Have you ever had a goal that you wished to achieve? Something became a driving force in your life as it took a point of focus. It may have been that you wanted to become something, maybe a firefighter, an astronaut, or a soldier. You strove to follow that dream, to grow closer to that goal. The achievement was your motivation.
For some, at least.
Many people will recall the nearly 30 years Mark Henson spent as the Superintendent of Fannin County Schools teaching and influencing the kids of Fannin County. Many may think of this as a life well spent. Henson himself would agree, but it was not always so.
Growing up among a family of educators, Henson knew the life well before he even graduated high school. It was part of the reason he struggled so hard against it. While it may seem like 30 years in the career isn’t the best evasion strategy, Henson says it came down to logic as to why he finally gave in.
After high school graduation, he took his goal of avoidance instead of achievement to heart. “If you go back and look at my high school annual, my ambition was to do anything but teach school because everybody in my family at that time, were teachers,” says Henson as he explains attending the University of Georgia shortly before moving back to Blue ridge to work for the Blue Ridge Telephone Company.
Spending about a year at the job after college didn’t work out. Henson doesn’t speak much on the topic as he says his father knew someone working for Canada Dry in Athens. With a job opening available and good pay to entice him, Henson made the switch to working for the soda company.
Moving to Athens, Henson became an RC/Canada Dry Salesperson over the surrounding five counties in Athens. A hard job that required many hours, Henson said he’d be at work at 6 a.m. and got back home at 8:30 p.m. Though well-paying, the job fell flat for Henson as he came to terms with the long hours and little time for himself. With two years under his belt at the company, he began thinking about Blue Ridge again and his options. As he says, “Teaching didn’t look so bad then.”
Despite the years in opposition, the effort spent running away from the ‘family business,’ Henson began thinking ahead at the rest of his life. Already considering retirement at the time, it was this that ultimately turned his attention back to teaching. It wasn’t family, it wasn’t friends, but rather, it was logic that drew him to the career his life’s ambition avoided.
“I made pretty good money, there just wasn’t any retirement,” says Henson about his time at Canada Dry. As he looked harder at teaching and began seriously considering the career path, he says, “When you look at teachers, you’re never going to get rich being a teacher, but there’s a lot of benefits like retirement and health insurance that these other jobs just didn’t have.” He also notes he proved what he wanted as he retired at 54-years-old.
After much thought, it began with a call to his father, Frank Henson. He told his father he wanted to come home and pursue teaching. Though his father told him to come home and stay with them again, Henson says it was the money he had saved from his position at Canada Dry that allowed him to attend school for a year before being hired as a para-pro, a paraprofessional educator. It was a very busy time in his life as Henson states, “I would go up there and work until 11:30, and then I would work 12 to 4 at what used to be the A&P in McCaysville. I went to school at night…”
The next few years proved to be hectic as he graduated and started teaching professionally “with a job I wasn’t even certified for.” It was January of 1989 and the new school superintendent had been elected in November and as he took office in January he left a gap in the school. To fill the Assistant Principal position the, then, Superintendent had left, they promoted the teacher of the career skills class. With the vacancy in the classroom, Henson was appointed to step in to teach the class. Half a year was spent teaching a career path and skill class to 9th graders in what Henson refers to as a “foreign world.”
The first full-time teaching position he holds was perhaps the one he was least qualified for. Henson noted his nervousness taking the state-funded program. The previous teacher had gone to the University of Georgia to receive training to fill the position. Talking with the previous teacher about the class, Henson shared his reservations about the lack of training and certification. Receiving note cards and guidance on how to handle it helped, but only so far.
Henson recalled looking at the cards and seeing tips like, “Talk about work ethic for 20 minutes.” He was stuck in a position without a firm foundation. He spent the next semester “winging it” and juggling the class with student placement in businesses. Struggling through the day to day at the time, he now looks back and says, “Apparently, I did pretty good at it.”
The interesting part was that the promotions that led him into this position similarly mirrored Henson’s own path to Superintendent one day. An omen easily looked over at the time, but glaringly obvious in hindsight. Though he wouldn’t take the direct path from Teaching to Assistant Principal to Superintendent, they did set the milestones that he would hit on his way.
He also saw plenty of doubt on his way, too. He never looked at the Superintendent position as a goal, but even maintaining a teaching position seemed bleak as he was called into the office one day and told his career class position was no longer being funded.
