effingham

Tracy Edenfield Called To Teach The Hearing Impaired

story by shannon robinson

photos by natalie mcalister

Teachers are a special group of individuals put upon this earth to
share wisdom and knowledge in such a way that others can both
comprehend and apply what has been imparted. Not only are they
essential for their roles in shaping young minds, but also for being
the role models remembered in the hearts and minds of the lives they
touch. Among these special people exists a unique minority, though,
and there is an extra special place reserved in the heart for them.
What they do requires a level of patience and understanding that few
can claim. They improve the lives of children with disabilities on a
daily basis. Tracy Edenfield is one of these phenomenal people.

Born in Savannah at Mary Telfair Women’s Hospital, Tracy is a
local gal who calls Effingham home. She was raised and went through
school in Guyton. Always an above average student, she was able to
dual enroll in Southeastern Bible College during her senior year at
Effingham High School. It wasn’t but a quarter or two into the year
that she had already completed all the requirements necessary to
graduate high school, and three years later she had earned her first
degree. “I believe that I am called to teach…”, Tracy began, “I’ve
always felt the tug of the Lord calling me into the field of
teaching.”

In fact, Tracy not only knew she wanted to teach from a young
age, she also knew who she wanted to teach. She specifically wanted to
teach and help individuals who were hearing impaired and profoundly
deaf. When she was quite small, Tracy began learning how to
communicate with her Aunt Ann (who she fondly calls Annabelle) who was
profoundly deaf and blind. She is extremely fond of Annabelle and
resolved to develop the skills that would enable her to not only
communicate well with her aunt, but also help Tracy to teach others
with similar disabilities. She learned from her aunt that being born
different had no bearing on what could be accomplish. “She was very
self taught and so driven,” Tracy said of Annabelle, who was quite
clearly one of her heroes. That drive and tenacity was all the
encouragement Tracy needed to reach and far exceed each educational
and personal goal she chose to set for herself.

In the early 1990s Tracy began taking American Sign Language
courses with Savannah Speech & Hearing Center. She learned from Hazel
Davis, an instructor she holds in high esteem, and she loved every
aspect of it. She did it for about five years, and doesn’t remember
how many classes she actually took there. “It was more of an ongoing
learning process,” Tracy recalled. Ms. Davis taught classes but also
prepared her students for certification and other test necessary to
obtain the credentials needed to use their signing skills in
education.

By the mid 1990s, a sufficiently educated Tracy Edenfield
accepted a position as an interpreter for a profoundly deaf student
attending Effingham Middle School.  After two years interpreting for
the student, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in speech at
AASU (Armstrong Atlantic State University), and was offered a job at
Ebenezer Middle School. Upon accepting the job offer, she soon learned
that it wasn’t teaching speech, as she’d originally thought, but,
instead, teaching deaf education. The school allowed her to teach
provisionally until she completed her second degree, however, an
intrigued Tracy Edenfield worked just one year in deaf education and
discovered her niche. She transferred from AASU’s Masters of Speech
Degree program to GSU’s (Georgia Southern University) Master’s of
Reading Degree program. After earning her Master’s she stayed to earn
her six-year Reading Specialist Degree. She liked it so much that she
returned to Armstrong to earn an additional Master’s of Adult Literacy
Degree as well.

After a brief hiatus from her career and school, Tracy was asked
to teach in a new program with a different approach to teaching the
hearing impaired and profoundly deaf. Technology had much advanced
through the years and many infants, and adults as well, underwent
surgery to receive cochlear implants. The implant allowed them to hear
for the first time, which opened many doors for language development.
Tracy was intrigued by the possibility that children who were born
deaf possibly could progress normally through school and life without
exclusive dependency on American Sign Language. Tracy remembered
thinking, “Can it be? Can it really be that profoundly deaf children
are reading on grade and age appropriate levels, speaking vocabulary
and listening on age appropriate levels, ready for Kindergarten and
ready for 1st grade with their hearing peers?” Eager to become part of
something so life changing and wonderful, she accepted a position in
the Sound Start program offered by Savannah Speech & Hearing Center,
under the direction of Dr. Beth McIntosh.

“When profoundly deaf children were implanted, their resource choices
were limited. They had to go to Jacksonville or Atlanta and their
family was here in Savannah,” Tracy recalled. The directors of
Savannah Speech & Hearing Center began planning a more local school,
and soon the Sound Start program was born. The program has entered its
eighth year and is still as strong as when it started – possibly
stronger with regards to the families that have networked because of
it. The students that attend the Sound Start program have received a
cochlear implant by the first birthday. Because of the early
intervention, Sound Start is able to use the student’s proverbial
“blank slate” as an advantage for teaching them language in an
auditory/oral style. The program operates on the premise of three
bases: early intervention, amplification (whether it be hearing aids
or cochlear implants) and very aggressive, intense therapy five days a
week.

Witnessing Tracy in action with eight high energy and diverse
little ones, who range in ages between two and six, is nothing short
of inspiring. With patience and love, she guided them effortlessly
through repetitious games and stories that would seem meaningless to
many, but whose purpose was in fact essential. With her mouth covered,
so her lips couldn’t be read, and with her eyes not looking at any one
individual, Tracy was able to prompt each child into a response by
speaking their name. She sang part of a song, stopped and the children
would finish the lyrics – children who spent at least a year of their
lives, some even longer, in complete silence. Tracy maintains that she
is far from being the only person involved in what can only be
described as miracle work. There are, of course, others who share
Tracy’s passion such as the paraprofessionals, volunteers and very
involved parents. She views their program as a large family, because
the children learn in the same class together for years and emotional
bonds form between the children, their parents and the teachers.

“Everyone is a team, that is how it’s successful. Our goal is to
help them be ready for Kindergarten at five years old or 1st grade,
according to where they fall, and to get them ready with minimal
amounts of dependency on special education resources,” Tracy
explained, “It is within their grasp and so obtainable now. “

“These kids, mostly born to hearing parents, are actually going
into Kindergarten ready to learn with their hearing peers,” she said.
“This is just so passion driven, it’s purpose driven, but the passion…
I love the kids, I love what the program stands for, I love the
philosophy behind it and I love the outcomes. You can’t dispute the
numbers. I mean the kids are going into regular education classrooms,”
Tracy beamed.

Tracy, in addition to teaching full time, also enjoys
opportunities to teach at Maranatha Assembly of God. She even uses her
skills with American Sign Language to arrange interpretive dances for
programs in the church and community. She is grounded in her faith,
and wants everything she does to reflect that. Knowing that God has
given her a servant’s heart, she strives to uplift those around her
and make a difference in the little lives that she encounters daily –
letting God’s love show through her actions. To the children and
parents whose lives are forever changed for the better, Tracy is
Heaven sent. For Tracy, dedicating herself daily to ensuring that each
hearing impaired or profoundly deaf child she teaches has every
opportunity possible is simply her passion in life and where she finds
true joy.

To The Bottom Of The World And Back

story by cindy burbage

photos by natalie mcalister

Georgia has a plethora of people who have made their marks in history.
Some, like Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, and
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., renowned civil rights leader and
clergyman, can easily be found in history books.

Someone whose name was never included among the pages of history
books is Jasper Franklin Edwards, Jr.. from Effingham County.

He made history, and even if his name doesn’t ring a bell, the
significance of his life and work are more than worthy to grace the
annals of history.

Jasper Franklin Edwards, Jr., known as “J.R.” by family and
friends throughout the county, was born in Effingham and remained here
until he was 5 years old, when his family moved to Chatham County. In
1946, at the age of 17, J.R. quit school and joined the Navy.

Following World War II, America was in a different mood than before
the war and the naval branch of the military was fairly inert. Within
just a few short months of enlistment, Edwards was preparing for an
adventure of a lifetime. Admiral Richard E Byrd was heading up an
expedition called Operation Highjump, the exploration of the South
Pole in Antarctica.

