Pickens County Schools is dedicated to
student growth and success and must
also prioritize the health and safety of
our students, staff, and greater
community. We are eager to see
students back in our halls, but we are
aware of the concerns and questions
that remain ahead.
Pickens County Schools has developed
a TENTATIVE plan that includes three
scenarios for returning to school for
Least Ideal Plan
These plans were created using the
recommendations from the Georgia
Department of Education’s “Georgia’s
Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools”.
Pickens County Schools will determine
the plan based on the specific level of
spread in Pickens County as
determined by the Department of
It is our responsibility as an academic
institution to provide a reliable and
effective learning experience for our
students each year while balancing the
implications of the evolving COVID-19
pandemic. Additional preventative
measures will be implemented in
schools to mitigate the spread of the
More information and guidance will
be shared in the coming weeks.
JASPER, Ga. – The Pickens County Board of Education has released an official press release regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Georgia and a possible connection with a teacher having eaten at the Waffle House with a reported case.
While they assure the public that the teacher is showing no signs of the virus, they have taken precautionary measures for the teacher to self-quarantine for the near future. The teacher in question worked at Harmony Elementary School.
They also repeat that there are no current signs or reported cases of the virus in Pickens County Schools.
The following is their full release:
(Photo provided by Pickens County Sheriff’s Office)
JASPER, Ga. – According to the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, a Pickens County teacher is in custody today, January 31, 2020, for crimes relating to enticing children for indecent purposes.
At this time, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has passed along a Release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as it relates to the arrest of a Pickens County Junior High School teacher:
A Pickens County Junior High school teacher has been arrested on four counts of enticing a child for indecent purposes. The teacher is Gilbert Suarez IV, 38 of Cartersville, Georgia. Suarez surrendered himself to the Pickens County Detention Center on Friday, January 31, 2020. The Pickens County School Board placed Suarez on administrative leave at the beginning of the investigation.
On Saturday, January 25, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Cleveland Office was requested by the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office to assist with an investigation into a Pickens County Junior High schoolteacher soliciting inappropriate photographs from female students. During the investigation, three different females were identified as being approached by the teacher, all were under the age of 15. Fortunately, the incident was reported before any photographs were provided.
Upon completion of this investigation, the case will be provided to the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
JASPER, Ga. – The Pickens County Board of Education has called three meetings in less than 48 hours of each other regarding the subject of the Superintendent position.
This morning, at 8:59 a.m., the notice came from the Pickens County Board of Education for an Emergency Special Called meeting an hour later at 10:00 a.m. to discuss the Superintendent position. This coming after last night’s meeting that was called just over 24 hours earlier. Less than an hour after this morning’s meeting finished, another meeting has been called for tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m., giving slightly less than 24-hours notice.
Today, at 10 a.m., the Emergency Special Meeting was held to accept the resignation of Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson. The meeting was called to order and the agenda amended to delete an executive session and approval of executive session minutes, moving straight to the discussion as the superintendent resigned.
Board Attorney Phil Landrum III said, “Mr. Chairman, at your direction, and at the board’s direction, I have prepared a settlement agreement between the superintendent and the board. I presented that to all parties last night. It is my understanding that the Superintendent is tendering his resignation subject to the conditions upon the terms of that agreement.”
The vote came immediately after this at 3-2 to accept his resignation. Joeta Youngblood, Donna Enis, and Tucker Green voted for accepting the resignation. Steve Smith and Sue Finley voted against accepting his resignation.
Right before the meeting adjourned two comments were made. Sue Finley stated, “I am heartbroken. Dr. Wilson has done a fantastic job leading this county. He has turned around a lot of the issues that we had when he came in. He is one of the kindest men I know. He is one of the smartest men I know. When teachers demonstrate weaknesses that need to be corrected, they are brought into their administrator’s office. Their weaknesses are outlined and explained. And they are given a plan to remediate those weaknesses. They are rarely summarily dismissed. I believe that Dr. Wilson should have been afforded this courtesy and he was not. I completely disagree with this decision to release him. I believe that this is at least one backward step for our county. And I am so sorry, Dr. Wilson. I am very embarrassed that our county is going to be portrayed this way and that you’ve been treated this way. But, unfortunately, I am part of the minority.”
