By Angela Farr King
The Alexander County Board of Education met on Tuesday, November 9, 2021, at the Central Office. This month’s board meeting was well attended and many recognitions were made, but the biggest news of the night came in the superintendent’s report: certain school employees will receive a bonus.
Dr. Jennifer Hefner included three main points in her report. The first point was to state that they still do not have an approved state budget and are operating the school system without one. She stated that letters have been written to Gov. Cooper and other state representatives, but no budget has been finalized. She thanked the board and the public for their patience in this matter.
The second bullet was the announcement of retention bonuses for school system employees. To quote Dr. Hefner, “Who qualifies for the bonus? And what amount is the bonus? All employees working in permanent positions for 20-40 hours per week will receive $1,000. To receive the bonus, employees must have been employed on Sept. 1, 2021, and be actively employed Dec. 21, 2021. Employees working in permanent positions that are less than 20 hours per week, and have worked at least 10 hours a month in September, October, and November will receive $500. The payment will be made on Dec. 21, 2021, by direct deposit into the employee’s designated bank account,” the superintendent stated.
“Why is this bonus being paid? The bonuses being paid are to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, promote student recovery, emphasize educational excellence, and reward employees for all of the extra responsibilities they have assumed during the pandemic. There will also be a second bonus in June 2022. The details of that bonus have not been finalized at this time,” said Dr. Hefner.
The board commended the school system for moving forward with these bonuses without any push from the other entities.
Summer Learning Opportunities
The third point of the superintendent’s report was to note that Dr. Betsy Curry has been working with school and district staff to finalize summer learning options in order to provide parents and teachers with this information in time to make vacation plans. It was noted that there are a variety of funding sources from federal and state governments earmarked to address pandemic learning loss. Stay tuned to the December board meeting for more information on a summer career celebration and Summer Bridge Academies.
Honors and Recognitions
Honors and recognitions were highlights of this board meeting. Hannah Boston from Friendship Lutheran Church presented the school system with a $6,000 check with money raised from their recent Cruise Through Barbecue event. Dr. Hefner noted that this money will be divided between the 12 schools in the county and used for students. Dr. Hefner thanked the entire faith based community for supporting the school system. She noted that the gift is “especially sweet” because we haven’t been able to have the Taylorsville Apple Festival for the past two years. The Apple Festival typically generates funds for the school system.
The next recognitions were for participants in the Mountaineer Readers Program sponsored by Appalachian State Athletics. This program encourages students to read books of their choosing over the summer months. Students log their reading minutes and turn them into their school librarians the first week of school. All mountaineer readers will receive App State baseball tickets for the Spring of 2022.
Participating schools from Alexander County were Ellendale, Hiddenite, Stony Point, Sugar Loaf, Taylorsville, and Wittenburg. Ellendale Elementary School was recognized as a 2021 Appalachian State University Mountaineer Readers Program Top School, with Principal Jason Evans accepting the award.
The top class recognized in Alexander County was Mrs. Monica Anderson’s class from Ellendale Elementary. Macey Walker from Wittenburg Elementary was recognized as the top reader in the first and second grade age group. Aubrey Powell from Ellendale Elementary was recognized as the top reader in the third and fourth grade division, with Jacob Huffman from Wittenburg Elementary being recognized as the top reader in the fifth grade age group.
ACPEF Grant Recipients Recognized
Brigette Rhyne, president of the Alexander County Public Education Foundation, was excited to award 15 grants from this organization. Recipients of these grants can receive up to $500 for educational projects. The following teachers received grants from the ACPEF: Megan Calhoun from Alexander Central for “Countdown to College,” Butch Carter from Alexander Central for “Weight Room Safety Renovations,” Scottie Cook from Alexander Central for “Performance Based Agricultural Mechanics Skills,” Becky Dupuis from Alexander Central for “Using Science Models,” Pete Hardee from Alexander Central for “Weight Room Safety Renovations,” Shelly Mitchell from Alexander Central for “No Fear for Freshman: Helping Freshman Find the Modern Relevance of Shakespeare,” Katherine Seno of Alexander Central for “Scientific Illustration Lessons with the Hiddenite Arts & Heritage Center,” Samantha Strathy also from Alexander Central for “Modern Day Screen printing,” Danielle Ortiz of Bethlehem Elementary School for “Inside Out: Frog Dissection Program for 5th Graders,” Erin Lewis from Ellendale Elementary for “ Light Up Our World with Paper Circuits,” Liz Cronan from Sugar Loaf Elementary for “Build a Library, Build a Future,” Andrea Pennell from Sugar Loaf Elementary for “3rd Grade STEM Materials Boxes,” Michelle Robinson from Taylorsville Elementary School for “Studies Weekly for Social Studies,” Melanie Sigmon from the Student Success Center for “Life Science Through Chickens,” and Suzanne Goble from the Virtual Academy for “STEAM to Go for 5th-8th Grades.”
