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Rockdale commissioners Oz Nesbitt Sr., Sherri Washington have heated debate over severance for Jorge Diez
  • Updated



CONYERS — A discussion over a severance package for former Public Relations Department director Jorge Diez erupted into a heated debate between Board of Commissioners Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. and Post 1 Commissioner Sherri Washington at a March work session.

Diez, who ran Nesbitt’s campaign in 2016 when Nesbitt was first elected chairman, was named director of Community Affairs and Innovative Programming for the county in February 2017. That position later evolved into the Public Relations Department.

Diez abruptly resigned on Feb. 26, and after Washington met with him, she and Post 2 Commissioner Dr. Doreen Williams apparently agreed to give Diez a severance package with a one-time lump sum payment of $31,155.90. Board approval of the package by ratification after the agreement and payment had been made was the topic of discussion at the March 16 work session, with the ratification vote set for the March 23 BOC meeting.

According to records obtained by the Citizen through an Open Records request, Diez was paid for 155.2 hours of paid time off that he had accrued and an additional three months of salary based on his annual compensation of $105,000. As part of the severance agreement drawn up by County Attorney Qader Baig, Diez agrees to release the county from any claims or demands “arising either directly or indirectly out of Diez’ present or past employment relationship with the county.”

The Citizen is pursuing additional county public records related to Diez’s employment and the circumstances surrounding his departure from the county.

At the March 16 work session, Washington and Williams initially made no comment on the issue, but Nesbitt stated he was “looking for clarity,” since Diez resigned rather than being released by the county.

“My understanding has always been clear that when we talk about a severance, a severance is not paid to an employee who quits their job,” Nesbitt said. “Mr. Diez submitted a resignation and quit his job abruptly, and said to the chief of staff that it was effective immediately, and he turned it in and walked out. (There is) nowhere in Rockdale County or Georgia where an employee walks in and tells their employer he quits, and then someone turns around and rewards them with a severance. He’s already received a check in the amount of $31,155.90.

“Next week there is going to be a vote. I’m already voting against this,” Nesbitt said on March 16. “This is not something that I can support. First of all, it is a slap in the face to the taxpayers and citizens of Rockdale County. Number two, to all of the employees of the county, it is a slap in their faces and setting a precedent on behalf of the county. These inconsistent practices are something I cannot and will not support.”

Washington then said she was ready to comment. She said prior to his resignation, that she was made aware by Diez of a meeting he had with Nesbitt in which Diez presented a letter outlining needs of his department. Diez secretly recorded the meeting and allowed Washington to hear the recording (Under Georgia law, in a conversation between two people, as long as one of the two knows the conversation is being taped, it is legal to record it.)

In the letter Diez asks to be included as one of the county’s executive directors “in both substance and in salary.”

“This move will set the tone for your endorsement and clear up any lingering questions as to my current professional status within your administration,” Diez wrote.

Washington said she took offense both at the way Nesbitt talked to Diez and also at remarks he made about her and Williams.

“That recording; I will give you my three D’s,” said Washington, who is an attorney. “It was disgusting. It was demoralizing. It was degrading, not only to him, but to us as board members. It was a recording that, if I had to defend, there was no defense for it in the matter of creating a hostile work environment...

“One of the things he (Diez) asked for was consideration for a raise similar to the ones that you had just given three other people, and the vileness and the disgusting manner in which you spoke to that gentleman was incomprehensible,” she added. “I can’t believe that he made it beyond that meeting without turning in his resignation.

“I was embarrassed and disgusted when I heard the recording, and so I believe that a severance was in order because in this we have asked that he give up any rights that he may have to come back and sue us for a hostile work environment,” Washington continued. “It wasn’t my idea to put all this on the record, but you asked why we would pay him $31,000? We would have paid him more than that in attorneys’ fees once he filed the lawsuit. So we figured that this would be a great way to cut our losses and for us to move on and he to move on as we protect this county. So that is why we entertained a severance.”

Nesbitt responded that “as the the day-to-day manager, the county administrator, the chairman and CEO of the county, who holds every employee that reports to me accountable, that is the not duty of Post 1 or Post 2. If you received what I received from him, then you would have known that the chewing out he received was warranted.”

