The legacy of Canton Elementary School is laced with fond memories for generations.
In December 2017, the Cherokee County School Board approved a plan to relieve crowding at Cherokee High that resulted in dissolving Canton Elementary School and letting the high school absorb the elementary campus. In May, students, teachers and staff members said their goodbyes to the institution, closing the doors on a legacy that began 104 years ago in downtown Canton.
Canton Grammar School was built in 1914 on Academy Street to replace Etowah Academy, the first school in Canton, according to a historic account at www.rockbarn.org. Students in grades 1-11 attended until Canton High was built in 1924. The grammar school underwent many changes during the years, and the elementary classes left in 1974 to attend a new school built on Marietta Highway. In 1976, the downtown Canton building reopened as part of the bicentennial celebration for the Department of Education, and was used as offices until it closed in 2010. The facility has been renovated and a new steel structure replaces the old wood frame. It will be used for new restaurants and office space.
The new Canton Elementary School school that opened in 1974, home of the Greenies, was torn down in 2005 and replaced by a more modern facility that opened in 2008, also changing the mascot to the Colts. In that interim, Canton ES students joined with Tippens students to form Hasty Elementary.
The decision to close the school was made more difficult, no doubt, by the fact that many generations of the same families walked the halls, attended classes and created memories at the same school.
The plan is the first phase of a larger effort to solve overcrowding at Cherokee High School, which ultimately will require construction of an additional high school.
Next month, 520 former Canton Elementary STEM Academy students will start the new school year at R.M. Moore Elementary, and 270 will attend Knox Elementary, according to a statement from the school district. Both campuses will be designated STEM academies, and R.M. Moore will retain its Title I services that support schools with higher populations of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. While Knox will not see enough of a demographic shift to qualify as Title I, students in need will continue to receive extra services.
As for the future of Cherokee High, new construction (estimated at more than $70 million) won’t be feasible until the next education SPLOST referendum in 2021, due to borrowing constraints. In the meantime, Superintendent Brian Hightower said his staff will explore renovations that could be made to the Cherokee High School campus once the school begins using Canton Elementary and moves mobile classrooms offsite.
We reached out to Canton families who were eager to share their favorite memories of their time at the elementary school. You’ll find their thoughts and photos on the following pages. It was common for several generations to walk the same hallowed halls, a source of pride to this day. A common thread runs through each recollection: Canton Elementary was more than just a school; it was family!
Reflections on Canton Elementary
What an honor and a privilege it was for me to serve as assistant principal at Canton Elementary School (CES) from 1985-88, and as principal from 1988-2000. Principal Harold Wheeler, Superintendent Marguerite Cline and the Cherokee County Board of Education gave me opportunities for which I will be forever grateful.
I still vividly recall driving home one evening from an off-campus UGA graduate course (held in Gwinnett County) as I was working toward fulfilling the requirements for my ED.S. Degree in Educational Administration. As I approached the Chattahoochee River, I finally was able to pick up slight reception of radio station WCHK and hear station manager, Byron Dobbs, announce a summary of the night’s Cherokee County Board of Education meeting. When he said, “Jack Weaver was approved as principal of Canton Elementary School,” I cannot describe the excitement/thankfulness that hit me at the moment. That brief rush soon turned to a feeling of great responsibility in the fall as I would see parents grimace as they dropped off their young kindergarten students on the first day of school. The awesome job we had in helping to mold the lives of children at CES for the next several years then weighed heavily on me. I was always told by others that I needed to leave my work and worries at school, but my wife, Carolyn, will tell you that I never learned how to do that.
We were blessed with a lot of parental trust/support at CES, further evidenced by the fact that about a third of our students came to us on a space-available basis from out of district. At the time, we were the first, and only, elementary school in the county that held regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In 1993, however, our school system (principal association, superintendent and Board of Education), saw the benefits of all of our schools going through the regional accreditation process to add to the existing Georgia accreditation. This became a reality in 1994 and was a positive move for education in Cherokee County. The implementation of SACS standards sometimes went beyond that which was required by Georgia standards in providing additional support to educational programs particularly in regards to staffing, materials, etc.
As I look back upon my days at CES, there were many words that could be used to describe our school, but the one word which repeatedly rose to the forefront, and was conveyed to me by visitors, was “feeling.” We would often hear how the school just had a special feeling from the time folks entered and then exited. For one thing, that former building, which was located on the current school site, was designed with an open pod format and this necessitated cooperation and respect throughout the school in order to operate in an efficient manner. I’m sure there were some disadvantages from an instructional standpoint in that teachers had to coordinate with other instructional staff within the pod as to activities which would require less lighting or more noise. However, as an administrator, it was my goal (and some days I did not attain it) to be visible and walk through every classroom each day. I could do that within an open concept building design with little disruption to class activities.
I really believe, though, that the “feeling” used to describe our school was attributable to more than architecture. I think it came from the mutual trust that we had between staff, student, and parents. Students and parents believed in us and we believed in them. Our school motto in those days was: CES – Concern for Every Student. We strived to uphold that motto as we attempted to work together to ensure optimal student achievement.
