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January 20, 2022

School Board has virtual meeting due to rise in COVID cases

By ANGELA FARR KING

The January School Board Meeting was held via Zoom on Tuesday, January 11, 2022, due to high cases of Covid reported among students and staff in many Alexander County schools.

This was in conjunction with the decision for Sugar Loaf Elementary to operate on a remote learning schedule due to staff absences creating a shortage that would impact the instruction and safety of students.

Board Chairman David Odom opened the meeting with a moment of silence in remembrance of the Bethlehem Elementary students lost in the county over the Christmas holidays and to recognize the struggles faced by the school system due to rising cases of Covid.

A motion was made to approve the agenda. Board member Marty Loudermilt made a motion to postpone the scheduled presentation about Social and Emotional Learning until February due to the virtual nature of the meeting. The motion passed, with Matt Cooksey voting against the postponement of the presentation.

Public comments were submitted via email and read by Chariman Odom. Two comments, submitted by Katie Hanshew and Brent Warren, were in opposition to a curriculum addressing Social and Emotional Learning being taught to students in Alexander County. The third public comment, submitted by Julia Carpenter, was in opposition to the current mask mandate.

Brigette Rhyne commented that she is hopeful that much of the confusion about Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) will be cleared up when the board hears a presentation on this topic in February.

In the next portion of the meeting, Dr. Denita Dowell-Reavis gave an update about Hiddenite Elementary. She first recognized and thanked the Board of Education for their service as it is Board of Education Appreciation Month.

Dr. Dowell-Reavis reported that Hiddenite has a very diverse population of students with 362 students enrolled in K-5 and 17 enrolled in pre-K.

Hiddenite is one of the only schools with an art teacher and they are currently providing after school tutoring for 52 students. They are closely tracking the data for these students and looking for growth.

Dowell-Reavis then thanked the school’s community partners and said she looks forward to the day when partnerships can operate with more in person interactions.

She stated that their focus at Hiddenite this year is engagement. As a staff, they are seeking to authentically engage students with hands-on interactive learning.

She closed her presentation with a teacher-made video of several students talking about their own unique qualities.

Dr. Betsy Curry gave an update on Summer Learning Programs for 2022. The traditional Summer Reading Camp will take place July 25th-August 11th. This will be a three week camp focusing on rising 1st-4th graders who are not demonstrating sufficient progress in reading. The camp will run Monday-Thursday from 7:30-2:45 during this time frame.

Rising 4th and 5th graders needing additional support in reading and math will have the opportunity to attend a summer learning program during the same dates and times.

These summer learning opportunities will be funded by the Elementary & Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). These are federal relief funds allotted to school systems to address learning loss and recovery due to the pandemic. The Alexander County School System has received 1.6 million dollars in ESSER funds that must be spent over a three year period to promote learning recovery.

There will also be middle school opportunities for summer learning. Rising 6th-8th graders needing additional support in math or reading can attend a Summer Bridge Program during the same dates and times as elementary students at the two county middle schools.

For high school students, there will be credit recovery opportunities from June 6th-June 22nd. Students needing to make up for credit deficits will be invited to attend these sessions.

There will also be a Junior Career Academy for rising 7th and 8th graders, which will be a two week experience to promote career awareness. Students will be required to apply for this camp, which will consist of career ready labs, guest speakers from various career fields, and industry tours. The goals for middle schoolers during this camp will be to have a greater understanding of high school CTE (Career and Technical Education) courses at the high school, to recognize workforce opportunities, and to help them develop a more fortified career plan.

Rising 10th-12th graders will also be invited to apply to attend a two week Career Academy that will directly pair students interested in postsecondary employment with local businesses in need of skilled workers.

The Summer Bridge and Summer Career Accelerator Programs will be funded by PRC 176, which consists of $133,181, and PRC 177, which consists of $85,818. PRC stands for Program Report Codes, which can include a combination of local, state, and federal funding.

There will also be credit recovery opportunities for students at the Alexander Early College, but those dates and times are to be determined.

In the superintendent’s report, Dr. Jennifer Hefner noted that the Alexander County School System donated $7,644 to the United Way of Alexander County during the past year. That puts the school system in the Silver Level Donor Category.

She also shared a chart showcasing staff absenteeism for Monday and Tuesday of this week due to illness or quarantine. The level of absences for staff has prompted Sugar Loaf Elementary School to operate remotely until Tuesday, January 18th. She noted that if numbers of Covid case related absences continue, other schools may also have to begin schoolwide remote instruction.
She reminded everyone that Monday, January 17th, is a holiday for staff and students to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chief Financial Officer Sharon Mahaffey called for a vote approving policy 3100 pertaining to Curriculum Development and Policy 3225 pertaining to Technology Responsible Usage with no suggested changes. The policies were unanimously accepted.

She brought forth Policy number 4050 pertaining to Children of Military Families and Policy number 4120 pertaining to Domicile or Residence Requirements for a first reading. These policies will be brought forth for a vote of approval during the February board meeting.

Chairman David Odom made the following Committee Assignments to board members for 2022:
Award of Honor: Marty Loudermilt and Ramie Robinson; Board Liason to Booster Club: Scott Bowman; Board Liason to Commissioners/Legislative: Matt Cooksey; Budget: Brigette Rhyne, Harry Schrum, and David Odom; Calendar: Ramie Robinson and David Odom; Census: Matt Cooksey; Education Foundation: Matt Cooksey and Ramie Robinson; Facilities: Scott Bowman, Harry Schrum, and David Odom; Head Start: Marty Loudermilt; Policy: Matt Cooksey and Brigette Rhyne; School Health Advisory: Ramie Robinson; Student Success Center: Ramie Robinson; Teacher of the Year: Marty Loudermilt and Brigette Rhyne; and Transportation: Scott Bowman.

The board then discussed the current mask mandate, which requires everyone to wear masks at all times in school buildings. The board voted to keep the existing mandate in place, with Robinson and Loudermilt voting against it.

The mandate will be revisited at the February School Board meeting.

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