This time last year, local school districts were discussing mask requirements, virtual learning options and possible delays in starting the school year. This school year — with COVID-19 numbers a fraction of what they were last July and easy public access to vaccines — will look different.
The Jackson County Board of Education discussed the upcoming school year during its July 12 work session.
“We’re really excited to actually start a school year,” said Todd Nickelsen, assistant superintendent for human resources and student support services.
The Center for Disease Control released new COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools on Friday, July 9, and district leadership will be meeting this week with principals to discuss the upcoming school year.
“Generally speaking, we’re still going to use caution, but we’re going to go back to school as much as normal,” said Jackson County School System superintendent April Howard.
Children under the age of 12 aren’t yet eligible to get vaccinated and Howard said they will be discussing possible mitigation strategies with elementary principals.
“We will be talking with our elementary principals about visitors and how we want to manage potential mitigation strategies,” she said. “…But generally speaking, while being safe, we’re going to return to as normal of a process as possible.”
County students will return to the hallways for the first day of school on July 30. Enrollment is already up by almost 200 students.
“We’re already up over 200 folks and it’s just climbing,” said Nickelsen.
As of July 9, the district had 8,902 students enrolled in its schools, up from 8,711 at the end of 2020-21.
Other items discussed during the BOE work session included:
•the new Jackson County High School, which will open this upcoming year. District leaders are working on transportation patterns for the new school for bus and car riders. Transportation director David Farmer said busses that travel on Hwy. 124 will come in on Hwy. 332 before going onto Skelton Rd. (instead of taking Skelton Rd. directly off Hwy. 124).
•the future middle school in West Jackson on the Skelton Rd. property. District leaders have been meeting with the design team and will soon begin meeting with engineers. Ted Gilbert, assistant superintendent of operations, also asked the BOE to begin considering names for the new school.
•continuing renovation work at the Empower College and Career Center, located in the former Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
•upcoming budget hearings, set tentatively for Aug. 5 and Sept. 9, both at 6 p.m. The BOE could approve the budget and millage rate on Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. The budget won’t be finalized until the district receives the county tax digest.
Items approved by the BOE on Monday, July 12, were:
•a parental leave policy and an competitive interscholastic activities policy (that policy allows homeschool students in grades 6-12 to participate in extracurricular and interscholastic activities). The board also discussed a new teacher evaluation appeals policy and could take action on the policy in August.
•declaring several instructional and technology items surplus.
•the FY22 board training plan and FY21 board training report.
•a tower and lease agreement with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
The addition of a multi-million dollar civic center is expected to have a significant impact on downtown Braselton, but the completion of the venue will come a little later than anticipated.
The building, located on Davis St., will likely be finalized in late fall now, according to Braselton town manager Jennifer Scott.
“We’re seeing a slow down in some construction materials, sheet rock specifically,” Scott explained. “So we’re probably looking at November, maybe early December now.”
The original timeline had called for the facility to be completed this month, but the effects of the COVID pandemic slowed the $6.28 million building’s progress. The company contracted for the pre-engineered steel building was forced to shut down for an extended period, causing a three-month delay.
Scott estimates that “budget-wise” the facility — whose frame is up, along with much of the exterior — is one-third complete.
Nevertheless, planning for the facility continues in advance of the building’s completion. Scott is searching for a civic center director and is nearing the end of the interview process for the job. She hopes to fill the position within two weeks.
No events have been booked in advance at the venue because rates have not been set. Scott first wants input from the director before moving forward with those prices.
“I’m just telling them we’re not scheduling yet until we get the rates in place,” Scott said. “Hopefully, we’ll have that pretty soon.”
Still, there’s no shortage of interest in booking what will be a 40,000 square-foot facility. Scott said she’s already fielded “lots of requests,” including everything from those wanting to hold weddings to non-profit fundraisers.
“I even got a request (last week) from a group who wanted to do a concert there,” she said.
Other possible uses, among others, are conferences, company events and board meetings. Scott also expects theater events to be held there as well.
The facility will also provide new office space for multiple departments. The town’s tourism and economic development departments and downtown development authority will move into the building.
Scott expects the civic center to be a game-changer downtown with it providing the town the option of hosting large, indoor events.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic addition to downtown,” she said. “There’s all kinds of events that we haven’t been able to have. You’ve got to worry about weather when you do outdoor events … It’s going to be fantastic just to have the flexibility of both outdoor and indoor space available.”
Braselton downtown leaders are considering how — if possible — to utilize a tiny but historic space.
A committee has formed to discuss potential options for a small, two-cell jail building that served the 105-year-old town during its early years.
An assessment of the structure is being planned, according to Downtown director Amy Pinnell. Pinnell told the Braselton Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Thursday (July 8) that the integrity of the building must be determined before considering potential uses.
“Right now, we’re just kind of waiting for that assessment to figure that out,” she said. “But the committee has talked about a couple of different ideas.”
Town manager Jennifer Scott said the small building is actually listed as a historic structure. She wasn’t certain of the building’s age, but said it could date back 100 years.
“The whole thing needs a whole lot of work, but it is a contributing building on the national register,” Scott said. “So we’ll have to be very careful.”
The building was originally located the near the town’s old cotton gin. But was it moved a few years ago during the renovation of the mill into the Braselton Brewing Company building.
The structure, which was donated to the town, now sits on a spot on the opposite side of the Hwy. 53 between Davis and Frances streets.
Scott said bank records from the old Braselton Banking Company — which eventually utilized the building — were discovered inside of it when it was given to the town.
As far as the town utilizing the old jail, Scott said she feels it’s possible, pointing to the Braselton’s history of revitalizing old buildings.
