The Alexander County Board of Education met for their regularly scheduled meeting at Alexander Central Auditorium on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The meeting was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Several COVID-19 related matters were discussed at the meeting including the continued success of meal distribution to children in the county and the end of year activities.
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner proposed an end date of remote learning for students in Alexander County Schools. All students in the Alexander County public school system have been either picking up weekly packets of work from their school, meeting remotely through Zoom meetings, or both. The board approved the proposal to end the instructional school year on May 29, 2020, with all remote learning and activities ending on that day. School administration and staff will continue to the end of the school calendar year as planned. This will give teachers and staff extra time to get together final grades and close out the school year.
Dr. Hefner also shared an end-of-year document with details regarding remote award ceremonies for each of the schools. It is a working document and is not complete but will be shared on the district website and social media as soon as it is finalized.
Alexander Central High School Update
Alexander Central High School principal Gordon Palmer presented a school update to the board. He began with a summary of last year’s data, highlighting the following programs:
• AP Academy and Capstone School
• Computer Science
• Fire Academy
• Trade and Industry
• Reality of Money
This year, Alexander Central was named a Model School in North Carolina’s Multitiered System of Supports (MTSS). Alexander Central is one of two high schools with this status in North Carolina.
Special recognition for several ACHS students included Abby DeJarnette, who was named in the Top 100 Students America Needs to Know 2020, and Amaryna Chapman, who placed second in the North Carolina Holocaust Poster Competition. Several students placed in the regional SkillsUSA competition, and the school hosted the Beta Club Convention.
Palmer highlighted local partnerships with Scotty’s Hometown Grill, Huntington House, Locke Lane Construction, and Apple City BBQ.
Palmer also discussed the communication with parents and students during COVID-19 remote learning. He indicated he presents an update for 9th-11th grades on Wednesdays and Seniors on Fridays. He also reported the results of the graduation survey. Graduation and end of year ceremonies for the Class of 2020 will be announced at a date to be determined.
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner opened her report by discussing the facility updates, including the repairs and renovations to the Central Office. The plan is to do work in department areas in stages, to allow each department to relocate to the board room to complete work. This plan allows for staff to remain in the building through the duration of the project. The finance department is almost complete, and staff plan to move back to that area next week.
Dr. Hefner presented an update on the current Career and Technical Education (CTE) House. Duke Power has installed the permanent power line and meter box. Justin Deal and Brian Lewis are working to make sure everything electrical works with this change over. Sherry Baird and Susan Gantt cleaned Tuesday and plan to make a virtual tour video of the house that will be posted on school social media accounts for advertising. Mrs. Gantt plans to advertise the house and bidding process in the newspaper. Sam Davis, agent with Cooper Milstead Real Estate, is also assisting with the pictures and the pricing of the house. Mrs. Gantt hopes to have it advertised for the first round of bids by the week of May 18.
An update on the Construction Academy includes the announcement of a mandatory student/parent meeting with Keith Sipe during the summer. A meeting was held Tuesday night for the five students currently interested in the program.
Recent legislation regarding the 2020-2021 school calendar has prompted revisions to the Alexander County Schools’ academic calendar. There is some confusion with wording in the legislation. Mrs. Jessica Anderson, central office director, is investigating this issue and will bring an updated calendar for board approval at the June school board meeting.
The school system will receive funding for COVID -19. There are currently three different funding sources to address issues that have been created as a result of the pandemic. Governor Cooper’s Emergency COVID-19 Funds, state funds, are for expenditures related to school nutrition, child care, remote learning, and sanitation of buildings during the closure of COVID-19. The second allotment of money is also state funds that extend school nutrition and include expenditures for computers/devices, summer learning, and contracted mental health services. The last allotment is the federal CARES Act money. This money is designated to Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act activities, coordination of response efforts, resources to meet the needs of individual schools, development and implementation of procedures to improve response efforts in the event of long-term closures, etc.
The $19,000 in unpaid lunch balance debt that was accrued prior to March 13, is not covered in any of the above outlined funding sources. These unpaid lunch balances accumulated before in-person school instruction was suspended due to COVID-19.
Board member Harry Schrum said some entities in Alexander County had expressed interest in helping pay school lunch debt and asked if these sources had suggested amounts they might donate. Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner responded that she prefers the school system attempt to collect the lunch debts from families before contacting any third parties for funding.
Schools will be contacting parents to collect those balances in the coming weeks.
Dr. Hefner is serving as a co-chair on a state superintendent Re-entry Taskforce. The first Zoom meeting was held Tuesday. The taskforce is working to develop a re-entry plan that complies with the state department of Health and Human Services requirements. Dr. Hefner noted an article about Maryland’s re-entry plan. The title is “Masks, temperature checks, shorter weeks: A state plan outlines how school could change in Maryland.”
One statement in the article resounded with Dr. Hefner and she quoted it by saying, “One thing it makes clear: School as it was is no more, at least not for the near term.”
She continued, commenting, “As a superintendent, it has been very difficult for me to imagine school, specifically when it comes to some of the rituals and routines that we have used as long as I was a student in the school system, and as long as I have been an employee in it, 31 years. It is hard for me to accept that things will be different, but they will. And that is just the truth of the situation. I participate every week, since all this started in March, in 5 to 6 Zoom meetings where we talk about not only how do we bring the current school year to a close, but how do we start another one in August, when we don’t even know what phase of the governor’s plan we will be in.”
“Sometimes, it feels like a bad dream that I want to be all over when I wake up,” continued Dr. Hefner. “I want to stress the importance of ongoing, open lines of communication as we work all of this out. The great news is that we have exceptional leaders in this system that will do everything in their power to make this as positive as possible for students, staff, and families as we move forward.”
Finance Director Sharon Mehaffey presented six policy revisions for a third reading and five for a first reading. The board approved all policies. All Alexander County Board Policies are available for review by the public at www.alexander.k12.nc.us or the Alexander County Board of Education Office on Liledoun Road, Taylorsville, North Carolina.
School Nutrition Update
The board approved the vendor bids presented by Kathy Caudle, Nutrition Director. Approved vendors included Pet Dairy, US Foods, Correction Enterprises, and Smart Mouth Pizza Product.
Alexander Early College Calendar Update
The board approved an updated 2020-2021 Alexander Early College calendar. The first student day will be Aug. 10. Two workdays were moved from the end of the year to March 19 and April 23, 2021.
Head Start Update
Alexander County Head Start director Macy Jones presented information on the intent not to provide a supplemental summer program. Initially, Head Start planned to apply, but the Governor’s announcement on no in-person instruction for the rest of the academic year has changed their intent. Alexander County Head Start will update the board if they plan to seek a waiver of non-federal match for the 2020 fiscal year due to COVID-19. The school board chair signed the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Head Start. Head Start will apply for a speech therapist position.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, starting at 6:00 p.m. At this time, the meeting will remain closed to the public, but can be viewed live on the school’s YouTube channel.