Edwards recalled, “When I got out of boot camp, everyone was on
different ships, I was on board a destroyer for a few months, it was
of five in a squadron. Most of us were just out of boot camp, and a
couple of ships had stayed there two or three months and then we were
put on the USS Henderson. This destroyer was being prepped for the
excursion to the South Pole, Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic Expedition.”

The USS Henderson was a Gearing Class destroyer with a length of
390 feet, 6 inches and speed of 35 knots. There were 13 vessels in the
fleet. They were headed to a land sometimes referred to as the bottom
of the world. It had not been charted yet, and this operation would
name and map this territory.

So in December of 1946, the USS Henderson destroyer ship departed
from San Diego, Ca., crossing the equator a week later. Edwards can
still recall life on board ship as they headed south.

“ I was in charge of everything above the water, in other words,
things on deck. We had swells of water that were over 40 feet tall,
making the ship rock back and forth.”

He also joked about an initiation that he and the other sailors
had to go through.

“If you had never crossed the International Date Line before, you
were called a Pollywog. We had to go through crawl spaces in the ship
as part of it. Once we passed our initiation, we were called
Shellbacks.”

This tradition, also called The Line Crossing Ceremony, actually
dates back 400 years and is considered one the Navy’s most interesting
rituals. It was a method for the new mariners to test their
seaworthiness.

Rough ride

Going into the Arctic oceans was no easy task. There were a
number of obstacles, but weather and cold temperatures were the major
beasts. Still, with 13 ships and 23 aircraft, the men were prepared
for their mission, despite temperatures that plummeted so low the
ships were snowed in and icebreaker vessels had to spend anywhere from
6-8 hours breaking them free.

Edwards was the only one from Georgia on this tour, and when
asked how this Georgia boy handled the bitter chill, he responded with
a grin, “I did pretty good.”

Everyone on the trek was able to assist in naming the unexplored
territory. The fierce lad from Effingham chose the deepest part of the
Ross Ice Shelf, which is the largest body of floating ice in the
Antarctic, to be named Edward’s Cove.

In early March of 1947, the men of Operation Highjump terminated
maneuvers and set sail. After approximately 10 days on the open water,
the fleet arrived in Sydney, Australia.

“We were greeted with a water parade of double decker boats, tug
boats spouting water and show girls,” Edwards said with real pride.
“After being on a ship for that many months, it took me a while to get
rid of my sea legs.”

The Australians welcomed the U.S. sailors to their country with
open arms. During the days they were docked in the harbor, they
collected supplies for their journey home. Three of the sailors,
including Edwards, were “adopted” by local families and treated like
celebrities for the duration. Australians came from neighboring
villages, just to get a glimpse of the Americans.

After a short stay in the country from down under, the explorers
headed back towards the U.S. mainland. By April 6, 1947, the destroyer
USS Henderson entered the San Diego channel and ended the voyage.

Back home again

Though he was time zones away from home, Edwards’ family and
friends were able to read about his actions in the local paper. The
Savannah Morning News and the Atlanta Journal published informative
articles of the historical jaunt. One particular headline read:”Local
Boy With Admiral Byrd.”

Admiral Richard E Byrd and his nearly 4,700 men sailed through
rough icy seas to unknown territory. The assembly of sailors,
scientists, 13 ships, 19 airplanes and 4 helicopters collected vast
amounts of meteorological data. On top of that, approximately nine new
mountain ranges were discovered as well as glaciers, canals and other
waterways.

The expedition has been featured on the Discovery Channel and its
records have been covered in a documentary called “Operation Highjump
– Secret Land: Antarctica in 1946.”

In the 1980’s, author Lisle A. Rose, who is known for his books
on the U.S. Navy, wrote “Assault on Eternity, Richard E Byrd and the
Exploration of Antarctica, 1946-1947.”

Teeming with photographs of the destroyers, aircrafts and men,
this book tells the tales of this miraculous journey.

Because Edwards enlisted for two years instead of the usual four,
after the South Pole journey he had only a few months left to serve
after returning from the Antarctic. He occupied his time by joining
the Navy basketball and baseball teams.

After returning home, Edwards began working at the JC Lewis Motor
Company in Savannah. It wasn’t until his employment at the
Lincoln-Mercury dealer that he decided to marry. Sixty-six years ago,
Edwards married his sweetheart, Juanita. They have had two children, a
son Del, and a daughter Karen, along with three grandchildren: Justin,
Paul and Katie, plus a great granddaughter, Morgan.

Edwards retired from Savannah Sugar Refinery after 38 years of
employment. He has called Effingham County his home for more than 71
years. When asked about any hobbies, he beamingly said, “I play golf
on Tuesdays, and occasionally I will slip a Friday in there.”

According to his daughter, Karen, he also keeps up with his yard
work. And though it happened almost 70 years ago, Jasper Franklin
Edwards has a legacy he can pass down to generations to come, and
there is still no slowing this sailor down.

Evelyn Wilson: Making a Mark that Matters

story by katrice williams     photos by natalie mcalister

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

~William Jones

Millions of people in the U.S. are involved in substance abuse,
particularly alcohol and drug abuse. The National Council on Alcohol
and Drug Dependence (NCADD) says that it’s the nation’s number one
health problem. However, there are individuals who understand the
severity of this problem and willingly devote a great deal of their
time to be part of the solution.

Evelyn Wilson, a native of Harlem, New York, has lived in Rincon
for almost ten years, after relocating from Englewood, New Jersey. She
retired as the Director of the Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Program at Hackensack University Medical Center. In fact, Evelyn has
devoted much of her life to helping those who struggle with alcohol
and drug addiction—helping them break the habit and take control of
their lives.

Evelyn decided to move to the area after retiring. She has come
to enjoy the many benefits that a smaller city has to offer.

“I love Rincon…the quietness, the peace, the serenity … I enjoy
living the dream,” she says. As a retiree, Evelyn decided to take some
time out to enjoy some of the more simple things in life. Nonetheless,
after some time passed, she began to miss her career and became a bit
restless. She jokingly mentions, “After about a year of sitting on the
back porch and watching the grass grow, I got a little antsy and
decided I wanted to do something.”

Evelyn began her career at Elmhurst Hospital in New York, where
she worked in the Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program as an alcoholism
counselor. She was referred to the job by an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
member, after being acquainted with the individual through their AA
group. Evelyn explains that she, herself, “is in recovery.” Her own
personal experience with alcoholism allowed her to be knowledgeable
and empathetic, while motivating individuals recovering from addiction
to make changes necessary for their own wellness and livelihood.
Evelyn received the career opportunity under the condition that she
stayed in AA, and she absolutely could not relapse. She,
wholeheartedly, has no intention of relapsing  and has been sober for
43 years.

Evelyn worked at Elmhurst for about 15 years, and later attained
her Master of Social Work from Adelphi University in New York. She
became a Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) and a Certified
Alcoholism and Drug Counselor (CADC). She, thereafter pursued her
professional career at Hackensack University Medical Center, where she
was the Director of the Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program
for 21 years.  Additionally, for a significant part of Evelyn’s
overall career, she has strived to help recovering parents, especially
for the sake of their children.

After moving to the area and returning to the work force, Evelyn
worked for Recovery Place in Savannah. There, she worked in the
Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program as a liaison between the
center and the Department of Family and Children Services. Evelyn
assessed parents whose children were taken from their care because of
their substance abuse. She evaluated their overall situations over a
period time, as they worked to get better in order to regain custody
of their children. Evelyn says, “In all the assessments I’ve done,
I’ve never ran across any parents that didn’t love their children, but
they’re addicted, and they have to take care of that situation and
problem first … and most of them do.”  Evelyn worked at Recovery Place
for over three years.

Evelyn wanted to find something a bit closer to home. She became
a contractor for Recovery Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT), a program
at the Coastal State Prison in Garden City. There are about 450
inmates in the program, most imprisoned for charges relating to
substance abuse. “My primary concern is to help people who are
afflicted by addiction,” said Evelyn, who has worked there for the
last two years counseling inmates who are in the recovery program.

