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Commerce BOE stays with early school start for year

Commerce students will start school early in 2020, just as they did this year.

The Commerce Board of Education approved a calendar  Nov. 11.

Superintendent Joy Tolbert said the system asked people to select one of two options for 2020. She said 68 percent selected option 1. The largest group of responders were parents and legal guardians.

The first day of school for the 2020-2021 school year will be July 31. Teachers will report July 27.


Tolbert also told the board she would engage the Cooperative Strategies firm to make enrollment projections for Commerce. The projections would stretch out over 10 years, she said.

The same company did work for Jefferson city schools. The company will be in Commerce Wednesday, Nov. 13, to start, Tolbert said.

The work is expected to take four to six weeks.

Tolbert said she also had talked recently to a person from SK American Battery, which is building a facility in Commerce. He said to “keep people realistic,” she said.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a place where people work.”

The SK battery plant is expected to have more than 2,000 employees by about 2025.

Tolbert also said two Georgia Department of Education representatives had visited Commerce to consider the system's facilities. She repeated her view that the city cannot build facilities until the current debt is paid off in 2026.

She said using the old high school, where the central office is now, for pre-K classes would be expensive because of the need for HVAC units. She also said the high school agriculture program is in a regular classroom and a lab room for it would likely come from the wing of the old high school that was discussed for pre-K. High school and pre-K students would have to be separated, according to state regulations.


The district also will hire a consultant from Southwest Georgia to help with “low-hanging fruit” – ways it might improve its scores.

Tolbert said the district wants to change its scores, and at the same time, she lamented the state’s changing the way CCRPI is calculated from year to year.

“Math is an area of weakness for us,” Tolbert admitted.

She said it would be “an outside look at our schools.” She said the consultant, Bobby Smith, will spend about three hours looking at the district’s scores and tests.

The size of Commerce – about 1,700 students – hurts test scores, Tolbert said. She explained that one or two students who score poorly and are in a subgroup, such as English learner or special education, could affect the district’s overall score.

She noted that Commerce Primary School students do not take a state test.


In other business, the BOE:

•heard a presentation about Commerce Middle School’s FFA program, which won the premier chapter and the National Middle School Model of Excellence at the group’s national convention in Indianapolis. The chapter won the national awards in its first year of the program. April Davis, the ag teacher and FFA advisor, came to Commerce Middle School from West Jackson Middle School. She won the national Model of Excellence multiple times at WJMS. The chapter also was honored for its “pillow case” project and was the only middle school honored.

•heard that its ELOST – education local option sales tax – balance is more than $1.9 million, nearly $500,000 more than one year ago, despite spending money on computers and textbooks.

Arcade park renovations nearing completion

The renovations at Arcade City Park are almost complete. 

The original end date for renovations was set for Nov. 15, but due to weather issues, the date has been moved back. No definite date was announced. 

Mayor Doug Haynie said the park is 85 percent done. He stopped by the park Monday afternoon to see how work was coming along.

"It looks good, it really looks good," Haynie said.

Haynie said the structure is up, the rock wall is being placed around the park pad, water fountains still need to be placed, work near the ball fields is still being done and work is still being done in the restrooms. 

In other action at the council's Nov. 11 meeting:

  • the council unanimously approved a resolution for Haynie to sign for the Department of Natural Resources Recreational Trails Program grant application. Along with the resolution, the council unanimously approved a second resolution for the long-term park maintenance plan going along with the recreational trails program. 

Less homework on tap?

Less homework, more courses designed to develop day-to-day "life skills" and more training on meeting the emotional needs of students could become a new focus within the Jackson County School System.

In looking over tentative ideas to update the system's five-year plan at its Nov. 7 meeting, the Jackson County Board of Education appeared to support a move to lessen the homework burden on high school students, perhaps by changing the course structure in the system's two high schools. In addition, the board is looking at other changes to broaden the system's focus beyond traditional academic memes.

Why it matters: School surveys indicate that a lot of students feel a high level of stress, administrators said at the BOE meeting. Superintendent April Howard said the system is looking at a different class schedule that would be more flexible and that the system had considered a two-week moratorium on homework. 

Although no action was taken, board members seemed to agree with the general idea to include more "real life" learning in the system's curriculum.

"There's more to school than tests," said board member Michael Cronic.

What's Next: Among the ideas being discussed in the system to broaden students' experiences are:

• Earlier guidance for students to plan their academic career, perhaps starting in elementary school.

• More focus on skills such as how to write a check, doing taxes, managing time and other day-to-day life skills that many students say they are unsure about.

