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a look





A River’s History

Ogeechee Riverkeeper is collecting the stories of people who have spent their lives along the Ogeechee River


STEM Academy

New facility opens opportunities for Effingham students

17 Branches

Effingham Health Systems | Health & Wellness for a Growing Community


Mr. Leader

A day in the life of Jon Burns, new majority leader in Georgia’s House of Representatives


Hometown Pride on Your Sleeve

Effingham native rolls out clothing line based on the county he grew up in

6 • Effingham Living

“When my mom was a kid — she grew up in Clyo — the fathers of all the daughters were like, ‘You need to stay away from there! It’s so bad,’” Perry said, laughing. That is the kind of story she seeks for the oral history project: one that, while her parents’ and grandparents’ generations might know it, is unfamiliar to younger or newer county residents. Ogeechee Riverkeeper is using funds won through their suit against King America Finishing, which allegedly caused a massive fish kill a few years ago. The oral history project has a year of funding, though Perry hopes they will be able to extend it further once the initial stages are completed. In this early stage, she and her team are trying to track down stories from people who live along the river or have property along the river, or who once did. In short, they are looking for people who have years of close-up experience with the Ogeechee, who are familiar with all its moods and who have a wealth of daily interactions from which to draw. The project will span several other counties as well. Once they have gathered the oral histories, Perry and her team will make them available to the public through a database where people 10 • Effingham Living

can go to listen and explore other resources, including video and photographs of the places and people along the river. Eventually they will write a publishable paper to document their findings, but they are also partnering with Georgia Southern University for a physical component to the project: a museum exhibit, of sorts, featuring artifacts related to or used on the river, donated by people who contributed their own oral histories. To help people understand the project, facilitate discussion and spread the word about what they are looking for, Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Perry’s team will be holding landowner meetings throughout the summer. Those meetings will be announced on the Ogeechee Riverkeeper website and Facebook page. “In carrying out these activities, we’ll be working with local landowners, local historical societies, county libraries, cultural centers and resources, educational institutions, local business leaders, places of worship, outdoor recreational clubs and others,” Markesteyn said. “It will truly be a community effort.” And when it is completed, that community effort will help preserve a part of Effingham’s story for generations to come.

current freshmen will be graduating from high school. And students who want to apply for those jobs — in medical advancements, the next stage of space exploration, the booming programming industry and engineering of every variety — need an early start. But it isn’t just the job market that demands students have these classes. Thanks to open-source coding programs, a do-it-yourself movement communicated through YouTube videos, and science celebrities including Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, the math and science fields are incredibly accessible and attractive to kids who want to explore them on their own. The rise of “nerd culture” certainly doesn’t hurt, either. “You know the show The Big Bang Theory? We’re all nerds, somewhat. I think that’s why we all love that show,” said Dr. Barbara Prosser, the CEO of the ECCA, referencing a popular CBS sitcom about the lives of four university research scientists. “Now, with these kids, it’s cool to be a nerd. Big Bang Theory made it cool. It’s really fun to hear them talk about it, how they’re like this character or that character. And then (they ask), ‘Can we learn physics?’ ” How it works When students enter the STEM Academy, they will choose one of three career pathways to pursue: engineering and technology, health science or information technology, also known as computer science. Some critics of the model could argue that this kind of curriculum narrows a student’s field of expertise too early in his or her academic career, and that K-12 education should give students a broad brush over all subjects and disciplines. But the idea behind the STEM Academy puts faith in students to make those big decisions early in their lives, believing that high school students do, in fact, know what they want to be when they grow up. “I truly believe that our high school students — we don’t give them enough credit, a lot of times,” Prosser said. “We hold them down; we’ve got a ceiling on them for what they really can do. If you set the bar high for them, they’ll go for it. They like having a challenge.” Technically, students still will be students of their respective high schools and can participate in all their school’s extracurricular activities, including sports, band and after-school arts programs. But they will take all of their coursework, including their humanities classes, at the academy, allowing them to get the best of both worlds. “It was a tough decision,” said Sharon Clark, whose daughter, Kristen, will be entering the program as a computer science student. “We didn’t want her separated from her brother, who will be a junior next year at the main high school, and all the extracurricular activities at the high school. She’s split between friends: Half her friends got in, half her friends are over there. But having a little edge on college and applications and more rigorous academics (is something) she really needs.” One of the major draws for incoming students — and their parents — is the number of AP classes students will have an opportunity to take. These classes provide an invigorating academic challenge for students seeking a deeper understanding of their favorite subjects, but they also provide college credits for many of a university freshman’s required courses. This gives students a head start at college before they ever walk through the doors, which is a financial incentive as well: Those are classes students and their families will not have to pay for. 14 • Effingham Living