Additionally, Steve Smith commented saying, “I totally agree, this is the most egregious act I have ever witnessed on a board. And for it to come out of nowhere is shocking. I was as shocked yesterday, uh, I absolutely do not support the release of Dr. Wilson and I absolutely think our board has taken a ten-year step backwards. I think our school system has suffered because of this decision. I admire you Dr. Wilson.”
While few citizens were on hand for the meeting, some who were present spoke privately with Dr. Wilson. One citizen was overheard asking why the meeting was called as an emergency. Another was heard saying this subject should have been handled after the new year.
Landrum did say in the meeting that he had presented the settlement the night before this meeting was called 61 minutes before it was held. Finley was also discussing the topic with citizens saying that the board has gone through four superintendents in six years.
Dr. Wilson declined to comment at the moment, instead saying that he would offer a written statement later.
Additionally, the meeting was closed without any interim or stand-in appointed. Some would speculate that the notice sent out at 11:04 a.m. today, calling for a new meeting at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, is to address the issue as Wilson’s signatures are no longer valid on any board documents, agreements, checks, or other legal actions.
FYN can confirm that yesterday’s meeting delivered an ultimatum of “resign or be terminated.” The meeting, called to order at 3:00 p.m., held over two hours of executive session in which Dr. Wilson spent the majority of the time excluded from, but then later included in the final part of the executive session.
Further on that topic, it is FYN’s understanding that the settlement agreement is likely to have been different from the termination clauses specifically in the amount of money involved. However, FYN is attempting to confirm this as we submit an Open Records Request for the settlement agreement.
Stay with FYN as new details become available in this story and we await comment from Dr. Wilson and look to tomorrow’s last-minute meeting as the board deals with the situation mere days before Christmas.
One of the key issues today is education. Everyone should be interested in all children getting the best well rounded education available. Children are the future and it is concerning to have a growing populace that purposely remain ignorant due to the cookie cutter approach to public schools.
My question is why have the American people allowed education to become a government led agenda?
Initially, when America was young, there was no guideline for schooling. In England, schools were available for the privileged, but not the masses.
The American spirit formed its own brand of education. Children were taught at home or in the homes of neighbors. As communities grew, the one room schoolhouse was brought into play. This building housed the school, served as a community center and often a church on Sunday.
There was usually a home or a “Teacherage” close to the schools, so that male teachers’ families were close to the school and able to assist the teacher with his duties. Unmarried female teachers were usually boarded with someone in the community.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House” books, became a schoolteacher two months before her sixteenth birthday. She taught in a one room schoolhouse.
The one room school system allowed for the parents and the community to decide on the curriculum and the values taught in the schools. The community that sponsored their own school would have been up in arms if anyone from the government had tried to interfere with their wishes. They accepted some guidelines, but interference would not have been tolerated.
The one room school allowed for a child to go further than his or her own age level. If the child was advanced, they could finish their lessons and listen to the next age level’s work. The community school usually only went up to the eighth grade. This provided basic education.
If a student wanted further education, they could go to a central high school within the county or state.
Standardized tests did not come into play until much later, if you went to school and attended and passed all of your classes, you could graduate.
This system spawned many a leader within the United States.
My maternal Great Grandfather John Thomas Jones donated land for a two room schoolhouse here in Paulding County, Georgia. My Grandmother Clara M. Jones and her older brother Hershel Jones taught there for a period of time.
Though his scholastic career was interrupted by family needs on the farm, my Uncle Herschel returned to school later. He later completed all of his studies and graduated from Oglethorpe University. He went on to be the principal in the Paulding County school system.
Herschel Jones Middle School in Dallas, Georgia is his legacy to education, and a tribute to the power of the one room school.