“It hasn’t been that long since we had a whole lot of buildings that weren’t a whole lot to look at,” she said. “We’ve managed to make those better, so I have full hopes that we will do something with the jail.”
Scott did note that the town’s public art master plan consultant “is putting together some ideas.”
LARGE TURNOUT FOR FOURTH OF JULY
A sizable turnout for the town’s annual Fourth of July celebration was reported with the public’s willingness to return to events in the decline of COVID seen as a major factor. “I’ve never seen that many people in downtown Braselton,” DDA chairperson Hollie Ansley said.
In other business, the DDA:
•selected Mitch Chapman as its vice-chairman and appointed Chip Dale to its organizations committee.
•heard that the Toast of Braselton fundraiser netted $40,192.
•heard that tickets for the town’s Wine Walk, set for Aug. 12, sold out within two hours. A second event is planned for Sept. 9. Other upcoming events induce the town’s Pooches in the Park set for Sept. 25.
A Hoschton girl is celebrating her birthday with thousands of people across the world.
Jordan Little, who turns 9 years old this month, has received countless birthday cards and gifts after her mom, Jessica, posted a TikTok video that went viral.
In the viral video, Jessica asked viewers to send in birthday cards for Jordan. The response was overwhelming.
“We’ve opened roughly 2,000 packages,” said Jessica. “…We’re thinking we have around 12,000 cards to open. We’ve maybe opened 1,500 so far.”
By Monday afternoon, July 12, the family estimated they'd received 20,000 cards.
Jordan has always loved checking the mail and likes to look through the different letters delivered to their family.
Her mom recalls her saying, "one day, someone’s going to send me something."
Jessica decided to record a video of Jordan checking the mail one day, then she posted it on Facebook to see if family and friends would send cards throughout the month of July. She later posted it on TikTok, thinking she'd receive a handful of cards from viewers.
“Even if only 50 people end up doing it and she got a handful of mail every day in July, that was kind of my thought,” said Jessica. “…I was not expecting it to go viral.”
She posted the video on a Wednesday night and the next morning, the video had gotten almost 1 million views and thousands of comments.
That Friday, the family checked the post office box and they’d received four packages and a handful of mail. The next day, “everything went crazy.”
Jessica and Jordan had been sleeping in on Saturday morning when Jessica’s husband, Brandon, woke her up.
“My husband comes up at 7:45 in the morning and said, ‘um, I think you need to wake up,’” Jessica recalled.
He told her the post office had called and that they’d be at the house in 30 minutes and that they were bringing "a lot of people." Jessica hadn’t yet told Jordan about the video, so when the multiple mail trucks and vans arrived, she was shocked.
“I was still wearing my pajamas and socks,” said Jordan.
The United State Postal Service dropped off countless cards and packages mailed to Jordan. Jessica had warned the local post office branch about the potential for additional mail and she said the delivery crew was excited, hugging Jordan and wishing her a “happy birthday.” The video was also shared on a USPS Facebook page and mail staff from across the country have sent in cards.
Jordan has received parcels from residents of every state within the United States and as far away as Ireland and Switzerland.
“We’re absolutely blown away,” said Jessica. “I didn’t even have a thought in my mind that something like this would happen.”
“Thank you so much,” Jordan added.
Both Jessica and Jordan say the amount of kindness they’ve seen has been overwhelming.
“The cards have the sweetest things written in them,” said Jessica. “We definitely feel loved.”
Jessica added that people put a lot of time and effort into the letters and gifts and that some were homemade or personalized.
“There’s good people in the world, that’s for sure,” she said.
Now the Little family is looking to share the love.
“With the amount of stuff we’ve gotten, clearly she can’t keep it all,” said Jessica. “So we’re going to be doing lots of donating.”
The family recently put together a big package for a child battling leukemia in Arizona. They’re working this week to send a package to a little girl whose family that lost everything in a fire.
“We’re just going to look for anywhere and everywhere that we can spread some joy,” said Jessica.
Those who want to send packages or cards can mail them to P.O. Box 131, Hoschton, GA 30548. The family is also asking for donations in Jordan’s honor to The Hand Me Down Zoo and St. Jude’s. Those wishing to donate can do so by visiting https://linktr.ee/Jordansmiles
You can view the videos on Jessica’s TikTok account at @jordansmom86
Hoschton is now in the farmers market business.
The city’s downtown development authority (DDA) voted Monday (July 12) to host a twice-monthly farmers market on Thursdays from 3-6 p.m. at the Hoschton depot. The first event is slated for Aug. 12.
The farmers markets will be held on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, except for December when only one event will be held.
The market, headed up by DDA member Tracey Carden, will run through Dec. 9.
The DDA plans to charge vendors $10 per event. It also approved a logo for the market.
In other business, the DDA:
•swore in new member Anita Boyd.
•heard from chairman Sri Kumar that the DDA will present its budget requests to the Hoschton City Council during a portion of the council’s Sept. 21-23 retreat at Brasstown Valley.
•discussed working with longtime residents to assist with collecting historical photographs and materials related to the city.
•discussed drafting its bylaws, using Winder or Braselton DDAs as models.
•discussed compiling a DDA map.
•heard from Kumar, who is interested in seeking funding for a long-term project to extend the city’s bike path. He also discussed asking Jackson EMC and Georgia Power about grant funding for downtown LED street lighting.
•discussed working with the city and property owners to place plaques at historical buildings.
•voted to select a DDA logo.
•voted to meet once a month instead of twice monthly. The meeting dates for the remainder of the year are Aug. 30, Sept. 27, Oct. 25, Nov. 15 and Dec. 13.
•discussed reviving its ghost walk tour as well as the possibility of hosting a holiday-themed event.