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North Hall agriculture program is under evaluation

POSTED: May 4, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

North Hall High School agriculture student Cody Savage waters plants in the school's greenhouse.

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North Hall High School opened a half-century ago with a strong agricultural program.

No wonder. The school on Mount Vernon Road sits among pastures and rolling hills. Rural is written on the landscape, even as Hall County’s growth moves closer.

In recent years, however, interest has waned to the point that school system officials want the school to re-evaluate the program’s future.

"The old traditional show a cow, show a pig does not develop much interest," said Will Schofield, superintendent of the Hall County school system.

He said he believes the program needs some modernizing.

"We’ve encouraged those boosters up there (that) you’ve got to start looking at some different (areas of instruction, such as) hydroponics," Schofield said, referring to the cultivation of plants in a nutrient solution rather than soil. "You’ve got to start looking at some more landscape management."

He added, "There are no plans to cut the program. As with every other program, if students don’t sign up for it, we’ll make the changes we need to.

"That could be scaling back the program. That could be using staff in sharing them between two high schools. It could be putting in more middle school programming. But what we can’t have is teachers with a dozen kids in their classroom. We’re just not wealthy enough to do that for any type of program."

The enrollment numbers, Schofield said, are:

North Hall has nine students in agriculture science principles and technology I, one student in agriculture science principles and technology II and one student in agriculture science principles and technology III.

Basic agricultural science and technology has 17 students and general horticulture has 14 students.

Chestatee High School in northwest Hall has 19 students in floral design, 25 students in floriculture production/management and 26 students in general horticulture.

A final decision has not been made on the program’s fate, "and it will be the system that makes the call," said North Hall principal Gary Brown.

"The program will continue for at least another year," added Brown, who is retiring after this school year. "The first wave of the registration process (for next year’s classes) is complete, but new or current students still have the opportunity to get into these classes."

Gina Savage, whose son is a 10th-grader in the program and who is a member of the school’s Future Farmers of America alumni, said she doesn’t see the importance of numbers "in the whole realm of things."

"We’re a self-sufficient program. The kids work doing fundraisers; they do plant sales," she said. "This program pretty much provides for itself. ... And they do things that give back to the community, and that means a lot to our children."

North Hall High School agriculture teacher Johnny Sutton said he doesn’t believe the school system should discontinue the agriculture/horticulture program.

"I think we’re at a time now where more than any time that people need to be aware of the importance of agriculture," said Sutton, who has taught at North Hall on and off since 1974. "Look at all the people we have to feed in the world."

In 2006, Sutton, who has taught agriculture since 1983, received the Honorary American FFA Degree from the National FFA Organization.

The program has been in place since the school’s founding in 1957. Its pioneer was Sutton’s mentor, Clyde Outz, who died earlier this year.

"We’re not necessarily teaching everybody to be farmers or producers," Sutton said. "But agriculture is a big industry covering ... horticulture areas, forestry and natural resources. ... The agribusiness spectrum is the biggest segment of agriculture. It’s as pertinent and important today as anything."

Savage said the program has had a positive impact at her home, as well.

Her son "was a struggling student. He just did not enjoy school at all until he got to high school and got acquainted with Mr. Sutton and the FFA program," she said.

"He’s (now) a straight A student who strives to do everything possible in order to participate with the FFA," Savage said.



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