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The Gaultney Era

The Gaultney Era
It is the end of an era inside the Jackson County School System.
We can call it the Gaultney Era.
It all started in 2004, when the oldest, Eli, was a freshman at Jackson County High School, brother Sam was in sixth-grade at West Jackson Middle, and Josh and Anna were at South Jackson Elementary. Mark, the youngest of the Gaultney children, wasn't born yet.  The family had just moved to Jackson County from Gwinnett County, and the four oldest Gaultney kids headed into the Jackson County School System. And since that day in August 19 years ago, the Gaultney family has had at least one child inside a JCSS school. That was until this past May when Mark, often referred to as Bud by the family, graduated from East Jackson Comprehensive High School.
Reflecting back on the Gaultney Era, Anna (EJCHS, Class of 2016), Sam (EJCHS, Class of 2011), and Eli (JCHS, Class of 2008) reflected back on their time, what they have been doing since graduation and what it was like growing up in a home filled with siblings.
“Honestly, I love it. I grew up in a busy house. There was always things to do,” said Anna, who noted the family often bonded over playing board games and video games on the family’s Xbox. “I couldn’t imagine being an only child with all that quietness of being home alone and not having siblings running around all the time, screaming and fighting.”

As Anna, the only girl of the five children, alluded to, growing up in a house with four other siblings got crazy at times. And while her brothers got protective of her when she was older, she says that wasn’t always the case.

“Each brother did treat me differently, I would say,” said Anna, who works for a technology company called NPHub in Atlanta. “They were protective of me when I got older but when I was younger, they definitely threw me and pushed my buttons. They treated me like I was one of the brothers.”

For Eli and Sam, they remember it differently.

“I feel like I was pretty hands off,” Eli said.

“I’m not sure we ever beat Anna up,” Sam said, laughing. “We beat each other up, but I think her interpretation of beat up is different from ours.”

Regardless of the interpretation, Eli and Sam admit they always looked out for one another, even after they grew up and moved on to the next phase of their lives. They also had the rigors of living up to the older siblings.

“I was always Eli’s brother. He’s a trailblazer,” said Sam, who lives in Woodstock with his wife and has an engineering job with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “He was academically very gifted and there was always a question of ‘are you going to be as good as him?’ “I was definitely not as studious as him in grade school. It is funny how the expectations get set between each person, as you jump between each of us and how we fared in school.”

While Eli, who spent seven years teaching English and Math in Vietnam after graduating from the University of Georgia — a place where he met his wife — appreciated the comments from his brother, he acknowledged there was a sense of responsibility to set a standard for his younger siblings.

“That came from our religious upbringing. I would say that I took that responsibility seriously,” Eli said. “With a sense of responsibility for my family and my own sense of competition, I did my best to make it hard on them.”

One common theme among the Gaultney’s was their passion for music and performing arts. Each of them was heavily involved with band, chorus and theater growing up.

“The thing (our parents) encouraged us to do was band and then we all kind of fell into fine arts,” Sam said. “We dipped our toes in things. There are a lot of reasons for it. If we went home, it involved a long bus ride; we were the last stop to drop off. So it was like ‘we might as well stay after school and see what we can get involved in.’”

And the Gaultney family certainly got involved. From performing arts to academic teams to athletic teams, the Gaultney’s were well represented inside their school. Looking back on their involvement in high school years later, Eli and Sam admit it shaped them as people.

“I would say it was the music and arts,” said Eli, who was in band all four years of high school. “I also ended up joining chorus the last two years, as well. Chorus took me to Germany. Band took me all over the state and outside of the state as well. I think the arts program turned me into the person who I am today.”

For Sam, it was much of what big brother had to say.

“I also loved the science department. I just remember having a lot of fun, hanging out and working with the Science Olympiad program and doing stuff after school,” Sam said. “I remember being able to be very nerdy and embracing that nerdiness was really fun. The fine arts provided that avenue of social interaction that I don’t think you can get otherwise. It was a lot of fun.”

One difference among the family’s five children was the opening of East Jackson Comprehensive High School. While Eli graduated from Jackson County High School, the other four siblings all graduated as Eagles.

“I am a Panther, and I will stay that way,” said Eli, who was in dual enrollment at UGA during his senior year of high school at JCHS. “I certainly appreciate that everyone else seems to have converted. I am the black sheep now, or the black panther, as you will.”

While Eli is in his 30’s and living in Hilton Head Island, S.C., he says he has been back to Jackson County and has heard great things about his former school building, which was converted to the Empower College and Career Center after the new Jackson County High School opened in Hoschton in 2021.

“I’ve heard about the changes and how it is kind of a meeting ground now for the county, and offering some really cool programs,” Eli said. “It is a nice evolution and getting people real-world skills and special classes. It is nice to see.”

Now that Mark is done with high school, their mother will start a new chapter in her life as a teacher at EJCHS without kids inside the school system.

For Anna, she thinks it will be an adjustment for Mom, and it is bittersweet for the whole family.

“For sure, it is bittersweet,” Anna said. “It makes me feel old. My parents are empty nesters now. For my mom, I’m sure it is definitely weird.”

Added Eli: “I imagine it is probably the most crazy for our parents, who have been through the journey. For us, it was just a small piece. They have seen all of it.”

Looking back on their time inside the school system, each had their own unique memories. Ultimately, each of the Gaultney kids noted how they look back on their time with fond memories.

“I have very fond memories of my time at East Jackson,” Anna said. “It was a great time. I’m still really good friends with people I met there and went to school with. I would say, I had a pretty good high school experience.”