PICKENS COUNTY, Ga. – Two months after their arrest in Pickens County, Georgia’s Attorney General, Chris Carr, has announced indictments against former Pickens County School Superintendent Carlton Wilson and his wife, Cynthia Wilson, on charges of Racketeering, one count of Theft by Taking, and two counts of Theft by Conversion.
In April 2022, the two were arrested on allegations of thefts that occurred between November 2021 and January 2022.
Now, the indictments filed against the couple include six counts of Theft by Taking by a Fiduciary and one count of Theft by Deception. Cynthia Wilson was also separately indicted on one count of Tampering with Evidence. These indictments were presented to a Pickens County Grand Jury on June 7, 2022.
According to a release from the Attorney General’s Office,
Specifically, the indictment charges the defendants with the following which, if convicted, can carry the respective penalties:
- Racketeering in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4: 5-20 years in custody and a fine of up to $25,000 or three times the pecuniary value gained by the accused.
- Theft by Taking in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-8-2: 2-20 years in custody and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
- Theft by Conversion in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-8-2: 12 months in custody and/or a fine of up to $1,000 where the value of the theft is less than $1,500.
- Theft by Conversion in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-8-2: 1-10 years in custody and/or a fine of up to $100,000 where the value of the theft is greater than $5,000 and less than $24,999.
Carlton Wilson, separately:
- Theft by Taking by a Fiduciary in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-8-2: 1-15 years in custody and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
- Theft by Deception in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-8-2: 1-10 years in custody and/or a fine of up to $100,000 where the value of the theft is greater than $5,000 and less than $24,999.
Cindy Wilson, separately:
- Tampering with Evidence in violation of O.C.G.A. §16-10-94: 1-3 years in custody and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
Dr. Carlton Wilson had a brief time at the center of some debate as Superintendent of Pickens County Schools when he resigned amid numerous emergency meetings discussing the superintendent position and rumors that he was soon to be let go. Later, Wilson offered a letter to the citizens of Pickens County where he stated, ” I was not given any reason except several of the board members had lost confidence in my leadership. Several members of the Board did not like the direction I was leading the school system.” This letter came days after a failed 2-3 vote to reinstate Wilson as Superintendent, which came in the month after the 3-2 vote to accept his resignation in December 2019.
Then, according to the allegations in the warrants for arrests, later in 2020, Wilson served as the Victim Witness Coordinator for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office where he allegedly committed Theft by Deception by receiving over $6,300 in payroll checks through the Shared Leave Bank due to ongoing injuries preventing him from working, yet he worked at his gun range. They go on to state that these payroll checks were deposited into a private account which they allege were used “almost solely for online gambling activities or to pay gambling debts.”
Other allegations include the sale of property meant for the Boy Scouts and also allegedly used to fund his participation in online gambling activities and payments of debts derived from online gambling activities.
“Our office is committed to rooting out fraud and deception wherever it may occur,” said Attorney General Chris Carr as he announced the indictments on June 30, 2022, “We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to pursue those who steal from the pockets of hardworking Georgians for their own personal gain. We take these allegations very seriously, and we look forward to presenting our case in court.”
The indictments filed also note additional charges including Theft by Conversion and Theft by Taking according to allegations that Carlton Wilson took property and funds intended for Appalachian Gun Range and the operation of that business and converted these to his own use, violating agreements made.
Additionally, the indictments add the charge of tampering with evidence to Cynthia Wilson due to allegedly obstructing the view “of a security camera at Appalachian Gun Range.”
Both Carlton and Cynthia Wilson have entered pleas of “not guilty” according to the indictment records.
JASPER, Ga. – The Pickens Board of Education held another emergency called meeting today for the Superintendent position, planned since their three-hour executive session on Friday.
Today, however, saw a large increase in the number of people attending the meeting. The Board allowed 20 people inside along with press members while the excess citizens remained in the foyer.
The crowd did not stay silent before and after the meeting, voicing displeasure in expected action, and then actual action, from the Board during the meeting.
With yet another 3-2 vote, the BOE voted to renegotiate terms and contracts with Superintendent Townsend, desiring to move him elsewhere in the education system. A move that one citizen said they would do while they were in executive session, calling it an attempt to avoid paying a “$500,000 buyout.” And indeed, Board Chair Sue Finley said the board hopes to make this a budget neutral transition.
