On Friday, Columbia County's 19,000 students ended their 180-day school year - a year marked by tragedy with the death of several students and a year of joy and change as Grovetown's long-awaited middle school opened.
Here's a recap of some of the year's most memorable events:
* Students returning for the first day of school at Augusta Christian Monday found some new faces and a new look for the school.
* Joel Woodcock is the new headmaster at Augusta Christian. There is also a new guidance counselor and director of activities. And Bruce Lane is the new athletic director and football coach. Seven new teachers will also be on staff and the school has purchased several new computers and plans to network its system this year.
* Columbia County's school system ended the first week of school just 133 shy of its projected enrollment, said School Superintendent Tommy Price. The system had projected an enrollment of 18,553, but the actual number is 18,420.
North Columbia Elementary School students listen as numbers are drawn for door prizes. The children were enjoying a Student of the Month year-end ice cream party at the school.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
* Though Columbia County's SAT scores dropped five points this year, school officials say its scores are still well above the national and state average. Columbia County pupils scored 513 on the verbal portion and 512 in math, for a total score of 1,025. The national average is 1,020 (504 verbal, 516 math) and the state average is 980 (489 verbal, 491 math).
* Peace and Hope now live at Columbia Middle School. The two white doves were scheduled to be released as part of a Remembrance Commemoration Ceremony, but Principal Donna Anderson said she thought they would do more good at the school. While most of Columbia County's schools held somber morning ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on America, Columbia Middle's program was more a celebration of patriotism.
* Columbia County has decided to end the confusion over the new No Child Left Behind Law and will ask all of its paraprofessionals to become "highly qualified." The new law, which was signed by the president this year, requires paraprofessionals hired after Jan. 8, 2002, to either have completed two years of college, earned an associates degree or higher, or pass a test to assess their knowledge of their ability to assist in teaching reading, writing and math.
* Sophomore Joseph DeLoach pulled on a special T-shirt for Wednesday morning's See You at the Pole event at Augusta Christian Schools. The black shirt read: "Satan is a Poo Poo Head."
* On Sept. 13, North Harlem Elementary School third-grader Andrew Hawkinberry, 8, was killed instantly in a car crash on Interstate 20 in Warren County as the family was driving to his brother's football game.
* The Criterion-Referenced Competency Test scores are in, and though the county scores fluctuated little from last year, there was good news for one Columbia County school listed as not making adequate progress on a Title I report last year. Euchee Creek Elementary School's scores were up from 332 in reading in 2001 to 355 this year; 324 in language arts in 2001 to 333; and 313 in math in 2001 to 324.
* A Columbia County school again needed extra counselors to deal with the death of a student. Don Brigdon, principal of Evans High School, announced to his students that junior Holly Spivey, 16, and her parents, Harry and Linda, died in a fire at their 133 West Lynne Dr. home in Martinez.
* It would have been hard to fit a crown on a photograph, but that's almost what happened Friday night when Emily Adair was named Lakeside High School's homecoming queen. The senior had been out of school for two days after being hospitalized with appendicitis. During homecoming activities such as the parade and the pep rally, her boyfriend, Galen Jones, served as her proxy, marching in her place with an 8-by-10-inch picture of Emily in hand.
* Evans Middle School seventh grade social studies teacher Lorraine Hall was feted Thursday as Columbia County's 2001-2002 teacher of the year.
* Stevens Creek Elementary School third-grader Jennifer Granade didn't just give a dollar to wear her blue floppy straw had to school Thursday. She gave $30.75 - money she'd collected going door to door asking her neighbors for donations to help a child in need. Sevens Creek is one of many schools in Columbia County that have planned fund-raisers to help Ania. On Hat Day last Thursday, Stevens Creek raised $1,673.26. Ania, the 7-month-old daughter of Stephen and Diana Yarish, was born in December with biliary atresia, a disorder that affects only 300 to 400 newborns.
* Most school have two flags flying out front. Riverside Middle School now has three. School officials last week brought home the National School of Excellence flag, which flies as a tangible symbol of what the school has achieved.
* Lakeside High School Spanish teacher Cathy Ferko's long battle against breast cancer ended Sunday morning, just two days after her friends and family gathered at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church to celebrate her life. Ferko - known affectionately as Senora Ferko - was diagnosed last fall with breast cancer. She underwent treatment and was in remission, but discovered about a month ago that the cancer had returned. She had been out from work since then and was at home in hospice care. She had taught at the school since it opened in 1988.
