New Transportation Facility a possibility for Fannin County School System

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) unveiled two new structures that if voted for, could replace outdated buildings and give much needed space back to the Fannin County school campuses.

The Board of Education got a first look at possible design plans for a new Transportation Facility and a Staff Development Center.

Last year the school system purchased land from the U.S. Forest Service that the service had deemed not necessary for their use any longer. The land, approximately 37 acres, is located near Blue Ridge Dam off of Highway 76.

Darren Danner, Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations, explained the history of the purchase and the need for the proposed new buildings.

“We’re trying to build a transportation facility,” Danner said, explaining that currently the district has to service their fleet in a “bus garage” which lacks the space for efficiency when servicing a large number of buses.

The Staff Development Center would fill a need for the school system, as currently different rooms around the various campuses have had to be put into use for training.

“Once we got our initial drawings of the Transportation Facility, we noticed we had all this space left over,” Danner spoke of how talks for a Staff Development Center came about; the school system would want to utilize as much as possible of the acreage purchased.

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Proposed floor plan of Transportation Facility.

Doug Breaux and Henry Pineda of Breaux and Associates Architects showed board members renderings and plans for the two new facilities.

Breaux and Associates Architects is a Georgia based architectural firm that specializes in educational facility planning and design.

The main building of the Transportation Facility would be approximately 17,000 square feet. Of this, 12,000 square feet would be designated for bus maintenance and supply storage, including three full service bays. The remaining 5,000 square feet would be set aside as an administration/training area.

This design also includes a covered outdoor area for buses to have quick tune-ups or fixes without taking the space of one of the full bays.

Also on the transportation campus would be a driver training course, a fueling station and a parking area large enough to accommodate FCSS’s entire fleet.

The Staff Development Center similarly would have a large footprint and would house not only training areas and conference rooms, but would also become the new location for the district’s administration and Board of Education. 

In the floor plan presented by Breaux and Associates Architects, the Staff Development Center would be divided into two sides based on purpose. The left hand side would be used for the staff development and training while the right hand side would be designated for administration.

“It is designed so that if there is ever a need for expansion, the building can actually expand toward the right hand side. If there is ever a need for more offices,” Doug Breaux said of the consideration for growth when designing the floor plan.

The Staff Development Center will be considered second after the Transportation Facility, as the need for the Transportation Facility is more pressing.

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Proposed floor plan of the Staff Development Center.

However, cost saving measures can be taken now, when planning for the future of the site.

Drew Watson, President of Bowen and Watson Construction, explained even if the Staff Development Center were to be put on hold, preparing the land for both projects at the same time would save money.

“In discussing the development of the site,” Watson spoke to the board, “you would save a lot of money if you were ever going to build the Staff Development Center, to go ahead and grade for that now.” 

According to Watson a big expense in construction and in grading in particular is the import and export of soils. 

“This would allow us to balance the site now,” Watson explained the benefits of completing both areas simultaneously.

Board of Education members asked several questions pertaining to costs, but since the project(s) are still in the preliminary stages overall costs cannot be determined until the board gives approval to move forward with getting these estimations.

No set date was given on when the BOE would hold a vote on these future construction projects.

 

Feature Image : One of the proposed renderings of the Staff Development Center presented by Breaux and Associates Architects.

Cioffi accepts Assistant Superintendent position in Massachusetts

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Fannin County High School Principal Erik Cioffi will be leaving the Rebels for a new position as Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Personnel with a school system in Massachusetts.

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Cioffi submitted his resignation to FCSS on July 17, 2020.

Cioffi submitted his resignation to the Fannin County School System (FCSS) to be effective August 28, 2020. The Board of Education is expected to accept this resignation at a special called meeting on July 23,2020.

This move allows us to be closer to our immediate families in New England,” Cioffi said of the new position he will be filling in Massachusetts. “I was born and raised in Massachusetts so I will be returning home.”

Cioffi said in an email sent out to colleagues that his family will remain in Georgia to complete their senior year at Fannin County High School, but that all will be reunited upon graduation. He plans to visit frequently and attend events throughout the year.

The resignation date of August 28 will allow Cioffi to remain with the FCSS to help bring in the start of this unusual school year with new protocols in place due to Covid-19. 

Cioffi acknowledged his intention to be an active member in restarting the school year : “Many protocols and procedures will be fine-tuned over the next couple of weeks as we seek guidance from the North Georgia Public Health Department and local leaders.”

I want to “Thank you” for an amazing 11 years – I will reflect often on the successes and relationships that have been built and I truly believe the staff at FCHS is one of the best in the country,” Cioffi said to his colleagues adding, “Thank you for your efforts and dedication to the students of Fannin.”  