Instead of relying on the government to educate children, parents need to be in charge of the local educational system. More thought needs to be given to how each parent is personally is going to provide education to their children. In this way, the values of the parents, not the government are instilled
Taking back the power of education is key to developing free thinkers.
The Federal Government’s interference has led to teaching to tests and leaving students behind on important basics, especially American History. It is an indictment of the public school system every time some reporter asks college age students questions, like who is on the $ 20 bill. The school systems have taught our young people to be ashamed of our great nation and have misled them on how our country was founded.
When school systems insist on teaching values that are contrary to the values taught at home, it is unacceptable.
It is time to take your children and their education back from those who are running their own agenda.
JASPER, Ga. – Pickens County Schools start back Tuesday, August 6, 2019, and the official calendar and daily schedule is as follows!
Tuesday, August 6, 2019: First day of school.
All are Monday – Friday.
Pickens County High School / Student Drop-Off: 7 am / Start: 7:45 am / End: 2:45 pm
Pickens Junior High School / Student Drop-Off: 7 am / Start: 7:45 am / End: 2:45 pm
Jasper Middle School / Student Drop-Off: 7:15 am / Start: 8:30 am / End: 3:30 pm
Harmony Elementary School / Student Drop-Off: 7:15 am / Start: 8:30 am / End 3:30 pm
Hill City Elementary School / Student Drop-Off: 7:15 am / Start: 8:30 am / End: 3:30 pm
Tate Elementary School / Student Drop-Off: 7:15 am / Start: 8:30 am / End: 3:30 pm
Monday, September 2, 2019: Labor Day Holiday
Friday, September 6, 2019: Progress Reports
Monday, September 23, 2019 – Friday, September 27, 2019: Fall Break
Tuesday, October 15, 2019: End of 1st Nine Weeks
Friday, October 18, 2019: Report Cards
Friday, November 15, 2019: Progress Reports
Monday, November 25, 2019 – Friday, November 29, 2019: Thanksgiving Holidays
Friday, December 20, 2019: End of 2nd Nine Weeks, End of 1st Semester
Monday, December 23, 2019 – Tuesday, December 31, 2019: Christmas Holidays
Wednesday, January 1, 2020 – Friday, January 3, 2020: School Holiday
Monday, January 6, 2020: Inservice
Tuesday, January 7, 2020: Students Return to School
Friday, January 10, 2020: Report Cards
Monday, January 20, 2019: Martin Luther King Holiday
Friday, February 7, 2020: Progress Reports
Monday, February 17, 2020 – Tuesday, February 18, 2020: Winter Break
Wednesday, February 19, 2020 – Friday, February 21, 2020: Potential Inclement Weather Make-Up Days for Students
Tuesday, March 17, 2020: End of 3rd Nine Weeks
Friday, March 20, 2020: Report Cards
Monday, April 6, 2020 – Friday, April 10, 2020: Spring Break
Friday, April 24, 2020: Progress Reports
Friday, May 22, 2020: Last Day of School, End of 4th Nine Weeks, End of 2nd Sesmester
Saturday, May 23, 2020: Graduation Day
Monday, May 25, 2020: Memorial Day
Tuesday, May 26, 2020 – Friday, May 29, 2020: Post Planning
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JASPER, Ga. – On May 16, 2018, at approximately 10 a.m., our office was notified of an incident involving a substitute teacher who had a handgun in her purse at Harmony Elementary School. As we were notified, the substitute had already been relieved from her classroom and sent home by school officials.
During the investigation, it was determined that several students in the first-grade class that Ms. Julie Gungl was teaching had observed the pistol and brought it to her attention. She then notified school administration. The handgun was a 9mm Springfield and, according to Gungl, it was unloaded at the time. She stated that she forgot the weapon was in her purse upon entering the school.
After completing the investigation, detectives have charged Gungl with possession of a weapon
within a school safety zone. Due to the fact that Gungl had a Georgia Concealed Weapons Permit, this charge is a misdemeanor. Throughout the investigation, Gungl has remained very cooperative and turned herself into the Pickens Sheriff’s Office Adult Detention Center.