Interestingly enough, nicknames are very common in the prison
system and inmates may even give nicknames to the personnel. After
finding out about this, Evelyn was eager to learn if she had one. When
she asked an individual if she had a nickname, he reluctantly said,
“Ms. Wilson, they call you G.G.” He told her that it stood for
“Gangster Grandma.”

Many of the inmates feel that it is a fitting name–they know
that she’s from Harlem, and they’re aware of the great help she has
been to many individuals in the recovery program. Many are also
familiar with Evelyn’s own past addiction story. Though Evelyn doesn’t
get into a lot of personal details about her life with them, she
doesn’t mind being an honest witness for those who are in the program
to see and to emulate. She wants them to aspire to be much more than
the reality of their present situation.

Evelyn asserts, “I share some personal experiences with them if I
can use it dynamically. If I can help them take a look at their lives,
then I’m more than willing to do that.”

Evelyn definitely feels that she can relate to others who are
trying to recover from substance abuse.  “Had I not had that journey,
I would not be able to help some of the youngsters imprisoned today,”
she said.  Evelyn wants to exemplify hope for them. “I love what I
do,” she insists.

Evelyn thinks about a most memorable moment in her life—May 19,
1972, the day she became sober. She remembers, “I had been using
alcohol to live!” She recalls “waking up one morning and realizing… I
didn’t need it to live; that was an inspiring moment. That’s the
moment I draw on for the last 43 years. I can remember that as if it
was yesterday.”

Evelyn likes to be involved in meaningful things. Aside from her
regular work at Recovery Place, Evelyn also led a women’s group there.
Additionally, she is still a proud and active member of AA. She feels
that her story can be an inspiration to others; Evelyn is pleased to
lead by example. Furthermore, Evelyn volunteers at the Red Cross and
helps teach various groups within her church community.

If that’s not enough, Evelyn still has at least one monumental
goal for the future—the very near future. “I believe in projects,” she
remarks. Evelyn has plans to open a halfway house in Savannah for
women coming out of prison who are recovering substance abusers. She
knows that independence is difficult to attain when an individual has
very little money and few resources. Evelyn remembers a heartbreaking
situation that took place several years ago. She assessed a woman with
three children who couldn’t afford to raise them. She recalls, “That’s
when I realized…my purpose in life is to help people like this.”

Evelyn does plan to have certain realistic expectations of
residents; they will pay a very low rent, but only after obtaining a
steady job. They will be expected to attend support groups, stay sober
and clean, and definitely take proper care of their children if they
are parents. She even wants to have a “house-mother” to help them.
Evelyn doesn’t want to get ahead of herself, so she plans to start
small, housing no more than five women at a time.

“We can always expand,” Evelyn said.

After the residents reach a point of consistent progress and
overall wellness, they will be ready to move on and get a fresh start.
Evelyn is currently involved in the administrative side of her
endeavor, while she has acquired partners for the treatment side. She
is even currently working with a realtor concerning prospective
properties. “It’s a vision I have. It’s a big project; I’m excited
about it. It’s needed,” Evelyn says.

Being in the substance abuse and treatment field for almost 40
years, Evelyn strives to enable recovering substance abusers to be the
best that they can be; she has no problem with being a good example
for them to follow. However, in her eyes, she still has a long way to
go.

Evelyn states, “I believe in living life … being the best person
I can be. I will do a lot until I’m no longer here to do it.”

Gussie Nease: Paving Her Way

story by jeff whitten

photos by natalie mcalister

There are times when dates elude Gussie Nease, but blame that on the
stroke that occurred several years ago and dulled some memories.  And
she’s 70 now, so there’s that, though if Nease has slowed down any
it’s hard to tell. She still works as a real estate appraiser, still
testifies in courts as an expert witness on land and property values,
still serves her community as a volunteer, still does all those things
Gussie does.

Being Gussie Nease, you see, is a full time job, in part because
she believes that’s the way it should be.

“You have to pay back for the space you live on here on earth,”
said Nease, who is a self-made survivor, and more than that, she’s
easily one of Effingham County’s most remarkable women.

Growing up

Her life began in the far reaches of Effingham County, up on the
north end, and there’s a sparseness to her description of what it was
like.

“I grew up in the Shawnee community of North Effingham and moved
to Rincon when I was 12,” she says, “My father was a sharecrop farmer
and my mother was a housekeeper and worked the fields. I am the
youngest of 10 surviving children. My father went blind when I was
around 11 or 12.”

Nease, whose maiden name is Ambrose, graduated from Effingham
County High School in 1963, got married to the late Lluellen Nease and
they divorced in 1979, the same year Gussie Nease became a licensed
real estate agent.

Her marriage ended in a divorce.

“I don’t like to talk about it, but it is what shapes your life,
it is what happened, so you deal with it,” Nease said. “You deal with
it one way or the other, either by getting into another unhealthy
relationship or rising above it.”

Nease chose the second option, for herself and for the children.

“It was important to me that my children not become victims,” she said.

There were three girls, but the first died just before delivery.
The other two are grown: Tracy Nease Kieffer, who is assistant
principal of Rincon Elementary, and Sandra Nease Hendrix, who works
with her mother in real estate appraisal. Tracy is a graduate of UGA;
Sandra graduated from Georgia Tech. Nease is proud of both, and of a
‘foster’ child, Jeremy Avery.

“My daughter was teaching middle school and saw such potential in
these children,” Nease recalled. “She would buy their school supplies
for them and I would buy them a new pair of jeans, because every kid
deserves to go back to school in a new pair of jeans – although now
it’s uniforms so it wouldn’t be so important – but then one day I got
the bright idea to get them a computer. I got it relatively cheap at
WalMart, a computer and printer.”

Later, Nease used her not inconsiderable influence to get Jeremy
into Bethesda Home for Boys, and staff members there saw the same
potential. “He got into St. Andrew’s on the Marsh, and he ended up
being class president. He did really, really well. He went on full
scholarship to Emory and he now lives and works in Atlanta.”

It was part of the plan. “I used to tell him my goal for him was
that he wouldn’t be homeless, he wouldn’t be living in a car with no
place to hang his hat. And he isn’t. He also volunteers a lot and is
mentoring other kids in Atlanta. I think he gets the fact you have to
pay back.”

Community service

After her divorce, Nease worked to raise her daughters. She also
got involved. Nease helped organize the Effingham County Chamber of
Commerce in 1986 in order to get Highway 21 named the Savannah River
Parkway. The Chamber’s signature award, the John Adam Treutlen Award,
was established shortly afterward in her living room. “Warren
Ratchford, myself and my friend Jane Boyd Thompson wanted an award
that would reflect work by citizens that went above and beyond what
they did for a living and work that would make a difference in
Effingham County,” Nease said.

It’s hard to find a cause she hasn’t committed herself to. The
Mar’s Theater restoration, Veteran’s Park, the Treutlen House at
Ebenezer, the United Way. She’s still involved in the Chamber, serves
as chairman of the Effingham Public Health Board and is on the board
of Victim’s Witness.

“A long time ago I said to my friend Ruth Lee, ‘someone should do
something about …’ and she said to me, ‘you are someone, do
something about it!” Nease said.  “My friend Ruth Lee has always been
an inspiration for her energy and ability to get things done. The most
important people to me are my family and my circle of friends that I
can call on for help when I need it. The best thing about my life is
the lasting friendships.”

She goes on, recalling others who’ve inspired her, such as Willie
Webb, Norma Morgan, Rebecca Boston, and Caroline Zeigler,  Bonnie
Dixon and Wendell Wilson, who in the 1990s fought for toll free phone
calls to neighboring counties at a time when calling to Savannah or
Richmond Hill was long distance. The realtor Philip Heidt was a good
friend and mentor, and Nease names Charles Hartzog as another who
helped her along the way. Jane Hughes comes in for similar praise.
“She is a great role model,” said Nease.

“There’s just been a ton of people, so I never say it’s all about
me,” she said. “There’ve been a lot of people propping me up along the
way, holding my hand and telling me ‘you can do this,’ even when I
didn’t think I could.”

