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Thomas County School System Receives Award for Financial Excellence
Melanie Davis



For the tenth time and fifth consecutive year in a row, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts has recognized the Thomas County School System for Excellence in Financial Management and Reporting.  The first year school districts were eligible for this award was 2013. 

The Department of Audits created the award program to recognize those entities that are audited annually and go beyond standard financial business practices to be considered “the best of the best.” An award of distinction is presented to organizations that submit quality financial statements and supporting documentation in a timely manner, whose annual financial report is given an unmodified audit opinion and is free of any significant deficiencies or material weaknesses, and comply with all Transparency in Government requirements.

Thomas County School Superintendent Dr. Lisa Williams and Board Chair Dan Stewart presented the award to Deputy Superintendent for Finance Joey Holland at the June board of education meeting. Upon receipt of the award, Holland gave credit to the staff members in the system’s finance department.

“The Financial Excellence Award is earned because of the dedication of each staff member who plays a part in the finance and accounting function of the school district,” Holland said.  “The keys to receiving this award are meeting the financial reporting deadlines of the Georgia Department of Education and Department of Audits and not having audit findings.  Our employees work hard to follow our accounting policies and procedures and strive for timely completion of their work.  I'm proud of our staff for earning this recognition.”

The Thomas County School District manages an annual budget of $125 million with a monthly payroll of $4 million.

Superintendent Dr. Lisa Williams applauded the efforts of the school system as a whole as well as the Finance Department.

Dr. Williams said, “We take the management of the funds entrusted to us very seriously as we strive to be good stewards of our resources. I appreciate the fine work of Mr. Joey Holland and his entire department.”

  • Bishop Hall Charter School
  • Cross Creek Elementary School
  • Garrison-Pilcher Elementary School
  • Hand-In-Hand Primary School
  • Pathways Educational Program
  • The Renaissance Center
  • Thomas County Central High School
  • Thomas County Middle School
TCCHS FBLA members advance to nationals; chapter performs well at state
Melanie Davis

Three Thomas County Central High School Future Business Leaders of America chapter members will showcase their skills in a national competition this summer.

Dev Patel, Manthan Patel and Kayla Carr won first place in their respective categories at the recent 2024 Georgia FBLA State Leadership Conference & Competition in Atlanta. Their first-place wins qualify them for the 2024 FBLA National Leadership Competition & Conference.

TCCHS FBLA Head Adviser Nick Haskin said the competition is fierce at the state level because the chapter competes against others with hundreds of members.

“For those chapters, FBLA is their ‘sport,’ FBLA is their ‘band,’ and they compete as such,” he said. “For Kayla Carr, Dev Patel, and Mann Patel to become state champions in such hard events, I am honored to be their adviser. What made them stand out was their preparedness. They were absolutely ‘locked in.’ There was a calm and confidence that spoke volumes to how prepared they were.”

Dev Patel, 17, and Manthan Patel, 16, brought home first place in the Website Coding and Development category. They designed a job application website for a local restaurant, St. James. The Patels surpassed the requirements: they discussed their plan with the restaurant’s owner and built a full website. 

They had to present a PowerPoint presentation at state, but nothing went as expected. The night before their event, the laptop with their presentation stopped working. The duo had to borrow a laptop and stay up most of the night to make another one.

“We didn’t even expect to make the top 10,” Manthan Patel said. “When our names were called up for top 10, I was already so happy that at least we made it to top 10. On the stage … our hearts were pounding. Since the top four advanced to nationals, when they announced the fifth position, we were stoked. Then came the top three, top two, and first place winner is…Thomas County! It was incredible.”

Dev Patel agreed the experience was an emotional rollercoaster ride.

“It was a mix of emotions because we were very nervous before the event, but when we placed first, we were so happy and could [not] believe we placed so high,” he said.

Manthan Patel enjoyed all aspects of the state competition but said the award ceremony truly stands out.

“Being on that stage holding the state champion plaque and banner in front of 4,000 students was probably the best part for me,” he said.

Kayla Carr, 18, achieved first place in Electronic Career Portfolio. Competitors research their chosen careers and present an electronic resume that includes the skills and experiences that qualify them for that position. Carr chose project management.

“After all of the hard work that I put into doing my best in this event, I am so grateful for the honor of being state champion,” she said. “What means more to me, however, is that after my presentation, I was able to confidently say that I did my best and would have been proud of myself regardless of my placement.”