• To increase teacher awareness of students' emotional and social needs.

Key point: Many of the preliminary programs being discussed revolve around the creation of the system's college and career academy that is slated to open in 2021.

Hoschton to swear-in council members

Two new Hoschton City Council members were slated to be sworn in on Nov. 12 (past the newspaper’s print deadline).

Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter won the city’s Nov. 5 at-large election to fill two council seats. Both attended the council’s work session meeting on Nov. 7.

Council member Susan Powers did not run for re-election and Astin and Ledbetter got more votes than incumbent Mindi Kiewert.

Their election comes amid an ongoing effort by citizens to recall two other council members, Mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland.


Both Powers and Kiewert were recognized at the council's Nov. 7 meeting for their service to the city.

In her remarks to the council and assembled group of citizens, Kiewert congratulated Astin and Ledbetter on their election and said she hoped their election would help heal the city.

“I hope that there is healing in our community," she said. "I hope that we can get behind, beside, over — whatever you want to call it — everything that we have been through.”

Although Kiewert was not directly involved in the recall controversy involving Kenerly and Cleveland, she nevertheless came under intense public criticism for not speaking out against the two during the recall effort.

She asked citizens to be respectful of Ledbetter and Astin, along with the other council members.

“They’re only human and everything that you say at them, they have to take home with them,” she said. “And they have to sleep at night knowing the words that you have hit them with. So please be respectful of them.”

With that, Kiewert exited the meeting, saying she had heard enough comments from citizens, which was the next item on the agenda.

"I’ve stayed for enough public comments before, so I’m going to excuse myself before I have to listen to those again,” Kiewert said before leaving the meeting to applause.


The council was also set to vote on several other items during its Tuesday, Nov. 12 meeting, including:

•waiving the depot rental fee for Angel Ride, a non-profit group that hosts an annual benefit bike ride.

•a third-party inspection ordinance in response to new state regulations.

•several administrative zoning changes including a city initiated rezoning of 21 parcels on West Jefferson and Bell Ave. from R2 to R3 to put the properties into “a more appropriate zoning classification;" creating more standard lot width requirements for residential developments; changing the minimum lot size requirement for townhomes to 2,400 sq. ft.; and correcting a scrivener's error that got some zoning uses mixed up.

•a bid request for upkeep at the Hoschton Train Depot. Three bids were received, ranging from $4,200 to $16,500.

•a change to the city's rules for addressing the council, eliminating a requirement to verbally state an address.

•a contract renewal with JAT Consulting, the city's financial consulting group.

•a resolution on a language access plan for the CBDG grant, ensuring the town has a process in place to translate documents related to the grant for non-English speakers.


Also at its Nov. 7 meeting, the council:

•held a three-minute closed session on personnel, real estate and litigation with no action following.

•learned the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission will host a meeting on the town's comprehensive plan on Nov. 18 at 2:30 p.m. at city hall. Additional meetings are planned.

•learned there will be a budget hearing Nov. 21 at 5:30 p.m. at city hall. A special called meeting will follow at 6 p.m. for the council to vote on a trash pickup RFP.

BOC, BOE looking to increase cooperation

The Jackson County Board of Education and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners are taking action to work more closely together on their mutual interest in the community.

The BOC and BOE recently held a joint two-day meeting at the University of Georgia to discuss how they could increase their cooperation and communication. A draft summary of the retreat was briefly discussed at the BOE's Nov. 7 meeting.

The outcome: Five broad goals came out of the meeting, according to the summary. Top of the list was more joint planning about the location of future schools and joint involvement in the comprehensive planning process. Other goals include working together with the school system's college and career academy, perhaps through the chamber of commerce; road improvements and traffic impacts of new school locations; increased cooperation on the joint use of school and county athletic facilities; and to highlight the two group's efforts in joint leadership.

Why it matters: Although the two boards have worked together in the past on sharing athletic facilities, this effort is an attempt to take that relationship to the next level. Especially critical will be the school system's input on county growth issues. Residential growth has a huge impact on the school system's facility needs while industrial growth impacts the school system's financial needs. 

What's next: The two groups are tentatively slated to meet again in March. Among the goals is for superintendent April Howard and county manager Kevin Poe to meet on a monthly basis to share information.

Photos by Angela Gary 

Col. Ted Studdard, USMC, retired, is shown speaking at East Jackson Middle School on Friday, Nov. 8. The Veterans Day program also featured musical selections from the University of North Georgia Patriot Choir, including a joint performance with the seventh grade choir. Veterans Day programs were held at schools throughout the county during the past week. See story and additional photos on page 1C.