Washington stated she had also received a copy of the letter Diez gave Nesbitt. She did not provide specific details about what is contained in the recording Diez shared with her.

“In several instances, you referred to that particular letter and not only were you degrading to him, but you made several degrading references to us in your comments to him,” she said. “You talk about us having a great relationship, us repairing whatever relationship we have, but then when we’re not there, you go and make certain comments, and we’re still put on the defensive at any given time.”

Nesbitt stated that he holds department directors to a high degree of accountability and that if they do something wrong, they will be held accountable.

“That accountability may include a chewing out,” Nesbitt said. “I may have hurt his feelings and chewed him out, but it doesn’t mean that he got fired and it doesn’t mean or warrant that the Board of Commissioners is supposed to give him a severance. You made the decision, along with Commissioner Williams, you all are going to make a vote next week. I’ve stated what my position is. I don’t think that just because you get chewed out by your boss and you don’t get fired when you should have been fired, you decide that you’re going to go and get a severance.”

At the BOC meeting on March 23, the vote to ratify the severance package for Diez was 2-1, with Washington and Williams voting in favor, and Nesbitt dissenting.

Meet Rockdale County’s valedictorians, salutatorians for 2021
  • Updated

CONYERS — The valedictorians and salutatorians for the class of 2021 in Rockdale County were notified in surprise announcements March 26 by a caravan of administrators, counselors, teachers, and school resource officers driving to each student’s home to present a yard sign and celebrate the remarkable accomplishment of these top scholars who achieved despite the challenges this pandemic year.

These students will lead their respective senior classes in their school’s graduation ceremony, which is scheduled to be held in-person this year. The Salem High School graduation ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, May 26, at SHS; the Rockdale County High School and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology graduation ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, May 27, at RCHS; and the Heritage High School graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday, May 28 at HHS. For more information, please visit www.rockdaleschools.org/graduation2021.

Following is information about the top graduates at each Rockdale County high school:


HHS Valedictorian

Name: Mackenzie Sealy

Family: Schad Sealy (dad), Christal Sealy (mom), Schase Sealy (older brother)

Intended College/University: Georgia State University Honor College

Intended Major: Nursing

Intended Career Field: Health care (traveling registered nurse)

RCPS Schools Attended: Conyers Middle, Heritage High, Rockdale Career Academy

Awards/Scholarships: Superintendent’s Academic Award

Extracurricular Activities: National Honors Society, Beta Club, RCA Ambassadors

Favorite Subjects: Health care science and math

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: “Mr. Moore and Ms. Betty Conover at Conyers Middle School. Ms. Conover was one of the first teachers I met once I moved to Conyers, and she really played a key role in my development of using my voice as an instrument of knowledge. Ms. Conover was the AVID instructor at CMS, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. She always focused on helping her students learn how to not shrink back or ‘bite their tongue’ when it comes to using their brainpower, and sharing it with others. Spending a year with Ms. Conover in AVID was truly instrumental to my development in becoming more open to speaking in front of classmates, as well as anyone else who I needed to speak in front of.

“Mr. Moore: I moved to Georgia the summer before my eighth grade year started. There was so much confusion once school started, dealing with getting me into the correct classes. Once I was placed in Mr. Moore’s Carnegie coordinate algebra class, I was worried about being behind from missing the majority of the first semester. But Mr. Moore was able to get me completely caught up with all the material I had missed, and I ended up doing great in the class. Taking the coordinate algebra course was vital to enabling my schedule to fall into place once I began taking Dual Enrollment courses. Mr. Moore has a way of seeming so genuinely interested in every one of his students getting the quality education they need to receive, and that was so important to me. I’ll always remember that about him.”

Best high school experience: “Through the Work-Based Learning program at RCA, I was able to have an internship, as a high school student, at a doctor’s office. I started working there in August of 2020, and I’m still there now. By working at the doctor’s office, I am able to gain so much experience that will be so useful to me once I begin my career in health care.”

