Editor’s note: This article features news and photos from past editions of the Ashe Post and Times (previously the Ashe Mountain Times).
Jan. 24, 2013
Officials nationwide are grappling with the reality of the need for increased security in the wake of the mid-December Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Those officials include Ashe County commissioners, who are also etching out a plan to better safeguard students.
County commissioners met with administrators with the Ashe County School System Tuesday afternoon to discuss possible options in protecting the county’s five public schools in the event of a school shooting.
School system officials and commissioners are currently exploring the possibility of implementing a school resource officer in each of the county’s three elementary schools.
Two SROs are currently assigned to Ashe County High and Ashe County Middle schools.
School officials would like to have this same level of security at Mountain View, Blue Ridge and Westwood elementary schools.
After some preliminary research, Ashe Sheriff James Williams said it would cost tax payers approximately $85,000 to $100,000 to fund each additional SRO.
This cost would include the officer’s vehicle, equipment, salary, benefits and training.
Williams said he has been in contact with deputies within his department who have expressed interest in the positions.
Concerned by the burden on taxpayers, Commissioner Gerald Price asked Johnson if any other options existed.
“Has the school board of Ashe County genuinely and truly looked at other options, for example, teachers taking concealed carry permit training?” asked Price.
Extrapolating the figures provided by the sheriff for the total cost of footing the bill for additional SRO’s (including the purchase of a squad car) and the cost of protecting the students the entire time they are enrolled in the school system, Price reasoned this would cost approximately $3 million.
“For the benefit of the 85-year-old lady who can’t buy her groceries, medicine, or pay her light bill, we need to think of them,” said Price. “We took an oath to serve the public, not just one entity.”
Ashe School Superintendent Donnie Johnson said the school system has looked into a “buzzed-in system” where visitors of the school would have to receive security clearance and be properly identified before they would be allowed to enter a school building.
This type of system would cost approximately $7,500 per door, said Johnson.
Commissioner Gary Roark inquired about the possibility of contracting with a security agency to provided guards at the schools instead of resource officers.
Roark said this would cost approximately $26,000 per guard, including equipment.
“I would rather have a trained law enforcement officer, as opposed to a security company,” said Williams. “When going that route, you don’t know what kind of background checks they do or how they are trained. I feel the parents would much rather see trained officers with years of experience under their belt rather than someone outside of the county.”
Williams also said he has received information that school boosters with Westwood Elementary have expressed interest in donating $16,000 for the purpose of an on-campus SRO.
“There is a great desire to get this done,” said Williams.
“The SRO is about the best way we can go,” added Commissioner Judy Poe.
Not including salaries, Williams said the initial startup costs for the additional officers would not be recurring and the vehicles used by them would not be rotated out for another three years.
Williams added that having a police car in the parking lot alone could be a “big deterrent” to potential shooters who know they will have someone firing back at them if they chose to attempt to injure students.
Other commissioners voiced their support.
“We are all aware of the costs involved,” said Commissioner Larry Rhodes. “I don’t know if any of us can put a value on a life.”
Johnson added that the on-campus SRO is the first point of contact all visitors have at the high school and middle school.
Another issue commissioners and school administrators were tasked with was what to do with the former West Jefferson Elementary School building that contains the Ashe Learning Center and four pre-K classrooms: Would the center also receive officers?
Johnson said these classrooms report back to their respective home schools and would not be at the center if room existed at the elementary schools.
In addition, the center does not have an official school code.
Commissioners also pointed to the close proximity of the West Jefferson Police Department, which frequents the building while officers are on patrol.
Jan. 22, 2015
The Martin Luther King Day Celebration was held at the Ashe County Arts Center on Monday, Jan. 19, to honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
The featured speaker for Monday night’s event was Donna Washington, a famed storyteller and author, who focuses on breaking down cultural barriers through learning and telling stories.
Rather than telling a story she picked up elsewhere, Washington actually looked inward, and told a story from her own life. Born into a military family with six siblings, Washington’s father moved the family around every two or three years due to his military career.
Washington said her father was 6 feet 4 inches tall, and practiced several different martial arts during the course of his military career.
Once while on a road trip, a young Washington and her brothers and sisters asked to stop for food. During the stop, a situation occurred where a Southern man almost came into a conflict with Washington’s father. But instead of doing anything violent, Washington’s father managed to diffuse the situation with humor.
“My father could have done any number of things, but he did what was right,” Washington said to the audience, which numbered roughly 80 people. “You have to live the dream. You have to be the change you want to see.”
The dream Washington was referring to was King’s dream of racial equality, integration and cooperation.
Washington wasn’t the only presenter featured during the Martin Luther King Day Celebration.