She has been released after posting bail that was set at $1,000.
Statement from Pickens County School Board:
JASPER, Ga. – The Pickens County Board of Education wishes to inform citizens of the procedures for Inclement Weather and Early Dismissal. The following is an official release from the BOE concerning parents and students.
INCLEMENT WEATHER AND EARLY DISMISSAL PROCEDURES
Do you know how your child is getting home?
Jasper, Georgia – Now that it seems we have definitely entered into winter, the Pickens County School
District wants to make sure you are aware of how we will proceed in case of inclement weather. Our
number one priority is to make sure our students and staff are safe.
EARLY RELEASE / DISMISSAL
At the beginning of every school year, each parent completes a form where a choice is made regarding what
your child will do in case school is released early. Should school ever be released early, your child will go
home based on your selection on the form. Following this procedure allows us to account for all students
and make sure they are safe, which is the most important part of what we do.
If you need to make changes, those need to be handled before inclement weather takes place. This can be
done by sending in a note to the school along with your child’s name, whether your child will be a car rider or
bus rider (include their bus number), your signature, and a telephone number. We have specific protocols
and procedures we follow because it is extremely difficult for our school office staff to handle large volumes
of calls and notify teachers with last minute changes. Also, we ask that you not email teachers with changes
in how your child should be transported for early release. There is no way to guarantee a message is
HOW YOU WILL BE NOTIFIED
In the case of early release, start time delays, or school closings, the school district will utilize the Infinite
Campus Messenger service to notify parents and guardians. The Messenger service sends phone calls,
emails, and notifications to your Infinite Campus account. It is critical that you notify central registration or
the school if your phone number changes.
If there is a need for a delayed start time, we will make that call as early as possible, and hopefully no later
than 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. Weather is unpredictable, so there may be an occasion that the call comes a little
For school closings, you can also tune in to Atlanta news stations, district and school Facebook pages, and
local news media – Know Pickens, Pickens Progress, and Fetch Your News.
Again, our first priority is the safety and well-being of our students and staff. We want everyone to arrive
safely to their destination. Also of great concern to the district is the number of inexperienced high school
drivers who are new to driving in inclement weather.
Make certain that you take care of updating telephone numbers and transportation directions before a
weather event occurs.
ELLIJAY, Ga – The Appalachian Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney, Alison Sosebee, began her campaign today in Fannin Middle School and Gilmer High School with presentations for students about the rising trend of vaping in all forms.
Speaking to the students she shared some of the responses that authorities have begun included harsher penalties for vape devices in general, not to mention the felonies possible with controlled substances. Using drugs in the vape devices like the popular Juul brand devices is only a part of growing concerns as authorities and administrations fear for students who expect non-nicotine flavored water vapor in devices they may find friends with when in reality these devices could contain anything from Heroin to Synthetic Marijuana.
Sosebee also invited Georgia Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Dustin Hamby to speak about the Bureau’s involvement. Hamby noted that almost 90% of his cases tied to drug usage in some way. He goes on to note that he’s had three murders in his career directly related to drug usage.
Sosebee recalled the story of a case she and Hamby shared about a guy who had taken drugs with a close friend. Under the influence, he grew greatly agitated at his friend and violently murdered him without full realization. He spoke further about how little it takes to blow up into major consequences in situations like vaping unknown substances.
Sosebee also noted that they are finding that many students and users of vape devices believe them safer than regular cigarettes. She noted that not only is there zero research to support his claim, but there is also no research or regulations on vaping devices right now. No one can tell you everything that is in Vape Juice, nor if people at smoke shops are adding extra ingredients. She called the students this generations guinea pigs for testing if vaping as they would be the cases that doctors study thirty years from now to determine the actual effects that Vaping can have in both short-term and long-term effects.
Only the first day, Sosebee is expected to travel to Fannin High, Pickens High, and Pickens Middle schools in the next two weeks along with possibly adding Gilmer Middle as well.