“Students in the school system are required to have 24 credits to graduate,” Nesmith said. “By completing the program we’ve outlined here, they could potentially earn up to 35, 36 credit units. We’ve compacted the courses and accelerated it to where, in math, it only takes four credits to graduate, but a student here could come for six.” This offers students a huge leg up when applying for prestigious universities. Sandra Hendrix and her husband, Scott, are alumni of Georgia Institute of Technology. Sandra has been looking into early admissions for Georgia Tech for their son, Jack, who will be pursuing the computer science track at the academy. “The average early admission student had 10 or 11 AP classes,” she said. “To me, that’s a crazy number of AP classes to have, but that’s the competition they’re going to face going into college.” The advanced and streamlined curriculum offers much more than college credits. Classes here will be based less on lectures and more on project-based learning. Rather than learning their lessons during class time, students take on the burden of teaching themselves as part of their homework. Class time can then be spent on hands-on projects in which students apply and test the principles they learned the night before. The model is much closer to the methods used in college classes. Ebenezer Middle School student Anna Freeman will be entering the STEM Academy next year on the health sciences track, with a particular interest in sports medicine. The project-based learning aspect is one of the biggest draws for her, and she calls it “a different idea of school.” For Freeman, who often finds herself one of the few people in her class actually engaged in the lessons, this academic environment sounds like a dream come true. “I’m just really excited about the whole atmosphere and the idea of being surrounded by a bunch of kids who want to be here and want to learn,” Freeman said. “Sometimes those are things you don’t get at normal school.” As students progress through their time at the STEM Academy, they will take four years of scientific research, a curriculum dedicated to helping them learn to think like scientists and mathematicians. In addition to acquainting

students with lab procedures, the scientific method and data analysis, each student will take on a research project that will last for several years. Because the STEM Academy has partnered with Georgia Southern University in Statesboro and Armstrong State University in Savannah, students will be able to do their research with mentoring professors — a kind of relationship many students do not get with their professors until graduate-level studies. To top it all off, as students get closer to graduation, they will have the opportunity to pursue externships — similar to internships, but with academic credit — allowing students to gain real-world working experience with professionals in their fields of interest. These externships are made possible by the ECCA’s relationship with the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority and the rise of STEM-related jobs in the area thanks to Gulfstream, the Georgia Ports Authority and

similar engineering endeavors. By the time students are ready to graduate, they are equipped not only with excellent academic credentials to get them into good universities but also with enough working knowledge and experience to give them an edge in the workforce. Not all students want or need to pursue four-year degrees to reach their career goals, but every student who graduates after participating in the STEM program will be able to choose the path that is right for them. “Ultimately, we would like them to come back to Effingham County and be productive, prosperous citizens here,” Prosser said. “But we know they might have to leave for a little while and then come back.” Getting enrolled During the 2016-17 academic year, the STEM Academy will have a class of 125 ninth-

graders and a class of 125 10th-graders from both of the local high schools. They will add a class of 125 new freshmen each year until all four grade levels are filled. Nesmith said they will keep a cap on the number of enrolled students so that class sizes stay small. Admission into the academy is free, and supplies and books are provided. The building is funded through the Effingham County school system with local E-SPLOST money. But because of the small class sizes, admission is extremely competitive. Nesmith said that the academy looks for students who score highest on the Georgia Milestones math and science exams, but academic achievement is not the only qualifying factor. Students must be prepared for the rigorous workload and longer school days. Classes at the STEM Academy will begin at 7:30 a.m. and are 75 instead of 55 minutes long. When classes end at 2:30 p.m., students will return to their home schools for the final period of the day, in which they can pursue arts electives or attend a study hall period before participating in afterschool activities, if they choose to do so. While some students may have the grades to earn them a spot at the academy, they must weigh whether that extra commitment is right for them. The STEM Academy will require more than brainpower: It will require dedication, stamina and passion to make the hard work worthwhile. Like incoming engineering student Eric Norman, from South Effingham Middle School, they need to genuinely enjoy a challenge and love to be pushed. Ultimately, Nesmith said, they will consider the application of any student who wants to apply, and students who are not accepted to the STEM Academy are still welcome to apply to the Effingham College and Career Academy and to take advantage of the many other opportunities provided by the Effingham County school system. “They are in a great school system,” Prosser said. “This district is committed to quality education, committed to quality teaching. And they don’t just talk about it; they do it. And that’s something none of us should take for granted.” Spring 2016 • 15