Overall, the TCCHS FBLA chapter gave a strong performance at state competition. Eighteen members earned top 10 honors, and there were several finalists in addition to the national qualifiers.

“This year's SLC performers were some of the best I've worked with,” Haskin said. “We took 34 students to state and came home with 18 medalists, nine finalists, and three state champions: proud is an understatement. To have so many students medal and become finalists at such a pinnacle level of competition, Thomas County should be proud of the young men and women representing TCCHS!”

Purva Patel, 16, received fifth place in Intro to Public Speaking, where she memorized and gave a five-minute speech about qualities needed to secure a first job. While she hoped to make the top four, she’s still proud of her accomplishment. 

“I practiced my butt off for this,” she said. “At first, I was really upset, but now I realize that since this was just my first year, I actually did really well.”

Duo Kinsley Rhodes, 16, and Kristina Thomas, 15, garnered eighth place in Local Chapter Annual Business Report. It’s a prejudged category with advancers presenting to a judges’ panel at state.

“The Local Chapter Annual Business Report is a magazine and a presentation,” Kristina Thomas said. “We summarize what our chapter and school have done over the year and highlight our FBLA students who go beyond others.”

Thomas and Rhodes feel proud of their placement.

“I have been in FBLA  for three years and have competed at the state level all three years, so finally being able to stand on the stage and complete one of my biggest goals was one of the best feelings,” Kinsley Rhodes said. “I knew we worked hard, and I was proud of us for placing at the state level. I hope that we can improve our presentation skills over the next year in order to hopefully advance to nationals next year.”

Heali Patel, 17, placed eighth in the Job Interview event. She created a resume and cover letter and prepared using potential interview questions and feedback from the regional competition judges.

“I feel accomplished about my placement because this was my first time doing this event,” she said. “Also, as a junior, I was competing against seniors from across the state with extremely impressive resumes as well as strong interviewing skills. So, I felt like I did well against my skilled competition.”

Caroline Westberg, 15, and her partner Kayden McLain received sixth place in the Community Service Project category. 

“We created a 16-page document discussing ‘Gold Out’ shirts for childhood cancer awareness,” Westberg said. “We then created a presentation which we presented to the judges on this topic. Although we didn’t make nationals, I’m still so proud of us and what we accomplished this year.”

The TCCHS FBLA chapter adheres to the FBLA’s global mission to inspire and prepare members to become community-minded business leaders through relevant career preparation and leadership experiences. However, Haskin said that the TCCHS chapter’s mission is to provide a safe place where every student feels accepted, challenged, and has the chance to succeed.

“We want every student to feel they are part of this TCCHS family, which aims to serve our fellow students, serve our local community, and compete at the highest levels,” he said.

Current members can attest to TCCHS FBLA’s myriad benefits and opportunities because these are why they love the organization.

“I love FBLA because of the opportunities it's opened for me,” Rhodes said. “Through FBLA, I earn service hours, and I am able to learn new skills that will complement the field I'm looking to go into. This year, I learned about graphic design through my event. Before this year, I had never even touched a graphic design software, but now I feel very confident in my abilities with software such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Publisher.”

Students also connect with their true selves and each other.

“FBLA is the organization for me because it has brought out my true self and has made me more social and confident around others,” Thomas said. “I love the feeling of walking into a club knowing people are there for you no matter the situation and other students will stick up for you when needed. I truly believe that FBLA is my home and family.”

Heali Patel loves the relationships built with her fellow TCCHS students and members of FBLA chapters at other schools.

“FBLA gives you a chance to learn how to network and build connections that will always be there to help you in times of need, especially with the trips we take,” she said. “In a way, you build relationships with students just like you. The coolest part is that the relationships don't just have to be with members at your school. I have connected with multiple students in FBLA from many different schools.”

The 2024 FBLA National Leadership Competition & Conference is June 28 - July 3 in Orlando, Fla. TCCHS’ three advancers will practice, practice, practice to prepare for competition on the national stage.

Carr feels thoroughly prepared; however, she plans to continue improving.

“I will continue to perfect my website and my presentation so that I have the confidence necessary to succeed at nationals,” Carr said.

The duo Patel intends to practice new presentation techniques and take advice from previous national-level competitors.

“For nationals, we’re giving it our all to win,” Manthan Patel said. “We’re currently trying to make a presentation which they have not seen before. We’re also gonna be practicing all three months – sometimes with alumni – to do our best.”

