Education, community, local government focus of annual State of Our Communities event

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Left to right are Dr. Susan Patterson, Suzanne Harbin, Dr. Shane Barnette and Dr. T.J. Franey Friday at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s State of Our Communities event. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce on Friday presented its annual State of Our Communities event, featuring guest speakers: Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson, Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette, Suzanne Harbin on behalf of the Wallace State Future Foundation, special guest speaker WBRC Fox 6 Meteorologist Matt Daniel, Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker, Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs, Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail, Good Hope Mayor Jerry Bartlett and Colony Mayor Donnis Leeth.

State of Education Session

The State of Education session featured speakers Patterson and Barnette.

“It’s a pleasure to be here today to share with you the outstanding things going on in Cullman City Schools,” said Patterson. “Just the past month, we received our final report from the AdvancED Accreditation team; this is the largest accreditation group in the world serving over 36,000 educational institutions. Cullman City earned a score of 375 out of 400. This is on the index of quality education…that is an improvement from our score of 290 five years ago.”

“I’m so excited to be here today,” smiled Barnette, “This year, 2019, marks 110 years that our school system has been in existence. So we’re really excited about that.”

Barnette boasted that the Cullman County Schools system “is still the largest employer in Cullman County. Cullman County Schools employs more than 1,200 full-time employees and then several other hundred part-time employees.”

Barnette also bragged on county schools teams and organizations which have won championships in a wide spectrum of activities and sports this school year.

Cullman Chamber President and CEO Leah Bolin presented the Teacher of the Year awards.

For Cullman City Schools, Salena Mayberry of West Elementary School was named Elementary Teacher of the Year, while Cullman High’s John Drake was named Secondary Teacher of the Year.

For Cullman County Schools, Beth Metcalfe of Holly Pond Middle School won the Elementary Teacher of the Year award, with Shannon Bridges of Vinemont High School being named the Secondary Teacher the Year.

Chamber Chair Dr. T.J. Franey recognized the 2019 Student of the Year nominees: Matthew Blair of Cold Springs, Alex Campbell of Hanceville, Riley Carroll of Fairview, Rachel Hall of Vinemont, Lili Harris of Holly Pond, James McWhorter of Good Hope, Emma Pierce of St. Bernard, Mary Kate Stanford of Cullman, and Lily Whitesell of West Point. The award went to Campbell.

The 2019 Career Technical Student of the Year nominees were Gracie Hudspeth of Hanceville and KC Lenz of West Point. The award went to Hudspeth.

Harbin, on behalf of the Wallace State Future Foundation, presented both winners with a $500 scholarship from the college.

Community Session

WBRC Fox 6 Meteorologist Matt Daniel was the special guest speaker for the first-time “Community Session.” Daniel’s presentation was focused on weather preparedness. Before Daniels gave his presentation, Bolin presented a video of compiled footage and photographs from the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak that reflected on how Cullman was impacted.

Daniel talked about what you can do to protect yourself in a tornado warning, flash flood warning, and lightning from a thunderstorm. He also explained the difference between a watch and warning for both tornadoes and flash floods. Daniel presented information that showed that the infamous “Tornado Alley” is shifting toward “Dixie Alley” which is basically what is “east of the Mississippi.”

State of Local Government Session

Walker was the first to present in the State of Local Government segment. After presenting the 2019 Cullman County budget, Walker urged residents of Cullman County to take the 2020 Census seriously.

Shared Walker, “In preparation for the census, we met with Governor (Kay) Ivey and ADECA (Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs) Director Kenneth Boswell earlier this month to kick off ‘Alabama Counts’ which is an effort to make sure that all residents in the county, make sure they fill out the census out. For the first time since 1790 the census has moved away from paper; primarily it will be done on computers and the outside workers will be coming around with their iPad or their phone now.”

Walker also recommended that Cullman County residents take interest in signing up to work for the census as well, stating only 72 have signed up for Cullman County and the county needs 600 workers.

Find out more at https://census.alabama.gov/.

Jacobs gave an update on the project to complete the expansion of Alabama Highway 157 from two lanes to four between U.S. Highway 31 and Alabama Highway 69. The project was announced back in December 2018 and made possible by a $14 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grant program. Jacobs shared that the process has already been started.

Nail spoke about late West Point Mayor Kenneth Kilgo, to which the State of Local Government session was dedicated, sharing, “Kenneth was my good friend. Kenneth was a good friend to all the mayors. You know we have a great work relationship, all the mayors up here would agree that we have a great work relationship with each other. Kilgo loved West Point; he fought for you guys and I just wanna say that.”

Continued Nail, “I got some exciting things to tell you about what’s going on in Hanceville. We are trying to finish up our streetscape project which will go from Commercial Street to 91 Highway. We have applied for a Community Development Block Grant, which we got turned down for that.”

Nail also announced he will be traveling to Mobile next Friday to receive the ACE (Alabama Community of Excellence) Award which the city has been working toward for a year and half now.

Nail smiled, “Hanceville will be the first city in Cullman County to be an ACE community.”       

Bartlett shared, “Good Hope is one of the fastest growing cities or municipalities in Cullman County. It’s because we have the interstate nearby and Cullman is right, you know, we joined Cullman and Cullman’s growing toward us; this is something that has changed drastically in one year.”

Bartlett said Good Hope will be able to support new housing and development plans. The new St. Antonio subdivision will feature craftsman-style houses ranging from $190,000 to $285,000 or $290,000; the houses will be customizable, according to Bartlett.

Leeth echoed Nail about Kilgo, saying “He loved West Point. when I became mayor, I was talking to him on how to do stuff; he helped me a lot… I’m telling you, y’all lost an icon.”

Leeth talked about Colony, sharing things happening in the community. The town now has a storm shelter, a Carpenter’s Cabinet food pantry and soon a Dollar General.

He praised his colleagues, smiling, “Cullman County is the best (county) you want to live in. I’ll tell you why: they treat me like I’m somebody. I’d go to commissioners, Mayor Jacobs, Mayor Nail, or the mayor of Good Hope, and we can talk about anything. Anything.”

Continued Leeth, “I don’t let nothing stop me from helping my town and my community. Like I said about Cullman County, they’ll help you, don’t matter what your race is,” said Leeth. “I do things that help everybody in the community and around the community, that’s my job.”

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Maggie Darnell

maggie@cullmantribune.com