There’s also politics. Nease spent years as the Chairman of the
Effingham County Democratic Committee, but it hasn’t kept her from
having friends with differing viewpoints. “I’m not a radical person, I
don’t plan to be. I have friends who are Democrats, friends who are
Republicans,” she said.

Still, Nease has been known to be outspoken. Blunt, even, in her
assessment of situations, circumstances and so on.

“Well, it is what it is, I don’t try to sugar coat things,” she
said. “It is what it is.”

That practical viewpoint is how Nease got into the real estate
appraisal business in the first place. Already a licensed realtor, she
was trying to sell a house, buy a house and was renting a house at the
same time when the first appraisal of the home Nease was selling
wasn’t what she thought it should be, and she had a hard time getting
a second opinion.

“I was like, ‘uh-oh,’ but, even if I’m not blessed in money, I’m
blessed in friends. Jerry Ney, an appraiser in Savannah, helped me
out. He came up and appraised it, then he told me nobody wants to come
to Effingham because they don’t know what to do up here, and he told
me I needed to become an appraiser.”

So she did. As for why no appraiser wanted to come to Effingham, it
was partly due to the lack of street names, which made it difficult to
compare property values from neighborhood to neighborhood.

“Back in the day, there weren’t street names, every one was
called Route 1 or Route 2 and so  on,” Nease said. “That was the case
until two wonderful women went around and named every street.”

Those women, Mary Douglass and Enzell Middleton, were given the
Treutlen Award in 1989.

Nease won it earlier this year, and seemed truly humbled by it.
“When you read the names on that list I feel very unworthy. I am
blessed to live in a county where you can make a difference if you
want to put forth the effort and there have been many people that
have,”

The Treutlen Award is one of three honors she’s won that Nease
said “were truly unexpected and mean the most.” Another was the
Exchange Club’s Book of Golden Deed’s Award, which she was given for
her role in her foster child’s life.

The third was her selection as Grand Marshal of the 2014 Rincon
Christmas Parade.

“I was very honored to be selected to do this by Danny Fries and
Billy Dasher and the others in the Lion’s Club,” Nease said.

There could be more honors to come, because there’s still work to
be done, including expansion of the stage at the Mar’s Theater.

“I also would love to see inclusion of a playground for special
needs children,” Nease said. “They deserve a place to play. I have
lobbied (Effingham County Commission Chairman) Wendell Kessler for
this and talked to others about it. I don’t just want a handicap
swing. I want an all-accessible playground for special needs similar
to the one that was just built at Forysth Park in Savannah. I do not
want to give up on this project. And yes, I have a special needs
grandchild, but all children deserve a place to play.”

Young people also deserve good advice, and Nease’s is
straightforward: “Circumstances shape your life. If I had not been
forced to be a single mother I probably would not be who I am today,”
she said. “If my daughter had not been a middle school teacher I would
not have gotten involved in a young man’s life. I think you have to be
open to change and when life throws you a curve you make the best of
it. My advice is never stop learning. Have an open mind and
opportunities are everywhere.”

Project S.A.F.E.

story by jeff whitten

Project S.A.F.E. has been around a while in Effingham County. Still,
last season’s district-winning performance may have drawn added
attention to the UGA Exension 4-H Youth Development program, which
seeks to teach youngsters “shooting awareness, fun and education.”

Back in April, during the district competition at the Baygall
Sporting Clays facility in Bulloch County, the 4-H shotgun team
claimed first and third in the Senior Modified Trap Division.  What’s
more, the team of Douglas Williams, Logan Wise, Grace Kieffer and
Harrison Joyner turned in the only perfect score of 100 at the event.
And Effingham’s third place team had three shooters record perfect
scores. To top it off, junior shooter Theron Jordan had the third
highest individual score in the Junior Division at the event, which
involves shooters using shotguns taking aim at 25 clay targets flying
past at different angles and directions.

Seniors, who are in grades 9-12, have to hit 20 targets, while
juniors in grades 7 and 8 must hit 18 in order to qualify for the
state competition at Rock Eagle.

The performances were a pretty big deal, according to Abby Smith,
Effingham County’s UGA extension coordinator. Smith, who grew up in
Effingham County and was a 4-H’er herself, said the shotgun program,
which includes both modified trap and trap and skeet shooting,
attracts between 30-35 shooters a year from grades 7-12 at Effingham
schools.

Smith also provided information about the programs, all of which
points to “an adult youth partnership,” as she put it.

Team members use either .12 or .20 guage shotguns and are coached
by a group of nine certified volunteer coaches — Wade Floyd, Ashley
Kieffer, Doug Williams, Roy Callaway, Sid Warner, Henry Dickerson,
Leslie Dickerson, Gary Gale, Trey Young, Wes Swindell and Bill
Strickland.

Parents also play a key role during practices and matches, and
participants must be active in 4-H and have to have certain hunter
safety courses under their belt before taking part. Not suprisingly in
a program called Project S.A.F.E., safety is high on the list of
priorities.

“We always strive to make sure we teach these kids to be
responsible with firearms,” Smith said. “And how to shoot properly,
effectively and safely, but there’s more to it than that. We want them
to learn to have fun and enjoy the experience, along with the
educational component.”

Perhaps to that end, PROJECT S.A.F.E. is also about more than
shotguns these days. Two years ago, Effingham 4-H introduced archery
to the mix and made it available to kids in grades 4-12. The results
have been more than encouraging. Last year, 60 archers in Effingham
participated  in both indoor and outdoor seasons, which run
back-to-back starting with orientation in November and ending in
March. Participants have to be enrolled and active in 4-H, but there’s
no requirement kids have to be familiar with archery. Instead, many
who join have little or no experience shooting a bow.

That’s where the coaching comes in. Smith noted archery coaches
must undergo certification just like their counterparts who coach
shotguns, and there are currently nine coaches involved in the archery
program —  Roy Callaway, Len Morgan, Brian Schimmel, Sid Warner, Trey
Young, Henry Kessler, Blaze Nofi and Carl Muthersbaugh. They rotate
practices to work with the kids, and stress such things as punctuality
and teamwork, Smith said, which helps youngsters grow through
understanding the importance of being a part of something larger than
themself.

“We’re big on the team aspect of this,” Smith noted. “That’s one
of the things coaches really work on. They want them to be part of a
team and work together, so before every practice kids will come in and
set up targets, and stay after to help clean up. There’s a lot of
responsiblity being a part of a team.”

Shooting sports are growing in popularity, and some schools offer
scholarships to those who excel. Georgia Southern, which has a women’s
rifle team, recently opened its $7 million Shooting Sports Education
Center, a partnership between the school and the Georgia Department of
Natural Resources. The 30,000 square foot center is reportedly the
first of its kind east of the Mississippi River. It has firearms and
indoor and outdoor archery ranges.

Though that’s probably a good ways down the road for the fourth
graders who show up for archery orientation in November, this isn’t.
Like all the programs 4-H offers, these are for members to enjoy.

“We offer students opportunities that are not currently being
offered in the schools or community that reach outside the boundaries
of athletics,” Smith said. “The archery and shotgun programs allow
students to enjoy and be successful at a sport regardless of their
athletic ability.  While students are part of these programs, the
coaches and Extension staff will make sure that they are learning and
improving their skills, being part of team and having a good time
while doing it.”

There are other programs available through 4-H, which begins for
students in the fourth grade and becomes an elective in the sixth
grade. Topics students can pursue range from agriculture to home
economics to public speaking, photography, recreation, you name it.
There are more than 50 actitivies available to students.

“We have a lot of participation in a lot of programs, and archery
and shotgun are another opportunity to encourage kids to find out what
they’re most interested in and then get them involved in,” Smith said.

Curiosity Shoppe Jewelers “Unique gifts for life”

story and photos by jeff whitten

You don’t stay in business for forty-five years unless you’re doing
something right. Allen and Caroline Zeigler opened the Curiosity
Shoppe in 1970 to offer a variety of services. Caroline began the
business as a bridal shop in her home in 1969, while her husband,
Allen, started building the store on Highway 21. It began a family
affair for the two of them, and Allen was involved in the day-to-day
operation of Curiosity Shoppe Jewelers until he passed away three
years ago.

