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‘Marrying’ tests is goal of school pilot projects

“How do we make that work?”

Jennie Persinger, the Barrow County School System's testing and data specialist, says that, or something similar, more times than not when questioned about the “pilot” testing project the school system is involved in with nine other school districts.

Georgia has “pilot” projects underway to reduce the number and maybe importance of standardized tests in its schools. If all goes well, a new test could be ready for the 2021-22 year, Persinger said.

Jackson County also is in the middle of those projects.

The two counties are part of a consortium of 10 districts working with NWEA, a not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators by creating assessment solutions.

The group working on the project meets a couple of times per year “face to face,” she said. The group meets several times in a virtual setting.

Persinger takes the lead for the district on the GMAP project.

GMAP is a moniker that combines Georgia and MAP, which stands for Measure of Academic Progress.

Barrow County has been using Map Growth tests for the past several years. It is given three times a year — beginning, middle and end. The tests take 45 to 60 minutes.

Persinger says “marrying” the current MAP test, which is a “formative” assessment, and the Georgia Milestones, which is a “summative” assessment, is complicated.

One of the major factors is the writing portion of the Milestones test — an “open-ended” part of the test that requires more thought and takes longer to grade than the multiple-choice questions from other parts of the test.

Whatever the results of the “pilot” project, Persinger said it will include “some kind of writing component.”

GMAP “is not the test that we’re giving now,” Persinger said. “We can’t just cut out Milestones altogether.”

“The development of GMAP will allow us to use one assessment for both purposes,” superintendent Chris McMichael said by email.

The MAP tests have been given to students three times each year — beginning, middle and end. The tests provide results nearly immediately so programs for students can be altered right away.

Milestones tests do not allow for that. Schools get the results quicker now than in the past, Persinger said, but it still is not soon enough.

Milestones testing is done in the late spring. By the time the results are known, a few days may remain in the school year or school may be over. It is far too late to help students.

That is the most obvious benefit from the MAP testing. Questions are geared to individuals. When it is answered incorrectly, the student gets another question that is a bit less complex.

Teachers prefer the MAP process, Persinger said, because of the more immediate results and the opportunity to adjust an individual student’s learning. In addition, the Milestones test is “a once-a-year snapshot of student achievement at the end of the school year,” McMichael said.

He said the goals are to “develop and implement an assessment system that reduces testing time, provides teachers data they can use to guide instruction during the school year and challenges students to develop the higher-order thinking skills they need to succeed in college and careers.”

Persinger explained that three pilot projects were established by state law and process. One of those ended, she said, when it was “decided that’s not what we wanted to do.”

The results will be sent to the state Department of Education and that will be forwarded to the federal level.

Persinger said the pilot study will include a language arts and math test in the spring of 2021. All students will take that, she said.

She said the testing should deal with “accountability,” which now is done through the Milestones, and the need for data teachers can use in the classroom.

Reviewing top local news stories of 2019

Here are the top 10 local news stories in Barrow County from 2019.


After a handful of mediation sessions, Barrow County and the City of Winder still could not resolve two outstanding service-delivery issues, leaving the county and its municipalities without an updated service-delivery strategy agreement more than a year after an update was due.

Elected representatives and other officials representing the county and each municipality in the county met in a court-ordered private session for more than six hours Nov. 5 at the Georgia Club in Statham to discuss the issues of water utility service and county road maintenance but did not come away with an agreement.

The case was sent back to retired Chief Judge David Sweat of the Western Judicial Circuit in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, who was assigned to the case in Barrow County Superior Court. It was unclear whether Sweat would order the parties to talk again or make a ruling on the issues, or when the case would go back in front of him.


On March 22, the Barrow County Board of Commissioners approved a three-year contract between the county and Northeast Georgia Health System for Barrow County Emergency Services to station a fully-staffed ambulance at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow to cover the existing emergency response zones within the Winder city limits.

The agreement brought to an apparent end a years-long dispute between the county and city over EMS service and response times.