What was your reaction when you found out you were valedictorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “Seeing and hearing the caravan come up my street with all the sirens scared me and caught me so off guard because I had no idea what was going on. But after I heard (HHS Principal) Mrs. Richards announce my name, I was beyond excited! It was such a special moment. I’ve been ranked number 2 since the beginning of my junior year. So, ever since then I’ve had the very faint hope of becoming number 1, but I was primarily focused on just keeping my place of number 2. So, once I heard that I had become the valedictorian of my class, I was so shocked and literally overjoyed. Hearing that news just validated all the hard work I had done throughout my entire schooling experience.”What was your family’s and friends’ reaction?

“My family and friends all say that they weren’t surprised, because they always see me stressing over some school assignment, but nevertheless, they were super excited and extremely proud of me once they heard the news.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer? “I look forward to traveling this summer with my ministry as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has always been a dream of mine to travel as many places as I can. So, this summer, if the pandemic allows me to, I plan to begin that journey, along with some friends of course.”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “This past year was extremely difficult for me, considering the circumstances. But one thing that I really realized is that there is never time for slacking. There will never be time to let up on your work ethic, and lose sight of your goals. Staying diligent and always remaining focused is the key to success.”

Advice for freshmen: “My advice for a freshman would be to never be afraid to be different and stand out amongst others. One thing I’ve noticed while going through high school is that often, when you’re taking important steps and decisions in order to achieve your goals, you may be the only one on that path. That alone may be discouraging to someone who is afraid to stand out. But if you want to be truly successful, don’t let the fact that you may be on your own in that moment discourage your progress. Let others catch up to you.”

HHS Salutatorian

Name: Jaca Lynn Buddenbaum

Family: Lisa and Tony Morton (mom and stepdad), David and Laura Buddenbaum (dad and stepmom), Janet and Sam Rawls and Warren and Judie Buddenbaum (grandparents)

Intended College/University (or deciding between): Deciding between University of Georgia, Berry, or Kennesaw State

Intended Major: Undecided

Intended Career Field: Undecided

RCPS Schools Attended: Peeks Chapel Elementary, Lorraine Elementary, Barksdale Elementary, Davis Middle, Heritage High, Rockdale Career Academy.

Awards/Scholarships: Superintendent’s Academic Award, Zell Miller Scholarship, UGA Certificate of Merit, Berry Academic Scholarship

Extracurricular Activities: Technical Theater, Culinary Arts, and FCCLA

Favorite Subjects: History and world languages

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: “My freshman and sophomore year math teacher, Mrs. Elder, really helped me to understand and gain an appreciation for math as I’ve never really been a math person. I also want to thank Ms. Ray, my Spanish and Italian teacher, for helping me develop my love for world languages.”

Best high school experience: “Being a part of winning the State One Act Competition in my freshman year and then winning again and getting to perform at the International Thespian Conference in my sophomore year.”

What was your reaction when you found out you were salutatorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “I was very shocked and overwhelmed. I really didn’t see this honor coming to me, so when the caravan arrived, I was confused at first, but then when I saw my dad there as well Mrs. Richards, it kind of sunk in that it was real and I was super overwhelmed.”

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? “I typically don’t like surprises, so I think they were excited about seeing my reaction. Afterwards everyone told me they were very proud and excited for me. I was very happy that my family and friend were able to see the caravan arrive at my house, and I think that made it even more memorable.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer? “I look forward to having time to relax, read, cook and craft.”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “I think I learned not to take certain events and circumstances for granted because you never know what is going to happen. There were many things I was looking forward to doing that didn’t happen, and now I won’t get to do those things.”

Advice for freshmen: “Try to get involved and be a part of things you’re interested in as that’s where you develop the relationships and support that will be there for you throughout high school.”


RCHS Valedictorian

Name: Nathan Avery Crafts

Family: Monica Crafts (mother), Norman Crafts (father), Noah Crafts and Morgan Crafts (siblings)

Intended College/University: Georgia State UniversityIntended Major: Art

Intended Career Field: Concept artist

RCPS Schools Attended: Flat Shoals Elementary, Honey Creek Elementary, Memorial Middle, Rockdale County High, Rockdale Career Academy.