Haskin said Georgia FBLA has earned more medals than any other chapter at the national level, and TCCHS hopes to add to that number this summer.

"We've beaten California, New York, and China the past few NLCs,” he said. “Georgia takes preparation so seriously that our Georgia FBLA Executive Director Monty Rhodes spends the spring traveling the state of Georgia to help our competitors fine-tune their slides and presentations. Make no mistake, our students will be ready!”


TCMS's Woodfin named STEM Scholar
Melanie Davis

Georgia Youth Science & Technology Centers (GYSTC) has recently awarded Thomas County Middle School science teacher Clayton Woodfin with the 2024 Georgia STEM Scholar Award. As part of this special recognition, he received a $500 grant to purchase STEM education materials for his classroom, as well as free admission to attend the GYSTC Summer STEM Institute.

Woodfin is one of twenty-five other educators throughout the state of Georgia to receive this award. He believes that Thomas County Middle School provides a great foundation for STEM education.

"I feel really honored to be recognized by the GYSTC for the work I do with our students every day,” Woodfin said. “The money from the award will be spent on EEG headbands, which will allow our students to carry out science fair projects that study brain waves."

The Georgia STEM Scholar Award recognizes outstanding certified teachers in grades K-8 who are working to integrate effective STEM education in their classrooms. Georgia STEM Scholars demonstrate a passion and determination to provide students with innovative and challenging STEM experiences along with creating an atmosphere of exploration that excites, energizes, and equips students to pursue enhanced educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math.  

The GYSTC Summer STEM Institute will be held in June at Kennesaw State University. During the Institute, teachers will participate in Super STEM Challenges, Robotics and Coding Activities, and Top 10 STEM Explorations. In addition, teachers will develop their own engaging STEM Challenge to be shared with their teaching colleagues.

TCMS Builder's Club earns Y.E.S. School Award
Melanie Davis


Thomas County Middle School's Builders Club has been recognized for their outstanding commitment to environmental stewardship with the prestigious Y.E.S. (Youth Environmental Stewardship) School Award from Keep Thomas County Beautiful (KTCB).

Julie Murphree, Executive Director of KTCB, said “Y.E.S. aims to educate, inspire, and engage students who want to make a difference on their campus through projects and education."

Under the guidance of a dedicated teacher, Dr. Amanda West, the Builders Club serves as the school's Y.E.S. Champions, leading initiatives to promote sustainability within the campus community. They have taken a pledge to prioritize environmental consciousness and undertake annual projects aligned with KTCB's focus areas, including litter prevention, waste reduction, water/land conservation, and community beautification.  

The projects that earned the recognition this school year were participating in The Great American Cleanup, adding storm drain markers around the TCMS campus, and competing in the River of Words art contest that focuses on watersheds.  Two members of the club, Diya Patel and Xue Zhengkun were first place regional winners.

This recognition highlights the impactful role of youth in driving positive change towards a cleaner, greener future. By inspiring their peers and engaging in meaningful projects, the Builders Club exemplifies the spirit of environmental leadership, setting a commendable example for schools and communities alike.

TCCHS’ Jones picks up Georgia Poet Laureate Prize
Melanie Davis

An ode to growing up and childhood memories led newly-minted Thomas County Central High School graduate Grayson Jones to win the esteemed Georgia Poet Laureate Prize for 2024.

Her poem, “Pennies,” beat out more than 300 other entrants to win the competition.

“I still find myself not actually believing that I won it,” Jones said. “Writing is something so personal and special to me, so winning this competition is even more encouragement not only to continue writing for myself but to keep sharing it with other people. I couldn’t have been happier because I won it!”

Judson Mitcham, a former Georgia poet laureate, created the competition in 2014 in partnership with the Georgia Council for the Arts. The annual contest encourages teen writers and accepts entries from students in ninth through 12th grades.

Current Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn selected this year’s winner and four finalists.

Jones, who graduated from TCCHS on Saturday, said a teacher told her about the competition. Still, she received encouragement to enter from a friend she made during last summer’s Governor’s Honors Program. Jones attended the summer intensive workshop for communicative arts.

“Mrs. [Kensey] D’Souza sent me the competition after I asked her a question about a different contest,” Jones said. “I never would have known about it without her. What really encouraged me, though, was reading through the entries and seeing that a friend from GHP was a finalist last year. She told me she felt like I could win it, and she was right!”