The city had sought to have the emergency response zones inside the city opened so it could operate its own service through a private company, but the Region 10 EMS Council shot that request down in November 2018. In January 2019, interim Georgia Public Health Commissioner Patrick O’Neal overruled the regional council and directed it to open up all zones inside Barrow County to proposals from interested providers. But then, in a Feb. 22 letter, O’Neal rescinded that decision and allowed the regional council vote to stand.

The new unit went into operation in July.


On Nov. 5, Joe Piper was elected the new mayor of Statham, defeating former city councilman Eddie Jackson and Rudy Krause in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Robert Bridges, who had announced his retirement earlier in the year.

Piper’s election was part of several changes to the government in Statham, which started the process of transitioning from a strong-mayor to a weak-mayor form of government.

The city council will also have two new faces in 2020. Gary Venable was elected to the council, while Tammy Crawley won a special election to fill the seat Jackson vacated in order to run for mayor.

The city also saw its police chief, Allan Johnston, resign Dec. 1. The criticism of Johnston became near-constant after a series of arrests by then-officer Marc Lofton in 2015 and 2016. Statham faced, and still faces, multiple federal lawsuits over those arrests, most of which involved driving under the influence-less safe charges.


On Nov. 5, two new members were elected to the Winder City Council.

Kobi Kilgore defeated incumbent councilman Al Brown in Ward 2, while Holly Sheats beat out Robert Lanham for the at-large seat held by outgoing councilman Michael Healan, who chose not to seek re-election.

Kilgore and Sheats will become the second and third women to serve on the council, following Beth Caldwell.

Incumbent councilman Travis Singley was re-elected in Ward 4, fending off a challenge from Holt Persinger.


The Barrow County Board of Commissioners elected a new member in March as Rolando Alvarez won a special election to fill the District 3 seat left vacant by Roger Wehunt, who had resigned in October 2018 due to health reasons.

Alvarez defeated Scott Vickery for the seat.

Alvarez had served on the Barrow County Board of Education in an at-large seat prior to running for the BOC. The school board appointed Jordan Raper to be his replacement.


A groundbreaking ceremony was held in June for the voter-approved Victor Lord Park expansion project at the corner of Second Street and Highway 11 in Winder.

The roughly $8.3 million project will add three multi-purpose athletic fields (one synthetic turf, two natural grass), an eight-court tennis complex, press box/concession building, restrooms and other amenities to the park. The facilities are expected to open in spring 2020.

Recreation advocates have long sought the facilities in Barrow County that they say will attract tournaments and events that will be a boon to the local economy.

The project was the cornerstone of a 1-cent SPLOST renewal project approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2017. Nearly $3 million in overruns from the initial estimated price tag of $7.36 million caused county leaders to scale the project back some.

The board of commissioners voted in 2018 to transfer $1.3 million from its reserves to the Barrow County School System to complete the turf installation at the two high schools (part of the original master plan budget), and the county will have access to those fields for games and events through a joint-use agreement. The remaining amenities that were part of the original master plan are planned for completion in later years.

In March, commissioners voted 4-3 to approve $500,000 in additional funding for the expansion, money that county manager Mike Renshaw said would go to cover the bulk of design and project management costs while allowing for more upgrades.


On Oct. 22, the Barrow County Board of Commissioners approved Lawrenceville-based Corridor Development’s request to rezone 86.8 acres at 627 Hwy. 211 NW to allow for the construction of up to 247 single-family homes. The approval marked the next step toward the building of the first large-scale residential development in Barrow County since prior to the Great Recession.

Corridor’s plans had gone through several iterations and the version approved was scaled back from an original one that called for 182 single-family homes and 128 single-family townhomes.

Corridor representatives have long contended a residential development at the site, just to the north of where the future West Winder Bypass will terminate at Highway 211, would be compatible with other current and future development in that area.


In a decision released Sept. 3, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld former Piedmont Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge David Motes’ October 2018 ruling that Paul Hamilton, convicted for the 2015 murder of his nephew, was entitled to a new trial.