Brigette Rhyne noted that this was the highest number of recipients they have ever had and she was thrilled to see so many applications.
The next portion of the board meeting was reserved for public comments. People wishing to make comments must sign in and are limited to three minutes on a topic. Julia Carpenter’s comments focused on the PanoramaEd/SEL Program used in schools to address social and emotional wellness. Ginger Annas’ comments addressed the mask numerical requirements currently in place for students in Alexander County. She requested the board increase the threshold number of COVID-19 cases to allow optional masking.
Board Policy Revisions
Chief Finance Officer Sharon Mahaffey presented the following board policy changes for approval:
• Policy No. 7232 – Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace
• Policy No. 7720 – Employee Political Activities
• Policy No. 8310 – Annual Independent Audit
• Policy No. 3320 – School Field Trips and Excursions
She then presented six new policy revisions for the first reading:
• Policy No. 1310/4002 – Parental Involvement
• Policy No. 1510/4200/7270 – School Safety
• Policy No. 1720/4030/7235 – Title IX Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex
• Policy No. 2125/7315 – Confidential Information
• Policy No. 2302 – Remote Participation in Board Meetings
• Policy No. 7520 – Family and Medical Leave
Alexander County Board Policies are available for review by the public at www.alexander.k12.nc.us.
School Improvement Plans Approved
Dr. Betsy Curry called for a vote of approval for school improvement plans submitted prior to the meeting. These were all approved unanimously. She noted that school improvement plans change frequently so to view the most updated ones, please refer to the county website.
Sugar Loaf Elementary School Report
Mr. Joseph Mabry, principal of Sugar Loaf Elementary, was next to the podium to spotlight what is happening at Sugar Loaf Elementary.
Principal Mabry shared a thorough presentation which highlighted what the staff, students, and administration are focusing on at Sugar Loaf.
He stated that the number one focus at Sugar Loaf is building relationships. He says they are working hard to “create intellectual communities through writing and speaking using complete sentences. They are striving for collaboration between staff in professional learning communities.” He talked about their daily WIN (what I need) time, which is a protected time used for interventions and enrichment.
He says he wants everyone in the school to have a growth mind set. He shared photos of the physical improvements at Sugar Loaf, particularly in the media center and the cafeteria. The renovations are amazing and the students are excited for the day when they can eat in the new cafeteria!
Mr. Mabry shared a wonderful video of students singing to honor veterans. This was a reminder to all of us to take time this week to be grateful to all who have served and protected us.
Principal Mabry then shared the impact of Judy Davis’ legacy on the students of Sugar Loaf Elementary. Mrs. Judy Davis was a former bus driver, teacher assistant, and media assistant at Sugar Loaf. Mrs. Davis died last December due to complications from COVID-19, but her family and friends created the “Judy’s Joy” initiative to provide books for students in Alexander County. Mr. Mabry was happy to announce that every student at Sugar Loaf received a book on October 11 from this foundation.
Harry Schrum, chairman of the school board, took a moment to review the current mask policy, which is based on COVID-19 numbers. Masks will not be required when the number of positive COVID-19 cases is less than 20 for a three-week rolling average. The board agreed that this policy is working and will remain in place at this time.
The overall mood of this public meeting was celebratory. Children were celebrated for reading over the summer. Educators received grant money to use for educational opportunities that extend learning beyond the base curriculum. Employees of the school system have a bonus to look forward to right before Christmas and incentive to stay the course.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Education is scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, at 6:00 p.m.