HIAWASSEE, Ga. – On the morning of Wednesday, March 14, 2018, a lock-down training exercise took place at Towns County School at 10 a.m. While there was a call for a nationwide walk-out in remembrance of the 17 lives lost Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many schools across the nation chose a proactive approach.
FetchYourNews (FYN) learned of the drill and hoped to highlight the positive measures taken.
In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, FYN has reported on the subject of school safety in Towns, Gilmer, Fannin, Union, Lumpkin, and Dawson County, Georgia, as well as Cherokee County, North Carolina.
While the safety of students is not being called into question, with FYN maintaining conviction that security is of the utmost concern for Towns County School administrators and Towns County first responders, unexpected questions arose during our research.
In a letter forwarded to FYN, dated March 13, 2018, and signed by Towns County Elementary Principal Dr. Sandra Page, parents of elementary school children were advised a day in advance that the drill would occur. The letter reads, in part, that “during an active shooter drill, it is necessary to reenact the scenario of a shooter on campus in order to find strengths and possible weaknesses in our emergency plans.”
The letter goes on to state that “local agencies such as the police, EMS (emergency medical services), and the fire department will be involved in this drill and will be arriving on campus.”
Following an unsuccessful, in-person attempt to acquire sufficient information on the active shooter drill from the Towns County Sheriff’s courthouse office, FYN contacted the emergency agencies listed as participants in the training exercise.
FYN was surprised to learn that the Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Towns County Fire and Rescue, as well as the Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) were not notified that a drill was scheduled, and therefore did not participate.
At a Movers and Shakers meeting held Feb. 23, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, along with Towns County School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong, spoke with concerned citizens regarding school safety. The sheriff divulged that a few years had passed since an active shooter drill was conducted.
Sheriff Clinton opened his speech by recalling a recent conversation with Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith.
“The chief and I were just discussing this, what, a week ago maybe, that it’s about time that we do another one, and that we do it together,” Sheriff Clinton assured.
Sheriff Clinton continued, “How do we make our children safer? Now. Not some place down the road at some philosophical perfect normal for you, but right now. How do we do that? Frankly, at the end of the day, we have to make it a harder target.”
After referencing the 1999 Columbine tragedy, Sheriff Clinton asked, “What’s been done by the government to make our children safer? Not a single thing. Because a lot of people think they can get up and talk about it, and they can harp on whatever their pet issue is. I’m pro-gun, I’m anti-gun, whatever, but as long as they’re talking about it and people are listening, they are getting political mileage out of it, and they really don’t care. I’m sorry, but I care.
“I’m coming to silence the gun. I’m not coming to survive it. I’m coming to silence the gun,” Sheriff Clinton emphasized. “Frankly, that’s what I expect from every deputy sheriff and every law enforcement officer in this nation. God help me if I have to walk past my own children while they bleed. I’m coming to silence the gun.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Sheriff Clinton acknowledged a need to ensure all first responders are familiar with the school’s campus and lock-down procedure. The sheriff told those in attendance that it is up to the community to decide what level of security they want in place. “I work for you,” Sheriff Clinton reminded.
FYN contacted Sheriff Chris Clinton on the evening of the lock-down in anticipation of learning why his plans to include other emergency agencies had changed.
Sheriff Clinton failed to provide an explanation, focusing rather on garnering the individual identities of FYN’s sources. Shortly after asked if proper protocol was followed, a concern brought to the attention of FYN by an emergency official, Sheriff Clinton ended communication.
The following day, Thursday, March 15, FYN Chief Executive Officer Brian Pritchard sat down with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland, reconfirming the lack of communication and coordination.
FYN met with Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong on Friday, March 16, in search of further clarification.
Berrong revealed that the active shooter drill was implemented between himself and Sheriff Clinton, following the Movers and Shakers forum.
When the question was posed concerning the absence of agencies, Berrong replied, “Well, (the school) wasn’t sure of everyone who was involved. I think there were some of those individuals there.” Upon learning that was not the case, Berrong stated there may have been a miscommunication in verbiage, saying, “Personally, for me, it wasn’t about the fire department. It was about the police officers.”
Berrong was then asked to recap the drill.