Thinking he was losing his job, he began considering other opportunities as well as missed options, he had just turned down a position in Cartersville where Stacy, his wife, was teaching. Worrying for no reason, Henson says he was racing through these thoughts until they finally told him they were moving him to Morganton Elementary.
Taking up a Math and Social Studies teaching at Morganton Elementary, Henson found more familiar territory in these subjects. Yet, having gotten used to the career skills, he says he still felt like he was starting over again. The years proved later to be quite fortuitous as Henson says he still has people to this day stop him and talk about their time learning from him as students. Relating back to his own school years, he admits he wasn’t the best student and he made his own bad decisions.
From situations in band and class alike, he notes that he worked hard, usually sitting in first and second chair as he played the trombone, but he still found plenty of things to get into as he, by his own confession, “made the drum major’s lives and stuff miserable.” Enjoying every opportunity he could get to goof off, it became a trend throughout his school career.
Yet, in teaching, he brought those experiences and understanding to the kids as he tailored his classes each year. He shared one story of a girl that stopped him to speak for a while. Eventually, she asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Admitting that he didn’t, she replied, “Well, you really helped me a lot. I was ADD and you would let me sit at your desk.” He says she went on talking about the way he changed her life.
It seems almost common now to associate teachers with stories like these, changing people’s lives, yet, it’s not often you may think a student causing trouble would become that kind of teacher.
The effort returned in a major way as Henson was elected Teach of the Year at Morganton Elementary in only his second year. The award was a testament to his efforts and success, but also evidence of how much he had changed in his life.
“You get out of school and you work a couple of real hard jobs, you see there might be more to life than goofing off. That got me redirected and helped me get through college and get my teaching degree,” says Henson.
It was more than just awards, though. Morganton Elementary created several relationships for Henson that followed him throughout his career and his life. spending four years at Morganton made it the longest position at the point, but it led to so much more. It led to three more years of teaching at East Fannin Elementary before receiving a promotion to Assistant Principal at West Fannin Middle School.
Moving from a position as a teacher to Assistant Principal isn’t just a promotion, it is a major change into school administration. No longer dealing with individual classes of students, Henson says it becomes far more political as you get pressed between teachers and parents. You walk a tightrope as you want to support your teachers in what they do, and you want to listen to concerned parents and find that middle ground. “You have got to kind of be a buffer between them… You’re always walking a tightrope,” he said.
He served as Assistant Principal to Principal David Crawford who served as Assistant Principal to his father, Frank Henson. Mentoring him in administration, he says David was a “laid back guy” that would still “let you have it” some days. It set him on a steep learning curve. Despite the jokes and stories, he led Henson on a quick path to his own education. In a sort of ‘sink or swim’ mentality, Henson said he was given a lot more authority than he expected, but he enjoyed the job.
How much he enjoyed it was a different point. Though Henson says he has never had a job in education he hated, he did say that his year as Assistant Principal was his “least-favorite job.” Though stressing he has enjoyed his entire career, he noted that the stress and shock of transitioning from Teaching to the Administration as a more big picture job factors into the thought.
Even that wasn’t meant to last long as he moved from Assistant Principal to Principal after just one year.
Nearing the end of his first, and only, year as Assistant Principal, he was called into the office again. This time it was the school systems office as his Superintendent at the time, Morgan Arp, wanted to speak with him. As he tells the story, “He said, ‘I’m looking at restructuring the system a little bit on principals and administrators. I’m not saying this is gonna happen, but if I made you Principal at East Fannin, would that be okay?’
I said, ‘Sure, I’ve been there and I know the people fine.’
He said, ‘What about West Fannin?’
I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there a year, I can deal with that.’
He said, ‘What about Blue Ridge Elementary?’
I said, ‘Well, that’s the school I know the least. I’m sure if you put me in there, I could. But the other two make me feel a little more comfortable.’
So the next day I got a call, and I was principal for Blue Ridge Elementary.”
Though comical, Henson said it actually worked out great as he met two of his best colleagues there. Cynthia Panter later became an Associate Superintendent and Karen Walton later became his Assistant Superintendent. Both were teachers he met at Blue Ridge Elementary.
“Blue Ridge was really where I made a lot of later career relationships,” says Henson.
His time as Principal was also a lot easier for him as he says after the year at West Fannin he knew what he was doing and had more confidence in the position. Having ‘matured’ into the job, he says the Principal position has more latitude in decisions. Having a great staff at both schools made the job easier, but the transition was simpler also because he felt he was always second-guessing himself as an assistant principal. His maturity also gave him new outlooks on the choices and decisions made.
