Seven Gordon County politicians elected in November were officially sworn into office last week. Among those sworn in included two county commissioners, one county judge and four Gordon County Board of Education members.
Becky Hood, R-District 4, and Chad Steward, R-District 2, both who were incumbents on the Gordon County Board of Commissioners, were re-elected to serve another term and were sworn in by Judge John Richie Parker on Thursday.
Hood, the chairwoman on the board, ran unopposed during the election. Steward ran against Democrat Arthene Bressler; Steward received 82 percent of votes while Bressler received 18 percent.
Chief Judge David Smith was sworn in to serve on the seventh Superior Court District of Georgia. Smith serves alongside Judges Suzanne H. Smith, Carey Nelson and Scott Smith. Smith was appointed to the Superior Court in 2001, was elected in 2002 and has been reelected every four years since.
In addition to these officials being sworn in, the county school board gained two new members and retained two other incumbents. Board members are elected to four-year terms on a staggered two-year election cycle. In 2018, there were four seats up for election: posts 1, 3, 5 and 7.
The two incumbent members were Dana Stewart, R-Post 3, and Charlie Walraven, R-Post 1. Stewart earned more than 80 percent of votes in November. She ran against
Democrat Allen Dutch, who received only 17 percent of votes.
Walraven ran unopposed.
There were also two new members added to the board, Kacee Smith, R-Post 5, and Eddie T. Hall, R-Post 7. In the May Republican primary, Smith beat out incumbent Nan Barnette and Hall won over incumbent Larry Massey. Their primary wins secured their spots on the board since there was no opposition in the general election.
Both of them are excited to be able to serve the county through their membership on the board.
"I've been waiting to start," Smith said. "Now I'm ready to make it official and get going."
Smith is looking forward to serving the community, and decided to run for the post because he has children in the school system. As both a parent and a local business owner, he wanted to get more involved with the schools and feels being on the board he can be of best service.
Hall, who was similarly motivated to run, is looking forward to getting to know his fellow board members and serving the families involved in the schools.
"A lot of people don't realize what a role your school system plays in industry and development in the county," Hall said. "I just want to make sure we provide the magnet to draw those things here to our county."
A product of Gordon County Schools himself, Hall is married to a county teacher and also has a child at the schools. He served on the city school board for around seven years before moving back out to the county, when he decided to get back involved in education.
The long-awaited opening of Calhoun's newest taco franchise finally arrived on Friday, and cars were lined up on Ga. 53 in order to get in line at Del Taco's drive-thru. The inside of the new building was equally as packed, with a line of customers waiting to place their order at the counter.
Since Taco Bell's fire in July, Calhoun has been lacking a quick and convenient option for tacos and burritos. Yet, since August, a new plan has been in the works. Construction on the new Del Taco building, 250 E. Ga. 53, began in August according to Co-Owner Billy Jensen, and is located across the road from the Taco Bell.
"Even though we had some weather delays, we were able to hit our target," Jensen said. "Today was the day we were planning to open, so we're thankful we were able to make it happen."
On their first day of business on Friday, the restaurant was packed with families, individuals and business professionals on their lunch breaks.
"We've had a lot of comments from older people about the Del Taco that used to be here, and they're just excited we're here," Co-Owner Tom Getz said. "And the little kids have seen the building go up, so they've been bugging their parents to come when the doors open."
Getz thinks the timing of this opening is good for business, especially with their biggest competitor currently being under construction.
"Taco Bell fans can give us a chance and compare us," said Getz. "Our products are a bit fresher and a little bit better quality I believe. I think they'll like what they get."
Jensen and Getz both agreed that they feel well prepared for their opening and they have confidence that their staff team will do a good job. They've hired mostly staff from the Calhoun area, though their general manager is from Dalton, and the Del Taco corporate office sent in 9 managers – 6 from California and 3 from Atlanta – to help with the first few weeks of business.
"We're excited to be here," Getz said. "We love Calhoun. It's a great town."
The franchise's three owners, Billy Jensen, Tom Getz, and James Shepherd, who previously owned the Little Caesars Pizza on Belmont Drive, are excited to be working with Del Taco and have a development agreement to open more locations in the Northwest Georgia region. The Calhoun location is their first franchise, and they have been looking at opening restaurants in Rome, Cartersville, Dalton and Chattanooga.
Recommendations for mandating longer summers have been approved by the Senate Study Committee exploring the impact that later start dates would have on Georgia's public schools.
Such recommendations include mandating that public schools would start within seven to 10 days before Labor Day and end the academic year around June 1.
The 11-member committee – consisting of state senators, one member of the school state board, and representatives from Georgia business, travel and tourism industries – voted 9-0 to recommend guidelines for local school boards to attend to when organizing their calendars. The recommendations are not binding unless the General Assembly passes then in a bill next legislative session.
One of the committees' reasons for these changes in school calendars includes its impact on state tourism and travel industries. In addition, there are observations that frequent breaks throughout the year – such as those that metro Atlanta schools have started to adopt – are leaving poorer families struggling to find childcare and nutritional meals for those who rely on free and reduced services.
Gordon County Superintendent Susan Remillard said nutrition is a huge factor in how she and her board try to organize their calendar.
"Every student at Gordon County Schools is receiving free breakfast, even if they're late we provide something for them to eat," Remillard said. "When I have to do school closings I think of that. When some students might be missing breakfast and lunch, their nutrition won't be the same."
With regards to the recommendations, Calhoun Superintendent Michele Taylor said Calhoun schools already start fairly late compared to surrounding districts. She said while it would be another factor for
the board to keep in consideration while planning their academic year, it wouldn't require significant changes.
"We'll look at what is proposed and certainly share that as we start building the calendar for the next year," Taylor said. "We will adopt a calendar normally in January and then put that out for public comment for 30 days."
One criticism of the study committee is that it didn't include any representatives from the education sector. Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who serves as the chair of the committee, said they heard from district officials and teachers groups over the course of their meetings.
"We also had the chairman of education on the committee and a member of the state Board of Education on the committee," Gooch said, referring to Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, and Georgia Board of Education Chairman Scott Johnson.
In response to these looming requirements, Cobb and Marietta's school boards have reported their desire to set their own academic calendars rather than having state legislators determine their start and end dates.
"I respect there are varied opinions on this topic and at the end of the day, if we're going to be legislatively mandated, obviously we'll comply with such requests," said Marietta Superintendent Grant Rivera. "I still believe this is a decision that should be made by the local school district."
Gordon County Schools and Calhoun City Schools are in the same boat, and would prefer to make their own independent calendars based on the individualized needs of their district.
"What I hope they consider is one size doesn't always fit all. Flexibility is key," Remillard said. "What we need in North Georgia might not work in South Georgia. I hope they don't put us all in a box."
Taylor and Remillard both say what's most important in this newly proposed calendar mandate, as in every situation regarding schools, is the needs of the kids, families and school staff in each respective district.
Calhoun Times Staff Writer Alexis Draut and Marietta Daily Journal Staff Writer Shaddi Abusaid contributed to this report.
The Calhoun Times is looking to feature student artwork in our Young Artists section. Pictures of artwork can be emailed to Managing Editor Spencer Lahr at SLahr@CalhounTimes.com. Please keep photos in their original format and do not alter them. Also, be sure to include the name of student, their grade and the school they attend.