Awards/Scholarships: Principal’s List, RCHS & RCA; Graduating with Honors from Clayton State University, associate of science degree (May 1st); Dean’s List, Clayton State University (age 15-16), Dual Enrollment; Superintendent’s Academic Award (top 10 of class); Georgia Certificate of Merit for outstanding academic achievement; Rensselaer Medal Award for outstanding academic achievement in mathematics and science

Extracurricular Activities: Mu Alpha Theta (Mathematics Honor Society); National Honor Society; Skills U.S.A: Team member; Legislative Page, Georgia House of Representatives; Bruce Street Historic Cemetery Clean Up Leader; H.O.M.E. (Helping Oppressed Mothers Endure) volunteer for annual coat and toy drive and special fundraising events; Student Tutor/Mentor; A.W.A.R.E. Wildlife Center volunteer

Favorite Subjects: Psychology, art

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: “The most memorable help that I have gotten is from my graphic design teacher at RCA, Shaun Freeman. Over the past three years of being in his class, he has not only helped me develop my art skills, but he has also helped me explore pathways for my future career.”

Best high school experience: “Friends are irreplaceable. My friends contributed to my high school experience and without them, high school would not have been very interesting.”

What was your reaction when you found out you were valedictorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “I wasn’t really surprised that I was named valedictorian. With all the work I’ve put in and the exceptional support and encouragement from my family and my counselors, Shayla Thompson and Karen Hardy, it came as no surprise. As for the caravan, I was incredibly surprised once I saw it. I’m very thankful for the overwhelming amount of support.”

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? “My whole family was in on the surprise, but everyone was very excited for me.”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “This past year has been very difficult for a lot of people due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, hope for a better future keeps me moving forward.”

Advice for freshmen: “Explore. Education takes many forms in RCPS. With so many different educational options, you have the ability to explore different pathways and sample career options. Dual enrollment, which is open to most students, is a good way to experience college level courses. Additionally, Rockdale Career Academy is a very good place to refine specific skills and hone in on a future career.”

RCHS Salutatorian

Name: Alexis Makayla Jones

Family: Sabrina Jones (mom), Tee Jones (dad), Allison Jones (younger sister), Tee Jr. (brother), Sydney Jones (youngest sister)

Intended College/University: Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (Florida A&M University) in the fall on a softball scholarship.

Intended Major: Nursing

Intended Career Field: Health care field

Schools Attended: E.L. Bouie Sr. Traditional Theme school in DeKalb County, grades K-5. Davis Middle School, grades 6-8. Rockdale Magnet ninth grade. Rockdale Magnet and Rockdale Career Academy 10th grade. RCA, RCHS and Point University 11th and 12th grades.

Awards/Scholarships: Softball Scholarship to Florida A&M University, Georgia Certificate of Merit (top 5 percent of juniors in Georgia), Superintendent’s Academic Award

Extracurricular Activities: I enjoy softball, track, traveling and shopping.

Memorable help from a Teacher/Staff/Mentor: “I am forever grateful to Mr. Williams, the assistant director at Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology. Mr. Williams would always check on me and ask how I was doing in all my classes, especially pre-calculus as that was the class I struggled in most.”

Best high school experience: “I don’t have a specific high school experience that stands out to me, but my most memorable experiences have happened on the track and softball field. I will never forget when I hit a walk off to win the game on senior night. Rockdale had not won a senior night in at least four years prior. I will also never forget the many days I’d sit in the weight room and chat with Coach Baldwin, my beloved track coach and one of my favorite teachers, may he rest in peace.”

What was your reaction when you found out you were salutatorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “I knew that I was ranked number 2 in my class, but I was unaware of when valedictorian/salutatorian would be finalized. I was very surprised when I heard sirens and car horns outside my home.”

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? “The main reaction from my family and friends was shock. Many people did not realize how smart I was, especially my siblings. I always share the sports side of my life, so everyone was shocked that I also excel in the classroom. My grandma and parents were extremely proud of me.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer? “This summer I look forward to packing up my things and moving into my beautiful dorm at Florida A&M University.”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “This past year has taught me to be a self-motivator. Learning virtually has been a challenge as I don’t have to physically get up and go. While it is comfortable to learn virtually it is also very easy to fall asleep and get behind in classes.”