“At 10:00, Mr. Perren came over the announcement through all three schools and informed them we were going into a lock-down, that there would be police officers walking through the hallways, make sure to keep your doors locked, and to keep the kids in a safe area,” Superintendent Berrong explained. “While that was going on, police officers were making their rounds through the building, just to make sure they were still familiar with what the campus actually looks like, what’s going on during a lock-down, where can you go and where can’t you go in case there is a shooter in the school, and what areas can we access. They made their rounds through the school while we were in lock-down. We were in lock-down probably ten minutes. Our school isn’t a very big building, you can make a round through there fairly quickly. So ten to fifteen minutes, and pretty much that was the end of the drill.”
FYN inquired if there are plans to hold a subsequent active shooter exercise. “We may have further drills. We don’t have any planned currently,” Dr. Berrong said. “Sheriff Clinton and I are in discussion about this summer, getting together with all personnel, fire department and everyone, just to sit down and make sure everyone has plans of the school building, and make sure everyone has access to the ‘Crisis Go’ app, which alerts people when there is an emergency on campus, and just have another round-table discussion about what we are going to do when something like that happens, how do we shut the campus down. We had one of those several years ago, but it’s about time we had another one.”
FYN contacted Towns County School Facility Director Roy Perren. Director Perren relayed that the exercise was exclusively planned for the Towns County Sheriff’s Office and that there was never an intention to include other emergency agencies. The facility director added that a Towns County School meeting will be held in conjunction with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) April 13 concerning the involvement of all first responders, should an emergency situation arise.
Elementary School Principle Dr. Sandra Page returned FYN’s request for comment on the afternoon of Monday, March 19.
Page stated that to her knowledge, the active shooter exercise was changed to simply a lock-down drill on the morning of March 14, shortly before the training occurred, excluding the need for the involvement of agencies other than the Towns County Sheriff’s Office. “I just wanted to get the information out so that students, parents, and teachers were aware that a drill was going to take place,” Dr. Page said. “That was my main concern.”
This left FYN with more questions than answers, considering that none of the emergency agencies listed in the letter had been notified that an active shooter drill had been scheduled.
Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County EMS, Towns County Fire and Rescue, and Towns County EMA state that their departments expect to take part in future training exercises.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County officials gathered nine days after the Parkland, Florida, massacre to discuss school safety concerns with the community. Sundance Grill was filled to near-capacity during Friday’s Movers and Shakers morning meeting as residents congregated to hear School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong and Sheriff Clinton share their thoughts in the aftermath of the tragedy. Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and Hiawassee Council Amy Barrett and Kris Berrong attended the weekly forum.
- Friday, Feb. 16;
- Monday, Feb. 19; and
- Friday, March 16.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Speech Development and Showcase will begin a new year’s program on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, at 6:30 p.m. at the new Senior Center in Hiawassee. Sponsored in partnership with the Towns County Movers & Shakers and the University of Georgia (UGA) 4-H Extension, the training is geared to provide local students with an opportunity to improve their public speaking abilities, increase communication skills within group settings, and offer a chance for students to share their voices throughout the community.
“The Movers & Shakers speech contest provided me with the tools I need to be more confident and efficient in public speaking,” past participant C.J. Owens said. “The training I received has helped open doors for me in my education, as well as in the business realm.”
The goals of the program are designed to build student confidence levels in order to aid their interactions in classroom discussions, enhance the English, Language, Arts (ELA) Standards of Excellence, prepare for success in the workforce, and empower by helping the students to use their voices, rather than their actions, to solve problems.
“The Mountain Movers & Shakers speech competition has helped me more than I ever thought it could. Learning to speak in public has opened so many doors for me and has certainly helped to boost my confidence in social atmospheres,” Emma Kate Ledford expressed.
The benefits of the speech training include necessary development for student body leadership positions, the ability for youth to create a “name” for themselves within the community, increased confidence levels in work or school interviews, and an opportunity to add program participation to college applications and employment resumes.
The training sessions will be held each Thursday from Jan. 25 until Feb. 22, 2018. The showcase will take place on March 1. All events are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the new Senior Center, 954 North Main Street in Hiawassee. Participation in the showcase itself is not mandatory but encouraged.