In his stead, the Board voted 3-2 to instate Assistant Superintendent Tony Young as the Interim Superintendent of Schools.
Board Member Tucker Green said about the vote to modify Townsend’s contract, “I will vote to oppose this action as I do not believe this is necessary or appropriate. I support Dr. Rick Townsend. I feel he has done a good job for our district during a very difficult time. In the middle of a pandemic and situations that we are, we need stability and a steady hand at the helm. I do not agree with this. I don’t think it’s necessary, so, I will oppose.”
With both votes set, the Board of Education is moving forward with the process and negotiations. FYN clarified this with Board Attorney Phil Landrum, III, who confirmed that, technically speaking, the Board has two Superintendents at this time. He said the Interim is in place as negotiations move forward with Dr. Rick Townsend and his attorney.
When asked if it is possible to have two Superintendents, Landrum stated, “You can, you don’t really usually see it.”
Landrum declined to comment on specific positions or if any were discussed, instead saying the Board will be looking to put Townsend into a position “where he will be most likely to succeed.”
Finley read a statement from the Board on the topic. “We have appointed Tony Young as our Interim Superintendent. He is currently serving as our Assistant Superintendent. We have no plans to conduct any interviews for the office of Superintendent until some degree of stability and leadership can be brought to the current situation. Based on our experience with Mr. Young, we believe he can and will provide stability and leadership on an interim basis.
We have directed our attorney to work with Dr. Townsend’s attorney to modify the terms and duties of his current contract. We hope that we can reach a mutual understanding that is beneficial to all concerned. We intend for this decision to be budget neutral.”
Finley also addressed concerns over various accreditations from state and other agencies saying they are without merit. She said, “Fear mongering for alternative agendas has no place within that discussion.”
However, again clarifying with Landrum, he stated that should negotiations fall through, the board will have to return and decide what to do about his employment and his contract. Landrum declined to comment further on this topic saying it was a Board decision if that should happen.
Finley also stated, “Mr. Young has reluctantly agreed to perform this job of Interim Superintendent. We thank him for his continued service to our district and we have confidence our teachers, staff, and the rest of our community will support Mr. Young in this role.”
FYN caught up with Interim Superintendent Young after the meeting to ask him about his reluctance. To which he replied, “I don’t think anyone should excitedly accept a Superintendancy right now with COVID and everything else we’ve got going on. We’ve got an awesome staff. I’ve got confidence in them and I think good things will happen, but it won’t be easy.”
Young will officially be reaching out and taking the reins of the Pickens County School System tomorrow, January 19, 2021.
JASPER, Ga. – After a recent special called meeting of the Pickens County Board of Education ended after three hours in executive session, all indications pointed towards discussions of termination the Superintendent’s Contract with Dr. Rick Townsend.
FYN reported on citizens comments and sources relaying information confirming this as the next step along with a special called meeting for Monday, January 18, 2021.
Today, the Pickens BOE issued publications in advance of tomorrow’s 3 p.m. meeting confirming the agenda item titled “Termination of Superintendent’s Contract” along with “Appointment of an Interim Superintendent.”
With this on the same meeting agenda, the interim could potentially be someone already in position with the Board such as Assistant Superintendent Tony Young. However, there is no details available pointing to exactly who will be taking the Interim Superintendent Position.
It was exactly one year ago when the Pickens County Board of Education was going through the same process after the resignation of Dr. Carlton Wilson came amid procedures to dismiss him as well. He resigned on December 19, 2019, as was nearly reinstated the following month on January 9, 2020 when board member Sue Finley made the motion to re-appoint Dr. Wilson as Superintendent of Pickens County schools, seconded only by, then Vice Chairman, Steve Smith.
With obvious dissension amongst the Board of Education, the process continued under Interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Webb until Dr. Rick Townsend was hired. His contract becoming effective on April 27, 2020, Dr. Townsend was also hired by a split 3-2 vote.
He was praised by, then Board Chairman, Tucker Green who said, ““Dr. Townsend brings a wide array of educational experiences which is of great importance to the Board. Dr. Townsend’s experience at multiple levels, coupled with his proven track record of improving schools and school districts, was appealing to the Board. The Board also believes that Dr. Townsend is uniquely capable to provide clear leadership from the district level to the school level.”
Nine months later, the meeting will be held on January 18, 2021 with the agenda indicating that the Board will also terminate Townsend’s contract.