Jasper, Ga – As reports continue on the rising trend by high schoolers across North Georgia using Vape devices, Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson has officially released a statement regarding it.
Calling for help from parents and guardians, Dr. Wilson reminds them that using or sharing a vaping device is a violation of the Code of Conduct and could lead to criminal charges now as five students have been physically harmed by the devices this year alone. Two of these students have been hospitalized from their use.
With the rising popularity across North Georgia, this larger issue has reached through neighboring Gilmer and Fannin counties as well.
Wilson spends much of his statement informing citizens about the devices and what they look like, comparing them to ink pens, flash drives, and even a computer mouse. The devices operate by vaporizing a liquid solution for the user to inhale.
While these device’s websites and packaging say they are intended for use with nicotine and flavoring solutions, the real danger comes in this rise of using other drugs and solutions in the devices, Wilson states that students have been utilizing THC oil (marijuana) in the devices causing a higher concentration than other forms of ingestions or inhalation.
The issue worsens as other drugs besides THC is used. Wilson quoted a CNN report in his statement saying, “Water-soluble synthetics are easily converted into liquid substances. It makes it nearly impossible to tell what is inside someone’s vape. It could be nicotine, marijuana concentrate, or fruit-flavored nicotine-free ‘e-liquid,’ popular among kids. Or worst of all, it could be a deadly concoction of chemicals, known as synthetic drugs.”
Wilson goes on to note that a student may not even know what they are inhaling until it is far too late. He adds that in these vapes, students could be inhaling “meth, kratom, LSD, or other illegal chemicals.”
Wilson invites citizens to be a part of the Monday, September 24, day of events involving the Office of the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and Pickens School district as they hold assemblies for students in Pickens High School and Pickens Junior High School. There will also be a meeting for parents involving an informational meeting and the ‘Chat with the Superintendent’ at Pickens High School at 6 p.m.
Read the full statement here:
Jasper, Georgia – Due to predicted winter weather, the Pickens County School District will be closed for all students and staff on TUESDAY, JANUARY 29, 2019.
All school activities, including athletic events and after-school programs, will be canceled. All Pickens County School District buildings will be closed.
Information will be provided on the Pickens County School District website, the Infinite Campus parent portal, district website, social media site, and sent to local media.
Be sure to stay with FYN as updates and potential additional closings are announced.
Have you ever had a goal that you wished to achieve? Something became a driving force in your life as it took a point of focus. It may have been that you wanted to become something, maybe a firefighter, an astronaut, or a soldier. You strove to follow that dream, to grow closer to that goal. The achievement was your motivation.
For some, at least.
Many people will recall the nearly 30 years Mark Henson spent as the Superintendent of Fannin County Schools teaching and influencing the kids of Fannin County. Many may think of this as a life well spent. Henson himself would agree, but it was not always so.
Growing up among a family of educators, Henson knew the life well before he even graduated high school. It was part of the reason he struggled so hard against it. While it may seem like 30 years in the career isn’t the best evasion strategy, Henson says it came down to logic as to why he finally gave in.
After high school graduation, he took his goal of avoidance instead of achievement to heart. “If you go back and look at my high school annual, my ambition was to do anything but teach school because everybody in my family at that time, were teachers,” says Henson as he explains attending the University of Georgia shortly before moving back to Blue ridge to work for the Blue Ridge Telephone Company.
Spending about a year at the job after college didn’t work out. Henson doesn’t speak much on the topic as he says his father knew someone working for Canada Dry in Athens. With a job opening available and good pay to entice him, Henson made the switch to working for the soda company.
Moving to Athens, Henson became an RC/Canada Dry Salesperson over the surrounding five counties in Athens. A hard job that required many hours, Henson said he’d be at work at 6 a.m. and got back home at 8:30 p.m. Though well-paying, the job fell flat for Henson as he came to terms with the long hours and little time for himself. With two years under his belt at the company, he began thinking about Blue Ridge again and his options. As he says, “Teaching didn’t look so bad then.”