t seems as if Representative Jon Burns can hardly take 10 steps in the state Capitol in Atlanta before being stopped by someone he knows. In his new position as majority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, Burns has more duties and interacts with more people than ever before. People call to him from across the floor to say hello, stop him for a brief chat about an upcoming committee meeting or a piece of legislation, or approach just to greet him and shake his hand. He handles it all with brisk cheer and good humor, greeting with an outstretched hand all who come up to him saying, “Good morning, Mr. Leader!”

New title, new duties, new accomplishments Burns has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2005, where he has represented District 157 and, currently, 159, which includes Screven and parts of Effingham and Bulloch counties. He has worked on committees including Agriculture and Consumer Affairs; Game, Fish and Parks; and, notably for the Effingham area, Transportation. His first major political move was running for the Department of Transportation board, a closed election conducted in both the state House and Senate. That was over a decade ago. He was elected majority leader by fellow Republican representatives on May 11, 2015, defeating Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) for the position. The majority leader is considered the third most powerful position in the House, behind only Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton). It comes with a host of new duties, but the primary responsibility is establishing a schedule the House will follow during the legislative session: what days they will be voting, when major decisions need to be settled, what days delegates can have off to attend to personal business or spend with their families, and a drop-dead finish date for when session will adjourn. In the past, the schedule for the House has been determined for just a few weeks at a time. During his first session, and working with Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), Burns managed to get a full

schedule — encompassing all 40 days — planned within the first three weeks of session. “I don’t ever remember that happening,” said Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville). “To the average person, that doesn’t mean very much, but up here, the schedule is everything. It determines whether you’re working on Friday or whether you get to go home and be with your family, whether you get to take a business trip or whether you get to go earn your living. That’s a big deal up here, and he solved that very early in his first year.” Georgia’s senators and representatives are part-time politicians who spend most of the year in their home districts. For many lawmakers, those districts are hours away from Atlanta, and being far from home for so long

But as majority leader, Burns also meets with lawmakers, lobbyists and concerned constituents who come to his office to bend his ear about legislation that concerns them or that they would like to help create. For veteran lawmakers, he is an experienced representative who will gladly help them puzzle through legislative logistics; for new members, he can be a mentor who points them in the right direction, pointing out the pros and cons and weighing whether the idea is politically possible in the current climate. “Part of my role as majority leader is to help advise them,” Burns said. “Some of them are obviously very tried and true and don’t need a whole lot of coaching, and some of them are new to the process and appreciate experience. Hopefully I can help them — especially when it’s a really good idea.” The proposals he hears cover a wide range of topics and stages of development, including legislation in its infant phase about issues that have little to do with his constituents in South Georgia. “Not only (is my office) concerned about legislation that’s important to our constituents, we’re also part of legislation from our membership, and certainly all of the legislation we pass is important to the state,” Burns said. The sheer volume of work that Burns takes on in his new position has made this session “dramatically different” from the ones that have come before. But despite the strain, Burns enjoys the new opportunities the majority leader office presents. And when asked if he ever finds the workload exhausting, he countered with, “Playing ball is exhausting, but when you’re having fun, you like to do it.”

can take both a professional and personal toll. “Life goes on even during the session, so … having a certain schedule as far out into the future as you can is extremely important,” Hill said. “It’s a great compliment to Jon that it happened this year.”

A people politician Since the beginning of his political career, Burns has said the representative job is about two things: building relationships and solving problems. In his philosophy, the second does not happen without the first. Connections, both personal and professional, help move bills, and open lines of communication help shape policy. Part of the majority leader’s job is to pursue the interests of the majority party, and while Burns cleaves to his conservative ideals, he does not do so at the expense of looking at all sides of an issue and hearing several different voices in the process. Contrary to the nasty political clashes portrayed on television and social

The day-to-day For Burns, session days pass in a flurry of activity. He still serves on seven committees, which meet regularly to discuss legislation that will be going to the floor for a vote. This is where much of the shaping and refining of bills takes place, so that the legislation can move quickly once it gets to the House floor for a vote — another portion of every legislator’s duties.

