Gordon Central High School Principal Doug Clark, who has been on administrative leave since the end of April, plans to resign from his position on June 30 and move into a teaching role at one of the system's elementary schools next school year. The announcement of his resignation comes after he was placed on administrative leave "following allegations of unethical actions taken by Mr. Clark in his responsibilities as principal," a news release from the school system stated.
"Being placed on administrative leave by the leadership of Gordon County Schools has been a very emotional and trying time," said Clark in a letter to Gordon County Schools' leadership. "After stepping away and some reflection, I can see mistakes were made, and I take full responsibility for those actions and decisions. ... With that being said, I have decided to step away from leading GCHS effective June 30, 2019 and will transition into an elementary teaching position for the 2019-2020 school year."
Clark will carry out his responsibilities as principal for Gordon Central High School's graduation ceremony on May 23. The search for a new Gordon Central principal will begin in the near future.
"While I know the decision to place Mr. Clark on administrative leave was not a popular one with many of the Gordon Central community — particularly at this time of year, it was something that had to be done," said Superintendent Susan Remillard in a news release Tuesday. "I took no pleasure in delivering that message to the Gordon Central staff,
but as educators, we are all held to a strict code of ethics and when allegations are brought to our attention, we are bound to investigate them.
"My hope is that the students at Gordon Central High School can focus on the last few weeks of school, and the seniors can look toward graduation and celebrate this milestone with family and friends," she continued.
Clark was placed on administrative leave during the middle of the school day on April 25, according to Gordon Board of Education Chairman Charlie Walraven.
On April 25, Clark said he was called into Remillard's office before he took his lunch and was told by her that he was being placed on an indefinite administrative leave from the school system. Clark said he did not foresee this happening, and he did not get much of an explanation from Remillard concerning why he was being put on administrative leave.
Clark did not return requests for comment by Tuesday's press deadline.
Jeff Shattuck and Marne Wilson, the current assistant principals at Gordon Central, have been covering the principal's responsibilities during Clark's leave.
Gordon County Director of Finance Mendy Goble led the Board of Education in their annual budget work session on Thursday, discussing district staff and faculty salaries, raises and potential projects for the next academic year.
According to Goble, the main updates for next year's budget include raises for both certified and classified employees. Following teachers' raises approved by Gov. Brian Kemp and district-appointed raises, each certified teacher and administrator in Gordon County Schools will be receiving a raise of $3,210 this year.
Classified staff – including bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, paraprofessionals, cafeteria staff and uncertified instructors – will receive a 3 percent raise.
During the work session, Goble said the proposed budget includes one gifted teacher stationed at each elementary school, as currently gifted teachers alternate between schools. The state also required the district to increase their input into the Teachers Retirement System from 20.9 percent of each employee's salary to 21.14 percent.
As far as potential projects, Goble said there have been a few requests to increase security at school entrances, new furniture items and basic maintenance objects. Security at the schools will be aided by the $30,000 that Kemp allocated to each public school, which will total to $330,000 for Gordon County Schools.
While Goble said enrollment in the district' eleven schools has been down, she doesn't foresee any staffing cuts being necessary.
No official decisions were made at the work session, as the tentative 2019-2020 budget will be up for approval at the board meeting on May 13, and the official budget will be up for adoption at the June 10 board meeting, according to Goble. The director said the budget is still adaptable by the board, should they need to alter anything prior to approving the tentative plan.
In addition, Board Chairman Charlie Walraven announced on Thursday the board has
developed an email account where parents and members of the public can email the district to ask questions and make suggestions regarding the superintendent search.
"This is our effort to involve the community in the search process," Board Member Eddie Hall said.
The email address, email@example.com, has been provided to receive feedback from those interested in the search to replace Superintendent Susan Remillard.
The board also approved a bid for removal and replacement of lighting fixtures in W.L. Swain Elementary School and Ashworth Middle School. The bid was awarded to Synergy Power Solutions, which will charge a total of $199,985 for the entire project and will take place from June 1 until June 28.
While Pratham Patel was controlling robots used for surgical procedures, Gift Nnakwu listened to Sharon Bass explain how robotic surgery works and how it's an all-around better alternative to open surgery.
Patel's goal was to make the robot move in the direction he wanted it to go, and he said he hoped the experience helps him decide what kind of medicine he wanted to pursue after earning his undergraduate.
