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Staff Editorials

Numb to school shootings?

On Sunday, family and friends of 15-year-old Preston Cope filed into the Benton, Kentucky high school to pay their last respects at the campus where he had been shot and killed just days earlier.  When word of the shooting got out, his father had raced to the school like other scared parents, recognizing his son’s socks inside an ambulance.  

The latest school shooting happened in Kentucky and left not only Cope, but one other classmate dead and 14 others wounded. It was the third US school shooting in 48 hours and the 11th in the three weeks since the start of the year. To be fair,  one was an adult suicide in a school parking lot and another was a student suicide in a school bathroom. 

But if you start scrolling school shooting details over the past year, it’s clear enough the number of students on campus with guns shooting at people happen so often it is easy lose count quickly.

While we may have seen or heard the headlines, we have become so desensitized to the words “school shooting” and “mass shooting” that it hardly registers a blip on our radars as long they happen far away from Pickens County. Headlines like NPR’s recent “School shootings are sad, but no longer surprising” is a tragically accurate description. 

Gunfire ringing out in American schools used to be  shocking. Now it’s just part of modern America.  

The killings in Kentucky were quickly passed by with only two deaths. If another school shooting takes place next week, we may be shocked and saddened all over again - but not surprised.

Wake Forest University, Marshall County High School in Kentucky, Italy High School in Texas, and the Net Charter School in New Orleans have all had campus shootings this year - this year. - all before February. According to the New York Times, Columbine, when it happened in 1999, “was the nation’s fifth-deadliest mass shooting since World War II, surpassed only by attacks at a Luby’s restaurant in Killeen, Tex, in 1991 (23 deaths); at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, Calif., in 1984 (21); at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966 (15); and at a post office in Edmond, Okla., in 1986 (14). Yet today, not one of those shootings is among the five deadliest. That category, which previously covered more than 30 years, is now occupied entirely by shootings from the past decade - all but one from the past five years.” 

Fifty-eight people were killed in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting (more than 400 were wounded); the Orlando nightclub shooting last year, 49; the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, 32; and Sandy Hook Elementary, 27. The Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., saw 26 people killed. 

While incredibly sad, the news of another mass shooting - whether on a school campus or a small Baptist church - just doesn’t create the shock value it did when Columbine happened. It was the first mass shooting in nearly eight years that killed 10 or more people. 

According to an FBI study of 160 active-shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, nearly a quarter occurred in educational settings and more than half of those were at junior or secondary schools.

There’s only so much our psyches can take. Who among us wouldn’t rather focus on Grammy awards or Oscar nominations or - heaven help us - where the Kardashian clan is vacationing than contemplate the horrors of a mass shooting? 

It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just a hardwired protective instinct. When news of the next mass shooting hits our newspapers and runs across our TV screens, take a moment, pause to honor those poor souls affected and then, for our own good, take a step back from news and social media. Talk to people, donate money, volunteer for a cause like stopping child abuse - often the cause of adult violence. Advocate for better prevention and treatment for mental health.

We can’t stop all the bad things in the world, but we can live our life by our own values, speak up against injustice, and be a positive influence in our families and communities. Do what you need to do to escape the daily stress of living in the modern world where this happens all too often.  

 

County blessed with givers

On Saturday night at the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Winter Ball, the group announced its Citizen of the Year, Business of the Year and Ambassador of the Year. It was an evening to applaud the work of two individuals and a business who have put much time and effort into making our community one we can all be proud to call home.

For her tireless work as a Chamber volunteer, Martha Baldwin was named Ambassador of the Year. Baldwin supports local businesses by being an avid participant at Chamber membership breakfasts, ribbon cuttings and Business After Hours events. She actively advocates for the Chamber and its membership, building strong relationships among all its members.

Business of the Year went to Georgia Mountains Hospice. Director Gina Pendley accepted the award on behalf of GMH, whose purpose is to support families when they need it the most, providing both emotional and spiritual support during life-limiting illnesses. Pendley and her staff and volunteers are the epitome of what a Business of the Year should be: compassionate and dedicated to the community. 

Robert Keller of Atlantic Coast Conservancy was named Citizen of the Year. Keller has made generous donations to worthy groups and programs throughout Pickens over the past year. From purchasing band uniforms for the PHS Pride of Pickens Marching Band to supporting Pickens Animal Rescue, the animal shelter, Habitat for Humanity, CARES, the weekend snack program, Prevent Child Abuse Pickens, the Chamber, both city and county sports organizations, and more, Keller was honored for doing his part in making Pickens a great place to be. Keller, who moved here in 2004, has taken our community’s well-being to heart. 

It’s nice to attend events where people are acknowledged for their civic dedication and, while honoring these men and women Saturday, it struck us that not only are they wonderful examples of civic-mindedness, they are surrounded by others here who volunteer and support Pickens County. We are blessed to live in a town filled with people like Baldwin, Keller and the Georgia Mountains Hospice staff, who dedicate themselves tirelessly to scores of organizations whose missions better the lives of those around them. 

