Qualifying for the Calhoun Board of Education begins next Monday, but one current school board member has already announced his plans to retire, while another has said he'll seek reelection.
Qualifying for school board posts 4 and 5 will run Monday, Aug. 19, beginning at 8:30 a.m. through Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 4:30 p.m. The qualifying fee is $1, and candidates must fill out the qualifying packet and turn it in at City Hall during that time period. The general election will be conducted on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
On Monday, the school system announced that Tony Swink, the board of education's longest tenured member, has decided to retire and won't seek reelection. Additionally, BOE Chairman Eddie Reeves announced he will run as the incumbent for post 4.
Swink provided the following statement about his decision to retire:
"After much thought and prayer, I have decided not to seek reelection this year to the City of Calhoun Board of Education. I am thrilled to have been a small part of this system for 15 years; 3 3/4 terms. I am so thankful for the love that is poured out daily by our administrators, teachers and staff that continue to impact every student's life. I have learned far more from these students and educators than I would ever dream of imparting to them. I am extremely thankful for the community's support that has allowed us to upgrade our facilities, making them safer and more conducive for learning.
"I am extremely proud of the dramatic improvements in graduation
rate as well as all the achievements in academics, arts, and athletics that have been driven by our great students, teachers, administrators and coaches over the years. I have had the honor of working with three great superintendents; Ms. Judy Neal, Dr. Mike Davis, and Dr. Michele Taylor. All of them have had a positive impact on me, my family, and our system. Dr. Taylor is hands down the best superintendent in the state, if not the nation. She is a true visionary and along with my fellow members of the Board of Education (who are a lot smarter than I am), the school system will continue to prosper for generations to come. I am extremely grateful to this community for allowing me to serve.
"If I were to be asked what characteristics and qualities I would look for in the individual to take this post, first and foremost, I would say faith; someone who seeks wisdom and guidance from scripture, someone who will intentionally pray for the health, wellness, safety and decision making of our students, educators and community. Also, someone who does not carry a personal agenda and who will make and support decisions that have all of our children's best interests in mind."
Superintendent Michelle Taylor praised Swink's work on the school board, lauding the extra effort he put in, as well as the leadership he provided.
"Tony is a true servant leader who always put the interests of our students first. He was always prepared and sought clarity before meetings if necessary so that he was well informed. It was common for Tony to contact me prior to a meeting if additional information was needed so that our administrative team could gather this for the entire board," Taylor said.
She also noted Swink's years of service in officer positions, as well as the training sessions and conferences he regularly attended, and his willingness to represent Calhoun as a spokesman for the board.
"He rarely missed a meeting and when he did, it was unavoidable. While many would characterize Tony as soft-spoken, those that worked with him would say, when Tony speaks, you listen because you know what he has to say is important, credible and with great intention," Taylor said. "He was visible and active as a leader of the Calhoun community and he will be missed tremendously."
Reeves, who works at Starr-Mathews Agency as a human resources and benefits consultant, is the current chairman of the board of education. He is a past chairman of the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce and a graduate of Leadership Calhoun/Gordon County and Leadership Georgia. He also is a past president of the United Way of Calhoun/Gordon County. In addition to his service on the city school board, he has served as chairman of the Junior Achievement of Northwest Georgia Board of Directors.
At least one student at one of the Gordon County high schools was taken by ambulance to a local hospital while experiencing an illness after using a vaping device, Director of Student Services Mike Evelti told members of the Gordon County School Board during their monthly meeting Monday.
Evelti also said that while there isn't proof of a direct correlation to the growing popularity of vaping, the school system has seen a recent uptick in the number of seizure cases at its schools.
Currently, school officials have been treating vaping product and e-cigarettes the same as traditional nicotine products, which means zero tolerance. But Evelti and Superintendent Kimberly Fraker discussed with the board on Monday the need to add vape and e-cig products to the rule book.
Evelti told the board that while traditional nicotine use is on the decline among schoolage children and teens, the use of the newer products are increasingly on the rise, and it's hard to always know what exactly is being used in the vape products. He said Pickens County Schools sent 12 students to the emergency room in vape-related incidents last year.
"It's not just limited to high school and middle school students. It's something that has been seen in fifth-graders across the country," he said.
He said the school system is already working to educate students about the risks associated with the devices because many believe those products are safer than traditional tobacco products and don't fully understand what they are putting into their bodies. Also, because the brain doesn't fully develop until about age 25, teens and children are especially at risk, he said.
"If you break it all down, my biggest concern is the students' health and well being," Evelti said. "We need to get the message out there. It's not going away."
Board members Chris Johnson and Eddie Hall both said they are in favor of creating an official zero tolerance policy for vape and e-cig products, and Dana Stewart agreed that education is an important part of the process as well.
"It doesn't just affect the people who are doing it, but the people around them as well," Stewart said.