Advice for Freshmen: “My advice for freshmen would be to do work ahead of time so that you don’t feel stressed. Starting an assignment when its given will help you to not be behind on work by the end of the week. Nobody wants to be doing homework all weekend.”

Additional thoughts: “Being salutatorian was never my goal, it just happened. I got to this point by submitting all my assignments and making sure they were of high quality. I grew up knowing that success was important to me, and good grades were the first step to success.”


RMSST Valedictorian

Name: Gabrielle Wood

Family: Maureen Wood (mom), David Wood (dad), Laila Wood (sister), Brianna Wood (sister)

Intended College/University (or deciding between): Dual Degree with Spelman College and Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech, Howard University, University of Georgia, Vanderbilt University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Intended Major: Environmental engineering (or chemical engineering)

Intended Career Field: Environmental engineering and business

RCPS Schools Attended: J.H. House Elementary, Memorial Middle, and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology

Awards/Scholarships: Foundation Fellowship Scholarship at UGA; Recipient of Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship; Finalist for the Karsh STEM Scholars program at Howard University; National Merit Commended Scholar; Furman University Scholar; Georgia Certificate of Merit Scholar; Wellesley Book Award; American Meteorological Society Award, American Psychological Association Award, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Award at Rockdale Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

Extracurricular Activities: Varsity and Club Softball Starting Pitcher, Founder/President Magnet Inc Entrepreneurship club. RCHS TREE (Treehuggers Responsible for Earth and Environment) Club, Rockdale Youth Leadership, Student Council. Golf (2021 is my first season playing. I really enjoy it. It is a good way to get out of the house these days with a socially distanced sport). Swim Team (2018-2019; I love to swim; I did not continue because of the time commitment and conflicts with training for softball season.)

Favorite Subjects: Math, social studies (Especially U.S. government and politics, and macroeconomics), science (chemistry, physics, environmental science)

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: “Mr. Scott Robinson and his help with the Magnet Inc. Entrepreneurship club and scientific research. Dr. Garner teaching calculus. It is a hard class, but he is very engaging. Mrs. Wisneweski her AP Seminar class has helped me greatly improve my research, analysis, and writing skills. Mrs. Williams and her engineering and computer science classes have exposed me to a variety of topics and allowed me to explore without limits. Ms. Cobb, my counselor, has helped me so much during this college and scholarship application process.”

Best high school experience: “This is hard to determine exactly, but I think my best high school experience would have to be designing and building a three-story house with a rooftop garden out of popsicle sticks. It was a project for my engineering applications class in 10th grade. I worked on it with a friend. It was challenging, fun and rewarding when we finally finished it. It looked amazing.”

What was your reaction when you found out you were valedictorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “I was very surprised by the caravan this morning. Initially, I just saw a police car and one other car, so I thought that someone was getting pulled over. My parents told me they were here for me, and more cars started pulling up and honking. I thought I was in trouble for something at first and everyone was upset with me. Then, I realized it was a drive-by, but I had no idea what for. It wasn’t my birthday. Finally, I saw everyone step out of their cars, and I realized that the lady who works for the county, some of the school staff, and some teachers were there. I finally figured out that the caravan was for my being named valedictorian. I was very surprised and very grateful for the recognition.”

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? “My family and friends were all very excited for me and proud.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer? “I look forward to relaxing, hopefully hanging out with friends, swimming, golfing when it’s not too hot outside, speaking Spanish regularly, preparing for college, and having a good time.”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “This past year has helped me to slow down and reflect on life, something I should continue to do even after the pandemic. I have also taken away from this year the importance of cherishing the relationships I have with my family and friends. “

Advice for freshmen: “Enjoy every moment. Don’t let anything or anyone worry you or stress you out. I don’t care how big they tell you the project, homework, or test... how important the meeting is, how challenging the competition is. Don’t lose sleep, don’t lose sanity. You decide what your priorities are, you plan to do what you need to do, and that’s the end of it. Secondly, don’t regret not speaking up or trying something new. Explore, have fun. The worst thing someone can say to you is ‘no’.”