* Columbia County pupils who miss a couple of days of class because of religious obligations won't be penalized when it comes to exam time. Currently, pupils who meet certain criteria can choose not to take some final exams. One of those criteria is attendance, and until the recent change in policy, a missed day because of religious reasons may have counted against the pupil.
* Mildred Blackburn was in the board of elections office Tuesday night when she learned she had won a second term representing District 4 on the Columbia County Board of Education. This was the second time she had fended off challenger Andy Ezell.
* Columbia County School Board members tentatively approved a 2003-2004 calendar with a start date of Wednesday, Aug. 6 - just a day sooner than this year's start date of Aug. 7. The year will still contain only the state-mandated 180 school days when it ends May 21, but students will have some new holidays in between. Included in the calendar next year is a "fall break" in October - two days off to create a four-day weekend - and another four-day, "mid-winter break" to coincide with President's Day in February.
* A.J. Kirkman is enjoying his 15 minutes. Jessica Proctor is enjoying life. The paths of the Riverside Middle School seventh-graders crossed last week, intertwining Baywatch, a piece of potato and the Heimlich maneuver. A.J. and Jessica were sitting beside each other in the lunchroom around 11 a.m. Thursday, consuming a meal of hot dogs and potato cruisers - animal cookie-shaped potato bites. The potato cruiser nearly killed Jessica, when one got caught in her throat. A.J. said he learned to do the Heimlich maneuver by watching television, particularly Baywatch, where he'd seen it done on one episode. He also learned how to do it, he said, from an instructional poster hanging in the wall of the lunchroom.
* MOSP may sound like the name of an insect, but at Augusta Preparatory Day School its an acronym for a science project, My Own Science Project, that lets students pursue their own interests. For sixth grader Kelley Peel, the daughter of Marc and Kim Peel, of Martinez, it is an opportunity to learn more about Alzheimer's disease, the illness that is robbing her grandmother Nell Kelley of her memories.
* The Columbia County Board of education maintained the status quo on its leadership team, returning Wayne Bridges to the chairmanship for the second year, while Mildred Blackburn was named vice-chairman.
* Grovetown Middle's School's 415 pupils stared the new year at a new school.
* The first confirmed cases of influenza B in the state came from Columbia County. The illness first appeared in local middle schools in mid-January, before spreading throughout the system and pushing absentee rates at some schools to 26 percent.
* Columbia County's school board approved plan to rezone elementary schools, pulling 442 out of existing zones to make up the student body of the new Lewiston Elementary School.
* The wood-frame house is gone, replaced by the brick and mortar of Lewiston Elementary School. In naming the new school, Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price said he considered requests from the Lewis family who settled in that area, but was prohibited by board policy from naming a school after an individual. Instead, he looked at the geography for a name, and decided it would be appropriate to name the school after the Lewiston Community in which it is located.
* Riverside Middle School eighth-graders will be sharpening their No. 2 pencils as they prepare to retake the Middle Grades Writing Assessment. Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price told board members Tuesday night that the State Department of Education will allow the students to retake the test. The test was administered to eighth-graders Jan. 21-24 but the results were ruled invalid when it was discovered that two teachers had used the same topic - or prompt - on a practice writing assignment before the test was given.
* Harlem High School's drama department was among only 12 schools in the state selected to perform at the Georgia Thespian Conference.
* Evans Elementary School third grader Barry Eatman now can say he's a poster child. Barry's self-portrait is one of 47 faces featured on the Georgia Art Education Association's poster celebrating Youth Art Month.
* Patricia Biggerstaff of Lincolnton, Ga., has been appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to the Georgia Board of Education to replace Augusta board member Roscoe Williams, who resigned at the governor's request. She was one of five new board members sworn in by Perdue on Thursday.
* Evans Middle School seventh-grade social studies teacher Dr. Lorraine Hall was named one of 12 semifinalists for the 2004 Georgia Teacher of the Year.
* The Columbia County Board of Education has settled on a 20-member task force to study the issue of having an at-large elected chairman. The board also issued a charge to the task force: To study the issue of having a countywide elected at-large chairman and whether the board should consider changing from its present structure.