On Monday, 16 high schoolers gathered at AdventHealth Gordon to participate in the third annual Surgical Outreach Day, where students interested in the medical field could participate in hands-on activities that demonstrate what a day in the life of a surgeon might look like.
This event, led by Robotic Clinical Coordinator Sharon Bass and Director of Robotic Surgery Dr. Hak Lee, was created when Lee was hired by the hospital in 2015. One of his requests coming to AdventHealth Gordon to work was that there would be educational outreach events for local students to learn more about medicine.
"I just wanted to make sure we did something for the students in Calhoun because they are our future," Lee said.
The life of a surgeon
Lee grew up moving around, but he calls Southern California his home, and as he attended a magnet high school in East Los Angeles, he had many opportunities to volunteer at hospitals throughout his education. Having the option to research, work with DNA, and see what it was like working in medicine, Lee was able to decide he wanted to pursue a career in the medical field when he was still in high school.
After graduating from medical school and completing his residence, Lee moved from Southern California to
Northwest Georgia in September of 2015 to start a robotics program at AdventHealth Gordon. In his three and a half years here, Lee has trained more surgeons to include robotics in their spectrum of abilities, developing a program that currently has seven robotic surgeons.
When asked why he moved from a big city to a small town, Lee said he wanted to raise his kids in a loving community. And though Calhoun is small, AdventHealth Gordon has also offered him the opportunity to expand his skills.
"Robotic surgery is not new like it was 10 years ago, but in small community hospitals it's catching on," Lee said. "Harbin Clinic, Redmond and Floyd don't have robots, but Hamilton does and our hospital does."
As AdventHealth Gordon's first robotic surgeon who completed 14 years of education past his bachelor's, Lee is passionate about offering local students opportunities similar to those he had. And his goal is not only to teach high school students about medicine, but also about the importance of returning to their roots.
"You have to know where you came from," Lee said. "It's hard to put down roots in a big city like LA, there are millions living in one area. But here, it's a community where it's safe; people are loving and caring."
Lee encouraged students to get out and experience the world, learn about the possible options for their futures, but he also said the most rewarding paths are those that return to where they started.
"The good thing about AdventHealth is that they're really trying to follow the ministry of Christ and giving back to the community," Lee said. "Other hospitals are only focused on revenue and amount of operations rather than education and outreach."
Starting with only one specialty in robotics in 2015, now AdventHealth Gordon has grown to provide a multi-disciplinary robotics program with gynecology in 2016 and general surgery in 2017.
The student event
Since Lee joined the AdventHealth Gordon team, he's worked with Bass to help high school students determine if a career in medicine is what they're truly interested in, which is how Surgical Outreach Day was born.
"Nothing like this has ever been done in any hospital in Northwest Georgia," Bass said as she introduced herself to students Monday afternoon. "We are very fortunate to be able to host this."
The Surgical Outreach Day invites around four students from each local high school – Gordon Central, Calhoun, Sonoraville and Georgia Cumberland Academy – to learn more about surgery, medicine and robotics in the medical field.
Students had to apply and write an essay on why they were interested in medicine, at which point they were hand-selected by their schools to participate in this workshop. Over the course of the half-day event, students were able to learn techniques involved in traditional open surgery, laparoscopic surgery, suturing and robotic surgery, while working alongside surgeons and operating room staff.
"Any time they can interact with health care professionals and actually see and use technology, it's exciting," said Lori Fisher, Calhoun City Schools' healthcare science teacher. "Whether or not they become surgeons, you give them that little extra."
Fisher, who has seen previous students continue to become nurses and doctors who return to Gordon County, said her job as a teacher is rewarding.
"Mrs. Fisher's class made me interested in medicine," said Calhoun senior Patel. "I don't really know exactly what field I'm interested in, but I came here to look at what it would be like as a surgeon."
As a Georgia Cumberland Academy senior, Nnakwu said she knew she wanted to be a brain surgeon, inspired by the life of Ben Carson, but after a bit of working with machines during Monday's event, she said robotic surgery might be a good backup plan.
"The robotics is easier than I thought it would be," Nnakwu said. "You have to have more hand-eye coordination."
Nnakwu said she is glad to have been able to come to the outreach event to learn about different types of surgery and options within the medical field.
Being the third year Lee has hosted this event, he said he's had previous students reach out to him after the class, asking more questions on his profession, requesting to view clips of robotic surgeries and even asking for advice.