Despite the years in opposition, the effort spent running away from the ‘family business,’ Henson began thinking ahead at the rest of his life. Already considering retirement at the time, it was this that ultimately turned his attention back to teaching. It wasn’t family, it wasn’t friends, but rather, it was logic that drew him to the career his life’s ambition avoided.
“I made pretty good money, there just wasn’t any retirement,” says Henson about his time at Canada Dry. As he looked harder at teaching and began seriously considering the career path, he says, “When you look at teachers, you’re never going to get rich being a teacher, but there’s a lot of benefits like retirement and health insurance that these other jobs just didn’t have.” He also notes he proved what he wanted as he retired at 54-years-old.
After much thought, it began with a call to his father, Frank Henson. He told his father he wanted to come home and pursue teaching. Though his father told him to come home and stay with them again, Henson says it was the money he had saved from his position at Canada Dry that allowed him to attend school for a year before being hired as a para-pro, a paraprofessional educator. It was a very busy time in his life as Henson states, “I would go up there and work until 11:30, and then I would work 12 to 4 at what used to be the A&P in McCaysville. I went to school at night…”
The next few years proved to be hectic as he graduated and started teaching professionally “with a job I wasn’t even certified for.” It was January of 1989 and the new school superintendent had been elected in November and as he took office in January he left a gap in the school. To fill the Assistant Principal position the, then, Superintendent had left, they promoted the teacher of the career skills class. With the vacancy in the classroom, Henson was appointed to step in to teach the class. Half a year was spent teaching a career path and skill class to 9th graders in what Henson refers to as a “foreign world.”
The first full-time teaching position he holds was perhaps the one he was least qualified for. Henson noted his nervousness taking the state-funded program. The previous teacher had gone to the University of Georgia to receive training to fill the position. Talking with the previous teacher about the class, Henson shared his reservations about the lack of training and certification. Receiving note cards and guidance on how to handle it helped, but only so far.
Henson recalled looking at the cards and seeing tips like, “Talk about work ethic for 20 minutes.” He was stuck in a position without a firm foundation. He spent the next semester “winging it” and juggling the class with student placement in businesses. Struggling through the day to day at the time, he now looks back and says, “Apparently, I did pretty good at it.”
The interesting part was that the promotions that led him into this position similarly mirrored Henson’s own path to Superintendent one day. An omen easily looked over at the time, but glaringly obvious in hindsight. Though he wouldn’t take the direct path from Teaching to Assistant Principal to Superintendent, they did set the milestones that he would hit on his way.
He also saw plenty of doubt on his way, too. He never looked at the Superintendent position as a goal, but even maintaining a teaching position seemed bleak as he was called into the office one day and told his career class position was no longer being funded.
Thinking he was losing his job, he began considering other opportunities as well as missed options, he had just turned down a position in Cartersville where Stacy, his wife, was teaching. Worrying for no reason, Henson says he was racing through these thoughts until they finally told him they were moving him to Morganton Elementary.
Taking up a Math and Social Studies teaching at Morganton Elementary, Henson found more familiar territory in these subjects. Yet, having gotten used to the career skills, he says he still felt like he was starting over again. The years proved later to be quite fortuitous as Henson says he still has people to this day stop him and talk about their time learning from him as students. Relating back to his own school years, he admits he wasn’t the best student and he made his own bad decisions.
From situations in band and class alike, he notes that he worked hard, usually sitting in first and second chair as he played the trombone, but he still found plenty of things to get into as he, by his own confession, “made the drum major’s lives and stuff miserable.” Enjoying every opportunity he could get to goof off, it became a trend throughout his school career.
Yet, in teaching, he brought those experiences and understanding to the kids as he tailored his classes each year. He shared one story of a girl that stopped him to speak for a while. Eventually, she asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Admitting that he didn’t, she replied, “Well, you really helped me a lot. I was ADD and you would let me sit at your desk.” He says she went on talking about the way he changed her life.
