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Dawson County Schools see 94 percent special education graduation rate
Exceptional Children program honored at board of education meeting
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The top winners of the art and writing contests held during Exceptional Children’s Week received trophies at the April 16 board meeting where they were honored and applauded by the board and a full crowd. - photo by Jessica Taylor

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The news that the special education graduation rates over the past four years rose from 44 percent to 94 percent called for many tears of joy and a standing ovation by proud students, parents, teachers and community members. - photo by Jessica Taylor

There was hardly a dry eye in the audience when Hershel Bennett, director of the Exceptional Children program, took the podium at Monday night’s board of education meeting.

“Tonight’s a big night for exceptional children. It’s like our Oscars,” Bennett said, smiling as he addressed the room.

Many individuals and groups were honored during the night’s festivities which included big announcements and honors for the program as a whole.

“Exceptional Children’s Week is not about exceptional children. It’s about incorporating all students to understand the value of exceptional children,” said Bennett.

At the system level, Dawson County Schools received their report card for special education from the state and for the fourth year in a row the school system received 100 percent.

“That’s not work on my part. That’s the teachers and staff members, the administrators and everybody getting everything in on time and that’s a really big deal to get that four years in a row,” said Bennett.

The Department of Education Parent’s Satisfaction Surveys also came back and this year it was reported that 95 percent of the county’s special education parents agreed to strongly agreed that the school system supports their children and their education, scoring much higher than the state average of 72 percent.

And with a pause and clearing of his throat, Bennett threw out four important numbers: 44, 70, 82 and 94.

“For those that don’t know what those numbers represent, that’s our – that’s our special education graduation rate for the last four years,” said Bennett with tears in his eyes.

The announcement was met with a standing ovation by proud parents, teachers and community members in the audience as they wiped their eyes in between claps.


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Director of the Exceptional Children program Hershel Bennett awards Coach John Kenny the Philip Wright Special Education Person of the Year during Monday night’s board of education meeting. - photo by Jessica Taylor

DCHS teacher sees highest test scores in district

Bennett presented the Special Education Person of the Year Philip Wright Award for Dawson County Schools to Coach John Kenny.

Each year, school districts in Northeast Georgia’s Pioneer RESA area honor an individual who has a strong commitment to improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities by presenting the Philip Wright Award.

Kenny is the lead exceptional teacher and a football coach at Dawson County High School. He is in his 23rd year of teaching and his sixth year as the lead teacher at DCHS. He received nominations and votes from every level in the district.

“It’s his love for both students and teachers that is his greatest asset,” Bennett read from Kenny’s nomination letter. “It does not matter if the student is our highest achieving or non-verbal or having a meltdown or involved in discipline, they are in a better position for knowing Coach Kenny and his involvement.”

Kenny’s students currently have the highest test scores in the district and this year he was tasked to take on a self-contained classroom. While juggling his students, Kenny has also expanded the department over the last two years and has helped to incorporate the CBI program into the existing program.

“He’s one of the greatest men, just as a person – a Christian, a father, a husband – that I’ve met,” said Bennett.  “It’s amazing the stuff I’ve seen him do. I’ve seen him teach three subjects at the same time with six kids in his room and then deal with a violent student out in the hall at the same time so we’re just very lucky in Dawson County to have Coach Kenny.”

Community Based Instruction program thrives

The Community Based Instruction program celebrated its second year at Dawson County High School, and the program is growing at Riverview Elementary School, which opened a small coffee shop this year.

“This two-year process of getting the program started is not ending but we hit a milestone,” said Bennett as he called CBI program leads Edith Banta and Ashley Elliott to the front.

Banta and Elliott were the two women Bennett tasked with building the CBI program at the high school when he stepped into the role of the program’s director.

Banta and Elliott will be going to the Department of Education International Dyslexia Association conference in June to present the Dawson County CBI program to the state and demonstrate how to start a model program. The presentation they wrote was accepted last Friday.

Bennett gave each the Extra Mile Award for their hard work and dedication to making the CBI program a success in Dawson County.

“The whole department – it’s a testament to you guys,” said Bennett.


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Hershel Bennett hands Rowan Kohl her trophy for being one of the overall award winners in the art and writing contests held during Exceptional Children’s Week. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Celebrating Exceptional Children

Bennett also recognized many outstanding students and teachers who have helped the Exceptional Children program thrive.

At Dawson County Middle School, Jessie Edwards had seven entrepreneurial students who took it upon themselves to host penny wars to raise money for the Dawson County Special Olympics spring games. When they delivered the check, Bennett was surprised to see they raised $320, one penny at a time. 

The 2018 Taking Care of Business Award went to Lauren Stephenson, who has been growing the program at the early childhood education level.

“Lauren moved from a teacher at Riverview to our Director of our Early Childhood program and the first year she took over we expanded it and doubled the size and it looks like we’ll be doubling next year,” Bennett said.

Students were also recognized for winning in art and writing contests during the state of Georgia’s Exceptional Children’s Week in March.

During the week, each school ran contests to earn points. They received points for things like making bulletin boards, hosting lunches and breakfasts, holding trivia contests, drawing and teacher recognitions, making special announcements and entering art and writing contests. Dawson County High School earned the most points during the week.

With 130 entries into the contests, the top 20 winners of the art and writing contests really made an impact and were honored at Monday night’s meeting.

Winners of the art and writing contests include: Aza Farley, Connor Wilson, Chloe Clark, Trace Allen, Pierce Allen, Jason Boyett, Ayden Johnson, Thomas Conowal, Chase Brinton, Hana Fulks, Jordan Cureton, Talon Brannon, Chase Smith, Alexis Smallwood, Sean McCarron, Trevor Sorrells, Evan Noonan, Andie Szal, Jacob Rider and Juan Perez.

The two overall winners were Cash Cook and Rowan Kohl, both from Riverview Elementary.