JASPER, Ga. – Pickens County could be seeing another chapter in its ongoing Superintendent troubles over the years after a three-hour-long meeting was held almost entirely in Executive Session.
On January 16, 2021, the Pickens County Board of Education held a special called meeting posted to host both an Executive Session and General Discussion items on the Agenda.
During the meeting, it was said that the general discussion was originally put in to discuss a different topic. However, some citizens present said they were present to “show support” for Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend.
While the Board of Education spent almost all of the three hours in Executive Session, Dr. Townsend was not present for a large part of the meeting as he was seen exiting the room where the executive session was being held.
The only results of the meeting that were publicly stated as the Board returned from their executive session was the calling of yet another Special Called Meeting for this Monday, January 18, 2021.
However, sources have messaged FYN saying they are expecting the School Board to be dismissing or firing Dr. Townsend on Monday.
The board said in their Friday meeting, “We will have a Called Meeting on Monday at 3 p.m. It will be published over the weekend.” This means they will be meeting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, although there is yet to be an agenda or meeting placed on the Pickens Calendar on their website as of the writing of this article.
JASPER, Ga. – On tour through several schools in North Georgia, the State Superintendent Richard Woods visited Tate Elementary last week to tour the school and speak with administrators on the beginning of the new school term considering much of the changes and challenges this year.
During the visit, Woods got to see the school system during lunch and view many of the social distancing and new practices in place. Students sitting only on one side of the lunchroom table and empty tables in between those in use.
Woods spoke on some of the differences between the school systems inside of the Metro-Atlanta area and those outside of it. For example, inside the metro-area, many more are virtual and digital learning while the outside area is seeing closer to, on average, 70 percent of students in school with the other 30 percent on digital. However, he clarified that these were his understanding and not firm numbers. Woods also noted that each county is handling things in its own way and are showing different things and coming up with ideas on handling the situation.
Teachers and administrators of Tate Elementary told Woods that they were similar to that, with 75 percent in school and 25 percent through virtual. Woods discussed ideas on mask usage, the governor’s suggestions, transportation, food preparation, and student safety in the new return to class for student.
The school system has been work with Georgia’s DPH (Department of Public Health) through outbreaks and return to sports. Yet, as he was present during lunch time, a lot of the discussion focused on the students food prep and nutrition in school.
Planning has been key for food preparation in Tate Elementary as they spoke on individual wrapping and containers, separation and limitation on contact is only part of the steps taken to improve food safety and student safety in response to the virus. Nutrition Services has also seen complaints and issue in students selections and offerings, with servings prepared and put into containers or wrappers, students not seeing the food before selection.
While not a major issue, it is just an example of many of the changes that have come to schools in response to media coverage and social push for responses to the virus.
Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend said that flexibility helps in the school systems. Woods asked how he could help local schools in their issues from the capital and from his position. Administrators said that continued flexibility would improve their efforts.
Woods agreed saying that as he has toured other schools, one of the main things he has learned is that Pickens schools and their program will look very different from other counties. Individual responses and individual programs need the support for their individual responses in addition to state guidelines.
Another point that administrators brought up is that Pickens Schools may use many things in the future that they used this year in their viral response. One such example came with staggered start for some grade levels at Tate Elementary. The opening day was a huge success according to Tate Elementary Administrators, but Woods said many schools across the state are saying the same thing, that this has been one of their best starts in years. Local teachers also noted that the most important thing was to get started, to get the students back with their teachers and back to education.
Woods agreed saying that he felt much of the importance in the year is getting started, gaining momentum. He offered his continued support to Pickens saying he wants to know what the challenges are for local schools and those on both the urban and metro area and the rural and outside of the metro areas.
Pickens County Board of Education named Dr. Rick Townsend as the only finalist for Superintendent in a special called meeting Tuesday. Four members voted for the motion while Sue Finley cast the only vote against in a meeting that was held partially in-person at the Board of Education building in Jasper with two members attending by phone.
As required by Georgia statute, a 14-day public comment period is now in effect.
On April 7, the Pickens County Board of Education voted to name Dr. Rick Townsend as the single finalist for the position of Superintendent. As required by Georgia statute, a 14-day public comment period is now in effect since a finalist has been named.
