By Tosha Brown
The Alexander County Board of Education met for their regularly scheduled meeting at Central Office on Tuesday, July 15, 2020. The meeting was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The re-entry plan for the 2020-21 school year was discussed at length during the meeting.
Several public comments were submitted and read by Chairman Brigette Rhyne. Four different people wrote in to the Board of Education regarding their concerns for the upcoming school year. Anna Bedzinski, a teacher, thanked the board for protecting the schools and staff at the end of the 2020 school year and for the hard work that is going into the planning of the upcoming school year. She also presented several questions to the board regarding PPE, bus routes, cleaning, substitute teachers, and risk of transmission of COVID-19 among other things.
Jennifer Dooley, a teacher and parent in the county, also wrote to the board concerning the outlook for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. Dooley voiced concerns regarding the need for face to face instruction, especially in the high school, even if it is remotely done, in which case a teacher gives live instruction.
Amy Barnes wrote in regarding her concerns as a parent of an ACS student. Barnes wrote of the struggles parents would face if remote learning was the only option for the upcoming school year. As a working parent, she voiced the hardship of working 40 hours a week along with providing another 40 hours of education for her children.
A parent of a special needs child also wrote in regarding her concerns of having the online option for those who will be unable to return to school in the fall and asked for the board to keep in mind those children with special needs in making these decisions. Her letter was signed, “A Special Needs Mom.”
Nichole Brewster, mom of a high risk student, also wrote in, questioning the re-entry plan for the school year.
Parent and Teacher Survey Results
Associate Superintendent Dr. Betsy Curry presented the results of three surveys conducted in June and July 2020. Dr. Curry shared the results of these surveys which are being used to formulate the Remote Instructional Plan and Re-entry Plan.
Response rates were significant. This data is being evaluated as the school system considers how best to meet the needs and desires of all students and staff to the extent feasible. For example, parents of approximately 300 middle and elementary school students expressed a desire to send their students to school through a 100% virtual academy. School administrators, in collaboration with the district team, have developed teacher and student applications for the virtual academy.
The parent survey had a 74% response rate. Of the three plans presented to parents, Plan A – face to face learning, Plan B – hybrid learning, and Plan C – remote learning, 65.9% wanted Plan A, 19.6% went with Plan B and 14.5% was on board for Plan C.
In regard to bus transportation, of those asked, 58.9% do not plan to utilize bus transportation, 25.9% said yes, they plan on using the bus as transportation, and 15.2% were unsure. For more information, Dr. Curry’s presentation is available for viewing on the schools website, alexander.k12.nc.us.
2020-21 School Re-Entry Plan
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner presented the first draft of the re-entry plan for Alexander County Schools.
Governor Cooper announced Tuesday, July 14, at 3 p.m. that North Carolina will follow re-opening Plan B, which calls for limited density in facilities, enhanced protocols, social distancing, and blended learning.
Dr. Hefner indicated that these plans could change based on Alexander metrics. She indicated the county system has seven priority areas for the re-entry plan. Those areas are: student health and needs, employee health and needs, operations, communications, instructional planning, issues of equity and excellence, and state and federal regulations and policies.
A key change that was released Tuesday was that masks will be required for all students in grades K-12 and staff. The capacity of 50% is not a requirement but the 6 feet rule applies at all facilities.
In the first priority area of student and employee health needs, efforts have been focused on acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE). ACS has 133 handheld thermometers and 70 more ordered. Identified staff will need clear protective face shields: 34 for nurses, 25 for speech teachers, and 75 are backordered. The school system has 1,800 disposable masks and 28,000 arriving this week. The governor announced that 5 cloth face masks will be provided for each student and staff members. Other items include gowns, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
The school maintenance department staff have installed plexiglass at each school office for the protection of our front office workers. Water fountains will be closed but water bottle filler stations are being installed at the schools.
New protocols for every school facility include not allowing visitors inside of the building without an appointment. Principals will determine how students are checked in and out at each facility. Bus and car riders will enter and exit the building at two different locations. A screening will be required of every student and staff member daily. Anyone with a temperature reading of 100.4°F or above will not be permitted. Bus riders will be screened before boarding the bus and car riders will be screened as they get out of the car. Each student will be required to have an attestation form daily.