Ironically, the shop almost didn’t happen. Caroline wanted a
restaurant, but Allen thought it would be too much work. “We were
living in Michigan, and wanted to come home because we were both from
here,” said Caroline, a Georgia Southern graduate with a degree in
home economics education. “We did some research on how many marriages
took place in the county and decided to open a bridal shop that would
take a potential bride from her rings, china, crystal and tuxedos.
That really was the birth of the Curiosity Shoppe Jewelers.”

For many years, the Curiosity Shoppe took pride in offering all
things that a bride and groom would need for their wedding. Still
remaining an important part in weddings, the shop has expanded their
clientele by offering an array of gifts.  The Curiosity Shoppe offers
gifts for every occasion: babies, graduations, anniversaries,
birthdays, weddings, collectibles and the list goes on.
Personalization and engraving is available. When you come into the
store you will find items tastefully displayed by Caroline and staff.
Customers can find many brand name items such as: Lenox, Coton Colors,
Willow Tree, Arthur Court, Jim Shore, John Wind, Precious Moments and
etc. Not only does the shop offer a large array of gifts, there is
also a large selection of fine jewelry including silver, gold, pearls,
birthstones and diamonds. Bulova and Pulsar watches are among jewelry
offered.

Forty-five years later, the store has expanded its offerings to
include The Christmas Shop; a year-round celebration with a wide range
of ornaments, collectible snow villages, including Dickens and
Department 56, Jim Shore Christmas collectibles and much more.

The store remains in its original location on Highway 21 North
and remains a favorite destination for many in the area. While Allen
was a “huge part of the business,” the store’s enduring charm is due
in no small part to Caroline, who has a Southern grace that makes
customers feel right at home. A former Effingham County Chamber of
Commerce President and a active member of Rincon United Methodist
Church, Caroline is dedicated to putting customers first. She’s been
doing it for nearly half a century, not only helping, but befriending
many.

The Curiosity Shoppe’s motto remains “Unique gifts for life.”

“I think my educational background, my love of entertaining, and
the thrill of putting events together, because I know how important it
is for women and men to have a beautiful memory of their wedding, I
think that triggered this,” she said. “And I still like coming in to
work every day. I think that’s why the good Lord has blessed me. I’m
happy in what I’m doing.”

Runner’s blog Day 1: He’s no genius, but he is running a half marathon.

I’ll start with a disclaimer: I’ve never been accused of being a genius. Not once. Not ever.
Truth be told, I sometimes have trouble even spelling genius. I tend to get the u and i backwards and have to go back and fix it.  Happens almost every time.
Not being a genius is why I wound up in journalism in the first place. It’s why I’m not doing something more useful for a living, like fixing air conditioners or making barbecue, or teaching the next generation how not to spell genius. (Note to students: the i goes before the u)
Not being a genius is why I’m going to run another half marathon.
This one takes place Nov. 7 in Savannah. You might’ve heard of it. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. It’s a big deal, attracts tens of thousands of runners to races all over the country.
And you know what? I used to think they were all a bunch of deranged hippies. Only now I’m about to be right there with them. Or behind them, more likely, somewhere in the back, chugging along, a deranged old hippy myself.
Here’s another disclaimer: I’m not running the marathon itself. I may not be a genuis (SEE!), but I’m not stupid either. A marathon is 26.2 miles. Nobody entirely sane runs 26.2 miles on purpose.
I’m running the half, which is 13.1 miles. I think it’ll take me about 2 hours and 45 minutes to run that far, as long as I don’t get lost.
That’s 12 minutes faster than my first half marathon, by the way. I ran that one in 2:57:40, which is slow for most ordinary humans, or at least those who still have the use of both feet.
I ran my first half marathon just the other day, mind you, did the Milestone Half Marathon on Sept. 12. Ran the whole way, even. I’m happy I managed that. Hooray for me.
But here’s where I get weird. Because the Milestone was supposed to put an exclamation point on and an end to my sudden urge to be a long distance runner.
That was the plan. After the Milestone I’d go back to doing shorter runs, largely because my wife thinks all this running is making me walk funny.
Note to wife: I’ve always walked funny. It’s just more noticeable after I run.
Anyway, the urge to be a distance runner came on about two years age. Before that, I hated running. I hated running mostly because it requires you to run, but I also hated running because I’m not built to be a runner.
I’m built to be a non-runner.
I have short legs and a big head and, well, I’m just built to be in one spot, with my hands in my pockets, preferably leaning against something and trying to look like I know why I’m there and what I’m about.
I hated running when I played sports like football and baseball and basketball, hated it when I was in the Army and we called it “running PT,” and agreed wholeheartedly with an old first sergeant who smoked like five packs of cigarettes a day and often shared the philosophy that running PT was stupid, and the only good reason to run anywhere was if someone was chasing you.
And now, at the age of 53, I’ve got two 5Ks, a 10K and a half marathon under my belt and am about to run another half marathon. All this since I turned 51. Go figure. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis trying to sneak up on me. Whatever it is, it can probably run faster than I am. But it’ll have to catch me.
This blog, or whatever it is, is intended as a journal of sorts, a place to write about running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
Mostly, I’m doing it because when I applied for a press pass to run in this year’s half marathon I pitched the story of posting stories on our websites about how a old middle-aged ex-Army guy who spent 20 years as a reporter and smoked cigarettes for 30 years and then quit and got real fat and then used running to lose weight is gearing up to run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon.
Besides, if I can run a half marathon, just about anyone can. So there’s that, too. Though there’s also this, from Dad, who IS a genius: “If I want to go 13 miles, I’ll drive there.”
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Random stuff at the end:
Rock ‘n’ Roll song of the day: “Born to Run,” by Bruce Springsteen.
Miles run today: 7.
Inspirational words for the day:
The beginning is the most important part of the work. Plato

Michael Moore: Three Decades of Change

story by jeff whitten

photos by natalie mcalister

Seek Dr. Michael Moore these days and you might find him at his
Springfield home tending his garden or doing volunteer carpentry work
for Guyton Christian Church, where he continues to teach Sunday
school, serve as an elder and sing in the choir.

If not there, perhaps Moore will be up at Clarks Hill Lake
spending quality time with his wife Sandra and their daughters, Lori
and Molly, and Lori’s husband Ben Newkirk, and the grandkids Luke and
Cole, just catching up for all those years when there were so many
other things to do and places to be.

Go back just a decade, though, and Moore personified Effingham
County Schools. In 2005, he was the state’s longest serving school
superintendent and at the tail end of a career that spanned three
decades. Moore was – and is – a dignified, thoughtful man who in
public seemingly always wore the business suit he believed came with
the job he first sought, and won, way back in 1976 when school
superintendents were elected by the people, not appointed by a school
board.

So let’s start there.

“The shirt and tie became a way of life,” Moore said. “When you
think of it, most of our adult lives I was superintendent. I was first
elected when I was 25 years old, and when Sandra and I went out to a
football game on Friday night, all our friends had on shorts and
t-shirts and I had on a white shirt and tie. That’s just the way it
was. I believed if you were going to be the superintendent, you should
play the part and look the part and act the part, so I wore a shirt
and tie six days a week, sometimes seven days a week.”

If the suit came with the territory of being superintendent, so
did Effingham County’s booming growth. Moore spent 29 years in office,
nearly 10,000 days, the first 20 as an elected offical who won five
elections, all handily. When Georgia’s law changed in 1992 and school
superintendents became appointees of local boards of education, Moore
served out his last term and then became an appointed official until
his retirement in January, 2006. And if there was one constant during
a time when schools changed, people changed and the world changed with
it, it was the county’s ongoing transition from rural to suburban.
Growth was the order of the day, the month, the decade, the career.

“There was some growth before I became superintendent,” Moore
said. “And it continued when I began. But it escalated moreso probably
in the late 80s and continued on up to the time I left. There were
some years we were getting 400 additional students a year.”