It seems almost common now to associate teachers with stories like these, changing people’s lives, yet, it’s not often you may think a student causing trouble would become that kind of teacher.
The effort returned in a major way as Henson was elected Teach of the Year at Morganton Elementary in only his second year. The award was a testament to his efforts and success, but also evidence of how much he had changed in his life.
“You get out of school and you work a couple of real hard jobs, you see there might be more to life than goofing off. That got me redirected and helped me get through college and get my teaching degree,” says Henson.
It was more than just awards, though. Morganton Elementary created several relationships for Henson that followed him throughout his career and his life. spending four years at Morganton made it the longest position at the point, but it led to so much more. It led to three more years of teaching at East Fannin Elementary before receiving a promotion to Assistant Principal at West Fannin Middle School.
Moving from a position as a teacher to Assistant Principal isn’t just a promotion, it is a major change into school administration. No longer dealing with individual classes of students, Henson says it becomes far more political as you get pressed between teachers and parents. You walk a tightrope as you want to support your teachers in what they do, and you want to listen to concerned parents and find that middle ground. “You have got to kind of be a buffer between them… You’re always walking a tightrope,” he said.
He served as Assistant Principal to Principal David Crawford who served as Assistant Principal to his father, Frank Henson. Mentoring him in administration, he says David was a “laid back guy” that would still “let you have it” some days. It set him on a steep learning curve. Despite the jokes and stories, he led Henson on a quick path to his own education. In a sort of ‘sink or swim’ mentality, Henson said he was given a lot more authority than he expected, but he enjoyed the job.
How much he enjoyed it was a different point. Though Henson says he has never had a job in education he hated, he did say that his year as Assistant Principal was his “least-favorite job.” Though stressing he has enjoyed his entire career, he noted that the stress and shock of transitioning from Teaching to the Administration as a more big picture job factors into the thought.
Even that wasn’t meant to last long as he moved from Assistant Principal to Principal after just one year.
Nearing the end of his first, and only, year as Assistant Principal, he was called into the office again. This time it was the school systems office as his Superintendent at the time, Morgan Arp, wanted to speak with him. As he tells the story, “He said, ‘I’m looking at restructuring the system a little bit on principals and administrators. I’m not saying this is gonna happen, but if I made you Principal at East Fannin, would that be okay?’
I said, ‘Sure, I’ve been there and I know the people fine.’
He said, ‘What about West Fannin?’
I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there a year, I can deal with that.’
He said, ‘What about Blue Ridge Elementary?’
I said, ‘Well, that’s the school I know the least. I’m sure if you put me in there, I could. But the other two make me feel a little more comfortable.’
So the next day I got a call, and I was principal for Blue Ridge Elementary.”
Though comical, Henson said it actually worked out great as he met two of his best colleagues there. Cynthia Panter later became an Associate Superintendent and Karen Walton later became his Assistant Superintendent. Both were teachers he met at Blue Ridge Elementary.
“Blue Ridge was really where I made a lot of later career relationships,” says Henson.
His time as Principal was also a lot easier for him as he says after the year at West Fannin he knew what he was doing and had more confidence in the position. Having ‘matured’ into the job, he says the Principal position has more latitude in decisions. Having a great staff at both schools made the job easier, but the transition was simpler also because he felt he was always second-guessing himself as an assistant principal. His maturity also gave him new outlooks on the choices and decisions made.
“I think a good administrator serves as a shield between the public and teachers who need someone in there to mediate,” he says. Molding things into a larger plan for the schools and taking views from all those who take a stake in their education, “Everybody wants what’s best for the child.”
Surrounding himself with assistant principals and administrators that were detail oriented to allow him to deal with people and focus on the ‘big picture,’ two of his favorite parts of his career as he says.
After three years at Blue Ridge Elementary, the Curriculum Director at the county office resigned. Applying on a fluke instinct, he later got a call saying he got the position. He joined the staff as K-6 Director of Curriculum alongside Sandra Mercier as 7-12 Director of Curriculum.