The Fannin County School System has listed an anticipated job opening of High School Principal on their website (anticipated because Cioffi’s resignation is not finalized until the BOE holds an official vote).

The website states that the position is not an entry level leadership position and “a preferred applicant’s portfolio will highlight prior successful teaching- and leadership-related experiences, demonstrate effective communication skills, and prove one’s ability to lead.”

Applications can be filled out online, via the FCSS website. Interested individuals who qualify should ensure that a completed application is entered online (in Frontline) no later than 4:00 p.m. on Friday, July 31, 2020.

Students return to school August 7th : What to expect

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner
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Blue Ridge, Ga. – Students of the Fannin County School System (FCSS) will have the option of returning to school in a modified traditional setting or utilizing online learning for the 2020-21 school year.

School Administration released their plans for reopening schools at the Board of Education (BOE) regular July meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon gave the board an overview of what to expect when school comes back into session. 

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Rigdon presented the BOE with administration’s plan to reopen schools.

The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) released guidelines in early June for schools to consider when reopening in the State of Georgia. These guidelines, however, were only recommendations and the ultimate decisions for school operations were left up to the districts.

The DOE guidelines, along with guidance from both local and state authorities, as well as guardian and faculty input helped shape the approach that the FCSS is choosing to implement for the time being.

“The important part for us was to get the information and make the best decisions that we can,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke of the system’s plan. “This plan is subject to change. We need to think of this as a living document. It will be modified as new things are learned.”

 

***Important Dates***

Traditional school, or in person education will begin on August 7, 2020.

Faculty and Staff are to report on August 3, 2020.

Online Learning will also begin on August 7, 2020.

Parents and Guardians may enroll their child for Online Learning between July 10 – July 20, 2020.

 

***Online Learning***

For those not comfortable with the traditional in class setting, an online option will be available. Assistant Superintendent Rigdon stressed that this online option will not mirror the distance learning that the school put in place upon the mandatory closure earlier this year.

The online learning platform will be run through a 3rd party that is yet to be determined. The platform will provide instruction to the child with the parent or guardian being a “learning coach”.

Students enrolled in online learning will spend the majority of the traditional school day (8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) either working online or working to complete assignments given online. Attendance will be taken and monitored via login and assignments completed.

There will be FCSS personnel assigned to check on each child’s progress. The “learning coaches” will be given the name of someone at the school who can help them navigate the program or assist with issues.

The content of the online learning platform, according to FCSS, will be “rigorous and graded”.

Students enrolled in Online Learning will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. 

While the FCSS is not requiring that students sign a contract to remain in the online platform once enrolled (many other districts have this requirement), they would like to see those enrolled stay with the program through the first semester or for the entirety of the school year.

“We are not asking parents to sign a commitment, but we do want them to be extremely thoughtful as they make that decision because it is going to require us to allocate and spend funds that could be better spent if they’re not going to stick with the program,” Rigdon explained of the need for students and guardians to consider the decision heavily.

Rigdon did add for those who enroll but discover that the online platform is not working for them, “We are never turning a child away from our schools.”

Students utilizing the Online Learning platform will complete assignments from a school issued device. FCSS will provide a WiFi hotspot for students without internet, but these hotspots work much like mobile phones, so if you are an area with poor cell phone service it is likely that the hotspot would not work for you.

Online Learning is available for children in grades Kindergarten – 12. This includes children with IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). Online Learning is not available for Pre-K students.

 

***Traditional School***

Masks are optional for both students and personnel. Parents or Guardians must provide a mask for students who wish to wear one throughout the day.

Temperatures will be taken for all students, staff, parents and guardians each morning upon arriving at the campus. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted to stay at school. 

Hand sanitizer will be available to all children and adults before entering the school buildings.

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Parents, Guardians, and Staff completed a survey on key issues. This helped shape the district’s plan to reopen.

Elementary teachers will move the students instead of students changing classes. Middle and High School students will not be allowed to congregate in hallways. When and where possible class changes for Middle and High School students will be staggered or hallway traffic patterns will be addressed to prevent overcrowding.

When possible students will be assigned seats and will keep the same seat during the instructional class period.

Each school will “develop school level procedures” to limit the number of students in the cafeteria. This may include “grab and go” where students will pick up meals and eat in a classroom or designated area.

The final plan for buses has not been finalized. However, hand sanitizer will be available for anyone upon boarding a bus. Buses will be sanitized daily and ventilated to the extent feasible when in route.

Parents and guardians will be notified of any adjustments to bus routes or pick up times before the first day of school. Requirement to wear a mask while on a bus has not been decided, but parents and guardians will be notified of this decision as well.