Hamilton was convicted Oct. 5, 2018 on a charge of felony murder and three counts of aggravated assault in the death of Brandon Lay, 32, of Statham. On Oct. 25, 2018, Motes imposed a mandatory life sentence, but then immediately reversed the conviction on the grounds that he had erred in his instructions to the jury and that he did not believe the evidence presented during the week-long trial supported a conviction, saying a new trial would be “consistent with the principles of equity and justice.”

In the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Sarah Warren quoted state statutes that “Even when the evidence is legally sufficient to sustain a conviction, a trial judge may grant a new trial if the verdict of the jury is ‘contrary to…the principles of justice and equity,’ or if the verdict is ‘decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence.’”


In March, Barrow County School System officials broke ground on the district’s third high school on Austin Road in Winder, next to Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology.

The high school, which was formally named Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy later in the year, will be an arts and sciences magnet school and will offer most athletics with the exception of football and basketball.

It is scheduled to open in August 2020. Dale Simpson will be the principal.


In May, local and state officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new and larger visitors’ center at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder.

The project included about $4.2 million in state funding — from bonds and park receipts — plus additional private funding. It was designed by Stevens & Wilkerson GA, Inc. and contracted by Bayne Development Group, LLC.

The new center, located about a half mile south from the original center, spans more than 5,000 square feet. It was completed in April and sits across the lake from the historic fort. It includes an expanded gift shop, concession area, bike rental space, public locker and a reception room for conferences, weddings and other events, along with an elevated community fire pit by the lake.

Submitted photo 

The Winder Police Department presented 45 members of the Barrow County Senior Center with holiday care packages that included candy and treats, playing cards and activity books, various hygiene items and gift cards for food at local grocery stores and restaurants. The Special Response Team, for its annual service project, chose to benefit senior citizens. The group joined the Barrow County Senior Center for their annual Christmas luncheon. The team raised $3,000 through fundraisers and 12 local businesses. The Barrow County Sheriff’s Office helped with the Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot. Chick-Fil-A of Winder helped assemble the 45 care packages.

Winder man arrested for prostitution solicitation

A Winder man was arrested recently for adult prostitution solicitation as part of a sting operation by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Jack William Rosa, 25, was arrested Dec. 20 and charged with pandering, according to a news release. He was among 10 people arrested as part of the undercover Internet Crimes Against Children/Pandering sting, according to a news release.

The arrests occurred at a location in the north Hall area, where the suspects are accused of committing the crimes with who they are alleged to have believed were child victims or prostitutes. Law enforcement officers acted in an undercover capacity in this operation, the release said.

All of the pandering suspects were arrested for soliciting adults for acts of prostitution, the release said.

No further arrests are anticipated as a result of the investigation.

Barrow Briefs for Dec. 31

Support group for dementia caregivers

A new support group for dementia caregivers is coming to Barrow County.

Co-facilitated by Cloud Conrad and Jessica Bankston, the group will meet from 1-2 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month, beginning Jan. 8. All caregivers are welcome to attend.

The meetings will be held at the Winder Adult Day Center, located at 63 Lee St.

For more information and/or to RSVP, contact Bankston at 678-425-0718 or jbankston@accaging.org.

Local blood drives coming up

The following American Red Cross blood drives are coming up in Barrow County:

•1-6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2, at the Winder Public Library, 189 Bellview St.

•noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3, at Winder First United Methodist Church, 280 North Broad St.

•3-7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, at Winder Wesleyan Church, 64 East Midland Ave.

To donate blood, download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information.

All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients, leaders state.

A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

Bring One for the Chipper event set

Keep Barrow Beautiful will host a "Bring One for the Chipper" event Saturday, Jan. 4.

The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Barrow County Leisure Services Complex, 80 Lee St., Winder, between fields 8-11.

People are encouraged to bring their Christmas trees to be recycled. AKA Tree Care is sponsoring the event.

For more information, contact Danielle Austin at daustin@barrowga.org or 770-307-3005.

Women's share group

CAM Pregnancy Care Center, 127 West Candler St., Winder, will host a confidential share group for women only at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 6.

"Coffee Break Share Group is a great way for women to get together to share the laughter and hard times of their lives," leaders state. The share group is held monthly.

For more information, call 770-867-3000 or email center@campregnancycare.com.