“I think a good administrator serves as a shield between the public and teachers who need someone in there to mediate,” he says. Molding things into a larger plan for the schools and taking views from all those who take a stake in their education, “Everybody wants what’s best for the child.”
Surrounding himself with assistant principals and administrators that were detail oriented to allow him to deal with people and focus on the ‘big picture,’ two of his favorite parts of his career as he says.
After three years at Blue Ridge Elementary, the Curriculum Director at the county office resigned. Applying on a fluke instinct, he later got a call saying he got the position. He joined the staff as K-6 Director of Curriculum alongside Sandra Mercier as 7-12 Director of Curriculum.
However, his time in the office saw much more work as he spent time covering as Transportation Director and other fill-in duties. It wasn’t until 2003 when Sandra Mercier took the office of Superintendent, according to Henson, that she named him as Assistant Superintendent and really began his time in the Superintendent position.
He had never thought about going for the position, applying, or even thinking of it. Henson said he did want to be a Principal, but the county offices were beyond his aspirations.
Largely different from transitioning from Teacher to Administrator, the transition into the Superintendent position was far easier says Henson. You’re already dealing with a lot of the same things on a single school scale, but moving to the Superintendent position crosses schools and districts. He did not there is a lot more PR involved, but nothing to the extreme change as he experienced his first year in administration.
Becoming Superintendent in 2007, he says he focused on opening the school system up and growing more transparent than it already was. Sharing information and speaking straight about his feelings allowed a certain connection with people. It seems, in truth, that he never quite outgrew some of the goofiness of his childhood as he recalls joking with colleagues and staff.
Henson says he wanted to have a good time in the office despite everything they dealt with. He pushed the staff, but they also played pranks on each other and shared moments like a school secretary embarrassing her daughter with a funny picture.
Noting one particular instance, Stacy recalls a story with finance running checks in the office. With one office member in particular who would always try to jump scare people running the check machine. Henson quickly opened the door and threw a handful of gummy bears at her. Unfortunately, a few were sucked into the machine and ruined the check run. It wasn’t a good day considering, yet the staff laughed about it and shared in the comedy.
A necessary part of the job is what Henson calls it. The lightheartedness was key to maintaining his staff. “If you stay serious a hundred percent of the time, it’s going to kill you,” he says.
The position wasn’t just laughter and jokes though, tough times came plenty enough. Not all of them were the expected issues that you might expect. Aside from the general politics that face schools daily in these times, Henson even dealt with death threats in his position. Having let people go and dealt with others careers, he admits he had that one employee’s spouse threated his life after a firing.
As he speaks about some of the hardest moments like this, it’s hard to find out how harrowing the event really was. Henson says now that it’s not a big deal, it wasn’t the only threat he had. His wife speaks a little more plainly as she confesses some days, she couldn’t tell if it was worth it for him to be the Superintendent. Yet, even she says in hindsight that she is proud of the honesty, integrity, and openness that permeated his ten years.
Additionally, dealing with things like the shootings and issues that have plagued schools in the last decade, he adds, “It’s a more stressful job than when I started 30 years ago. It’s much more stressful. There are so many things that the state expects, that locals expect, that parents expect… I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in another 30 years.”
Henson agreed that schools have lost a lot of the innocence they used to have within the teachers and staff. As these people continue to rack their brains on following the mission to educate and keep kids safe, they take a lot of the stress off the kids as they are at school. He said, “I don’t know if it’s spelled out, but I think if you’re a good teacher, you feel that inherently.”
It also branched over into policies, with increased focus on testing and numbers, Henson said the position got a lot more into the realm of politics as you deal with the state legislature and handling the constant changes that came from the state adds another item to juggle.
As a superintendent, you don’t need state tests, as Henson says, to tell you how well a teacher teaches. “I can sit in a class for five minutes and tell you if a teacher can teach.”
In the face of everything, Henson said he wouldn’t burn any bridges about returning to education, but he’s enjoying his retirement.
Henson has already reached the “what’s next” point in his career as he retired last year. One year into retirement, he says he is just as busy as ever with his position on the Board of Tax Assessors and putting a daughter through college at the University of Georgia. On top of maintaining his own projects, he says he’s focusing on being a parent and husband and making up for time lost in his position as Superintendent.
