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Several former and current members of the Gainesville High School Future Farmers of America attend the Gainesville ISD Board of Trustees meeting Monday night at the McMurray Administration Building. Administrators say they have no intention of cutting the ag program but that numbers are down and cuts may have to be made.

A crowd of current and former Future Farmers of America members filled the seats and stood in the back of the room in support of continuing a program they want to see continued at the new Gainesville High School.

The Gainesville ISD Board of Trustees met Monday night in business at the McMurray Administration Building. The agenda included a report on the state of the school’s agriculture program. Administrators say cutbacks are being made as numbers are down, but they have no intention of getting rid of the ag program.

Blair Brown, a graduate of Gainesville High School, said he received a scholarship for $500 in a speaking contest through FFA, as did a few of his former classmates.

He said there are 980 FFA chapters in Texas, among other statistics.

“When I looked back I realized there were two things I missed about high school,” he said. “Hanging out with the buds and being in FFA.”

Board members noted that FFA and the agriculture science program of a school are not synonymous. However, an FFA chapter may not be formed at a school without an ag curriculum.

William Baldwin, who graduated from GHS in the 1960s and was in FFA, decried the recent departure of Chris Uselton, the ag department head.

“Mr. Uselton should not be loosed from the job he did so well,” Baldwin said. “... If Mr. Gravitt doesn’t step down and renounce his decision, parents should take their children out of the district ...”

Baldwin’s comments met extended applause.

Chris Uselton did not comment on his employment status with the GISD by press time.

Doug Smithson, Cooke County Appraisal District chief appraiser who holds an agricultural business degree, said there can be a solution if ag boosters and administrators work on a plan together.

He asked which electives are to be offered and which will not be.

“I see, by the number of people here tonight, it might be bigger and stronger than what it was,” he said.

Lee Uselton, brother of Chris Uselton, a 1981 graduate of GHS, distributed a box of framed photos of Gainesville Junior High School students who participated in the Cooke County Youth Fair recently.

“Those are some of the Junior FFA members that ‘we don’t have,’” he said.

Lee Uselton added that this year was the fifth in which junior high participants were counted as absent for attending the Youth Fair instead of class. Administrators have said previously Junior FFA is not an officially chartered club at GJHS.

Though no action was taken on the ag program, Bill Gravitt, superintendent, in his report said the school is looking to combine as many programs as it can with dual credit classes at nearby North Central Texas College. A shuttle bus, which was outside during the meeting, was purchased for $9,500 to transport students from the new Gainesville High School to NCTC for dual credit offerings.

Gravitt said he was concerned about the numbers of students in the ag program, which have decreased. See story on the situation in the April 5 Register.

He said nine students participated in the Cooke County Youth Fair.

“Now that’s an area of concern and something we feel needs to be improved upon,” he said. “... No one in this room wants to do away with the program.”

He did not address why Chris Uselton was dismissed.

Gravitt said a meeting was held with NCTC officials to discuss dual credit offerings.

Board member Roy Brewer said there has been “a lot of confusion, a lot of miscommunication over the years.”

Brewer, a former GHS FFA member, called the ag program at GISD “not a completely broken wheel, but one with some cracks.”

Board member Phil Adams said there was some previous discussion of taking $180,000 from an empty lot on North Grand Avenue to build a show barn for the ag program at the site of the new high school.

“It may or may not happen,” Adams, also a former FFA member, added. “... We are looking at ag, and we are concerned about the ag community.”

He said if he had it his way, two semesters of agriculture would be required.

“You never know if some child might connect with hit,” Adams said.

McKenzie Pringle, an eighth grader at Gainesville Junior High School and one of many students gathered outside following the meeting, said she wants to transfer to Callisburg ISD so she can continue in a high school ag curriculum.

“I think this is all so stupid,” she said, following the meeting, noting Uselton’s dismissal. “We live in town, so we don’t have any place to keep our animals. But Mr. Uselton let us keep our animals on his place that we were getting ready to show.”

She said the FFA chapter taught her a lot about etiquette, speaking and other skills not usually associated with agriculture.

“Do you ever hear about FFA kids being in drugs or gangs?” she said.

She added that she has attended meetings of the GJHS Junior FFA Chapter at the high school, but not at the junior high.

In other comments, Cameron Kingsley of Gainesville High School shared his grievances on a proposed dress code which would require tucked-in collared shirts and slacks, among other changes.

Lisa Bellows, GISD Board president, said the changes are designed to create “an environment more conducive to learning.”

Brian Ferrell, the GHS band director, noted the recent successes of the band at UIL competition. See the April 5 Register for story.

A report on action taken at the meeting will appear in a future Register.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net

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