In the words of Rihanna in her “Humanitarian of the Year” speech last year at Harvard, “All you need to do is help one person, expecting nothing in return. To me, that is a humanitarian. People make it seem way too hard, man.” She went on: “The truth is, and what I want (people) to know is you don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don’t have to be rich to help somebody. You don’t gotta be famous. You don’t even have to be college-educated.”

All people want is a chance, according to the singer and entrepreneur. “We’re all human. And we all just want a chance: a chance at life, a chance in education, a chance at a future.”

So, this week the Pickens Progress would like to say thank you to Saturday night’s honorees. Thank you for all you do for our community. And thanks to the countless other people just like them who give people a chance. Together, our community does and can impact many, many lives right here. 

It starts with just one person.

2018: time to look at new ideas

By Dan Pool, Editor

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An article in the New York Times recently caught my attention about how most everyone is resistant to change.

The article, Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do by Sendhil Mullainathan, gave an example of trying, just once, a cheaper food product of something you regularly consume. If you judge it to be as good or better than your standard, then you save thousands over the rest of your life. And if the taste is appalling, all you are out is a couple of bucks. Huge potential upside with almost no cost of failure.

The article also offered an example of places to eat. You have a favorite, but maybe there is somewhere you would like better or something that is almost as good and cheaper or healthier. But when it’s time to eat out you go to the same handful of places and most likely order the same thing. At the McDonald’s drive-thru it’s always “the number 1.”

The article argues that people stick with the same-old-same-old largely because it’s easy. You don’t have to engage the brain if you never look for something different. Change causes upheaval, which might cause work.

While this article was directed to individuals, it hits the bullseye with the way we too-often operate in Pickens County. 

“The way we have always done it,” makes a pretty standard answer and is much easier than shaking things up.

Our school board hired a new superintendent who brought years of experience in the local system. Yet, instead of embracing the status quo, Supt. Carlton Wilson has essentially said anything is up for discussion. From the length of the school year to which grades are grouped together, it’s all subject to adjustment.

Hats-off to him and the school board for embracing a philosophy that is open to new ideas. The plan to shuffle grades around appears to have direct financial and, hopefully, academic rewards. No, the idea of cutting back the number of days in the school year didn’t seem right at this point.

Same to the city of Jasper, while the dust is still settling over the chaos in city hall, there is nothing wrong at looking at how you operate. If a better path, system or manager is found, great. If not, we can always go back to what has been in place for most of the past 50 years. Just because it’s the way we have always done it, doesn’t mean there’s not a better system.

Needless to say, with both the schools and governments there is a lot riding on their decisions. Unlike soda decisions or fast food, with school remodeling or hiring city managers there could be massive downsides for a poor decision. Clearly more planning and input  is required, but open discussion remains worthwhile.  

We’d encourage all our government bodies to be open to calculated risk-taking, particularly our county government, which appears to pride itself on stability over innovation. We are not advocating change for change’s sake, but also not maintaining status quo simply because that’s the way it’s always been.

We surely don’t want to scrap systems on a whim that have served us well, but in 2018 it would be nice to see some thinking outside the box. 

Think brisk, not cold

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

It’s cold, so what?

Bundle up people, it’s winter in the South and that means some short, intense bursts of what Glenn Burns likes to call “bitter cold arctic air.” We get bouts of cold weather every year. And by cold I mean lows in the teens like we're experiencing now. It’s not like we live in Boston where average low temperatures are in the low 20s for several months of winter. While some of us may be so done with this whole "cold" thing (I'm talking about my husband here), the brutal weather is expected to hang on for just a couple of days before picking right back up to normal upper 40 and 50 degree wether. And for me that's ok. I really, really like the cold weather. I like the cold temperatures particularly when compared to the inevitable 95 degree days  we'll get come August. Days where, if you'll remember, it's so hot that eggs fry on pavement and you can't walk across your back deck barefoot. Give me some brisk, cold air and a nice woodland walk to enjoy it and I’m a happy camper. Better yet, have a fire in the fireplace when you get home and the day is complete.

Have you ever noticed how much people moan about cold weather (yes, I'm talking about my husband here again). The cold weather gets a bad rap. The whole English language has written into negative associations with cold weather - brittle, bleak, dreary, frigid- to name a few.

But I think it's wonderful. Getting outside in really cold weather when you don't have to worry about the sweat rolling off your brow every time you take a step is a plus. It's invigorating. Sure, we may get a few sniffles here and there but for the most part a nice walk or quick run in upper 30 degree temps is what I call perfect conditions. There's nothing like a winter's cold air slap in the face to get a person moving. 