Parents and guardians will be allowed to walk their child to class during the first few days of school but must wear a mask.  Schools will determine when parents and guardians will no longer have access beyond the main entrance.  

FCSS states “We want to keep the lines of communication strong, but we need to limit the number of people flowing into and out of the buildings each day.”

 

***If Schools Close Again***

Those students enrolled in Online Learning would continue the course that they are taking with no change. Students of the traditional classroom setting would switch to online learning but follow a model similar to that that was implemented in March 2020.

 

The FCSS states of the opening plan that “plans may change based on future orders from the Governor, the Department of Community Health, or the Department of Education”.

“Our desire is always to operate a traditional school with face to face,” Rigdon said of the hope for all students eventually to return to a traditional setting, “We believe our instruction is best at that level.”

Fannin Schools prepare for State Budget cuts

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) is prepared to “weather the storm” as expectations of State Budget cuts loom over next year’s financials.

“We get a great deal of insight into how we can budget from the legislature and so we’re waiting on that information,” FCSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney addressed the district’s finances at the May Board of Education meeting. “One thing that we do know though from the Governor’s Office is there is going to be an across the board 14 percent. How that translates is yet to be seen.” 

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s office has been in contact with several state departments to let them know that budget cuts will be inevitable and there is expected to be a 14 percent cut to all state agencies This cut includes Georgia’s public schools.

The Georgia State Legislature, who sets these budgets, is still in session and have yet to announce a finalization due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Legislators are expected to resume meetings in June of this year.

The lag in legislation makes it difficult for schools to move forward with fiscal year 2021 budgeting, but FCSS is on schedule and planning for what may come.

“That amount is significant for the Fannin County School District,” Gwatney said of the proposed cut to state funds, but added that through conservative decisions in the past, FCSS has a reserve and is in a fortunate situation of being better prepared to “weather this financial storm” than many other districts.

Gwatney also pointed out that Fannin County is a debt free school system which will aid in financial stability for Fiscal Year 2021. 

Board member Lewis Deweese questioned what the budget cuts would affect and specifically questioned its effects on personnel.

“The guidance we have been given is to expect a 14 percent decrease,” FCSS Director of Finance Susan Wynn answered, “It will decrease our revenues in our total operating budget, but we have a very sound reserve so it’s not expected to affect any personnel.” 

Dr. Gwatney added, “I believe there will be an economic recovery. I think it will take time, but our reserve will allow us to get to that point. It’s my intention to protect all people involved with the Fannin County School System. That would include, of course, the students with that reserve, and our personnel with that reserve, and also the community, the taxpayers, with that reserve.”

Fannin County’s monthly financial update given at the meeting showed that the school system is still operating and maintaining a healthy financial status.

Wynn, who was recently awarded for distinction and excellent financial reporting by the Georgia Department of Audits, gave an update with 75 percent of fiscal year 2020 complete.

This update showed that revenues were up and expenditures were down for the district from last year. 

Expenses showed $26,015,727.37 so far for the year. This number represents 70.31 percent of expenditures budgeted. At this time last year, expenditures were at 72 percent.

While SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) did not meet expectations for the month, it was still the highest amount collected for a March, bringing in $445,424.87. This collection showed a 0.033 percent growth over March of 2019 despite the state shutting down for a portion of this time.

Numbers for April and May are being eagerly anticipated as a statewide Shelter In Place was issued and recently lifted. 

“It will be a good indicator of the economy,” Gwatney said of awaiting the SPLOST collection numbers for April and May.

The FCSS will move forward with the budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2021 with tentative dates set in August to adopt a budget and set a millage rate.

Decision to close schools not taken lightly

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The decision to close all schools in Fannin County for the week of March 16 to March 20, 2020, was not a decision that was taken lightly. Administration and healthcare experts were present at the March Board of Education meeting to present the public with details leading up to the conclusion to close.

Dr. Dillon Miller of Blue Ridge Medical Group has been working closely with the Fannin County School System and explained the facts and myths surrounding the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 ) and the disease Covid-19.

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Dr. Dillon Miller addresses the board about the impacts of Coronavirus.

“We’re almost facing two challenges,” Miller said addressing the public and the board, “There’s the virus itself, of course, but then there’s the misinformation.”

Miller explained that unlike the seasonal flu that has a potential transmission rate of 1.4 people for every 1 person infected, the Coronavirus has approximately a 2.4 potential person-to-person transmission rate.

“We are almost mirroring each other as far as the number of cases, statistically similar,” Miller spoke of the challenges being faced in Italy and how examining the data can give insight into the actions that we should take in our communities. “Our Day Eight, which is where we’re at now, is almost eerily similar to their Day Eight.” 