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The other half of Burns’ team is his deputy legal counsel Benjamin Jordan, who brings an attorney’s eye to the table and provides invaluable insight. When Burns meets with constituents, lobbyists or legislators who come in to discuss new legislation, Jordan often can be found sitting quietly in the background, taking careful notes to go over later so that Burns can be fully engaged in the conversation. Burns gives immense credit to Harris and Jordan for the accomplishments their office has achieved; the way he tells it, they are his right and left hands. The demands their office shoulders and the time frame they have in which to address those demands, Burns said, creates “a very intense process.” “Quite frankly, if it were not for Ben and Pat, it would be completely overwhelming and we couldn’t do the job,” Burns said. But as the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, and that holds true in Burns’ case as well. His wife, Dayle, has been accompanying Burns to the Capitol since he was sworn in. She attends events in both the capital and their home district, lending her warm and welcoming presence to political affairs. Additionally, Burns said, “I’m very blessed to have a wonderful family,” with two “very supportive” brothers to encourage him. While Burns is fully engaged with his duties during the session, his two sons take over and run the family business, B&S Feed and Farm Supply, and operate the family farm. “I couldn’t do this if I was having to be fulltime at my business,” Burns said. “I would not have been able to accept the challenge of being elected majority leader, because I knew there was an even larger time commitment.” His familial support network includes his daughters-in-law and an extended family of nieces and nephews who have been similarly supportive. During session every year, each of Burns’ five grandchildren come up for a weekend in Atlanta. In early March, during the home stretch of the 2016 session, Jon and Dayle welcomed twin 3-year-old granddaughters Lila and Georgia for their first visit. While Burns took care of his daily duties, Dayle took the girls to Atlanta attractions — such as the zoo, the aquarium, the World of Coke and 34 • Effingham Living

the Fernbank Museum of Natural Science — before reconvening for dinner together. As Burns says, “It’s been a great experience for Granddaddy.” “The Good Lord’s blessed me in a lot of ways,” Burns said. “But I have great family. Couldn’t do it without them.” Staying connected at home In his new position as leader for Georgia’s Republicans, Burns must give his attention to issues that affect the whole state, rather than just the ones pertaining to District 159. It’s a challenge that every representative must face, and lawmakers sometimes find themselves voting against their personal preferences on

a bill in order to stay in line with what their constituents want. For Burns, it becomes an added challenge as he looks for a balance between local interests and state interests. “There are important local issues, there’s no doubt about that,” Burns said. “But I find that I think (for) people across the state, the issues of good jobs, good education, health care and good transportation are a common practice for all of us.” The Effingham Parkway, a project that had been in its planning stages for more than a decade, is example of such an issue. In late January, the state pledged $44 million for a two-lane road running from Highway 30 in Port Wentworth to Blue Jay Road in Rincon

in an effort to help alleviate congestion and streamline transportation from the coast to the state’s interior. The money came from funding provided by House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, which Burns sponsored. “That project affects everyone in the state of Georgia because it has to do with the port of Savannah,” Burns said. “When the congestion slows down trucks, trucks slow down cars. It’s a matter of fairness. Basically, we’re shouldering the burden for the entire state to move cargo out of the port of Savannah. … If we can help the rest of the state and help ourselves, it’s a win-win.” Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), who gets to see Burns often in action on the session floor, remarked, “The people of his district are fortunate to be represented by someone who keeps their best interests at heart and works toward sensible, effective solutions to keep this state and its economy growing.” But in addition to staying in touch with his local constituents’ political interests, Burns makes it a top priority to stay personally involved in his home community. He mentioned his church, Mizpah United Methodist Church, as a key element of his support network. “It’s really hard to stay plugged in,” Hill said, “but (Jon) is always cognizant of families in need, or who that are going through suffering with illness and death — I mean, he’s just always plugged in. He never forgets the people who sent him here and the people of his home area. And I think, to me, that’s impressive. It’s easy to get caught up in the swim up here, and it seems like a long way from home, but he’s always knowledgeable about what’s going on in Screven and Effingham counties.” Now that session has ended, Burns turns his sights to the upcoming 2016 election in May. In March, he officially qualified to run for another two-year term as District 159 representative. This year, he has a challenger. “I am proud of my record and the record of the Georgia House of Representatives,” Burns wrote to the Effingham Chamber of Commerce when he announced his qualification. “Georgia’s future is bright and I want to help keep it moving in the right direction.”