The AFJROTC presented the colors at the Veterans Day program Monday, Nov. 11, morning at Jefferson High School. Veterans were recognized at the program, including World War II veterans Jack Duke, who is related to Jefferson fire chief Mark Duke. The program also included Brooks Benton singing the National Anthem.

Rep. Collins says coming weeks will be 'turbulent'

The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump went public this week as several key witnesses will appear before a House committee — and television cameras — to testify out in the open. And one of the key players in the impeachment drama playing out in Washington D.C., told a crowd in Jefferson last week that while the coming weeks would be difficult, the Republican Party would "get through it."

"This is going to be a turbulent time over the next few weeks," Rep. Doug Collins (9th District Ga.) told a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party faithful on Nov. 9. "We will get through it and we'll move forward."

Why it matters: Collins is the ranking member (top Republican) on the House Judiciary Committee and one of President Trump's most vocal defenders. If articles of impeachment are drawn, those would come out of the Judiciary Committee. In that process, Collins will be the leading voice on the Judiciary Committee attempting to derail, or weaken, the articles of impeachment and to defend President Trump in the court of public opinion.

Collins told the Jackson County crowd of about 75 people that because of his strong voice on the Judiciary Committee during the past Mueller Investigation, the current move to impeach the president was yanked out of his committee and put into the intelligence committee to investigate.

"If you don't believe that we won (on Mueller) and that my committee took on Jerry Nadler (the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee) and the whole thing and won, look what happened in the last month when it came time to try something else — they completely took it out of my committee. They didn't want Doug Collins anymore. They had enough of that."

(Collins is also a leading candidate to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson who is retiring at the end of the year. Gov. Brian Kemp has not indicated who he will name to replace Isakson, but Collins is considered to be one of the frontrunners under consideration.)

Defends Trump: Like many Republicans, Collins defended the president by attacking the process Democrats have used to pursue their impeachment plans.

"The intel committee should never have had impeachment to start with," he said of the move by Democratic leadership in the House to bypass the Judiciary Committee in the early goings of impeachment investigations.

But Collins admitted that there was little he or other Republicans could do to stop the impeachment inquiry.

"You know the train's on the tracks; all they're trying to do is get to a vote to get to the floor for 218 votes," he said.

Collins also defended Trump on the substance of the allegations — that the president held up military aid to Ukraine in an effort to pressure that country's leaders to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Although Trump and his allies at first denied there was any quid pro quo in the matter, that defense has shifted following testimony of diplomats and others that there had indeed been a quid pro quo in the works.

 "I don't think there is anything wrong with it," Collins said of Trump's actions to probe corruption in Ukraine before giving them military aid that had been appropriated by Congress.

He defended the president by making a unique interpretation of what happened — that the Ukrainians were unaware of Trump's efforts to pressure them.

"They got the money, they did nothing for it and they didn't even know the conversations were going on while it was happening," Collins said. "Three big things. You can't have a quid pro quo if somebody doesn't even know that there was a quid or a pro going on."

Collins said the impeachment efforts had not hurt the president or his political standing.

"At the end of the day, they thought they would weaken him, but they've actually made him stronger."

Need for legal immigration: Collins also reiterated his position that the country needs more legal immigration for the economy. A number of large poultry businesses in the 9th District depend on immigrant labor.

"We've got to have good immigration in our country," Collins said. "If you don't believe it, look at our district. We need good, legal immigration, we need people to come work. We've got to have the jobs. We've got to have the labor. We just don't have it. You go to the poultry processing plants right here in this county, most of them run 50 to 100 people down each shift. They can't get people to work. We've got to have a legal process of immigration that helps our economy and that helps those who come here, but do it legally and a way that actually works for everyone. We're not doing that right now."

Voter registration: Collins also voiced an increasing concern of Republicans that Democrats are doing a better job at registering voters.

Collins said that 300,000 people have moved into Georgia since 2016.

"How many have you registered?" he asked.

The comments come amid a major push by Democrats in Georgia — specifically by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — to register more voters.

"Our party has got to do what it takes to win elections," he said citing the need for increased voter registration as one of the key factors.

Collins spirited 30-minute talk to the Republican faithful at times had the tone of a Southern Baptist revival. At one point, Collins mocked what he said are boring presentations by many Republicans and called on party loyalists to become more ardent in their work.

"Don't be boring, be passionate," he said.