At CES, we celebrated many honors. This was the favorite part of my job to be able to recognize the accomplishments of students and staff. Through the years, we had several students be designated as Star Student in high school, having posted the highest SAT score among their senior classmates. These students, in turn, were asked to select a teacher who had contributed the most to them in their educational journeys. It is rare for a high school student to come back to an elementary school to deem a teacher as Star Teacher, but we had it happen on several occasions at CES.
In addition, among our staff, we had the runner-up for State of Georgia Teacher of the Year and the State Humanitarian of the Year (GAE Award). Furthermore, some of the hard work of our staff and students was tangibly evidenced by a display case that held many county academic bowl championship trophies. With the number of accolades which CES received, I think the ultimate success is evidenced by the contributing citizens our students became and the career paths that they chose. I can’t imagine a school having had a greater percentage of students to later become teachers, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals. However, one of the greatest feelings I have experienced as a retired educator was to first-hand witness a former CES student (who was learning disadvantaged) become an active member of the work force and see him perform his job in an exemplary manner.
We were a school that laughed together, cried together (especially when we lost a member of the CES family), and celebrated together. Indeed, Canton Elementary School is a school that lives on and for which I will always have a special “feeling” within my heart.
– Jack Weaver, retired former principal
From Patsy Jordan
District 2 county school board representative
My best memories of Canton Elementary were student teaching January-May 1995. My supervising teacher was Teresa Stanfield, a dear friend, and former classmate. The CES class was a group of the most awesome third-graders. Pat Gold was the PTA president and she and Susan Dreschel ran copies for me and assisted with my every need. I also was blessed to teach their children that year, Megan Gold and Allen Dreschel. I will forever be grateful for the assistance these two ladies provided me during my experience. They also gave me a great surprise party when it was time for me to leave. The open classroom building I taught in is no longer there, but my memories will forever remain in my heart.
From Sonia Carruthers
Executive director and CEO of Cherokee FOCUS
My older sister attended Canton ES, I went there, and my son and daughter went there. Kyle was in the sixth grade and Dakota was in kindergarten and I was the PTA president the year of the attacks on 9/11. We planted a time capsule, and I would LOVE to see if it is still in the spot we left it. This is the year of that sixth-grade class’ 10-year reunion from high school. Pat Gold’s son was in the same class and buddies with Kyle. Kyle did a video about that year at Canton Elementary and 9/11, and it won the school’s video contest. After graduating UGA, he started Baxter Street Films and I really believe Canton Elementary is where he got his start.
When my sister and I were at CES, Coach Johnson was the PE/basketball coach . He and his wife had their first child, a son, during that time. They moved just a couple of years after his birth, but that son, Brad Johnson, went on to play professional football. I think he started as a quarterback for the Vikings but in 2001, he was hired by Tampa Bay as the quarterback and went on to win the Super Bowl for the 2002 season.
From Randy Saxon
Senior Commercial Appraiser and sixth generation Canton resident
My sons went there in the mid-80s and I was president of the PTA for a couple years. Mom and I served as PTA presidents for several years consecutively. My sister and my oldest son where two years apart.
My best memory of that school was a chicken dinner fundraiser we had one year. We cooked 2,500 chicken halves from a Friday night to Saturday afternoon. Sold every piece of it.
Mom and I also began the Partners in Education program in Cherokee County at CES. We went to Augusta and looked at what they were doing, came back and put it in place. It made a huge difference for the school.
I know there were a lot of quality teachers there: Deannie Fincher, Linda Schwamlien, Lynn Sewell, Letitia Cline, Butch Cox, Harold Wheeler was principal and was awesome. When my younger son started there, Mr. Wheeler told him on the first day of school, “Alright, boy, it’s just you and me now. Dad won’t be here to help you” (Harold knew him since we were there all the time) Brent smiled, looked up at him and kicked him in the knee. Harold almost lost it laughing.
While I was PTA president, we were being recognized for the Partners in Education program and the state PTA president came to speak and give us an award. When he began to speak, he wanted to recognize me and said, “I want to thank Rodney for all he has done….” That’s all I remember of that speech, but to this day Deannie Fincher still calls me Rodney.
From Letitia Cline
Former CES teacher, principal
During my 14 years as a classroom teacher at Canton ES, I have many special memories of the students, families and my colleagues. I spent 16 of my 29½ years as an educator at Canton ES.
During my first four years of teaching, I worked alongside three amazing kindergarten teachers, Hallene Huddlestun, Carolyn Hitt and Kimberly Ross. We produced two kindergarten musical performances each year …. our version of “Hee Haw” was one of my favorites. I still smile when I recall the pure joy on the face of one my students as she rolled her wheelchair down the center aisle, decorated as a hot rod car, as the students sang, “She’ll be coming around the mountain in a hot rod when she comes.” We taught cross curricular lessons incorporating music, art and drama into learning to read and do mathematical tasks. I am reminded that we were successful in igniting a love of learning when former students often share their memories of how we made learning engaging and exciting.
I taught kindergarten for eight years (1985-93) and then second grade for six years (1993-99). I then left to serve as an assistant principal at Woodstock Elementary for four years and returned to Canton as principal for two years (2003-05).