Jones traveled to Atlanta for a special award ceremony on Wednesday, May 15. She dubs it a wonderful day. She met Gov. Brian Kemp and even spoke with Rathburn about why the poet chose her poem.

“Everyone was so nice,” Jones said. “Mrs. Rathburn told me my piece sounds conversational, which is exactly what I wanted to create. I want the reader to feel like I’m speaking directly to them when I write.”

Jones focuses on wordplay or sound devices and strives for her works always to sound authentic. For example, she based “Pennies” on an event from her youth.

“I love creating a sound with my poems,” she said. “I especially like to speak and perform them, so most of my poetry is written with verbal performance in mind. I also love the ambiguity of it and how people can take little pieces of it and make it mean something so personal. Knowing that other people find my poetry relatable is the best feeling in the world.”

TCCHS English teacher Stacey Mitchell, who taught Jones in AP English Literature and Composition this school year, attended the ceremony. She calls Jones a talented writer – technically and emotionally – and says Jones has a true talent for conveying emotions and experiences in a relatable way.

This is evident in “Pennies,” which Mitchell said stands out for its authenticity.

“Not only does the reader believe the emotions expressed by the speaker in the poem, he or she has actually felt those same emotions,” Mitchell said. “We can relate to those feelings and empathize. So, while the poem, inspired by a moment she shared with her mother, is deeply personal, it exhibits a universal quality that speaks to readers in an impactful way. 

“It captures an essential aspect of the human experience: coming of age and the hopes and fears that come with leaving adolescence behind and entering the adult world as well as the bond between a mother and a daughter.”

Sharing her poem with those present was an emotional moment for Jones, who read it aloud to her audience at the Capitol.

“Reading ‘Pennies’ out loud in front of everyone was such an emotional experience not just because the poem is personal to me, but because I knew it was personal to other people listening,” she said.

“Atlanta Magazine” published Jones’ poem and the four finalists’ poems in a recent issue.

Jones plans to attend the University of Georgia and major in English. She intends to become a high school teacher.


Thomas County BEE Partners of the Semester Announced

Thomas County Schools recently announced their BEE (Business and Education Exchange) Partners of the Semester for the first half of the school year. Each Thomas County school selects a BEE partner that has worked in some outstanding way with the students and/or staff to make a positive impact for the school.

Melanie Davis, Thomas County Schools Public Relations Director, works with the schools to recognize these valuable partners.

“We are fortunate that so many local businesses and industries have partnered with Thomas County Schools to help make a difference for our students and staff,” Davis said. “Because of these outstanding partnerships, we’re able to do things and provide services that otherwise would not be possible. I’m not only referring to monetary donations either, even though they are a tremendous help to us. I’m also talking about volunteers and the sharing of all kinds of resources.”

1915 South (Ashley Furniture) was selected as Partner of the Semester for Thomas County Middle School. According to TCMS Principal Clay Stanaland, 1915 South was eager to help with the renovation of the teacher’s lounge in the front office.

“When we asked about help with renovating our teacher’s lounge, 1915 South was on board and donated an entire room of furniture,” Stanaland said. “This has provided our teachers and staff a place to come and enjoy at the beginning of the day or during their lunch and have an area to call their own. Their willingness to go above and beyond to create a comfortable and welcoming place for our teachers and staff deserves special recognition.”

Another Partner of the Quarter was Thomasville Toyota. Garrison-Pilcher Elementary School Principal Robin Binion nominated the company for donating $500 to the Wee Bee Booster Christmas Give-A-Way fundraiser.

Binion said, “This generous donation from Thomasville Toyota was a wonderful addition to our fundraiser which helps grow and rejuvenate our school’s booster club that supports students, teachers and the school. The donation allowed for the ‘Shopping Spree’ basket which became one of our best-selling baskets.”

According to Davis, other Partners of the Quarter included Dairy Queen, selected by Hand-In-Hand Primary School; Sea Gate Printing, selected by Cross Creek Elementary; and Southern Regional Technical College Veterinary Program, selected by Thomas County Central High School.

Davis added, “Our business partners do so much for us, and we are grateful for all the help we receive. We are always looking for ways to expand our BEE partnerships even more. We welcome ideas and suggestions, and we encourage any business or agency interested in becoming a part of our BEE initiative to contact us.”

For more information on the Thomas County Schools’ BEE initiative, contact Davis at 229-225-4380, ext. 115.