Townsend currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Golden Isles College and Career Academy in Brunswick, where he has been since 2010. He began is career as a teacher and coach in 1991 at Winder-Barrow Middle School. He has served as assistant principal at Jefferson High School from 1997 to 2002 and principal of Banks County Upper Elementary School from 2002 to 2005. He was then named principal of E.T. Booth Middle School in Cherokee County. He then served as principal, Assistant Superintendent and Acting Superintendent in Appling County schools prior to serving at the Golden Isles College and Career Academy.
<div style=”float: left; margin-right: 20px;”>https://youtu.be/F41AZqnKhz8</div>
A Lithonia native, he and wife Carolyn have been married for 29 years. She is a kindergarten teacher and they have three children, Haley, Emily, and Molly. Townsend is a graduate of Reinhardt College, the University of Georgia, and the University of West Georgia, where he earned his doctorate of education in school improvement.
The decision was made after the board received 34 applicants from across Georgia and several other states. Of those, 14 candidates were interviewed and reference information gathered, leading the board to have in-depth interviews with four applicants. During this process, the board surveyed more than 200 school employees and more than 500 members of the community to determine which qualifications and characteristics were considered most important.
During the 14-day public input period, the board will finalize terms of employment. For more Pickens County school news, read our story about Tate Elementary.
JASPER, Ga. – Many citizens in Pickens County have been closely following the developments in the Superintendent position at Pickens Board of Education (BOE) through a series of Special Called Meetings as well as those regular scheduled in the final days of 2019 and early days of 2020.
Even FYN reported statements from Wilson that he would offer a written statement of the proceedings as he resigned during one of the called meetings on December 19, 2019.
Later he was nearly reinstated as questions arose about the validity of the “emergency meetings.” But was voted down by Chairman Tucker Green, board member Joeta Youngblood, and board member Donna Enis.
This week, Dr. Carlton Wilson released a public letter to citizens fulfilling his promise of a written statement from last month. That letter follows:
Dear Pickens County,
Cindy and I wanted to take a moment to express our thanks to you as a community. When we relocated here more than 25 years ago we knew we had found our home. Cindy and I love living in and being a part of this community. We have raised our family here and we have worked to be a part of the community in every aspect. I knew when I interviewed for a teaching job here that this was the place I wanted to teach, coach, and live. Having had an opportunity to serve as your Superintendent of Schools was one of the greatest honors of my life thus far. I know we have one of the best school systems in the state of Georgia, some of the greatest staff, students, and parents.
We have been overwhelmed and extremely humbled by the love and support from the people of Pickens County. This is just another reason Pickens County is a great place to live. We love this county and I especially love our school system. The past month has been very difficult and confusing.
Our current school board is the third school board that I have served with as your superintendent. As school boards change board members, even just one, their personalities, priorities, and visions can change. Each school board is different from the boards they replaced. However, I felt it was very important to continual and complete the goals our previous boards had established not knowing these priorities, goals, and visions had changed. The current board never shared with me that that their priorities or visions changed for our school system. As Superintendent, I have always followed the strategic plan and direction that I was given. That was my job.
I am very proud of the accomplishments, partnerships, and relationships our school system developed over the past couple of years. I am very happy I can say I left the school district knowing every employee received a raise while we reduced the mileage rate for the fourth consecutive year. This took teamwork and I was proud to be a part of it.
I realize when information is not given, people will fill the void with rumors. Just to be clear, I was not given any reason except several of the board members had lost confidence in my leadership. Several members of the Board did not like the direction I was leading the school system. Concerning decisions that I made during my tenure as superintendent, I can assure you that every major decision was made with the school board’s understanding and approval. However, I take full responsibility for all day to day operational issues. Again, that was my job.
It has been a privilege serving the students, staff, and residents of Pickens County. I wish the greatest success to our school system and especially the young people they serve. The students deserve stability and strong leadership from our next Superintendent and the principal’s of our schools. Our teachers deserve the support of not only the board and school leadership but the community. I encourage you to help our community move forward by investing in our school district and helping them move to the next level. Cindy and I are excited to see what the future holds and I look forward to continuing to serve our great community in the future.
JASPER, Ga. – Dr. Carlton Wilson was nearly re-instated as Superintendent during the Pickens County Board of Education meeting held on Thursday, January 9, 2020.
Dr. Carlson, having recently been forced to resign from his position as Superintendent, was the topic of all four public speakers during the meeting.