Canton ES was family. We served students whose parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents had attended Canton ES and were proud and loyal Canton Greenies. Families always stepped up and supported the school and each other in times of celebration and in times of tragedy. The first year I taught at Canton ES, it was still at K-8 school and Canton also was the only elementary school that had industrial arts and home economic classes. Lynn Sewell’s industrial arts classes built a shed with benches for the playground.
From Hugh Thacker
Canton resident and former student
Hugh Thacker’s parents attended Canton ES, as well and she and wife Marlene’s three children and seven grandchildren. “We have deep roots at Canton Elementary,” Marlene said. They still enjoy the friendships they made as elementary students.
Hugh has fond memories of his time in elementary school. When he was in first or second grade, a rumor got out that then principal N.R. Hayworth had an electric paddle in his office. Just the rumor was a great deterrent to mischievous young boys getting into trouble. He also recalls the quiet moments after coming in from recess when his second-grade teacher had her students put their heads on their desks and rest. She read a Bible? is this OK? story to them during that time.
From Leslie Reynolds Bland
Former CES special education teacher
My siblings – Frank, Roy, Renee, Michele and Gavin – and I attended Canton Elementary. I played basketball from fifth to eighth grades. Our Greenies won the county championship! Two members of my team, Cindy Ely and Debbie Groover, went on to play on our USA Olympic Team!
Canton Elementary was integrated during my early grade years. We welcomed students from Ralph Bunche that year. Witnessing this history has been a valuable teaching tool.
After graduation, I attended UGA (much to my Tech grad Dad’s dismay) to major in PE. When told I wouldn’t be likely to get a job back home, I switched to special education.
My former assistant principal Harold Weaver hired me right away. My dream had come full circle! I taught with wonderful teachers who had taught me and many of my friends. Joy Pope Mabry had been my fourth-grade teacher. I always wanted her to be proud of me. What a thrill to be able to teach WITH her. I stayed at CES nine years, spent 34 as a teacher, and I continue to substitute. My life at Canton as a student and as a teacher was idyllic.
I feel a part of my personal and family history is disappearing. It is not often people can experience life as we did. Canton Elementary was a big family.
From Carol Dunn
I started working at Canton Elementary in 1984. I am one of the few who closed the doors at the Canton Elementary (Greenies) in 2005. I was happy that I got to come back to a new CES as one of 25 staff members that opened the doors in 2008.
Here it is 2018. We closed CES doors once again for good. I have so many precious memories and pictures! I am so overwhelmed with all the support from everyone; the prayers for the teachers and students as we faced this day and the testimonies about how Canton has made a difference in the lives of many people. Canton was not like any other school, we will always be a family!
From Abby May
Canton ES principal transitioning to R.M. Moore principal
The 2017-18 school year was my first year at Canton, first year in Cherokee, and first year as principal. I had previously worked and taught in Fulton County and before that in Orange County, Fla. Though I am not a native of Cherokee County, it is really where I consider home to be since moving to Woodstock in 2007. I was beyond thrilled when given the privilege of leading Canton Elementary and excited about working in Cherokee County.
I imagine my first year as principal was about the same as for many first-year principals. There is a lot to learn and a lot of responsibility. I had a lot to learn being new all around. What I learned quickly was the rich tradition here at Canton and how amazing the staff, students and community are. The STEM program is one of the many opportunities our students have available to them. Partnerships, like the one with Canton Rotary, make our labs, resources, and activities beneficial for all students. I am a champion of STEM and enjoyed watching our students grow in their creativity and learning this year.
Canton students and staff made many memories this year! There is a tight bond between our students, staff and families. As news of school’s dissolution came, my focus was on keeping everyone positive and reminding them that we are all part of a bigger family. The students from Cherokee often visit Canton to volunteer with Reading Buddies and student teacher experiences. In fact, students from Cherokee even helped us pack our building. We reminded our students that they, also, are Cherokee Warriors, and that someday they would come back to this building.
Our students hosted an assembly for the administrative team at Cherokee High School. The students presented Principal Todd Miller with important things he would need next year …. keys to the building, alarm codes, map of the building, THRIVE motto, and a special rock garden. EACH student at Canton Elementary this year, painted a rock (red and white) and we made a garden in the back of the school for the Cherokee High School students. A large rock symbolized this and read “#onceacolt #alwaysawarrior” We made sure to emphasize that this was not goodbye, just see you later. It was emotional for our students and staff but there is excitement in meeting and making new friends.
Our students will be going to Knox and R.M. Moore. At the beginning of May, each student got to visit their new schools on a bus tour and meet some teachers and students. It was a fun morning of “getting to know you’s” and helped students feel ready for next school year.
I was excited to learn that I will be transitioning as principal to R.M. Moore with most of my students and staff. R.M. Moore is a school built on rich tradition as well, and I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this transition. The administrative and leadership teams are working on great things to build our collective community and make this next year the best yet! I will carry my thrive motto with me … but this year we say “Thrive Moore!”
Canton Elementary will always have a truly unique and special place in my heart. I am grateful for the time I have had here and the people I have met and memories made.