The Alexander County Board of Education met for their regularly scheduled meeting at Alexander Central Auditorium on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, with all board members present. The meeting was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Chairwoman Brigette Rhyne read one public comment submitted prior to the meeting. Mr. John Dyson, parent of a Virtual Academy student, voiced his concerns with the problems his child has faced with learning through the Virtual Academy. His concerns included connection problems with Canvas, the online platform used for the Virtual Academy. Dyson recommended more training for teachers and possibly some video tutorials for parents and students to familiarize themselves with the program.
Dr. Betsy Curry spoke regarding these concerns, noting the statewide Canvas program has been having issues since implementation. Curry also reminded everyone of the quick implementation needed as the program was only open to Alexander County Schools starting August 1, 2020, thus delaying any training in the program. Curry thanked all involved for their patience during this unprecedented time and encouraged anyone who had issues or wanted to discuss any problems they were having to reach out to her and she would work together to resolve any issues that arise.
Athletic director Nathan Robinson announced that the Alexander Central High School Athletic Department is working to livestream athletic events for this upcoming season. The Athletic Department has proposed partnering with National Amateur Sports (NAS) and National Federation of High School Sports Network (NFHS) for the installation of two Pixalot cameras for the Varsity Gym and football stadium. These cameras would be at no cost to the school system. This project will allow the high school to livestream all sporting events in these two venues. Revenue will be generated back to the Athletic Department through monthly and season subscriptions sold through the NFHS Network, as well as ad sales. The department is in the process of gathering prices for Wi-Fi connectivity and cameras for each of the sporting competition areas.
Transportation Director John McCurdy presented an update on the school system transportation department. Currently, the department is made up of five full-time staff and plans to hire an additional mechanic. The department operates six state trucks, including three service vehicles, two fuel trucks, and a wrecker. The service trucks logged 23,864 miles last year, which is a decrease of 3,887 miles over the previous year due to COVID-19.
The district fleet includes 145 vehicles including mowers, driver education cars, service trucks, and buses. The department logged approximately 10,978 hours in the 2019-2020 school year.
The school system operates 40 regular buses and four lift buses. Each bus must have a 45-point inspection every 30 calendar days. Forty-two buses have three interior cameras or more, and six buses have stop-arm cameras. The district has 18 activity buses, ranging in model years from 1987 to 2019.
Maintenance Director Chris Campbell presented an update on school system maintenance. He shared a photo of the department staff, which includes six crew members, five of whom are alumni of Alexander County Schools. They have 110 years of combined service with the school system.
The department manages work orders with the Facilities Management Express (FMX) program. Since Sept. 1, 2019, there have been 1,499 maintenance requests submitted, with only 46 pending. That is an average of 241 completed work orders per employee. These numbers do not include preventative maintenance.
Mr. Campbell highlighted each project in-process or completed since his update last year.
Public Education Foundation Update
School Board Chairman and Public Education Foundation President, Brigette Rhyne, announced the foundation is accepting applications for teacher grants through Sept. 30, 2020.
Virtual Academy Update
Virtual Academy Coordinator Melinda Glenn announced the academy has 35 teachers and 654 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The staff for the Virtual Academy and other school staff are working together to ensure that students are engaged and learning. Teachers started working over the summer to develop schedules, lesson plans, and learn new technology skills to make Virtual Academy a success.
“We are working hard to develop relationships with students and families and have been excited to see that relationships are forming quickly through the computer. We are still learning every day how to be the best virtual teachers and students we can be,” stated Mrs. Glenn.
School Board Vice Chairman Scott Bowman presented details regarding the high school Athletic Booster Club. He indicated that the meeting included discussion regarding the partnership with the National Amateur Sports (NAS) and the National Federation of High School Sports Network (NFHS) and the installation of cameras.
The club elected new officers. Jeremy Fortner will continue as president of the Booster Club.
Mr. Bowman praised the Maintenance department for work on the baseball field. He also indicated that the steak dinner fundraiser is planned as a takeout dinner with the raffle conducted possibly on social media.
Mr. Harry Schrum presented on behalf of the Facilities Committee. The committee reviewed the plans for additions and renovations to Sugar Loaf Elementary School. The committee requested the Sugar Loaf project be presented in smaller projects with budget figures. The committee determined to proceed with the renovations to the cafeteria.
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner opened her report with a legislative news update. State legislators reconvened last week and passed a roughly $1 billion spending bill, and adjourned until January 2021. The Senate (44-5) and House (104-10) passed House Bill 1105, including $1.05 billion in federal funds for COVID-19 relief as well as a provision that will prevent school districts from losing funds due to a decline in enrollment. The Governor signed the bill on Sept. 4.
A win for school districts is the hold harmless provision for average daily membership (ADM). Districts are funded based on their projected ADMs. If the actual ADM ends up being lower, school districts can be required to revert money back to the state. The provision will also ensure that principal pay will not decrease due to ADM this year.
The bill provides $10 million in additional funding for student connectivity, $20 million for personal protective equipment, and $17 million for in-person services for exceptional children.
Additional impacts on the school system included in the bill are the removal of the K-1 grade cap on scholarship grant applications and the increase of the virtual charter school enrollment. The North Carolina Virtual Academy increased by 2,800 students and the North Carolina Cyber Academy increased by 1,000 students.
Dr. Hefner publicly thanked the owners and management of the True Value Store in Taylorsville for the donation of health and safety supplies. The donation was part of the Educational Heroes Safety Campaign. It included hand soap, hand sanitizer, all-purpose cleaner, KN95 masks, and more.
Dr. Hefner discussed school re-entry and the additional COVID-19 funds for summer learning, health professionals, non-digital resources, student computers, child nutrition, personnel devices, hotspots, Exceptional Children, cybersecurity, and supplemental low wealth funds. The largest allotment was the CARES Act funds that were used to establish the Virtual Academy. Dr. Hefner indicated that the funding does not cover all expenses. The funds have set guidance, including time-specific perimeters (expenditures incurred from March 1 to Dec. 30, 2020).
The superintendent’s report included the announcement of Mr. Jacob Lail as the Alexander County Schools 2020 Principal of the Year. Due to COVID-19, the school system was unable to recognize Mr. Lail at the end of year celebration typically held in May. Mr. Lail has been the principal at West Alexander Middle School since July 2019. He has also served as an assistant principal at Alexander Central High School and East Alexander Middle School. Mr. Lail has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His bachelor’s degree is in History, secondary education from Appalachian State University. He taught Advanced Placement (AP) United States History at Alexander Central and social studies at the middle school and high school levels.
Policy Revisions and Updates
Finance Director Sharon Mehaffey presented three policy revisions for the first reading. They will be read again at the October meeting. 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.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, starting at 6:00 pm.