Sharon Kasel and Fontrina Wray brought to life a powerful interview given by the late Maya Angelou on Jan. 22, 1997, in Highpoint.
During the interview, Angelou, who met King at the age of 27, was asked what quality made King the great leader he was. Angelou simply answered “courage.”
Angelou reasoned that courage is the most important virtue, because courage allows other key qualities to shine through. Kindness can be limited without the courage to be kind, and so can generosity, and even love.
Following the performance given by Kasel and Wray, Becky Marsten read a poem by Angelou titled “Reverend Martin Luther King,” which honored King’s life.
To accompany the speakers and dramatic readings, songs were sung by a community choir featuring members from Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Cox’s Grove Baptist Church and Macedonia Baptist Church.
Members of the audience were encouraged to sing along with the community choir.
The programs handed out to the visitors contained the words to the choir’s first selection, titled “Lift Every Voice & Sing.” The programs also contained an excerpt from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963:
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
Jan. 26, 2017
Nearly 300 people were marching up and down the streets of West Jefferson on Jan. 21 in a Women’s March, an event which coincided with the national Women’s March on Washington, D.C., that same day.
“I am marching for unity and the hope that people will respect and honor everyone,” said Christine Franklin of West Jefferson. “That’s the message we need to hold onto and that’s the only way we’re going to be united. A lot of people, myself included, are feeling helpless, and rather than being hopeless, we can say that we have free speech in this country.”
People came out for the march from Ashe, Avery, Watauga, Alleghany, Wilkes and Surry counties, as well as from the states of Virginia and Tennessee.
“I watched yesterday’s events (the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20) on and off throughout the day, and I decided that we needed to present another viewpoint. I’m marching for women’s’ rights and I am a rainbow person as well,” said Gwen Nachman of Ennice in Alleghany County.
Participants marched for supporting reproductive rights, LGBT rights, workers rights, civil rights, immigration rights, ending violence and environmental justice.
“I’m here for my children,” said Rachel Deichman of Sugar Grove. “I’m not a political person, but after having children, it’s important for me to ensure their futures.”
March communications director Vicki Randolph stated that she was thrilled with the turnout, as about 280 people showed up for the march.
“It feels amazing. It was way more than we ever expected,” said Randolph. “We planned it only a few days ago and the turnout was fantastic. We had people here from different political, religious and gender affiliations. We had people from every age group. I’m a bit speechless and amazed and blown away. As far as I know, this is the first time West Jefferson has ever done anything like this.”
The West Jefferson march was formed by event coordinator Berkeley Brown of West Jefferson.
Brown stated that there were more than 600 women marches going on across the nation Jan. 21, including the march on Washington, D.C.
“This is being replicated all over the country,” said Linda Jencson of Blowing Rock. “There were massive storms crossing the country, and in Atlanta, people were still marching despite the rain. I think that the fact that West Jefferson had this march is fantastic.”
Several citizens of Ashe County had also shown displeasure in the marches.
“I was very ashamed of the Democrats and how they handled the election,” said Mary Desautels, former chairwoman of the Ashe County Republican Party. “They act like spoiled brats. They’re out there claiming to represent all woman. They don’t represent everyone and they don’t represent me at all.
“If you’re going to follow a cause, you need to do it with dignity and class. The Republican Party has spent eight years enduring (former President Barack) Obama. The Republicans and conservatives have spent eight years dealing with someone without temper tantrums. The Republican Party in Ashe County endeavored to treat his office with the dignity it deserved. I didn’t see any of that in the demonstrations I watched.
“I don’t understand why some of them are targeting the president and current administration with their signs and banners. He has never said anything about taking away women’s rights with the exception of (being) pro-life,” said Tammie Pruitt-Coffey of Laurel Springs. “ I think it is ridiculous. All these marches and protests make America look weak.”
Other citizens saw the marches as a way for people to band together, motivate one another and promote a better future.
“I think the community groups, people pulling together, standing up for each other and motivating one another shows that we can do something even in small numbers,” said Fuschia Moss, who was marching for her daughter, Skylar.
Brown stated that the march was kept peaceful and was meant to spread things that people wanted, not what people hated.
“We aimed for this to be a pro-march,” said Brown. “Our vision statement for this march was that we keep it a march focused on what we want to see, not what we don’t want to see. There were a lot of different things being promoted. It gave people a chance to have a voice and stand up and work toward their benefits and rights. People have concerns that a lot of policies and beliefs that carry towards protecting our people and the planet are going to be taken away or denied completely.”
“I’m marching because I’m really frightened that the new administration and the Congress are going to be very anti-human rights and are going to do irreparable harm to our country,” said Jencson. “I’m here to make a clear statement that I’m going to do everything I can to protect all the great things about our and make this country better. This is the real America.”