By ANGELA FARR KING
Alexander County School Board member Scott Bowman, as a member of the facilities committee, was called Tuesday evening, September 13, 2022, during the board meeting, to provide an update on the construction project. a new gymnasium. and an office at Sugar Loaf Elementary School. He showed rough drawings that had been done by an architect to show what the project might possibly entail. In this plan, the new gymnasium would go where the current media center is.
Board member Harry Schrum offered to move forward to get sealed plans for the Sugar Loaf project to assess needs and costs before going any further. The motion was seconded by Board member Marty Loudermilt.
During the discussion phase of this motion, Board Vice Chairman Matt Cooksey expressed his displeasure that this vote was even requested. He said he felt there had not been proper communication about the project and he also felt that the public had not been fully informed of all the facts surrounding the project.
He said he did his own research and went on to say that when schools in Alexander County were down to 82% capacity, there was talk of consolidating two schools. He wanted to know why now, when schools are at 62% capacity, this is no longer discussed. He also wanted to know the needs of other schools before going ahead with this project. He said there had to be working sessions before a vote on the plans was taken.
He said he felt the need for more creative discussions about the project and said, “It’s like we’re pouring money into a school just to keep it open.”
Board member Brigette Rhyne then gave her thoughts on the Sugar Loaf project and said that she had been on the school board for 14 years and that the Sugar Loaf gymnasium project had been discussed many times. She told Mr Cooksey that there had been many working sessions on this project before he joined the council. She also said she learned that no community wanted a school closed due to consolidation. Residents of Alexander County view their schools as centers of their communities. She also asked this important question: “Is it right not to give the Sugar Loaf children a nice gym, just because there are fewer of them?”
Board member Marty Loudermilt said he voted in 2013 to complete the Sugar Loaf Gymnasium project and has since been repeatedly discussed and considered a priority. He said that every year this project gets postponed, there are other things that get old and need maintenance. If the board keeps putting it off, there will always be other needs to attend to.
President David Odom added to the discussion by saying he would not be “in or out of a school consolidation”. He said there are currently four major projects the county has requested grants for and they all require sealed plans for completion, so he suggested that plans be secured for the four impending projects just in case. where the grant money would become available. He then said there was a motion on the floor to proceed with plans for the Sugar Loaf gymnasium project and called for a vote. All members voted to go ahead with getting plans for the Sugar Loaf project, except for Matt Cooksey, who asked to abstain from voting because he “didn’t think a vote should have been called” on this issue at this time.
Janel Lingle was the first principal of the 2022-23 school year to provide an update on her school, Taylorsville Elementary (TES). In her presentation, she noted that TES currently has 52 staff and 238 students. She said her staff at Taylorsville works hard to make student needs a top priority. They plan to be intentional with instruction and bring kids closer to independence.
Lingle said she felt like they were rebuilding after the Covid pandemic, with math scores showing 73 per cent fluency and reading scores showing 60.3 per cent fluency.
She thanked their community partners, such as the YMCA, Taylorsville Savings Bank and First United Methodist Church, for helping provide supplies for TES children. She said they plan to invite parents more often and establish more links between school and home.
Child Nutrition Director Kathy Caudle reported to the Board on the resounding success of the Alexander County Children’s Summer Meal Program. They were able to serve 26,638 breakfasts and 26,154 lunches to children in Alexander County during the summer months. This was largely due to the wise management of government food products that she and her nutrition staff continually use. Caudle also noted that they cook real food using real recipes. School system superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner said she was grateful that meal prices remained the same, with no price increases for families. Caudle informed the council that she had processed over 2,000 requests for free or reduced meals, which is the highest number she had ever seen.
Jessica Anderson, Executive Director of Student Support Services, presented the goals of the School Health Advisory Council (HSAC). Here are the five main objectives of this council:
• Inform students every year about the risks of social media.
• Increase student and parent awareness of access to bullying reports and support resources.
• Develop a resource process for dealing with places that have a high number of bullying incidents.
• Offer on-site fitness activities.
• Wellness opportunities will be offered during professional development days.
These objectives will be discussed at the October Board meeting.
Director of Testing and Accountability, Andrea Robinette, reported on the final part of the district’s overall needs assessment. In her report, she showed test data that showed Alexander County exceeded the state’s average proficiency on overall scores, but the state had designated three schools as low performers, including Hiddenite Elementary, Wittenberg Elementary and East Alexander Middle School.
Three schools exceeded the expected growth and these were Alexander Central High School, Alexander Early College and West Alexander Middle School. Schools were given letter grades on their “report cards” and these grades are based on a formula of 80% proficiency (passing) and 20% growth. NC is just one of 12 states that still issues school performance ratings. When reviewing the test data, it is evident that there has been some positive growth, but there is still a long way to go to meet state standards.
The strategic plan was presented for review by Dr. Hefner. She noted that the plan contains four priorities, which is a reduction from the previous number of seven priorities. The priorities are:
• Pedagogical excellence and alignment.
• Family and community involvement.
• Planning and operational efficiency.
• Professional capacity.
Board members will be able to review the strategic plan in its entirety at the October board meeting and it will be presented for approval.
Maintenance Manager Chris Campbell reported on the capital grants the district has requested from the state. Grants have been requested that would impact Sugar Loaf Elementary School, Alexander Central High School, Taylorsville Elementary School and West Alexander Middle School. The grant applications total nearly $13,000,000, and Campbell said he expects to know by the end of September whether or not Alexander County will receive one of those grants. The district must provide a 5% match for grants, if awarded.
In his superintendent’s report, Dr. Hefner congratulated Ms. Michelle Robinson of Taylorsville School for receiving a $15,000 grant to create an outdoor classroom at TES. The grant is sponsored by the Outdoor Heritage NC Advisory Council.
Hefner also reported that the projected student enrollment for Alexander County for this school year was 4,497, and as of Day 10 of the school year, there was an enrollment of 4,425. final tally of entries has a difference of less than 100, no money shall be returned to the state from state allocated money.
Hefner said she and Sheriff Chris Bowman will attend the county commissioner’s next meeting to request additional school resource officers. Some of the money for officers may come from state grants, but the county government will have to absorb some of the costs for these officers.
In the final part of her report, Dr. Hefner read a resolution calling on the federal government to reinstate the free lunch program it funded during the pandemic. The resolution notes that even middle-class working families will need to be able to afford around $2,000 a year for school lunches and breakfasts. Signing this resolution joins ACS with school districts across the country demanding a “solution” to this problem for families.
Four school board policies were presented after their first readings. These were: Policy #4110: Immunization and Health Requirements for School Admission; Policy #4260: Student Sex Offenders; Policy No. 4334/5035/7345: Use of Unmanned Aircraft (drones); and Policy #5240: Advertising in Schools.