* Foreign language may one day be taught in kindergarten through 12th grade in Columbia County schools if the recommendations of a committee charged to study the issue are implemented.
* From the cartoons he would scribble, to the tunes he would tap out on his desk, to the twirling rifles that brought him acclaim, Brandon Keith Layton's death Friday night has left a large hole in the heart of Lakeside High School.
Brandon, 18, of Martinez - the son of James L. Layton of Huntsville, Ala. and Kathy L. Layton of Martinez - was killed in a traffic accident, becoming the fourth fatality this year for the Columbia County school system.
* The Columbia County Board of Education increased the cost of summer school tuition. School Superintendent Tommy Price said the program operated at a deficit last year when tuition rates were at $190 per course. More than 800 pupils attended summer school last year. The plan is to raise the rate to $250 this year, or $275 for out-of-county students.
* Augusta Preparatory Day School senior Ashwin Rajendra was named the district STAR student at a banquet in Thomson. Ashwin represented Columbia County in the 13-district region. He scored a perfect 1,600 on his SAT.
* A mock drill at Evans High School to dissuade students from drinking on prom night was designed to be shocking - and in this case, maybe too shocking. By the end of the exercise, one boy was loaded into an ambulance after suffering a facial laceration when he passed out and hit a pole, another girl fainted and was treated by EMTs and two others were on the ground, sipping water and trying to hold down a queasy stomach.
* More than 2 million people will soon know how Jacob White counts with bugs. The Blue Ridge Elementary School fourth grader's poem Many Bugs has been featured in the national children's magazine, Highlights for Children.
* Greenbrier High School sophomore Sam Gaston will represent his school and the state at the National Future Business Leaders of America Convention. His first place win in the Principals and Procedures competition at the state level won him a slot at the national convention which will be held in Dallas, Texas in June.
* For senior school psychologist Kay Blanchard and her staff of five school psychologists, learning of the deaths of two Greenbrier High juniors Tuesday evoked a two-word response: Not again. She and her staff were dispatched to Greenbrier High School on Wednesday to support the students and staff who were grieving over the deaths of Shane Williams and Daniel Hall. The juniors died in a traffic accident the day before while traveling to a golf tournament in Lincoln County. Brothers Michael and Matthew Barman, both passengers in Shane's Ford Explorer, were hospitalized.
* A shopping mall, a car lot, a restaurant - the potential for the 21 acres at the intersection of Bel Air and Washington roads is huge. But if a "for sale" sign is posted at Evans Middle School, the property likely will become one of the most valuable parcels of land in the county.
* The Columbia County Board of Education on delays a vote on a request for a waiver of distance requirements from a restaurant that is planning to serve alcohol. Located across Owens Road from Bel Air Elementary School, the property owned by Rhinehart's Oyster Bar does not meet the 200-yard distance requirement required by law to obtain an alcoholic beverage license.
The board had given tentative approval to the waiver at the March 25 meeting, but four weeks later some members and the school board's attorney said they hadn't had time to review the ordinance. They would eventually deny the request.
* A Greenbrier High School student arrested in separate sex attacks has a history of violence arrests. Thryshaun Ronta McCladdie, 19, of Appling, was arrested twice in connection with two fights months before the sexual offenses reported in April. Law enforcement officials Monday arrested McCladdie on a child molestation charge after a 15-year-old classmate accused him of forcing himself on her at school April 17, said Columbia County Sheriff's Office Capt. Steve Morris. The sheriff's office also charged McCladdie with false imprisonment and sexual battery Wednesday in a March 5 incident, in which an 18-year-old classmate accused him of groping and restricting her, Capt. Morris said.
* Not everyone can wear the coveted Wal-Mart blue vest. For educators like Roxanne Chesani, you have to be named Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year to get one. On Tuesday, Wal-Mart manager Patrick Clifford presented the Grovetown Middle School seventh grade language arts teacher with her own blue vest and a $1,000 check for being named the 2003 Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year.
* Amid frantic last-minute preparations for last weekend's spring musical, Footloose, Harlem High School drama director Roy Lewis had to start making travel arrangements for 30 to Scotland. Harlem High's drama department was invited to participate in the world's largest annual drama festival next year in Edinburgh, Scotland, called the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
* About 1,168 Columbia County high school seniors walked across the stage of the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center to receive their diplomas Saturday.
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