For more information, contact Andrew Smith at 706-400-8754.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns, and Murray counties, as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com
HIWASSEE, GA – It’s not the size of the town in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the town. Or is it Towns? Stay with me – you smell what I’m cooking, here.
When a Quad-A school travels to face a 1A opponent, most “experts” put their money on the big dog in the fight. As far as the Lady Indians were concerned, all bets were off Monday night. You could take your odds and toss them in the wood-burning stove.
The Towns County Lady Indians (1A-Region 8) hosted Southeast Whitfield (4A-Region 6) this past Monday (Dec 19) in what would prove to be one of the best performances by the ladies of Towns County so far this season.
When asked about the performance, TCHS head coach Brian Hunnicutt credited the effort of his defense. He shared that although he didn’t have the stat book in front of him, his defensive stats and scoring leaders numbers were unforgettable.
The Lady Indians used defensive pressure to force 44 turnovers from SE Whitfield, an amazing display of hustle and determination, as well as noteworthy composure avoiding penalties in the process.
Towns County’s defensive pressure paid off as they defeated Southeast Whitfield by a final score of 61-43.
Equally as impressive as the performance of the defense was the ability of the offense to move the ball around. Four different Lady Indians reached double-digits offensively.
Freshmen Kennedi Henson topped the scorebook with 17 points, while senior Madison McClure followed with 14 points. Sophia Shook had 12 points in the game and Taylor Cornett scored 10 pts.
The win moves Towns’ record to 3-6 on the year, and they are 2-0 in region play. The Lady Indians enjoy a brief break for the Christmas holiday before returning to action on their home court Wednesday, Dec 27, in the Towns County Holiday Tournament. Their opponent is yet to be announced.
The Towns County Board of Education convened on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. at the Middle School Auditorium in Hiawassee. School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong, Board Chair Robert Williams and Board Members Jerry Taylor, Stan Chastain, Laura Banister and Dr. Kilee Smith were present. Also present were Elementary School Principal Dr. Sandy Page, Middle School Principal Erica Chastain and High School Principal Dr. Connie Hobbs to update Dr. Berrong and the Board on their respective school happenings.
Dr. Page announced in her report on the Towns County Elementary School that TCES has placed in the top 10 per cent of all Georgia Title I schools, earning them the High Progress Award. She said this was based on three years of data. Dr. Berrong reiterated to the Board that this is a very difficult achievement and that Dr. Page has good reason to be proud of TCES.
Chastain announced in her report on Towns County Middle School that TCMS not only made the list for schools that Beat the Odds this year, but another list of schools that have Beat the Odds for the last five consecutive years. That means that TCMS has surpassed the statistical prediction range established by the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE); that is TCMS students have higher College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores than what GDOE predicted based on school size, grade clusters, economic disadvantages and student demographics. She said TCMS scored 61 out of approximately 2,200 schools in Georgia. Dr. Berrong said that being in the 95 percentile shows that TCMS is not just barely Beating the Odds, but doing it in a really big way; and that is something to be very proud of.
Dr. Berrong recommended approval of the “Safer, Smarter Kids” Program for the Elementary School because, he said, this program, like the “Good Touch, Bad Touch” Program, teaches what appropriate boundaries are, but goes further to address bullying and other inappropriate behavior. He described it as a character building platform. The Board agreed and approved the Program unanimously. Information on this Program can be accessed here: https://laurenskids.org/education/ and here: https://safersmarterkids.org/teachers/curriculum/.
Dr. Hobbs, in her report on TCHS, said that students participating in the Young Harris College (YHC) Campus at TCHS have finished their Public Speaking course and are now underway for receiving credit for college algebra. She said a spokesperson from YHC approached her about the possibility of starting a program with TCHS students called Upward Bound Math & Science. She said YHC is applying for a grant (possibly by next fall) that will allow them to follow students through high school whose parents did not attend college and that are interested in math and science. The program would allow YHC to follow the students through high school providing activities, scholarships, mentoring and tutoring in hopes that they would continue through college majoring in math and science (not necessarily at YHC). Dr. Hobbs said she also met with Eric Miller last week from North Georgia Technical College (NGTC) to discuss the possibility of them having a campus at TCHS next year. Dr. Berrong remarked that courses completed at NGTC were just as transferable as courses taken through YHC; that NGTC isn’t just a technical school. Dr. Hobbs said there is the possibility that TCHS students might be able to take college algebra through NGTC as well next year.
