8,000 square feet), will employ 128 workers. One hundred of those will be local employees, officials report.