Dr. Robert Keller was the first to speak, stating “[…]Watching the videos, as I hope most of you will, you repeatedly berated Superintendent Wilson, and other board members too, repeatedly berated him in regards in what turned out to be trivial events. So once, formally, you finally got it into a private session, you failed to arrive at a consensus, and we had this three to two decision that ultimately resulted in Carlton’s resignation. I think that we’re probably going to see alot more of the three to two decisions just like we’ve seen tonight. Not only was there not a consensus in this arriving at the decision, two publicly stated that they were not even informed of the situation. I’m worried how many more times we’ll see this three to two decision as you direct the school system in the wrong direction.”
All four public speakers, as seen in the video below, were met with positive reactions from a majority of the audience.
Cheryl Sams addressed the council towards the end of the meeting, stating “[…]How did this qualify as an emergency meeting, per the Georgia code? It did not. And Tucker, you know it did not. An emergency meeting can only be when it effects the public safety, public personnel, or public property. How did this qualify for that? And my question is, we pay you $100 a meeting, per day? Well why are there so many called meetings? Did somebody have a bill that they needed to pay? And why are these meetings called if we are required to give five days notice to speak before the board? Why do you do all of these called meetings at a time when most of your constituents are at work, we don’t have ample time to get our name on here… why do you do that? Apparently, you can send out all the surveys you want, but you’ve already shown us you don’t want community input.”
Upon hearing from the public, board member Sue Finley made the motion to re-appoint Dr. Wilson as Superintendent of Pickens County schools, seconded only by vice chairman Steve Smith.
Chairman Tucker Green, board member Joeta Youngblood, and board member Donna Enis voted against this motion however, and so it did not pass, leaving Interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Webb to fill the position at this time.
FetchYourNews.com attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month for ad server. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and has between 15,000 to 60,000 per week Facebook page reach. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or visit [email protected].
PICKENS COUNTY, Ga – Several sources have told Fetch Your News that Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson received a 24-hour ultimatum to resign or be terminated from his role during a called board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 3 p.m.
Fetch Your News can’t confirm these reports as board members can’t discuss what takes place during executive session.
The meeting agenda listed executive session and personnel as discussion topics. After spending two hours and forty-five minutes in executive session, the board members emerged and announced that “no action was taken.”
Wilson spent the majority of the meeting outside of the executive session, before the board called him into the closed room around 5 p.m. If Wilson and his position were the subject of discussion, then he wouldn’t have been allowed in the room. Traditionally, a superintendent is present in the closed meetings.
Fetch Your News doesn’t know the reasoning behind the unconfirmed ultimatum, but will update this story as soon as information becomes available.
Several Pickens County Citizens drifted in and out between 3 and 5:45 p.m. to try and find out what was happening. However, the mid-afternoon session meant many couldn’t stay until the end. Some appeared visibly upset at the situation and possibility of the superintendent Wilson’s termination.
The board finally adjourned at 5:45 p.m. with no discussion as to why the meeting was called before departing. If they did present Wilson with an option to resign or be terminated, they did so behind closed doors. As previously stated, Fetch Your News can’t confirm this occurred during the almost three hour meeting.
Board member Sue Finley mentioned the possibility of an emergency board meeting being called sometime this week for further discussion of what they discussed in today’s executive session. She also added she wasn’t pleased with the Dec. 18 called meeting being held at 3 p.m. since it prevents people who work during the day from attending.
Called meetings must provide the public with 24 hours’ notice to give everyone an opportunity to attend. Therefore, it’s unclear if a meeting will be held on Thursday or Friday.
Wilson and the board of education have dealt with several contentious issues this school year including potentially arming staff, transgender bathrooms, and school threats. It’s unclear if any of these issues or other disagreements went into the decision to call the Dec. 18 meeting.
JASPER, Ga. – April’s expenses for the Jasper City Council are on the rise as they approve purchases and bids alongside an approval for over $100,000 for the Cove Road incident.
These purchases came from three different departments looking to update equipment for the coming spring months.
The Jasper Police Department sought approval, and received it, from the council for $33,900 for a new vehicle. According to Police Chief Greg Lovell, the need comes after several issues in the fleet including two cars in the shop for repairs and the Explorer being totaled after an accident in January. The new truck, Lovell said, will is coming from Ronnie Thompson Ford.
The Water Department requested funding for rebuilding three lift station pumps in the city from Highway 108 to Piedmont Mountainside Hospital. Water Superintendent David Hall spoke to the council about the builds with three different prices. The total cost for all three comes to $32,136.28. The first pump is $7,825.04. The second needs an internal part replaced as well, making the cost $10,634.90. The third pump needs the part replaced and a bearings replaced, making the cost $13,676.34.
