The Voice of the Gem City

News October 6, 2021

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.

Continuing drops in coronavirus numbers are bringing some changes. In Putnam County the school district says masks will not be mandatory on buses. A school bus driver shortage and consolidation of routes have meant higher numbers of students riding buses. Superintendent Rick Surrency says a drop in the overall coronavirus rate countywide to 8.5 percent led to easing restrictions and events such as pep rallies and dances will open again as long as figures remain down. In St. Johns County, St. Augustine officials say the downtown Covid-19 testing site that opened in August at the Downtown Parking Garage is being closed as of Thursday. Florida Department of Health reported last week only a 9.5 percent case positivity (607 cases) in St. Johns as compared to a 24.2 percent case positivity (1,740 cases) the first week in August.

Good news and bad news at Tuesday’s Putnam County School Board meeting. 

Good news: The district’s Paras to Pros program has its first set of teachers in the classroom this year. Six of the original nine in the program that began in fall of 2019 are now teaching. All were paraprofessionals with the district who had associate degrees and then began working for their teaching degrees through St. Leo University. The first six include Sheryl Brunke, Samantha Edwards, Sindy Hunt, Oscar Jaimes, Heather Pogue and Jennifer Tucker. Several are teaching at schools they once attended as students including Samantha Edwards at Browning Pearce Elementary and Oscar Jaimes at Crescent City Junior-Senior High. Tonya Whitehurst, executive director for the district’s human resources program, is headed to Washington next week to do a presentation on the program that seeks to help put more local teachers in classroom.

Bad news: The district is seeing an increase in fights in school specifically at Palatka Junior-Senior High School. Board member Jane Crawford brought up the issue noting the fights were coming in from the outside with the most recent Monday when students fought at the school then went home and fought again in their neighborhood with adults “exacerbating the issues”. On Tuesday the kids brought the fight to school again. Reportedly fighting is an ongoing issue and the school, which added seventh and eighth graders this year during a consolidation move, now has four resource officers assigned to it. “We’ve got to do something,” Crawford said. Superintendent Rick Surrency said the district is working to stop the situation to the “fullest extent possible” noting the neighborhood element was not helping. The possibilities of expulsion and/or a separate program for offenders are among solutions.

A man in Flagler County who turned out to be a fugitive from Putnam County was arrested Sunday after a  traffic stop. Deputies attempted to stop Scott Watkins, 39, who was driving on an expired tag and records showed had a suspended license. He failed to obey their orders, speeding down State Road 100 West and then turned onto County Road 55 where he made a U-turn and crashed into a patrol vehicle while attempting to flee. After being taken into custody, Watkins allegedly said he was aware of the pursuit and planning to throw out the drugs in his vehicle. Methamphetamine and hydromorphone were found in the vehicle. His license was last canceled on Sept. 27 and he was wanted in Putnam for failure to appear, driving while license cancelled, suspended or revoked and possession of drug paraphernalia. Watkins, whose criminal history in Putnam dates back to 2015, was booked into the Flagler County jail for a variety of charges including driving while license suspended, felling and eluding law enforcement, reckless driving, out of county arrest warrant and possession of methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia and hydromorphone.

Palatka Police Department is investigating a shooting Tuesday night at a convenience store in the heart of Palatka. Details are sketchy although shots were fired at Jas Food Mart at the corner of St. Johns Avenue and North 19th Street. One person was reported taken to Putnam Community Medical Center, although that has not been confirmed.

Revive some childhood memories and create new ones as Loomis Brothers Circus comes to the St. Johns County Fairgrounds in Elkton off State Road 207 today and Thursday. Shows are 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Putnam County commissioners hold a special meeting today at 4 p.m. to look at a possible drop in the millage rate. The decision has to be made by Thursday.

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