Once he hit ten years in the office, Henson said he felt like he had done what he wanted, it was time to hand it over to someone else for their impressions and interpretations. Though retiring from his career, he didn’t fade into obscurity. With Stan Helton asking him to sit on the Board of Tax Assessors and others still seeking advice and counsel, he simply transitioned once more.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors held a special called meeting Monday, Nov. 27, to discuss the department’s projected budget for 2018.
Chairman Lane Bishop opened the meeting by telling the board, “I wish that we were not even having this meeting.” Bishop continued to inform the other members that, to his understanding, the Board of Commissioners had reduced next year’s projected assessors’ budget “a considerable amount” in comparison to the requested 2018 budget.
Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented the board with information comparing the assessors requested amount and the commissioners recommended amount. According to Cochran, the total requested budget for 2018 was $864,900 while the commissioners recommended amount reduced the pending budget by $126,045. Cochran explained the most significant projected reductions include a $40,005 cut in salaries, a $21,000 cut in education and training, a $27,500 cut in operation supplies and a $25,000 cut in capital outlay equipment.
Board members along with Cochran were concerned about the cut in education and training. Cochran stressed the importance of continuing the education of field appraisers in order to stay in accordance with Georgia Department of Revenue guidelines and avoid another future consent order and fines from the state.
“So that’s going to be cutting the appraisers back to where they can’t actually do what we’ve been requested of by the Department of Revenue through our performance review,” Cochran told board members. “It’s not going to be like we’ve been doing and trying to stay up (to date) on the new laws and sending each person to school once a year.”
Concerning the potential cut in operation supplies, Cochran explained County Finance Director Robin Gazaway had previously asked Cochran to move an $18,000 amount from the capital outlay line item to operation supplies for audit compliance. Cochran questioned the commissioners’ knowledge of the $18,000 line item shift given their recommended amount of $24,500 for operation supplies.
The chief appraiser also mentioned the department requested $40,000 for capital outlay equipment, which included $22,000 for the purchase of a used vehicle to add to the tax assessors’ fleet and $18,000 for revaluation of 12,000 rural land parcels, which would be contracted out to a private company. The commissioners recommended amount for the capital outlay line item is $15,000.
Bishop also pointed out the assessors office still has to appraise over 10,000 parcels throughout the county despite the fact that the consent order the department had been under from the state Department of Revenue had been recently lifted. Of these 10,000 parcels yet to be appraised, Board Member Troy Junnier later explained the appraisal updates would add to the tax digest for the county and potentially add further revenue.
“And we’ve been trying to get a vehicle out of the Board (of Commissioners) for two years, and we haven’t been able to get one yet,” Bishop stated.
Regarding the previous consent order, Board Member Mark Henson asked Cochran, “One of the reasons we were under the consent order was because of the ratio and uniformity. Was that because this office was underfunded in the past?” To this, Cochran affirmed that was true.
“And yet it cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars (in fines and fees from the state),” Henson added.
After 45 minutes of discussion, the board all agreed they needed to talk, in some form, to the BOC, or at least Chairman Stan Helton, to provide further information concerning department needs and then asked Cochran to see if Helton was available to speak with the Board of Assessors in the meeting. Helton joined the board members a few minutes later.
Helton then fielded questions and comments from Cochran and the board. “If we don’t have what this office needs to function on a daily basis, we might get by with it next year, but the following year or possibly the next one you’re going to get hit with a (large) fine again and the state will not back off because we’ve already been warned,”Junnier told Helton, referring to the potential of another consent order and further fines from the Department of Revenue.
The commission chairman responded by notifying Junnier that expenditures to date for 2017 have been under budget so far. When asked about the possibility of purchasing another vehicle to add to the fleet or replace aging vehicles, Helton explained the BOC would have to approve such an expenditure. He also stated the current fleet of vehicles had not been thoroughly inspected as of yet to completely determine whether or not any of the vehicles needed to be replaced.
After Bishop pointed out the 10,000 parcels still needing to be reappraised by the department, Helton responded by saying, “(The BOC has) looked at this budget very closely, and when you look at what you’ve actually spent for this year, I don’t think what’s been recommended is out of line at all.”
Helton also explained the Board of Assessors could address the full BOC at the Tuesday, Nov. 28, budget public hearing before the regularly scheduled commissioners meeting or at the Dec. 12 BOC meeting where the 2018 county budget is expected to be approved. The assessors agreed they would prefer to speak to the commissioners, as well as Finance Director Gazaway, individually sometime in the next two weeks rather than at a public hearing.