Hall said the department already has moved other pumps in the city to cover the need that these pumps served, but this reduces the efficiency more each day. However, these pumps have served this need since 2002, according to Hall. With 17 years behind them before needing the rebuilds, Council member Tony Fountain noted that he hoped to get another 15 years out of these now.
A third purchase request came from the budgeted purchase of a zero turn lawnmower for the street department as the move into spring and prepare to for the maintenance needed. City Manager Brandon Douglas told the council that the city has received bids for the lawnmower. Goss Equipment’s bid was for $11,886.20 for a Grasshopper brand. Nelson Tractor Company’s bid was $12,615 for a Kubota brand. Ag-Pro $13,649.99 for a John Deere brand. Rolling Tire’s bid was for $13,000. Mason Tractor Company’s bid was for $12,526. The council approved Goss Equipment, the low bid, for their Grasshopper brand lawnmower. Fountain clarified with Douglas about the servicing program for the equipment. Douglas confirmed that Goss said the would work and provide for the needs saying that even if they had to outsource the work, they would provide a replacement available immediately for the needs of the city.
The council is also honoring a local citizen, Kyle Brock, with an official resolution to name the city dog park after him. Utility Development Planned Lonnie Waters presented the request to the council for a small marble plaque in honor of the service provided. The council quickly approved the request and pushed further to have Brock come before the council to receive the plaque so that they might further recognize the hard work and dedication he has provided to the animals of the community.
Jasper, Ga – The Pickens County Board of Education hosted a no-threat lockdown today on the campus of Pickens High School.
Parents and citizens saw the Pickens County Sheriff respond to concerns saying:
We currently have a team of deputies and K-9 units participating in a controlled sweep of the Pickens High School campus. While the school is being checked, students are being placed in a non-emergency lockdown status. Students are safe and no threat exists at the school.
When questioned about the lockdown, Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson said the K-9 sweep was scheduled for a few weeks ago, but had to be pushed back due to scheduling conflicts with Cherokee County who supplies the K-9 units. As the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has retired its last K-9 unit for medical reasons, Wilson stated it is a part of the agreement with Cherokee County to utilize theirs.
With the lockdown and sweep completed, Wilson informed FYN that no drugs were located during the sweep today. Though he noted it was not directly related to the rising use of vape devices, Wilson did respond to questions about the trend saying that it is a concern in the school system.
Sweeps like this is a part of the school’s enforcement of its code of conduct as well as state and federal law. Though Wilson said there is more going on behind the scenes in the system’s response to the rising vape concerns and to school security in general, he declined to release details saying, “There is a number of things that we are doing and things that we are working with the Sheriff’s Office, some of that we just can’t publicize at the moment.”
More information on these steps like the K-9 sweeps and other programs the school already has in place over its years in operation can be found at the upcoming Monday, September 24, day of events involving the Office of the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and Pickens School district as they hold a meeting for parents for information and the ‘Chat with the Superintendent’ at Pickens High School at 6 p.m.
Wilson went on to note that the school system is being forced to change the way it views vaping devices. While he notes that it is against the law for underage kids to possess cigarettes and vaping devices and they have enforced the law, he did state that the school system may have, at times, not utilized the most extreme forms of discipline available in every situation involving the use of nicotine. He went on to say, “Now that this added ability of being able to vape just about anything, that brings it to a whole different level.”
As part of the school’s efforts to inform parents and students about the dangers that vapes present with not knowing what is in them, the board is working with the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office. Wilson said, “We may have looked at vaping in the past as more of a replacement for a cigarette, and not as a delivery device for drugs… Going forward, we probably would.”
He added later, “We’re going to have to really start disciplining to the fullest extent that we can, given to us by our Code of Conduct or either by the Law to keep our children safe.”
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:
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.
JASPER, Ga. – District Attorney Alison Sosebee offered her presentation to parents that she has been showing to students this week. As a part of the chat with the superintendent program on September 24, Sosebee and Pickens Sheriff Donnie Craig joined in to inform parents about the vaping trend and the school’s responses.
Going through the same presentation as the one she offers the students, the only alterations came when Sheriff Craig added the Drug Task Forces formal response and when Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson offered the school systems official reply. Following along the same lines of thought, students and parents should begin expecting full repercussions on possession, use, and sharing of vaping devices as drug paraphernalia when viable instead of being treated like possessing cigarettes.