Fraker told board members a policy will need to be crafted to detail how school officials will handle the products when found, as well as any discipline issues. The policy will then be presented for a first reading at a future BOE meeting, voted on, and then presented again at another meeting for final approval.
People have asked him what he wants to do now that he is retiring from Santek Waste Services. Each time, it makes 98-year-old Theodore "Dude" Bailey laugh.
"If I wanted something to do, I'd keep working here. I have the best job in all of Gordon County," he said.
When pressed about how he'll spend his newly-acquired free time, he answered simply: "I'll probably do yard work and relax and go to church, and I'll drive around some too."
Bailey's history in Gordon County is long and storied, but it begins with a tale not unfamiliar to many in his generation. In 1942, at the age of 21, the Plainville native joined the United States Navy to fight in World War II.
"They were going to draft people and I didn't want to be in the Army, so I chose to be in the Navy. I had never been out of the country or seen the ocean," Bailey said. "Six weeks after I had joined I was sent out of the country."
He worked as a hot shellman aboard the USS Conway, a Fletcher-class destroyer, for nearly three years under the leadership of Admiral Arleigh Burke. During his tour, Bailey
participated in 97 air attacks, 32 landings, 28 shore batteries, 155 bombardments and the destruction of nine aircrafts.
He received an honorable discharge in 1945 and returned home to Georgia, where he worked at the Burlington Mill in Shannon. Later, he took a new job at the OJ Mills in Calhoun.
He retired from the textile business after 25 years, but — in typical Dude fashion — could not find peace sitting at home with nothing to do. In November of 1987 he was hired by former Gordon County Solid Waste Superintendent Johnny Poole to work at the Gordon County Convenience Centers.
"When Santek took over for the county, they got me too, I guess," he said with a laugh.
Bailey spent the last 32 years splitting his time between Gordon County's six manned convenience centers, where he weighed customers' waste and collected money.
"Sometimes," he joked, "People grumble about that last part."
For the most part, though, people don't grumble when they see him. Bailey's longevity has made him a favorite, familiar face for those frequenting Gordon County's convenience centers. Calhoun insurance agent Ron Hall, who Bailey fondly calls "the insurance man," is one of the visitors Bailey will miss most.
"He brought me some vegetables for my birthday. I kept the box he brought them in, but I ate the vegetables already. They were pretty good," Bailey said.
His 98th birthday was on Monday, but he celebrated with friends and family on Sunday at Oostanaula Baptist Church. It is a tradition that dates back to when he was just 25 years old.
"We would all get together every year on the Sunday closest to Aug. 11. As the years passed and our families grew, we moved the celebration from the house to the church," Bailey said. He has been a member at Oostanaula since he was 12.
Bailey was married to his wife, Ruth Nesbitt Bailey, for 60 years. She died in 2008 but remains the love of his life. His family includes his daughter and son-in-law Sandra and L.C. Falls; son and daughter-in-law Rod and Joan Bailey; granddaughter Shireen Howard; and four great-grandchildren.
Santek Environmental President Kenneth Higgins will present Bailey with an award at the company's annual award ceremony in September.
When Rock Bridge Community Church first opened a campus in Calhoun in 2007, the congregation met at the old Piggly Wiggly building on Peters Street, known affectionately as the "Old Pig." Now, the church will meet in its brand new community center at 905 Curtis Parkway.
The building, which was unveiled publicly during a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, is a whopping 30,500 square foot structure that features an auditorium with seating for 750 and a student ministry room capable of holding up to 200 students. There are also rooms for Rock Bridge's other classes like RB Kids and adult services. In the lobby area sit two inviting couches, a kitchenette and coffee station, and several tables with "comfy" chairs.
Campus Pastor Carll Converse said he hopes that the new facility can be both a place of worship and ministry for members at Rock Bridge and a resource for the Calhoun community.
"All of the buildings God has given us to work out of are just simply tools for us. They are a ministry platform for us to use to reach people and be a part of the community," Converse said. "I shared this last Wednesday, but this building is not our finish line. This building is just another way for us to be a part of this community and reach the people who live here. We want this facility to be a resource the community can use."
Community seemed to be the theme of last week's event.
In addition to Converse's willingness to share the space with community groups whenever possible, he also stressed that the team at Rock Bridge wants members of the congregation to work to build community whenever possible – within the church and outside of it. He gave a special shout out to campus "superstars" who he said were key in building that community atmosphere. They included Community Outreach Director and Director of Hope Leigh Converse, Children's Ministry Director Clarissa Lewis, Student Minister Kelly Cohea, Director of Small Groups and Discipleship Karli Land, Worship Leader Evan Henry and Campus Administrator Deb Gilmer.
Rock Bridge Community Church's Calhoun campus will hold Sunday services at 9:30 and 11 a.m.