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'This is where I wanted to teach'
• Jason Coffman, the 2018 Floyd County Schools Teacher of the Year, explains how he got into teaching, his philosophy and why he continues to teach.

There is a rainbow-colored, lined sheet of paper Armuchee Elementary School teacher Jason Coffman keeps in a folder inside his desk. It expresses a sentiment in black marker, that his classroom is the best in the school.

It is not alone in this folder, as it rests amongst congratulation cards, essays and artwork — remnants of former students and the memories he holds of them. And it is there as a reminder of the purpose that leads him to the classroom — an affirmation of why he does what he does.

But this piece stands out among the rest because of the sheer surprise of its manifestation. The student came from a bad home life and everything he drew before was dark, evil-like, Coffman said. This one time, though, he did something different.

It blew Coffman away, he said, recalling his immediate reaction of scribbling down the date and time on the back of the drawing when he received it.

The rewards and fulfillment Coffman, who is the 2018 Floyd County Schools Teacher of the Year, finds in these small tokens of appreciation drive him to continue doing that which wasn't always his chosen pursuit.

As a 21-year-old, Coffman, like many others at that age, didn't have his whole life figured out. But he knew he wanted to make an impact on the world.

He had just finished getting his associate degree as a business major. However, sitting in a room, at a desk, looking at numbers all day long didn't exactly fit into his plan for life.

Alongside his wife, Coffman then began teaching Sunday School. Something clicked, he said, and the cloud shrouding his future cleared. He was going to be a teacher, even though his mother, who had three daughters go into the profession before her only son, pushed him to go where the money is.

While he was completing his bachelor's degree at the University of West Georgia, Coffman had a student-teaching experience in a pre-K classroom. It was a completely chaotic experience, he said, and he learned then that pre-K was not his ideal situation

What was an ideal situation was landing a job in the same school district he grew up in and graduated from in 1994, all before leaving college. The trouble was, to get the job at Glenwood Primary, he had to teach pre-K, taking over for a teacher in the middle of the year.

In thinking back on those seven years, Coffman said all that really comes to mind are "gross potty stories."

Keeping with the theme of wanting to teach where he was invested, his home, Coffman left Glenwood for Armuchee Elementary, where he has taught fourth grade for five years and is in his second year of fifth grade.

However, once again the place of employment trumped the type of employment. Coffman remembers sitting down during his interview and being asked what he would like to teach. He said either math or science. ELA was what they gave him.

Coffman said he has always felt a strong loyalty to this place he calls home. A feeling that isn't the easiest to explain, he said.

"I love it. It's just a special place," he said. "This is where I wanted to teach."

Knowing every community member in some way or another is the norm, he said. There were 75 kids in Coffman's graduating class, and about 90 percent of them had gone to school with him since first grade. That's family.

Having such a close-knit community helps in fostering the personal relationships with students and parents that Coffman believes are central to his role. Of course, he loves to see academic growth from his students, but playing a part in developing their personality and character is just as important.

"You're not just teaching their brain but their heart," he said, adding that growth in academics and behavior come from showing love and care for students.

Whether it's high-fiving a student in the hallway, jesting with another as they wait for the bus, or letting his students socialize during the start of class, each is part of his philosophy on teaching the whole child.

This last year's graduating class at Armuchee High had students who were in Coffman's pre-K. It's something special to see his students grow as individuals, from the pre-K carpet to the graduation stage.

"It can't get any better for a teacher than that," he said.



Today's artwork is by Cassidy Jacobs, a first-grader at Unity Christian School.

College Day

Open House plans full slate on, off Broad
• There will be free trolley rides with Santa and a candy cane hunt on the Town Green.

Amanda Carter

Downtown Rome merchants welcome in the holiday season today with their annual Holiday Open House celebration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Downtown Development Director Amanda Carter said the shops will be open their regular hours today, but some of the activities slated for the day will occur during that 11 to 3 window.

The Toonerville Trolley will be offering free rides with Santa and Mrs. Claus, with pick-up and dropoff taking place in front of the Forum River Center at the Town Green. Riders are encouraged to bring their smartphones or cameras to snap pictures of the kids with Santa and Mrs. Claus on the trolley. At 1 p.m. Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation will hold a candy cane hunt on the Town Green.

Thousands of candy canes will be spread across the Town Green and, if last year is any indication, kids won't want to be late because the goodies will be picked up in short order.

"We've encouraged our shops to play Christmas music and decorate for the holidays," Carter said.

Elaine Abercrombie at Greene's Jewelers, 328 Broad St., said she was taking it up a notch and actually showing Christmas movies on a large flatscreen TV in her store.

"Having Santa and Mrs. Claus downtown is a big attraction," Abercrombie said. "We're also going to have refreshments, some hot apple cider, fresh coffee and just going to have a great time."

The Downtown Holiday Open House is always held the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Georgia lawmakers may take on police pay
• Local officials are bracing for General Assembly action to address the problems of hiring and retaining public safety officers.

Rep. Eddie Lumsden

Craig McDaniel

Evie McNiece

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Initiatives aimed at attracting and keeping local law enforcement officers are expected to surface in the 2018 Georgia General Assembly session.

A final report is expected before the end of the year from the Compensation of Police and Sheriffs — COPS — task force appointed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle this summer.

Rome city officials say they welcome the help, but not at the expense of local control.

"One size does not fit all," said Commissioner Evie McNiece, who sits on the Georgia Municipal Association's legislative policy council.

"We're asking the Legislature to keep that in mind," she added, during a meeting with Floyd County's state delegation. "We want to do what we can, but we may not be able to do everything."

The difficulty in keeping trained officers is not new, said Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R- Armuchee, who is a retired Georgia State Patrol trooper. And money has always been one of the challenges.

"When the state raises salaries, local law enforcement migrates to those agencies. When local government has a better package, they go there," Lumsden said.

They're also leaving public service entirely, to work for private industry, Commissioner Craig McDaniel noted.

But Lumsden said it's time to acknowledge other facets of the problem. It's getting harder to find candidates who can pass a drug test, he said, and there's an "increased societal component" that weighs on those in the field.

"We're expecting, as a society, more and more from our law enforcement officers, but the compensation has not been there," Lumsden said.

McNiece said there's concern that the COPS task force will recommend enacting minimum pay rates that smaller, more rural communities can't meet. A better move, she said, would be to give cities the flexibility and funding to tailor their own solutions.

A GMA policy paper calls for redirection of the add-on court fees for police officer training to local and regional centers, instead of state agencies. The Legislature also should consider allocating money to counsel and treat local officers who experience mental trauma, it states.

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia also has drawn up some recommendations, including the use of SPLOST to fund public safety and the courts. Current state law allows only capital items to be funded through a special purpose, local option sales tax.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R- Rome, said it's unlikely the General Assembly will pass the full burden down to local governments.

"I don't see the votes in the Senate for an unfunded mandate," Hufstetler said.