Sosebee also released information about those who came into contact with a substance that hospitalized five in a warrant on A1 Smoke Shop. The substance, identified as “Panaca,” a synthetic cannabinoid substance that is labeled as a “Schedule I Drug.” Sosebee compared this to Methamphetamine, a “Schedule II Drug.” She went on to note that this identifies synthetic marijuana, like that found in the smoke shop, is comparatively worse than Meth.
Wilson noted that the students have also been told that the consequences of vaping in school is increasing, and additional information from Sheriff Craig noted that criminal charges of this caliber could still involve 15 years in prison in the case of Schedule I Drugs.
As seen in the video, much of the night was spent attempting to inform parents and citizens about the issue, it was noted that the school system is taking a hard stance against the trend. Continuing to point to the fact that some may or may not know what is in the vape devices they use, authorities point to the commonality of hard drugs found across the nation in these devices as reasoning to utilize the full consequences made available in both the school’s code of conduct and criminal law to dissuade students from using these devices.
Ellijay, Ga. – An incident report from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed reports of a student “blacking out” and suffering seizures after inhaling a substance from a SMOK Vape device.
The male student was hospitalized from the incident and later released. The incident, however, did prompt officials to call in K-9 units to search for other drugs. Authorities found two additional SMOK Vapes with one testing positive for containing marijuana. While the
original vape has been tested, no official response is available identifying the substance in the original device.
However, according to the incident report, it was reported that the student was told by a fellow classmate that “there was a vape in the boy’s restroom and he should go smoke some of it.”
With the investigation in Gilmer CID’s (Criminal Investigations Division) hands, no names of the students nor additional information is available.
However, FYN spoke with Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs who confirmed the incident is part of a larger problem facing the schools today. She told FYN that last year, the school system confiscated eight vape devices over the course of the entire year. This year, they have already collected 25 devices since the beginning of school a few weeks ago.
Each instance results in disciplinary action for the student as it is a violation of the code of conduct, according to Downs, but as the rise in using other substances in the devices continues, the charges against students get far more serious as they deal with controlled substances.
Downs went on to say that she has spoken with other Superintendents to see if Gilmer is alone in the rise of vape usage. Though she declined to name which counties she had spoken with, she did confirm that Gilmer was not alone.
Confirming the rise in popularity of these devices in several counties, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee made a press release stating, “Within the last week, several teens in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties have experienced medical emergencies as a result of “vaping,” by use of electronic cigarettes. These medical emergencies necessitated treatment by both EMS and treatment at hospitals.”
Many of the vape devices found being used are very small handheld devices easily concealed within one’s palm or bag, like a purse or book bag, or even in one’s pocket as several designs become thinner and shorter. Downs confirmed they have found Juul brand vapes and last weeks incident report confirmed the males vape was a SMOK brand. Sosebee notes, “Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.”
As the use of vapes themselves are intended to be used with nicotine for adult smokers, the rising concern is the ability to swap out the common “juice” for homemade cocktails or drugs. Downs confirmed that reports have been made of students crushing Adderall and other things to make the “juice.”
According to Juul’s website, “These alternatives contain nicotine, which has not been shown to cause cancer but can create dependency. We believe that these alternatives are not appropriate for people who do not already smoke.”
Sosebee also commented on other substances that have been found in the devices saying, “The liquid that is inhaled, known commonly as “vape juice,” can contain any number of substances: it can contain flavoring; it can contain nicotine; it can also contain drugs and illegal substances such as THC oil, fentanyl and LSD. Of great concern, the user may or may not know what they are inhaling, what their reaction will be to the substances, what they are exposing others to and may erroneously believe that they are simply inhaling “harmless water vapor.” There is nothing harmless about what is occurring.”
Downs went on to say that some parents may have purchased vapes for their kids not knowing that they are swapping out the contents. The feeling was echoed by Sosebee as she called for parents to “be aware of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”
With concerns rising from parents, administration, and law enforcement alike, investigations are continuing as programs and events are attempting to educate the community about the devices and their popularity.
Downs said the Gilmer Administration is stepping up efforts in educating and building awareness in their staff about what to look for and also to educate our parents in the community saying, “I feel like there is a real lack of knowledge and lack of understanding among our community in relation to this… This has blown up overnight to the point that I feel like its almost epidemic.”