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It was a year of growth, change, gas lines and heavy storms

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By Angye Morrison

Gadsden County was a hotbed of activity in 2008, with events ranging from the addition of a much-needed dental clinic at the health department to an all-out gas panic following a storm and a hike in gas prices.

The year also brought unwanted change, as budgets tightened and jobs were lost. Jobs were cut everywhere, including the Gadsden County School District and Quincy Farms, which farm officials announced would close in November, displacing 490 workers.

Local residents also said some tearful goodbyes, including Dr. Jessie Furlow, a surgeon who had practiced medicine in the county for 24 years, as well as Curtis King, a Talquin Electric Coopertive employee who was killed while working in the wake of Tropical Storm Fay.

But the news wasn’t all bad. Voters passed a half-cent sales tax that is expected to generate $1.5 million annually to help fund the Gadsden Community Hospital. Construction has yet to begin, but officials say the hospital will open by its June 21 deadline.

In education, Gadsden County had much to brag about. The school district earned accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools early in the year, and four of the county’s schools earned “A” grades for the first time in the district’s history. Fifty percent of the schools earned an “A” or “B,” while only four schools received a “C” on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. East Gadsden and West Gadsden high schools received a “D” and an “F,” respectively. All of the schools, according to Superintendent Reginald James, are working to bring their scores up or maintain an already excellent mark.

The county’s dropout rate has decreased, while the graduation rate has climbed. Gadsden County schools posted a 1.1 percent dropout rate in 2008, down from 5.4 percent in 2007. The graduation rate improved from 53.3 percent to 56.1 percent.

Gadsden County fourth graders scored higher in 2008 on the writing portion of the FCAT than the fourth graders in any other county in the Big Bend area. Five Gadsden County students achieved a perfect score on the test.

The school board itself also achieved a goal it has worked toward for the past few years – the year marked the district becoming the first in the area to go paperless.

In addition, the district added a Parent Resource Mobile Unit, the first unit of its kind. The unit will travel throughout the county, taking information to parents wherever they may gather, rather than waiting for them to come to their children’s school.

But perhaps the biggest news of the year came in the fall, as a record number of voters went to the polls early in Gadsden County to cast their votes for a new president. Presidential-hopeful John McCain took the GOP primary, while Barack Obama was overwhelmingly the Democratic favorite.

And when the final votes were tallied, history was made as residents helped to elect Obama as the first African-American president in United States history.

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