RMSST Salutatorian

Name: Ava Bailey

Family: Wake and Kim Bailey

Intended College/University: Duke University

Intended Major: Physics

Intended Career Field: Scientific research

RCPS Schools Attended: Lorraine Elementary, Memorial Middle, Davis Middle, Rockdale Magnet School

Awards/ Scholarships: Awards: National AP Scholar, Georgia Certificate of Merit Winner, Furman Scholar, two-time presenter at the Georgia Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, presenter at the Japan Super Science Fair, presenter at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, 3rd Honors at the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair.Scholarships: Snapping Shoals EMC Washington Youth Tour Scholarship, Snapping Shoals Bradley K. Thomas Scholarship

Extracurricular Activities: Varsity tennis, Student Council, Science Team, Women on the Way to Success

Favorite Subjects: Physics, calculus, biology

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: “The most influential exchange I had with a teacher would have to be when Ms. Caroline Snell introduced me to scientific research in sixth grade. She always believed in me and pushed me to do my best work, and that attitude carried over into my high school academics which played a significant role in my motivation to do my best in school and is one of the reasons I am now the salutatorian.”

Best high school experience: Traveling to Kobe, Japan for the Super Science Fair.

What was your reaction when you found out you were salutatorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “I was honored to be named salutatorian and very grateful that so many amazing staff members took the time to help recognize me.”

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? “My family and friends were so excited to see my hard work pay off.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer? “Over the summer I plan to spend as much time with my family and friends as possible before heading to school in August.”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “Some of the most important things this weird senior year has taught me is to be adaptable and seize every opportunity. Things will not always go according to plan, and having the skills to adapt and move forward is crucial in the real world. Because life is so variable, sometimes you will miss out on greatly anticipated opportunities, so make the most out of the experiences that are presented to you.”

Advice for freshmen: “Set goals for yourself, and never lose sight of them. My own internal goals for academic success were the primary motivating force for me.”


SHS Valedictorian

Name: Alana Williamson

Family: Melissa Williamson (mother), Bobby Williamson (father), Michael Williamson (brother)

Intended College/University: Honors College at Georgia State University.

Intended Major: Biology

Intended Career Field: “I hope to go on to get a medical degree and practice as a family physician.”

RCPS Schools Attended: Salem High School (11th and 12th grades)

Awards/Scholarships: National Merit Scholarship Commended Scholar, Zell Miller Scholarship, GSU 1913 Founders Scholarship

Extracurricular Activities: “At my previous high school, I got the bulk of my volunteer hours from helping in the cafeteria during lunch. I loved those days, not because I got to leave class, but because of how much fun I had serving others. I also enjoy helping people with their schoolwork outside of class. When I was a freshman, I got together with a few upperclassmen and formed a math tutoring club. It’s such a good feeling to see yourself making a positive difference in another person’s life, even if it’s just helping them understand a math problem.”

Favorite Subjects: Any math, biology, chemistry, and art

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: “I owe a huge thank-you to Candice Anderson, my counselor. When I was first going through the process of switching schools before my junior year, there were so many forms to fill out, people to talk to, and deadlines to meet. I was constantly worried that I was forgetting something or doing something wrong that could potentially jeopardize my high school career. I heavily relied on Ms. Anderson to help guide me through the whole process. If I didn’t have her to break huge tasks down for me and let me know what I needed to do, I doubt that I would have been as successful as I have been these last few years. I appreciate how much she does for me and other students so, so much.”

Best high school experience: “I think that all my favorite moments were when my parents, instructors, and other people I look up to told me how proud they were of me: when my parents catch a glimpse of a good grade I made and give me a hug, when Ms. Anderson or Mr. Porter tell me over video calls that I’m doing well and to keep up the good work, when one of my teachers uses my work as an example or hands me a test back and there’s a little compliment or some words of encouragement written in red pen in the margins. All of these moments are small, not more than a few seconds each, but the warm feeling of pride that I get every single time compounds, slowly and pleasantly building up inside of me. I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful for all the people who have supported me as I grew and continue to grow. Those little words of praise mean absolutely everything to me, and I’m so happy that I’ve surpassed people’s expectations. I’m glad that I’m making you proud; it’s because of you that I’m where I am today.”