It led to a building program that Effingham hadn’t seen the likes
of, as brick and mortar schools began replacing portable classrooms.
“Some of those portables were beginning to get into very bad repair,”
Moore said. “Buildings don’t guarantee an education, but you certainly
have to have a place to go to school.”

Clearly more and more kids needed a place to go to school in
Effingham County. When Moore took office, there were roughly 15,000
residents in Effingham County and a corresponding 3,500 or so students
attending the county’s schools. By the time he retired, those numbers
had gone to more than 45,000 and nearly 10,000, respectively.

That naturally led to increases everywhere else. The school
system employed about 500 personnel when Moore became superintendent.
There were more than 1,500 when he left. Not surprisingly, the
system’s budget grew too, from about $8 million when Moore started to
what he estimates to be in the $80 million neighborhood by the time he
hung up his shirt and tie. There were additional schools, too. South
Effingham Middle and High opened up. So did Ebenezer Elementary and
Middle and Sand Hill, and work on Blandford began. Replacements for
Effingham County High School, Marlow Elementary and Springfield
Elementary were also built, along with a number of additions to Rincon
Elementary and the other existing schools.

And one of the most visible symbols of any community’s commitment
to education, those bright yellow buses, well, that became more
noticeable, too. The system had about 40 when Moore took office in
1976. There were more than 100 school buses when he retired.

“When I first started I knew every bus route, knew every bus
driver and knew the number of every bus – and could drive the bus
route if I needed to,” Moore said. “If somebody called the office and
they had just moved in and were new to the county, I could pretty much
tell them which bus their children would ride, who’d be the driver and
what time they’d be by to pick up their kids. But as time went on it
got to be so massive we had to hire a transportation director.”

It was like that everywhere you looked, if you took the time to
look. Growth wasn’t the only catalyst, just the main one. Education
laws changed, the state’s attitude toward and commitment to funding
education changed as well. The family unit changed, social mores
changed, everything changed over that 30 year span.

Moore probably changed too, but what didn’t change was his
attitude toward the county and the school system he grew up in, as
student, teacher, assistant principal and superintendent.

“I didn’t just have a job, it was a calling for me. I had a
passion for it. It was who I was. I lived and breathed it. But once I
left it, I left it.”

The wife retires, too

Sandra Zipperer Moore didn’t start out in education. But after 16
years working in the Department of Family and Children Services, where
she started as a file clerk and worked her way up to a caseworker, it
was time for something new. “I went back to school and finished my
education degree and continued to complete my Masters and started at
Effingham Middle. I finished my career there and retired after a
32-year dual career.”

The dual retirement has worked well for both. “I do volunteer
work with the schools and sometimes I’ll come in at 4 p.m. and find
Michael sitting here reading a book. It’s just a totally different way
of life. It’s so much more relaxed because he doesn’t have all the
night meetings, the stress levels or the time constraints. For 30
years he was gone four or five nights a week, on average.”

Moore, by the way, as a reader is a fan of John Grisham and other
such novelists. “I read for entertainment,” he said, offering up a
rare enough wisecrack. “I already know enough.”

Since retirement, the Moores have also traveled. They’ve been to
Alaska, New England and are about to embark on a trip out west to see
Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and other sights.

Not that retirement initially took for Moore, at least not at
first. He was tabbed by Effingham County’s Board of Commissioners to
serve as an interim county administrator, a position he held for five
months. For a decade, Moore did consulting work for James W. Buckley
and Associates, an architectural firm responsible for designing
schools around Georgia. He’s thoroughly and totally retired now,
though, and it would be easy to end a story on that note, but it
wouldn’t explain why Moore invested his adult life in public
education. Perhaps this statement does, a heartfelt recollection of
how public education brought Moore a chance to do more than work a
menial job.

“I’m the oldest of six kids. My momma didn’t have a high school
education, she quit school at 16, got married at 17 and I was born
when she was 18. She did get a GED later on in life, and was very
proud of it.” Moore said. “I had a good momma and daddy who worked
hard and raised us correctly, but we were all poor people. My daddy
worked at Union Camp, we farmed a little bit and I worked at
Ratchford’s Market in Guyton and worked in the fields all my growing
up years. We always had plenty to eat and clothes to wear, but we
didn’t take vacations and we didn’t go out to eat. Those were things
we just didn’t do. I grew up in a time when there wasn’t a lot of
money and everybody was alike in our nieghborhood, we were all working
people.”

Here, Moore’s disenchantment with efforts to further gut public
school funding in the name of charter schools comes to the surface.

“Do you think I could’ve gone to a private school? If it hadn’t
been public education I would not have been able to do what I have
done. Public education offered me the opportunity to do some things I
would not have been able to do otherwise. And I think there are a lot
of children out there now who without the opportunity of public
education will never have the opportunity to better themselves and
their families. That’s one of the reasons I’m so much of an advocate
of public education.”

Over 30 years, the accolades that’ve arisen as a result of that
advocacy for and love of public education have been plentiful. We’ll
include a few: In 1976, Moore was named the county’s STAR teacher. In
1978 he was named one of five “Outstanding Young Men in Georgia” by
the Junior Chamber of Commerce, and Georgia Southern recognized him as
its College of Education’s Outstanding Alumni in 1986-1987. In 1995 he
was named Administrator of the Year by the Georgia Music Educators
Association, and in 2000 Moore received the Effingham Chamber of
Commerce’s John Adam Truetlen Award for outstanding contributions to
the county.

He was the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders’
Outstanding Educator in 2001, the same year he was awarded the Georgia
School Board Association’s Bill Barr Leadership Award. Three years
later, and the year before he retired, Moore was named the GSBA’s
Superintendent of the Year.

Moore can rattle off a list of names as long as your arm of those
who’ve inspired him, or those he admires, including longtime BoE
Chairman Charlie Heidt, whose common sense Moore clearly respects.
There are other superintendents he relied on as mentors, such as
former Liberty County Schools leader Ed Edwards, and his professors at
Georgia Southern were “all old school people who had a lot of
practical experience.”

More is also complimentary of his successor, Dr. Randy Shearouse
– another Effingham native who’s come up through the ranks of
education. But Moore said he doesn’t get involved or look over
shoulders. The system is Shearouse’s to run now, and he’s doing things
well and that’s all there is to it.

But Moore’s clearly proud of the system he helped build, notes
the times he’s been approached by those who’ve gone through
Effingham’s school system and gone on to bigger and better things.

“If we didn’t have a good school system, do you think all these
people would have moved up here looking for their kids to be safe, to
get an education, to be treated well?” Moore asked. “We tried to treat
people well. As the leader of the school system, as a spokesman for
the school system, I looked at it as mine. I had ownership. Those were
my children and everything that went on was my problem. I took it
personally, I tried to be sure children didn’t have teachers I
wouldn’t want teaching my children. I alway asked myself how I would
feel about that if it were me and my child.”

In the next sentence, Moore notes he didn’t make everyone happy
over his three-decade span as superintendent. Nobody does.

“But I think you have to be honest with people. When I spoke in
front of the PTA or some other group and talked to them about a
building program or a bond issue, I told them the truth and they knew
I was telling them the truth. I had built a reputation over time.
People knew I wouldn’t shoot them a line of bull.”

It’s impossible to sum up a three-decade career in a single
story, but there’s no harm in trying. Maybe at the end of the day it’s
as simple as noting that the Moores attended 41 proms, including their
own. They’ve lost count of the number of football and basketball games
they attended over the years, even though Moore is not generally a
dedicated sports fan.

There’s this, too. Moore passed out diplomas at 38 graduations,
the last in 2005.

“I’d like to think there’s a lot of people who have bettered
themselves by virtue of coming through the school system,” he said.
“I’d like to think I had a part in that, but I’m just one person.
You’ve got to have some leadership from the board, however, classroom
teachers are really where the difference gets made. In my role, I
tried to provide the wherewithal through the budget and so on for
people to be successful, tried to provide a safe, supportive
atmosphere conducive to getting the job done. I think we did that. I’m
very proud of what we did.”