Staff will be required to approve the attestation statement upon signing into the timekeeper program. Floors and classrooms will be marked to ensure distances of 6 feet apart. Every facility will designate one COVID-19 contact and two backup contacts. Currently, ACS employs 6 nurses and plans to hire 6 CNAs to have a medical person in each school.
The second priority area of operations includes school nutrition and transportation. New protocols for school nutrition include serving students meals in the classrooms with school nutrition staff delivering the food. Each student in attendance for the first two weeks will receive a free breakfast and lunch daily. Meal options will be posted on the school nutrition webpage. Pickup meals and deliveries will continue through Aug. 31. Water will be offered at lunch daily.
Transportation operations will require bus riders be provided 20 attestation forms per bus rider monthly for parents of elementary students. The form must be returned, and the student must not have a temperature of 100.4°F or higher to enter the bus. There will be two adults on each bus, one driver and a monitor. The monitor’s responsibility includes collecting the forms, checking temperatures, and escorting students loading from the left side of the road (crossing traffic) onto the bus. All students will be required to wear a face-covering as well as the bus driver and monitor. Transportation capacity of a 72-passenger bus will be 24 spots and a 66-passenger bus will have 22 spots. Siblings or same household students will be grouped together in spots.
The third priority area identified is communications. The ACS Return to Learn Communications Plan was presented and identifies communication strategies, modes/mediums for communication, and projected or completed dates.
Instructional plans for Head Start and NC PreK students were outlined and the plan mirrors the elementary plan. The remote instructional Plan B for elementary and middle schools is aligned with two days of face-to-face instruction and three days of remote instruction. The weeks will be divided with Monday, Tuesday group A will be in the classrooms, Wednesday will be a cleaning/disinfecting day with teacher meetings, planning and teacher small group. On Thursday and Friday, group B will be in the classrooms.
Alexander Central High School will accomplish 50% capacity through splitting the school into two groups by last name, alphabetically. An example would be last names A-L in Group A (Gold Group) and last names M-Z in Group B (Blue Group), each group attending two days each week. Group A would attend Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday would be used for cleaning, and Group B would attend Thursday and Friday. The three days that students do not attend in-classroom would be remote learning days. Attendance will be taken for every block, both remote and face-to-face. A normal daily schedule will be in place for face-to-face days.
Alexander Early College (AEC) will also divide students into two groups, one silver and the other blue. Students and teachers will follow the normal class schedule and bell schedule. Students will have the choice to attend virtually or in-person. Classes will be broadcast live through Zoom from the teacher’s classroom on the AEC campus. Attendance will be taken every class period and recorded. Students with poor attendance will be required to attend in-person instruction. All students will be assigned three days of independent work per week by the instructor to accompany the two days of direct instruction received from class any given week.
Physical classroom capacity will be capped at 10 students. Every student beyond the 10th student will be moved to an overflow room to attend class via Zoom on the AEC campus. Wednesdays will be used for tutoring, lesson planning, meeting with students and parents, and assisting with day to day operations, as deemed by school administration during these difficult times.
Issues of equity and excellence will be addressed through access to devices and broadband services. Teachers will have opportunities for professional development to deliver quality blended learning. Other identified supports in the equity and excellence priority include responsiveness to student needs including but not limited to poverty language barriers, differentiated academic needs or services, and social/emotional needs.
The final priority area identified, state and federal regulations, was addressed by the Alexander County Board of Education March 20, 2020, when they approved a resolution giving the Superintendent authority to temporarily waive such Board policies or provisions of Board policies as the Superintendent shall deem necessary to comply with guidance from appropriate health or governmental authorities or necessary for other effective response.”
In conclusion, Dr. Hefner reminded the board and viewers that the re-entry plan is in draft form and will most likely be modified as changes are merited.
Mrs. Renee Meade, director of communications and public relations, presented the board members with a sneak peek of the dedicated subsite created to provide easy to locate information for school re-entry. The website will be published and promoted by July 20.