Dr. Hobbs reported, in further news on TCHS, that Russel Cox would be attending Point University on a football scholarship and Jackson Taylor would be attending Cleveland State Community College on a baseball scholarship. Dr. Hobbs said the 2017 Senior Class was preparing for their graduation and scrambling for scholarships. She said TCHS Counselor Lana Parker had worked diligently to obtain several new scholarships from the local community. Dr. Hobbs said students were looking forward to Spring Break and the Prom. Spring sports (tennis, golf and baseball), she said, are well underway. She said 30 students traveled to the state leadership conference in Atlanta and “brought back twelve top 15 placers in the state”. Dr. Hobbs said, as she spoke, Ms. McConnell and Ms. Taylor were in Athens, GA at the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) awards conference and expected several texts from them on the results. TCHS, she said, is currently holding Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) study sessions every Thursday and teachers are providing remediation and enrichment for students for the upcoming EOC testing in May. Progress reports, she said, go out on Tuesday, March 14. Dr. Hobbs said TCHS enrollment was 333.
Dr. Page announced in other TCMS news that enrollment stood at 429. She said Julie Wilson was named by her peers as recipient of the VFW Teacher Award and that the 2017 TCES Teacher of the Year nominations are ongoing. She said Read Across America Week from the National Association of Educators was recognized with Family Literacy Night, which she said was a great success. Saturday, March 25, she said, 20 TCES students will travel to North Oconee County for the second Science Olympiad where the students will compete with city schools. She said TCES is preparing for Georgia Milestones end of grade assessments; that this year will only include reading and math. Practice tests will be on March 28. Finally, Dr. Page said TCES will be sending three teams to state basketball tournaments: boys aged ten and under, girls aged ten and under and boys aged 8 and under.
Chastain announced in further news about TCMS that enrollment was at 228. She said the second progress report for the second semester will be going out Wednesday, March 15. TCMS Teacher of the Year nominations for 2017 are being considered and, she said, TCMS was preparing for the Georgia Milestones end of grade assessment and that a practice test is scheduled for March 30. She said the TCMS student council was sent over to TCES to read for the elementary school students during Reading Across America week. She said the Middle School Chorus is going to take a trip to the Alliance Theater in Atlanta on Wednesday, March 15 to see “Cinderella and Fella”. She said the TCMS soccer and baseball teams were about half way through the year and doing well. Finally, Chastain recognized Brooke Merdel for winning the Daughters of the American Revolution speech contest, collecting $200 and qualifying for the state competition. Chastain also recognized Vanessa Floyd and Abbey Maulden for placing first in district competition for 4-H in a speech contest in their respective areas of choice.
Both Dr. Page and Chastain praised Andrew Smith for his help with enabling less fortunate kids to attend 4-H summer camp by raising money for them. Dr. Page said because of his efforts, 37 students will be going to the camp at Rock Eagle this year as opposed to only two last year.
Dr. Page, Chastain and Dr. Hobbs stood at the podium as a group and thanked the Board for their selflessness and all that they do since it is School Board Appreciation week this week. Dr. Berrong then distributed plaques to each of the five TCSD Board Members for their service to the community.
Dr. Berrong appointed Dr. Smith as the delegate to the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) Regional meeting.
The board approved the January 2017 Financial Report.
The Board approved:
1) The retirement of Nola Jean Nichols
2) The resignation Clark Helton and reassign to Substitute Bus Driver
3) The resignation of Trish Rogers and reassign to Substitute Teacher
4) The retirement of Judy Rogers
5) The hiring of Chelsey Noblett Byers, Rollie Thomas and Misty Jones as Elementary School Teachers
6) The hiring of Robert Oliver, Cynthia McEntire-Wade, Ryan Plourde and Andrew Smith as School Bus Drivers
With no further business to conduct (and heavy weather bearing down), the Board Adjourned.