Stacy Boyett with The Department of Exceptional Student Services Commitment Beyond Measure

story by katrice williams

photos by natalie mcalister

Our children are undoubtedly one of the most valuable assets for our
future. It’s necessary to understand the importance of investing as
many beneficial resources in them as possible. The late Stacia
Tauscher, noteworthy author, once said, “We worry about what a child
will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”
Thankfully, there are people in our society concerned with both our
children’s tomorrows and todays.

Stacy Boyett is the Coordinator of Exceptional Student Services
for the Effingham County Department of Education. She has lived in
Effingham County the majority of her life, after moving from Atlanta
as a child. Stacy has worked for the school system her entire
professional career. She has long committed herself to giving back to
the community by doing what really matters—striving to enrich the
lives of so many children. “I know a lot of people here. I know how
important it is to serve,” she says.  She later adds, “I love
Effingham County; Effingham County has been good to me and my family.”
Stacy goes on to say, “I care about the community; it’s personal for
me.  It’s a part of me.”

Stacy has a noteworthy amount of experience in the school system,
beginning her career as a Speech Language Pathologist at Guyton
Elementary. Some other roles include that of IEP/Eligibility Program
Manager and Assistant Coordinator for the Department of Exceptional
Student Services. Students who qualify for special education services
will have an individualized education plan (IEP) where team members
determine what services benefit the student the most, which may
include from a way of learning outside the standard educational
parameters. As the current coordinator, Stacy supervises the entire
department, which largely includes the special education sector.
However, she also leads the 504 division, which helps children who may
have only a small need for support services, for instance, those with
moderate health-based needs which have a minimal affect on their
academic performance. Yes, Stacy has devoted a great deal of her life
to helping exceptional children.

Effingham’s Exceptional Student Services meet the educational
needs of students from ages 3 to 21 in Effingham County. Students are
usually referred by their teachers or concerned parents after certain
areas of development become a concern; they are often then evaluated
by a school psychologist. There is a wide range of exceptionalities,
including Autism, Specific Learning Disabled (SLD), Emotional Behavior
Disorder or Profoundly Intellectually Disability. However,
academically, the students are still expected to meet the requirements
of outlined standards and assessments.

The Department of Exceptional Student Services prides itself on
looking at each student on an individual basis, understanding that
there are no two students exactly alike. Stacy, along with other
professionals in the department, knows that each child will often
require a very different approach. She notes, “We make sure that we
try to meet the individual needs of the students. We take pride in
trying to make that happen.” However, the school system tries to do as
much as possible before referring a student to the department,
including interventions and ongoing student evaluations and data
collection. Upon the identification of a child’s exceptionality, there
is a collaborative effort between the department, the student’s
school, their teachers and their parents to make sure the best avenues
are taken to address the child’s academic needs within the IEP. Some
students requiring a smaller amount of individualized attention may be
in a regular education setting with accommodations, while others may
spend more time in a special education environment with direct
instruction provided by the special education teacher. All activities
and progress are consistently monitored by the special education
teacher and the regular education teacher. Stacy believes that “it’s
important for the regular education teacher and the special education
teacher to work well together.” She emphasizes, “Collaboration is
important.” Stacy wants teachers to be empowered to do what’s
necessary for each individual child, while keeping in mind needed
improvements and what they need to communicate to administrators to
make things better in their classes. Teachers of exceptional students
are expected to know each child’s specific exceptionality to assure
that they implement the IEP in the best way possible.

There are currently approximately 2000 students with disabilities
in Effingham County. Stacy and the department is very well-equipped,
though, having nearly 300 staff members, including over 100 certified
staff members, dedicated to helping students and their families in the
best ways possible.

Aside from working with the school system towards enhancing the
academic lives of exceptional students, Stacy is also directly
responsible for personnel and budget management within her department.
Boy, does that make for a busy schedule. Nonetheless, Stacy really
enjoys being at the different schools around the kids. “I love hearing
them and seeing them,” she states. She later points out, “I am a
hands-on kind of leader.”

Stacy feels that it’s of dire importance to work on relationships
between parents, staff and administrators at the school level. For
this reason, her department has implemented programs, such as a Parent
Advisory Committee, and even has a Parent Mentor to plan events and
offer important, need-specific training for parents. Stacy understands
that building a good relationship with parents establishes a
phenomenal foundation from which students can grow. She wants each
parents to know that her department has a genuine interest in the
success of their child. Therefore, Stacy takes a tremendous amount of
pride in being approachable and reachable. Upon taking her position as
Coordinator, she thought, “I want people to feel they could talk to me
about anything…that they could always contact me, and we can work
through anything.” Stacy enthusiastically declares, “I’m a
people-person.” She also believes that a good line of communication
between the entire school system and parents is essential. She says,
“Communication is key with me.  I think relationships are very
important.”

Still, Stacy knows that there is no “i” in team. She is very
proud of the group that she works alongside, pointing out, “We have
such a great team here that works together. I’m proud of the things
we’ve done; we do the best we can with what we have. I’m blessed to
have a good team.” Stacy’s direct team includes her Assistant
Coordinator–Cindy Knight, three Program Managers–Lindsay Blakey,
Ashly Hunter and Joy Sheppard, her Administrative Secretary–Jade
Knight and Parent Mentor–Amy Ambrose. She is also proud that a recent
graduate from the program’s Project SEARCH program based at Effingham
County Hospital was hired to work at the Board of Education. She later
declares, “We’ve got a lot of good things going on in our department;
it’s a team effort. We just work really well together.” Stacy also
gives high regard to the entire Effingham Board of Education, saying
that they “so wonderfully work with [her] team about broadening the
programs to reach as many students as possible.”

Stacy, who is also a mother of three—Abby, her stepdaughter Abi,
her son McKay and daughter Murphy, understands the importance of
striving to identify with parents’ feelings concerning their children.
She states, “It’s important to put yourself in their shoes. What we
try to do is give them hope. We can do this together.” Stacy feels
that “parents want someone just to listen to them.” She encourages
parents to have a voice in the lives of their children. Stacy admits,
“I like getting feedback from people; I like knowing that they care
enough to say something.”

Speaking of parents, Stacy is very appreciative for her own,
crediting many of her qualities and philosophies to her mom and dad,
Pat and Ken Kennedy. With a bright smile, she says, “My parents were
great role models for me.” Stacy thinks that her more outgoing, social
side comes from her mom. She mentions, “Her true gift is being able to
relate to people.” Furthermore, Stacy is confident that her work-ethic
and professionalism stem directly from her dad, who happens to be a
retired Gulfstream engineer.

Stacy also talks warmly of several individuals who have impacted
her life in a most positive way. She mentions Greg Arnsdorff, her
former Assistant Superintendant. She would like to emulate “someone
like that who has a love for children and the community.” She says,
“He was a vision of what I wanted to be.” Stacy also speaks fondly of
Phyllis Graham, her education teacher in high school, saying she
inspired her to have “a love for education at a young age.” Stacy also
mentions Lewis Beachum, a former principal at Guyton Elementary where
she once worked who gave her the opportunities to lead.

Stacy has several goals for the future. She’d like her team to
continue their path towards success. She would also like to work more
with parents on the success-based initiatives that are being
implemented for their children. Stacy additionally states, “I’d like
to make people more knowledgeable about what special education is…to
understand that all children have abilities and that they’re capable
of doing things.”

Stacy believes that “children are our future.” She, along with
her team at The Department of Exceptional Student Services, are
diligently working to ensure that as many children as possible have a
really bright future of their own.

Randy Shearouse: Keeping Education Moving Forward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

story by casie wilson

photos by natalie mcalister

Dr. Randy Shearouse has never had a job in the education field that he
didn’t like.

One would think that with 27 years of teaching and administration
experience, along with the current pressure of maintaining one of the
highest performing education systems in the state, he’d have at least
one complaint. However, Shearouse is as dedicated to the county’s
schools as he is humble about his success.