"One of our past students, Mark, is at Mercer right now," Lee said. "After this program, he wanted to go into anesthesia and decided to go for it. Having an opportunity like this pushed him further and encouraged him to find the greater things out there."
This event is one of Lee's main passions and he is thankful that AdventHealth Gordon supports his desire to educate youth in the area and provide them with a space to learn about medicine. He plans to continue this outreach day for years to come.
Hardly a Sunday goes by that Juanita Green, 90, doesn't slide her ruby red Cadillac into its accustomed space at Everett Springs Baptist Church. She was born in the community that still thrives in the shadow of John's Mountain, and she's spent her entire life there raising her children, farming and interacting with her neighbors at the church social events that still happen regularly.
Late last year, the entire church gathered in the fellowship hall after a Sunday service to celebrate Green's arrival as a nonagenarian. Family and friends managed to keep the celebration a surprise, and Green only realized what was happening when worship leader Stan Pethel recognized her in front of the church at the end of the service.
It was a meaningful day for Green, who remembers when Everett Springs Road was a dirt track.
Green grew up in a house that stood across the street from the church. She attended the now-defunct Everett Springs School during her elementary years and graduated from Armuchee High School.
Her memories harken back to when times were simpler but Everett Springs was a busier place. She remembers the large, wood heater in the brick schoolhouse, and she recalls the post office and handful of stores in the community, one of which her grandfather ran. The public springs, the community's namesake, would attract passersby who would stop for a drink. Green says the water was high in minerals, especially iron, but that people sought it out for its supposed health benefits.
"There used to be a lot more people living in the Pocket than there are now," Green says.
She was the oldest of Clark and Zula Everett's 10 children — five boys and five girls. Her mother had all but one of her children at home. She grew up helping her family farm their land, and she recalls the backbreaking work of harvesting crops.
Her memories come across in a matter-of-fact manner. She juxtaposes the positive and humorous recollections of a vibrant social life with the realities of a society in which technology hadn't yet taken a significant hold. She has a photo of herself at 2 years old sitting in her father's Ford Model T in the early 1930s.
"There's two things I hope I never do again," she says, laughing. "One is to pick cot ton, and the other is to milk a cow ... I remember following (my mother) to the barn wanting her to show me how to milk a cow, and she did. That was a big mistake on my part — I had to do it, then!"
Many of Green's memories include her late husband, Maurice Green. He passed away in 2006, a year after the couple lost their youngest son, Kevin, who died in a work-related accident. It was a hard era, and Green leaned on her community.
She pronounces Maurice's name with an emphasis on the first syllable so that it sounds like "Morris." The two met during their high school years at Armuchee.
"We dated for, I guess about two years, maybe," Juanita says.
The couple married a year out of high school. Her father's well-known sense of humor showed up right before the wedding.
"When me and Maurice were getting married, he (my father) had to sign for me because I was 18 or 19," she says. "So, Maurice rushed up here that morning to get Daddy to sign, and he made out like he was not going to do it. He said, 'Well, you're getting my best cotton picker!'"
Kevin, was about two years old when they built a home on the 70 acres Juanita's parents sold them. She and Maurice took up farming raising cotton, corn and syrup cane.
She balanced the learning curve of setting up housekeeping with the tasks of getting the farm up and running and raising children.
"I knew how to cook some," she says, recalling preparing food on a wood stove.
Juanita now has two great-grandsons and two granddaughters. Her youngest son, Randall, lives in the area. There's a running joke among her fellow attendees at Everett Springs Baptist that it's best not to stand around in the church parking lot when she leaves after service on Sundays because she's usually hurrying out in the Cadillac to get lunch on the table for her family.
She's been a member of that congregation for so long that she no longer recalls when she officially joined.
"I don't really remember how old I was, but I was young," she says.
Her involvement in her community and her daily activities are varied and ongoing. She serves as church clerk, a position she took over after Maurice's death. She plants a garden each year and insists on doing her own mowing. She still attends the Everett Springs School reunion each year in November at Mount Tabor Methodist Church, and more and more of her former schoolmates are entering their 80s and 90s. Juanita is quick to point out that she realizes her self sufficiency at 90 is unusual.
"Somebody asked me, 'What do you attribute your old age to?'" she says. "I said, 'Hard work and clean living.'"
This is the second story in a series about the history of the Everett Springs area in northern Floyd County.