What was your reaction when you found out you were valedictorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “Thanks to the little class ranking at the bottom of my transcript, I knew I was in the running for valedictorian a little while beforehand. I was surprised and quite flattered when I first found out, but I knew I obviously had to keep working hard if I wanted to keep that ranking. I, however, was not expecting an entire caravan to pull up in front of my house and congratulate me. I heard it before I saw it. The honking of the car horns and all the people coming onto my front yard startled me at first, but I was honored that everyone went out of their way to make such a huge commotion over me. I wasn’t expecting it, but the moment was very sweet.”

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? “My little brother was watching the whole thing from inside. He seemed surprised, maybe more so than I was. He teased me a little bit when I came back inside, saying it was good I wasn’t still wearing my pajamas. My mom and dad both hugged me and told me how proud they were of me.”

What do you look forward to doing over the summer? “I’m not really too sure yet. I’ll probably take some time over the break to unwind, draw, and play some video games I’ve been meaning to get to. If current world affairs allow it, I might get a part-time job to help cushion my remaining college costs.”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “This last school year has been demanding for everyone, to say the least. I think the biggest thing I’ve took from it is how to adapt to circumstances that might not be ideal. Online classes were a sudden change, but I’ve been working hard and trying my best to come out on top.”

Advice for freshmen: “Be aware of what opportunities you have! It’s way too easy to miss out on awesome experiences if you don’t look for them. I didn’t know that you could take Dual Enrollment classes in person on a college campus until late in my sophomore year. If you feel like you’re being held back or you’re not able to reach your full academic potential, reach out! Do research. When you’re a freshman, senior year feels like it’s ages away, but it will arrive before you know it. Don’t waste time. Get out there and make the most of every moment.”

SHS Salutatorian

Name: Nazarene Campodonico

Family: Taina Hernandez (mom), Morgan Ricks (dad), Alexander Campodonico (brother), Anais Ricks (sister), Judah Ricks (brother)

Intended College/University (or deciding between): Georgia College, Nazareth College, Berry College.

Intended Major: Double major in music therapy and theatre.

Intended Career Field: Music therapist

RCPS Schools Attended: Memorial Middle, Salem High, Rockdale Career Academy.

Awards/Scholarships: Wellesley Book Award & The Thespian Honor Society Student Achievement Award.

Extracurricular Activities: “I love to perform in theatre productions, sing, and blog!”

Favorite Subjects: English!

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: “My junior year, I was struggling in math class. I had my first C, which was a moment of panic for me! No matter how hard I studied and practiced math, I just could not grasp the content or pass any tests. I ended up speaking with my math teacher at the time, Dr. Wisdom, and he encouraged me to keep trying. He made me realize that I simply needed to push myself more. A year later, I began a Dual Enrollment math class. Oddly enough, I’m now doing the best that I’ve ever done in a math class! I believe that if Dr. Wisdom didn’t encourage me to push myself, I wouldn’t be as confident in my math classes as I am today.”

Best high school experience: “Every year, the Salem theatre department has a potluck day. We spend the day presenting awards to each other, eating, and cleaning the school’s basement that is full of old sets. In 2019, which was the last potluck we did due to the pandemic, some students brought water balloons. We spent hours running around and throwing water balloons at each other! It was so fun to be able to share that experience with my friends and (in my opinion) win our water balloon game.”

What was your reaction when you found out you were salutatorian and your reaction to seeing the announcement caravan? “It’s exciting to know that I’ve been named salutatorian. It’s been my goal since middle school, and if I’m honest, it was a bit emotional for me to know that I achieved it. I was in shock to see the caravan. I heard police sirens and was worried that someone in the neighborhood was hurt but was really surprised to see Salem’s staff cheering for me.”