Miller pointed out that Italy waited until Day 12 to close schools, and stressed the importance of school systems to have preparedness and coordination with other agencies during this time: “We always have to think about worst case scenarios. Expect the worst and hope for the best.”

Educating the public and being proactive rather than reactive can have a significant positive impact. According to Miller, steps can be taken to “flatten the curve”, referring to slowing the impacts of the virus so that healthcare systems do not get overwhelmed.

“Fortunately from a school system perspective we are dealing with a virus that doesn’t impact children the same way it is our elderly population,” Miller spoke of the potential impact on Fannin’s children and added that the virus carries a “significant” impact for those over the age of 60. “They (children) can carry this virus and potentially give it to those that are in that high risk area.”

Dr. Dillon Miller recommended the following advice for the public and parents of children in Fannin County:

  1. Wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

  2. Social awareness. Try to implement the six foot rule when possible and avoid a proximity of closer than six feet to another person when out in public.

  3. If your child is sick, do not allow them to come to school.

  4. Avoid rushing to an Emergency Room, Doctor, or Walk-In Clinic if you or your child is not significantly ill. If a trip to the doctor is inevitable, Miller recommends calling these places ahead of time. This gives staff time to prepare to potentially stop those infected from coming into contact with those that are not.

In looking at not just the health and safety of the children but also of the community, Miller pointed out that no two school systems are the same and Fannin County would have to weigh their options on how to proceed: “There’s not a black and white answer.”

“There’s a fire alarm going off. We hear that fire alarm, we don’t know if there is a fire in here,” Miller gave an analogy of the current state of affairs and added that there aren’t enough tests to know the true impacts of the virus at this time.  “Early intervention for school closures is when you get the most bang for your buck, the most success.” 

“The use of data is powerful,” Fannin County Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney said before announcing the closure. “We want to do our part to flatten that curve. Fannin is going to be a part of that. We are all literally in this together, as a community, as a state, as a nation, as a world.”

Gwatney spoke of the ongoing communication that the school system has had with healthcare professionals, as well as local and state agencies. On the day leading up to the decisionto close schools Fannin County Leadership staff had a conference call with Governor Brian Kemp and a follow-up conference call with other regional districts.

“The Governor today announced and gave strong guidance for school districts and gave grace for school districts,” Gwatney stated. “We want to do our part to keep this community safe.”

The Fannin County School System will be closed to students next week (March 16 to March 20, 2020). Dr. Gwatney released a letter giving further details on how the school system will operate during this time.

“We will revisit that decision (to close) a week from now to see about the following week,” Gwatney said of the board’s decision adding, “This is a very dynamic and fluid situation and we want to stay ahead of it.”

Special Recognition given by Board of Education

Community, Fannin County EMA/EMS, Rebel's Corner
Fannin County School System

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Education took time at their Feb. monthly meeting to give special recognition to those who have positively impacted the school system recently.

First to be recognized was West Fannin Elementary School (WFES) First Grade teacher Katy Roberson and  WFES Student Governance Team member Jocelyn Miller for their work which has brought state and national attention to the Fannin County School District.

What all began with the reading of a book, Stellaluna, to a class, has become an ongoing project that is now in its third year.

A former student of Roberson told her of a “bat house” that they have at home and from there the project evolved.

“She (Roberson) was able to take the concept of bats and integrate all of the subjects into it and the kids were basically learning math. They were reading. They were doing science, all through the lens of bats,” Miller spoke of the teacher’s work with children.

Miller, who is now going for her doctoral degree, along with Roberson wrote an article about the project titled “At Home with Bats”. This article was published in the National Science Teachers Association peer-reviewed journal “Science and Children”.

Since then the article has gone on to be published on university websites, garnering even more attention for education in our area.

Next to be recognized for their work with the school system was Fannin County’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

Through their Stop the Bleed Campaign, Fannin County EMA Director Robert Graham, Fannin County Training Officer Ryan McDavis, and EMS Child Advocate Rebecca Huffman were all recognized for the work put into training staff of the school district.

Stop the Bleed is a program set in place by the American College of Surgeons and works to train people worldwide on how to stop bleeding in a severely injured person. 

After training, the school district received several Stop the Bleed kits which have been put in place not only in the schools but also on every bus, along with a standard first aid kits.

Fannin County School System Director of Transportation Denver Foster called these kits, “a little bag with a lot of life saving power in it”.

Foster also thanked Fannin County’s EMA/EMS for their ongoing role in working with the school system to provide safety to its students on a daily basis.

 

 

Click here to read about those honored at last month’s meeting.

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