However, his time in the office saw much more work as he spent time covering as Transportation Director and other fill-in duties. It wasn’t until 2003 when Sandra Mercier took the office of Superintendent, according to Henson, that she named him as Assistant Superintendent and really began his time in the Superintendent position.
He had never thought about going for the position, applying, or even thinking of it. Henson said he did want to be a Principal, but the county offices were beyond his aspirations.
Largely different from transitioning from Teacher to Administrator, the transition into the Superintendent position was far easier says Henson. You’re already dealing with a lot of the same things on a single school scale, but moving to the Superintendent position crosses schools and districts. He did not there is a lot more PR involved, but nothing to the extreme change as he experienced his first year in administration.
Becoming Superintendent in 2007, he says he focused on opening the school system up and growing more transparent than it already was. Sharing information and speaking straight about his feelings allowed a certain connection with people. It seems, in truth, that he never quite outgrew some of the goofiness of his childhood as he recalls joking with colleagues and staff.
Henson says he wanted to have a good time in the office despite everything they dealt with. He pushed the staff, but they also played pranks on each other and shared moments like a school secretary embarrassing her daughter with a funny picture.
Noting one particular instance, Stacy recalls a story with finance running checks in the office. With one office member in particular who would always try to jump scare people running the check machine. Henson quickly opened the door and threw a handful of gummy bears at her. Unfortunately, a few were sucked into the machine and ruined the check run. It wasn’t a good day considering, yet the staff laughed about it and shared in the comedy.
A necessary part of the job is what Henson calls it. The lightheartedness was key to maintaining his staff. “If you stay serious a hundred percent of the time, it’s going to kill you,” he says.
The position wasn’t just laughter and jokes though, tough times came plenty enough. Not all of them were the expected issues that you might expect. Aside from the general politics that face schools daily in these times, Henson even dealt with death threats in his position. Having let people go and dealt with others careers, he admits he had that one employee’s spouse threated his life after a firing.
As he speaks about some of the hardest moments like this, it’s hard to find out how harrowing the event really was. Henson says now that it’s not a big deal, it wasn’t the only threat he had. His wife speaks a little more plainly as she confesses some days, she couldn’t tell if it was worth it for him to be the Superintendent. Yet, even she says in hindsight that she is proud of the honesty, integrity, and openness that permeated his ten years.
Additionally, dealing with things like the shootings and issues that have plagued schools in the last decade, he adds, “It’s a more stressful job than when I started 30 years ago. It’s much more stressful. There are so many things that the state expects, that locals expect, that parents expect… I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in another 30 years.”
Henson agreed that schools have lost a lot of the innocence they used to have within the teachers and staff. As these people continue to rack their brains on following the mission to educate and keep kids safe, they take a lot of the stress off the kids as they are at school. He said, “I don’t know if it’s spelled out, but I think if you’re a good teacher, you feel that inherently.”
It also branched over into policies, with increased focus on testing and numbers, Henson said the position got a lot more into the realm of politics as you deal with the state legislature and handling the constant changes that came from the state adds another item to juggle.
As a superintendent, you don’t need state tests, as Henson says, to tell you how well a teacher teaches. “I can sit in a class for five minutes and tell you if a teacher can teach.”
In the face of everything, Henson said he wouldn’t burn any bridges about returning to education, but he’s enjoying his retirement.
Henson has already reached the “what’s next” point in his career as he retired last year. One year into retirement, he says he is just as busy as ever with his position on the Board of Tax Assessors and putting a daughter through college at the University of Georgia. On top of maintaining his own projects, he says he’s focusing on being a parent and husband and making up for time lost in his position as Superintendent.
Once he hit ten years in the office, Henson said he felt like he had done what he wanted, it was time to hand it over to someone else for their impressions and interpretations. Though retiring from his career, he didn’t fade into obscurity. With Stan Helton asking him to sit on the Board of Tax Assessors and others still seeking advice and counsel, he simply transitioned once more.