Remote Instruction Plan
School board members approved the 15-component Remote Instructional Plan for Alexander County Schools. The plan is due to the state of North Carolina by July 20, 2020. The plan outlines how curriculum will be delivered during the additional five remote instruction days and how instruction would be delivered in fully remote or blended/hybrid classrooms. Expectations for staff and students, digital resources, and attention to special populations are addressed in the plan.
Upon submission, the plan will be made available to the public for further review. Dr. Curry shared that although a vote is not required, a vote of approval is recommended. The plan is a working document and will be updated as the situation or situations may warrant.
Bethlehem School Update
Bethlehem Elementary principal Mrs. Charmion Frizsell presented the school update in a memory book layout for board members. The 2019-2020 school year took on a completely different look than most school years due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. There were many traditional moments to remember, such as student recognitions for awards like the Soil and Water Conservation contest, but also new moments like school parades to celebrate families and students.
Teachers continued with professional learning community (PLC) activities including a book study titled, Notice and Note. Teachers and staff learned to use new tools, like flipgrid and Zoom.
Mrs. Frizsell commented that some of the proudest moments were the prized chicken on a Zoom class and everyone working together to create remote learning plans. She indicated teachers and staff reported they missed the personal contact with the students the most.
Superintendent Hefner opened her report by congratulating Mrs. Susan Gantt as being selected as the Northwest CTE Director of the Year.
Dr. Hefner shared a document, “Behind the Wheel Instruction Requirements and Recommendations.” The document, released last week, will serve as a framework for the driver education program headed by Steve Absher.
Governor Cooper announced Tuesday, July 14, North Carolina public schools will open in August in a plan B blended format. This information, along with the most recent statement from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, puts school district officials in a position to make a better-informed decision regarding athletic competitions.
The school board approved one new policy and five revised policies. All Alexander County Board Policies are available for review by the public at www.alexander.k12.nc.us or at the Alexander County Board of Education Office on Liledoun Road, Taylorsville, North Carolina.
CTE House Project Update
Board members approved a bid of $165,000 on the student-built CTE Project House and are in the process of accepting upset bids through July 27. In the event an upset bid is received by July 27, then the original bidder will have an option to place a second bid.
The house is located at 421 Alexander Acres Drive in Taylorsville. It is approximately 1,600 square feet on a 0.965-acre lot. It is a brick home with vinyl trim and has three bedrooms and two baths.
Anyone interested can contact Susan Gantt at Alexander Central High School. The due date for upset bids is July 27.
Summer Learning Program Approved
The board approved the Summer Learning Program and Remote Instruction Plan presented by Associate Superintendent Dr. Betsy Curry.
The Summer Learning Plan (SLP) was submitted to the Regional Support Team and the Department of Public Instruction June 22, 2020. The state allotted $175,692 for summer learning. The requirements for expenditure included at least 50% to be used to provide reading interventions for students who were in second and third grades during the 2019-2020 school year. Up to 25% of funding may be used for supplemental literacy support for students in third and fourth grades during the 2020-2021 school year who are not on track to meet 2020-2021 year-end expectations as identified by their 2020-2021 reading teachers. These funds can be used until Dec. 30, 2020. Additional information including DPI support and Guidance for Summer Learning Plan, FAQ, June 2020, can be found at the link: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1sSrjxo43WDYe17pu2n87ftAMoYvGQN_c.
Dr. Curry shared the four options for spending the SLP budget. The budget required that the majority of the money be encumbered by Aug. 17, 2020, and 75% be spent on providing interventions to students who were in second and third grade in the 2019-2020 school year.
Alexander County Schools team chose Option 4, a combination of the models (in-person instruction, remote instruction, and/or professional development) in an effort to meet the individual needs of the district, and has utilized this funding to provide virtual training in Orton Gillingham Phonics for teachers, PD in Remote Instructional Planning for Coaches and Teachers over the summer months and devices for second and third graders. Additional information regarding the summer learning plan can be found on the school district website.
Meal Price Increase Approved
School board members approved an increase of 10 cents per meal for students for the 2020-2021 school year. Child nutrition director Kathy Caudle indicated that all students will receive free breakfast and lunch through Aug. 31.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, August 11, 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 schools’ YouTube channel. Any changes will be posted on the school system website at www.alexander.k12.nc.us.