Sometimes when we step outside in 20 or 30 degree weather it takes our breath away but in the South in August, temps can get so hot it seems hard to breath. 

And of course, for those times when we don't want to bundle up and get outside, the cold weather is a perfect excuse to stay in, cuddled up next to the fire reading a good book or binge watching Netflix. 

I have found that the people who complain about it being cold outside are usually the same ones with no hat, no gloves, and no jackets (and now I'm talking directly to my children who eschew the added layers).

And remember - it could always be worse. While we may not live between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer (think, Central America, Africa and the upper portions of South America) where there is only one season - and that's hot, we are fortunate to live in an area that gets to experience four weather patterns a year - summer, winter, autumn and spring. It's kind of the best of all worlds. We could live on  Mount McKinley, Alaska, some 20,310 feet above sea level where the lowest recorded temp is negative 22.9 degrees Fahrenheit and wind chills reach as low as negative 59.2 degrees. Average highs there - at the fifth coldest place on earth according to sciencefocus.com, reach just 35 degrees in November, dropping to 29 and 30 degrees in December and January before heading up to a balmy 34 degree average high in February. And we don't live in North Ice, Greenland where average temperatures don't exceed 50 degrees F in the warmest summer months. (Of course, their air quality is among the best in the world due to the country's geographical position in the high north). That great air quality also comes at a price - to a large extent the country, at least 85 percent of it anyways, is always covered with ice or snow.

So while right now it may seem that Glenn Burns has figured out how to air condition outdoor spaces with the "bitter cold arctic air," just remember, Sunday’s high is expected to be 59. So get out there while you have a chance and take a brisk walk, breathing in lots and lots of cool - really cool - air. 

What we’d like to see in 2018

Last week we reviewed what we wanted in 2017 (some small progress such as a reinvigorated Marble Festival) but mostly we saw the status quo keep a tight grip here. 

Undaunted, we again suggest improvements and wishes for Pickens County. 

 

• More parks – Like a present you hadn’t expected, Pickens County got a top-notch mountain bike park in the last quarter of 2017, all thanks to a private group with private money. Nothing from local sources/governments, other than words of appreciation (after most of the work was done) moved The Talking Rock Nature Preserve along.

Unfortunately this new park with benches, fields and walking area at the Gilmer line is a lonely beacon in new recreation options for this county. Talking Rock has a nice park; Nelson has upgraded walking trails, and Jasper started and then mostly abandoned their own wooded trails on Hood Road. What’s missing is the county adding anything significant to our recreation facilities. When the community center opened at Roper Park in late 2011, it was as though someone strode out and declared “mission accomplished.”

You actually can’t say we want more focus on improving parks/recreation as there is no focus except for maintenance. We’ll simply ask for any attention to recreation. 

Lesser request in same category -- More classes at rec. center at Roper Park. How about some new offerings? It seems we don’t even fully utilize what little we do have.

Chattahoochee Tech playing a vital role here again – In December we reported that the dismal usage of our tech school had blown up with everyone from the speaker of the state house to our chief magistrate judge exhorting the college to get back into the education game. 

At the most fundamental level we need a strong technical college. Courses meet the needs of industry; this encourages expansion and attracts new businesses. The growth in industry will drive residential growth which drives commercial growth. Imagine what a steady stream of educated, young people coming out of a local tech school could mean for the county? 

Fill the buildings – The rise of several boutiques in the retail sector, a new restaurant in the massive Sidebar building beside the courthouse gives a little hope, but there are simply too many empty buildings in Jasper and around the county. The former home of Day’s Chevrolet, the NAPA building on Main Street, the former Hallmark store across the street from it all sit empty -  not to mention the empty acres and acres of graded property on the four-lane.

Whatever it takes to help developers/owners get these spots into action, we would support it -- tax abatements, incentives, help with utilities. In cases where a property is sitting empty, we would happily urge the local governments to defer some immediate taxes to see a vital business there hiring and paying sales tax.

A few other items:

• A healthy discussion and open-minded approach on both sides for the coming debate on senior school exemptions. Rather than both sides seeking exactly what they want (full exemption versus no additional exemption), let’s  find what satisfies the community as a whole and for the long term.

• For the Dawgs to bring that national championship home later this month. (One reader has requested a front page headline in the Progress if this happens. We’ll see.)

• To see our Pickens schools post scores on state tests that reflect the quality of the system. Last year, the students here beat the national and state averages on the SAT (the most reliable indicator of a system’s competency) but Pickens students still struggle on other required tests. Not acceptable.

• Let’s have some fun and well-attended events across the county. This is a two-way street. Organizers need to raise their games like the Marble Festival did last year. But the public must support them. Shop local also means attend local. You can’t expect a group to shell out resources for a fickle public that may or may not show up.

Finally, we wish for 2018 to be a great one for Pickens County and the people who call this place home.