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? “My parents already knew about the surprise, so they weren’t as shocked as me, but they certainly were happy for me. My mom was actually at work at the time, and she told me that she was watching the whole celebration from her phone through our doorbell camera!”What do you look forward to doing over the summer?“I really want to use my time over the summer to spend time with my siblings. I know that being in college will keep me a bit more busy than usual, so I really want to spend time with my younger siblings when I have the chance. They get big so fast!”

What are your takeaways from this past year? “I’ve certainly learned to count my blessings and be grateful for what’s around me. It’s the biggest lesson of 2020/2021, for me.”

Advice for freshmen: “To all my incoming freshmen, don’t be afraid to speak up. If you’re having trouble in a class, say something. If you are struggling, speak up. There are so many people who want to help you and see you thrive within the next four years of your life. High school will be the best four years of your life so far, I promise!”Additional thoughts:“Thank you to all of the amazing staff at Salem High School and Rockdale Career Academy that have supported me these last few years. I have two families: One at home, and one at school.”

Piedmont Newton partners with Priority Ambulance 
for 911 service
  • Updated

COVINGTON — Piedmont Newton has entered into service agreements with Georgia’s largest private ambulance network, Priority Ambulance, to respond to 911 calls in the hospital’s designated 911 zone and to serve the hospital’s interfacility transport needs.

“At Piedmont Newton, our top priority has always been and will continue to be providing the highest quality medical care and emergency medical services to our community,” said Piedmont Newton CEO David Kent. “In Priority Ambulance, we have an expert partner with the sole focus of elevating ambulance service in Newton County with additional resources and national expertise. Piedmont Newton’s leadership will focus on our core mission of providing exceptional services at our hospital.”

All current employees of Piedmont Newton EMS will be invited to stay and will maintain seniority within the system. Additionally, Piedmont Newton’s EMS Director Carli Cuendet will be joining the Priority Ambulance team.

“We welcome the Piedmont Newton EMS employees to the Priority Ambulance family,” said Priority Ambulance Regional President Robby Atkins. “Priority Ambulance’s Georgia companies National EMS and Central EMS have served Piedmont Health facilities in Georgia for many years. We are proud to be trusted by Piedmont Newton to provide professional, prompt 911 response to the community and to serve their patients and hospital staff. We look forward to a great partnership and are committed to working together to continue to advance medical transportation services.”

Priority Ambulance will purchase seven ambulances from Piedmont Newton and will maintain the staffing levels currently in the 911 system – five advanced life support ambulances during peak daytime hours. Piedmont Newton holds the designated 911 zone for ambulance service that encompasses Newton County and will contract with National EMS to provide 911 service to its zone.

Separate from those ambulances dedicated to the 911 system, sister company Central EMS will be stationing additional ambulances at the hospital to immediately respond to transport requests between medical facilities or discharges from the hospital.

“With the additional ambulance resources, technology and opportunities for education and advancement that Priority Ambulance has access to as a national company, we are confident that this new partnership will be positive for our EMS and hospital staff, as well as the community,” said Kent.

Priority Ambulance will begin an implementation period immediately to transition current EMS staff. The company will begin providing 911 and interfacility ambulance services in early May.

Priority Ambulance operates more than 150 ambulances and employs more than 1,000 EMS professionals in the state of Georgia under four brands, Central EMS, National EMS, Puckett EMS and Ambucare. National EMS is the 911 provider to neighboring Rockdale and Morgan counties, as well as Oconee and Athens-Clarke County in the region. In total, Priority Ambulance serves more than 20 Georgia counties, including serving seven counties as the primary 911 provider.

Based in Knoxville, Tenn., Priority Ambulance provides medical transport services in 12 states. The Priority Ambulance company partners include Shoals Ambulance in Alabama; Maricopa Ambulance in Arizona; Puckett EMS in Georgia and Southeast Tennessee; Central EMS in Georgia; Seals Ambulance in Indiana; Kunkel Ambulance in Upstate New York; Trans Am Ambulance in western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania; Medshore Ambulance in South Carolina; Priority Ambulance in East Tennessee; A&E EMS in Tennessee; Baptist Ambulance in West Tennessee and Mississippi; and LifeCare Medical Transports in Virginia and Maryland.

For more information, visit www.priorityambulance.com.