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Retiring Rockdale school board members preside over last meeting

Peggy Lawrence, right, director of School Food Services for Rockdale County Public Schools, presented Yontz with a special apron. She noted that she still has to pay for school lunches if she visits. "I have to pay for them now," Yontz noted.

Peggy Lawrence, right, director of School Food Services for Rockdale County Public Schools, presented Yontz with a special apron. She noted that she still has to pay for school lunches if she visits. "I have to pay for them now," Yontz noted.

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Three of Rockdale County's Board of Education members presided over their last meeting on Thursday. From left, Jean Yontz, who has served for 12 years; Don McKinney, who was serving his first time; and Darlene Hotchkiss, who has served for 16 years. Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

CONYERS -- Three of Rockdale County's Board of Education members presided over their last meeting this month.

Rockdale County Public Schools held a special reception for the three -- Darlene Hotchkiss, who has served for 16 years; Don McKinney, who was serving his first four-year term; and Jean Yontz, who has served for 12 years -- before Thursday's monthly meeting. They each decided not to run for re-election this year and will be replaced in January by newcomers Tony Dowdy, Mandy North and Sharon Pharr.

"They've got a great board coming in, and I think they'll do a good job," Hotchkiss said.

RCPS Superintendent Richard Autry thanked them for their leadership and for using reason while on the board. He thanked McKinney for his service to the system and the country, since he is a veteran; he thanked Yontz for being the board's matriarch and for being a "fierce advocate for students;" and he thanked Hotchkiss for challenging the status quo and to always be better.

They each were presented plaques honoring their service -- McKinney received one with a picture of the Heritage High School JROTC on it and the two ladies received plaques with pictures of the seven schools that opened in RCPS during their tenures.

School board Chair Wales Barksdale has spent the last eight years with Hotchkiss and Yontz, who defeated him the first time he ran for office.

"What we're doing (in RCPS) and have in place is because of these two ladies," he said. "They both have been a big help to me along the way. They can't be replaced, and I'm sure they will both stay involved."

They said they plan to.

"I will miss sitting on the board terribly; I will miss talking to the superintendent every day and knowing what's going on," Yontz said, adding that she was sad about leaving. "It's been more than a pleasure and more than an education I could have ever learned."

Hotchkiss said serving on the board has allowed her to give back to the community and leaving is very bittersweet.

"It's been a while, but it doesn't feel that way," she said. "When I first started on the board, I don't think any of us had any idea what our job was and where we were going as a system."

She said during her time, she hasn't rubber-stamped any items that came before her.

"We made an effort to research what had to be done and we voted and put it behind us," she said, adding that the boards in Georgia that are having the most problems are those that don't put the votes behind them. "It's not about you (a board member) -- you'll fall quite a bit -- it's about the students. Our students are our greatest resource."