Effingham County Commission Chairman — Wendall Kessler Elected through 2016 District 1 — Forrest Floyd Elected through 2016 District 2 — Vera Jones Elected through 2018 District 3 — Jamie Deloach Elected through 2018 District 4 — Reggie Loper Elected through 2016 District 5 — Phil Kieffer Elected through 2018 County Clerk Stephanie Johnson 610 North Laurel Street Springfield, GA 31329 Phone: 754-2123 Fax: 754-4157 County Administration County Administrator Toss Allen State Lawmakers Gov. Nathan Deal Office of the Governor 206 Washington Street Suite 203, State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334 Phone: (404) 656-1776 Web site: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle Office of the Lieutenant Governor Administrative Staff 240 State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334 Phone: (404) 656-5030 Fax: (404) 656-6739 Web site: State Web site: Effingham’s General Assembly Delegation State Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) Capitol Office State Capitol Building Room 234 Atlanta, GA 30334 Phone: (404) 656-5038 Fax: (404) 657-7094 Email: District Office P.O. Box 486 Reidsville, GA 30453 Phone: (912) 557-3811 Fax: (912) 557-3522 Committees: Appropriations (Chairman); Finance (Ex-Officio); Natural Resources and the Environment; Regulated Industries and Utilities; Rules

State Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington) Capitol Office State Capitol Building Room 338 Atlanta, GA 30334 Phone: (404) 656-5052 Email: District Office 5829 Clyo-Kildare Road Newington, GA 30446 Committees: Agriculture and Consumer Affairs; Appropriations; Economic Development and Tourism; Game, Fish and Parks (Chairman); Rules; State Properties; Transportation State Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) Capitol Office 501-A Coverdell Legislative Office Building Atlanta, GA 30334 Phone: (404) 656-0178 Email: District Office 2440 Rincon-Stillwell Road Phone: (912) 663-8941 Committees: Appropriations; Defense and Veterans Affairs; Public Safety and Homeland Security Federal Lawmakers U.S. Rep. Rick W. Allen (R-Augusta) Capitol Office 513 Cannon House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Phone: (202) 225-2823 Fax: (202) 225-3377 Website: District Office 50 E. Main Street Statesboro, GA 30458 Phone: (912) 243-9452 Fax: (912) 243-9453 Committees: House Committee on Agriculture; House Education and Workforce Committee Subcommittees: General Farm Commodities and Risk Management; Conservation and Forestry; Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions; Higher Education and Workforce Training U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) Capitol Office 6602 Abercorn St., Suite 105B Savannah GA 31405 Phone: (202) 225-5831 Fax: (202) 226-2269 Website: District Office 1 Diamond Causeway, Suite 7 Savannah, GA 31406 Phone: (912) 352-0101 Fax: (912) 352-0105 Committees: Education and the Workforce Committee; Homeland Security

and Oversight; Government Reform Subcommittees: Subcommittee on Transportation Security; Oversight and Management Efficiency; Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions; Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education; Healthcare, Benefits and Administrative Works; Government Operations U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-Warner Robins) Capitol Office 383 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510 Phone: (202) 224-3521 Fax: (202) 228-10311 Website: Regional Office 191 Peachtree St. NE Suite 3250 Atlanta, GA 30303 Phone: (404) 865-0087 Fax: (404) 865-0311 Committees: Agriculture Committee; Budget Committee; Foreign Relations Committee; Judiciary Committee; Special Committee on Aging Subcommittees: Foreign Relations (Chairman); State Department and US AID Management; Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Marietta) Capitol Office 131 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510 Phone: (202) 224-3643 Fax: (202) 228-0724 Website: Regional Office 1 Overton Park 3625 Cumberland Boulevard, Suite 970 Atlanta, GA 30339 Phone: (770) 661-0999 Fax: (770) 661-0768 Committees: Finance; Health, Educa tion, Labor and Pensions; Veterans’ Af fairs; Select Committee on Ethics; Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittees: International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness; Taxation and IRS Oversight; Social Secuity,

Pensions and Family Policy; East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy; Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues; Africa and Global Health Policy; State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development; Employment and Workplace Safety (Chairman)

Spring 2016 • 39

Effingham Living Spring 2016  

In our special "Points of Pride" issue, we look at a few of the things that make Effingham a spectacular place to live. Not all counties hav...

Effingham Living Spring 2016  

In our special "Points of Pride" issue, we look at a few of the things that make Effingham a spectacular place to live. Not all counties hav...