By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners, Tuesday night, honored hundreds of students enrolled in the public school system, who have excelled in the 2007-2008 school year.
The BOC recognized, essay and academic contest winners, honor roll students, athletic and academic scholarship winners, and other high achievers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
The ceremony took place at the VIP Stadium at Clayton County International Park. The BOC changed the location of it's regularly scheduled work session to accommodate the celebration.
"I'm glad that the county is taking time to recognize those achievements," said District 3 Commissioner Wole Ralph. "I think this is a good opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of our young people, especially in a time of adversity."
Notable honorees were Mundy's Mill High School seniors, Marcel Thomas and Heidi Ashley, both accepted into the fall freshman class of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Mt. Zion High School senior, D'Angelo Dean Cherry, recognized as the fastest high school sprinter in the state of Georgia.
The list of honorees also included several Gates Millennium Scholars, winners of athletic scholarships to Big Ten universities, and those who have earned other significant achievements.
In addition to recognizing individual students, the BOC singled out the 2008 mock trial team of Jonesboro High School. For two years in a row, the team has won first place in the National High School Mock Trial Competition.
During the ceremony, an official proclamation signed by BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell honored the preparation and tenacity of the team. The proclamation read: "Jonesboro High School's Mock Trial team members have served as outstanding ambassadors for Clayton County and the state of Georgia ... In the midst of Clayton County's public school accreditation crisis, this team has stood the test and displayed discipline, solidarity, and commitment in the pursuit of scholastic excellence."
District 2 Commissioner Virginia Gray, who led the ceremony, said students in the county have persevered, despite "all of the negative media hype. As all of you know, our children have had a rough time this year," Gray told an audience of students and parents. "For them to make all of these achievements, with all of this negative hype, they deserve a standing ovation."
Ralph said the accomplishments of the students "are not only strengthening the reputation of the county, [but also] providing inspiration to the county."
After the ceremony, the BOC convened in the VIP Building to discuss county business. One item up for discuss was considering a request from the Clayton County Fire Department to change its name to Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services.
Captain Landry Merkison said the department is following the lead of others in the metro area who have taken on duties beyond just fire fighting. He said, since August 2005, when the BOC moved Emergency Management under the umbrella of the department, the role of the department has changed, and the name change will "reflect the responsibilities that we have."
"This is simply a re-branding effort on part of the department in the wake of our changing responsibilities," said Fire Chief Alex Cohilas.
In recent times, he said, the department has moved beyond handling only fires and accidents to responding to potential terrorism threats and natural disasters, such as the Sunday morning tornado in Ellenwood. "We really have taken an all-hazards role, and this is following what other counties are doing," said Cohilas. He said the name change would make clear to residents that there is "a unified command structure" in place.
The BOC will take up the matter at its next business meeting, March 20, at 7 p.m., at the Clayton County Administration Building in Jonesboro.