Later, the commission chairman stated the county budget has seen a 30 percent overall increase since 2015. “And there was no tax increase,” Helton continued. “This is a painful process for everybody … That kind of spending is unsustainable, and (the BOC has) to address that this year to try to slow that down … I’m very concerned with where we’re headed with these expenses. So, if you feel like you’re being picked on – I’m sorry about that – there are a lot of people right now (in other departments) that feel that way.”
The meeting ended with the Board of Assessors agreeing to have two members and Cochran to meet individually again with Helton as well as Gazaway and also with Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee later this week or early next week.
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BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fannin County Board of Commissioners held their final meeting for this month on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. Among the items on the agenda, County Commissioners addressed the issue of the County Roads Moratorium. There was public commentary that addressed both sides of the issue the county faces when deciding to adopt or remove roadways from its care.
Citizens were there to ask Fannin County to consider adopting Phase 1 of the My Mountain Community into its county road system for maintenance and upkeep, citing that this phase of the community has been in existence for almost 20 years. On the opposite side of the discussion, citizens expressed concern on current county roads that they feel have been neglected. Post Commissioner Earl Johnson urged the Board to use caution when adopting new roads into the system, wanting first for the county to obtain proper inspections and right of ways before making any decision. Fannin County Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee and Commission Chairman Stan Helton agreed with this assessment. While voting to continue the county road moratorium, there was also a unanimous decision to work on current roads in the system before accepting new roads.
Ken Petty, Fannin County Maintenance Department Head, addressed the Board seeking approval for three issues needing financial payment from the county. He presented cases for $5,340.00 to replace a compressor on the commercial Trane air conditioning unit at the jail, $19,160.00 for improvements to the Animal Control Facility located on Fannin Industrial Park, and roof repair at the county maintenance building.
Petty was only able to present one bid on the broken compressor at the jail. When questioned by Post Commissioner Earl Johnson on failure to receive further bids, Petty stated that no one he contacted in Fannin County was willing to work on the unit. Johnson further questioned Petty as to why he was not providing the county or the bidder with a proper scope of work, and both agreed in the future that this documentation will be provided. Ultimately the board agreed to address and fix the issue of the air conditioning since it is essential to the jail’s day to day operations, but opted to table the other two issues until further documentation and bids could be obtained.
Commissioners expanded the Board of Assessors through resolution and praised the three current appointees for bringing the county up to compliance with the State of Georgia. The expansion will bring the current board of three members up to a state allotted five member board. The board unanimously voted to appoint former Superintendent Mark Henson to a four year term on the Board of Assessors, and Troy Junnier to serve a three year term. Chairman Helton felt that the addition of these two individuals based on their experience and knowledge of the county would keep operations within the Board running smoothly for years to come.
Marie Woody with Land Development informed the board that all requirements were met to move forward with condemnation of property located at 188 Riverside Lane. The cost of removing the structure would be approximately $7,500.00 and approval was granted to advance this project. This property will be the fifth this year to be condemned and removed. Discussion was also held about the Scrap Tire Management Grant that was obtained from the State of Georgia. Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee wants to focus on where the man power will come from to complete this project and does not want to tax an already short handed Road Department of the county.
Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented the public with year to date financial information showing that the county is currently $1,675,006 under budget for the fiscal year 2017. Out of the county’s $27,131,207 yearly budget expenditures, actual amounts show that $12,975,846 has been spent.
Most county departments reported staying within or under their current budget amount as of July 18th. Administration was the only department reporting an overage with their current rate of spending at 72.9%. For departments to fall under budget their current rate should be below 54%. When questioned as to why this number was so high, Gazaway explained that new county policy requires all insurance claims be filed under a single department, and that they were working on an amendment that would create a new line item to reflect changes in this policy.
The following people retired from the Fannin County School System after this school year:
Betty Davenport, Fayrene Addington, Patricia Adams, Jerry Bradburn, Stacy Henson, Deborah Satterfield, Michelle Thomas, Carl Curtis, Sheila Loudermilk, Mark Henson, Larry Clonts , Walter Glasgow, Judy Godfrey, Cindy
Kephart, Janet Cherie Loudermilk, Robert Taylor, Peggy Walton, & Karen Williams
Fetch Your News and Fannin County Schools would like to congratulate them on their retirement and Thank them for their years of service.