“First and foremost, you have to have great people in place in
every area of the school system,” he said. “Certainly your teachers
and your school leaders, but it also includes your bus drivers and
cafeteria workers. If you have the right people in place, things run
more smoothly.”

And that’s just the kind of guy he is. If you were to ask him
about his hand in the education system’s growth in recent years, he
would kindly but firmly shake his head no. He speaks not of himself
and his own achievements, but of the little victories championed by
staff members who often go thankless. He doesn’t talk in terms of “I”
and “me,” but in terms of “us” and “we”―which says a lot more about
his character than any autobiography or resume ever could.

“We’ve had a lot of great people working with us who care so much
for our students,” he said. “We have a community where people move
here just for our school system. Parents want their children to
receive a great education, and hiring the right folks to provide the
kind of quality service these families have come to expect is key. So
it’s all about the collaborative effort of a lot of different things
that makes the Effingham County educational system so great.”

An Effingham County native, Shearouse has served as assistant
principal of Marlow Elementary, and principal of Sand Hill Elementary
and Effingham County High School. Before that, he worked at ECHS
teaching history, his favorite subject since childhood. President
Teddy Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill are among his
favorite historical figures due to their displays of excellent
leadership and unwavering willpower.

“Just their strong character and determination in the face of
adversity… it’s very intriguing,” he said. “I see a strong will as an
admirable trait, because as a leader it’s important to be persistent.
Sometimes if you have a new idea you want to implement, everyone won’t
immediately accept it. It’s important to be persistent and keep moving
forward. If the goal is truly worth it, then you have to be willing to
fight for it. You have to pursue it and be persistent, so that people
will see your commitment and hopefully become committed as well.”

His opinion of commitment is especially apparent in how he views
education. Although Shearouse’s father never received a college
degree, he raised his son to value education and to always keep
learning. Shearouse went on to earn his Bachelor of Science, Master of
Education and Education Specialist degrees from Georgia Southern, and
his Doctorate degree in Philosophy from Capella University in 2012.
Nowadays, he hopes to inspire that kind of passion for learning in
Effingham students.

“When I was a high school principal, you would hear seniors
saying, ‘I don’t want to take that many difficult classes. I mean,
I’ve been working hard for three years, so I want to take it easy,’”
he said. “We’ve been able to change that mindset. We’ve put a bigger
spotlight on continuing your education after graduation, like through
our College Decision Day at the high schools. We offer a lot more AP
classes now, and more and more seniors are taking these advanced,
college-level courses. So we’re seeing less of the ‘I just want to get
by my senior year.’ Our students are continuing to work hard, which is
getting more kids into better universities with more scholarships and
opportunities in general.”

He believes that the value of hard work is one of the best things
a school system can teach students.

“You should never really stop learning,” he said, “and employers
are looking for employees who are motivated and want to make
themselves and their community better through personal growth.  So
instilling in kids a desire to learn helps them not just now, but
later on in their lives.”

However, Shearouse isn’t all work and no play. In his free time,
he enjoys duck hunting and fishing, although he admits he doesn’t have
as much time to cast a line as he used to. He also runs about three
miles three or four days a week, as well as the occasional 5K. For
him, a light jog is the perfect way to clear one’s mind and reflect on
one’s responsibilities.

“I think you have to balance your life because work can totally
consume your life if you let it,” he said. “If you don’t have those
outlets, I don’t think you can really establish the clear vision that
you need. As a leader, it’s important to have a vision for what’s
coming because the world is rapidly changing. If you don’t have a
vision, the system has no way to move forward.”

Keeping a clear head has helped him overcome some of the
challenges he has faced since earning the title of superintendent in
2005. With the recession of 2009 came less state funding, threatening
the Board of Education with cuts in programs and teaching positions.
Shearouse is proud of the Board’s ability to keep as many programs and
employees as they did, even if he admits it has been difficult.

“One of my greatest sources of motivation during all of this has
been our students, and giving them the quality education they
deserve,” he said. “You have to make tough choices during those times.
But if you look at what’s best for the students in every decision you
make… well, that’s what we’re here for.”

With the economy on the rebound and local industries booming, the
Effingham education system is in prime position to grow. Shearouse is
eager to see the fruits of the county’s hard work: from the
construction of the new Rincon Elementary set to open in 2017, to the
introduction of the STEM program, which will encourage students to
pursue advanced studies in science, technology, engineering and
mathematics. Shearouse also looks forward to hiring more teachers in
coming years and being able to offer them better pay. After all,
educators can be biggest role models in a child’s life.

“I think everyone knows at least one if not several teachers who
have impacted their life, who have made a difference,” he said. “And
it may not have been academically. Just someone you could relate to,
someone who would pay you a little attention, someone who just said
‘Good morning,’ with a smile on their face. I think everyone had at
least one, but when that student gets on the bus in the morning and
the bus driver’s happy and wishes them a good morning, it makes a
difference.”

Having a great teacher can be all it takes to motivate a child to
pursue a career in education. This is why Shearouse holds Effingham
County’s educators in high esteem and to high standards.

“Teachers make such a difference in so many different ways,” he
said. “We always say we want our teachers to be what we call ‘warm
demanders’― warm in the sense of treating the kids like we want our
own kids to be treated, but also demanding in the sense of pushing
them to exceed high standards. The teachers who can be both of these
traits are usually the ones who motivate students to become
educators.”

In fact, middle school Georgia History teacher Coach Watkins
drove Shearouse to enter the education field in the first place.
Shearouse remembers fondly the class’ engaging projects and Watkins’
enthralling tales of Civil War generals. His favorite project was
decorating a wooden cover made to look like a Live Oak with facts
about the state of Georgia, from the name of the state bird to the
significance of “Georgia on My Mind.”

Once he reached his teaching career, Shearouse shared his love of
interactive class projects with his students. When teaching World
History at ECHS, he had his class of tenth graders build their own
castles inspired by designs from the Dark Ages.

Shearouse enjoyed teaching at a high school level the most, if
only for the chance to inspire students like his own Georgia History
teacher did.

“Different grade levels all provide a certain level of intrigue
and interest in what they’re going through and what they’re willing to
do,” he said. “At a high school level, you can communicate a little
better interpersonally. You get people with a lot of varying
interests, including history. It’s always interesting to connect with
these kids, especially when they’re passionate about a subject and are
willing to explore it deeper than what is taught in class.”

However, at times he wished he had more time to teach his
favorite subjects in-depth.

“When I taught American History, my favorite time period was
World War II,” he said. “But by the time you get to World War II, it’s
kind of late in the year, when we have exams. You get rushed with
that, when you could spend weeks and weeks discussing World War II.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we’re doing it justice because of the
time frame.”

In his years as a teacher and administrator, Shearouse has
witnessed the shift in state education standards from Quality Core
Curriculum to the Georgia Performance Standards that are in place
today. He’s noticed a stronger emphasis on test results since the
switch, a change he says might influence students’ passion for
learning.

“I think we have to be careful with testing too much, in the
sense that if kids aren’t enjoying school, what they’re learning won’t
stick,” he said. “You don’t want to get to the point where a class
doesn’t have time for fun projects because they’re too busy covering
all of these standards. A large part of school is allowing teachers to
have some creativity and flexibility in what they do in the classroom.
Do we need standards? Yes, there’s no doubt that we do. But I don’t
think we need to test so much that we’re spending all our time either
preparing for the exam or taking the exam.”

Shearouse doesn’t see himself slowing down any time soon. In the
years to come, he hopes to continue learning and bettering himself not
only for his sake, but to be the best for the community. But when it
comes to someone as passionate about education as Dr. Randy Shearouse,
should we expect any less?

“Sometimes as folks get older, they’re so set in their ways that
they’re not open for change,” he said. “I don’t want to be that that
kind of person, ever. I want to continue to improve myself and keep up
with the times. You don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I’m 55 years
old, and I think I’ve done all I can do.’ You’ve got to keep growing,
keep learning and keep moving forward.”