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April 16, 2024

Safety a major topic as school year approaches

By ANGELA FARR KING

The Alexander County Board of Education held their monthly meeting on Tuesday, August 9, at 6 p.m. An important topic of discussion at this meeting was school safety.

Dr. Alisha Cloer, Executive Director of Human Resources and Auxiliary Services, presented a School District Safety Report. These are some of the safety measures in place for Alexander County Schools:
1. Procedures for school staff are in a step-by-step guide book that is accessible in all schools and classrooms.
2. Fire escape and tornado shelter plans are posted in every room.
3. Critical incident kits are at every school and updated regularly.
4. There is a See Something/Say Something anonymous reporting system in place.
5. Safety meetings with law enforcement and emergency management occur regularly.
6. School exterior doors are to remain locked and closed at all times. School administrators can spot check these at any time.
7. All schools monitor visitors at the school entrances and visitors must “buzz in” to enter.
8. Schools participate in frequent drills pertaining to safety.

Board member Marty Loudermilt thanked Dr. Cloer for her report and her hard work to ensure safety, but stated that he believed in having a school resource officer at every school.

Board member Ramie Robinson agreed with that statement as well and Board Chairman David Odom said that they do not wish to have grants given to fund officers for schools that will only last a year a two. They are seeking to have assistance in paying for resource officers at every school long term. There was a general agreement that this is an urgent need and funding needs to be explored.

August 8-9 were safety training days for all principals, assistant principals, and district administrators. The training was a refresher on requirements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was a cooperative effort between Alexander County Schools and the County Fire Marshal’s office. The training emphasized “knowing who is in charge” during an emergency and having “clear lines of communication.”

School leaders will continue to practice tornado, fire, and lockdown drills. Earthquake drills have also been added to the list of required drills.

Chris Campbell, the Director of Maintenance, presented a maintenance report for the district.

Campbell noted that they now have a seven person crew with five of those people being Alexander County Schools Alumni. They have 101 years of combined experience.

He and his crew have been busy during the summer months, especially at Alexander Central High School, where they replaced flooring in 13 classrooms, the Guidance area, the CTE area, and other offices.

They purchased furniture for three business classrooms, painted 15 classrooms, CTE areas, Guidance areas, and hallways where needed.

The JV gym was sanded down to bare wood and painted to match the Varsity gym.

They installed window coverings at critical areas at several schools for extra safety precautions and bought a zero turn mower for Sugar Loaf Elementary.

They have installed six new vape detectors in restrooms at ACHS, bringing their total to 13. They also installed two new vape detectors at both East and West Middle Schools. Campbell explained that these detectors detect much more than vaping. They also detect aggressive behavior, smoke, gunshots, and other disruptions.

Campbell explained that they have applied for several Needs Based Public School Capital Fund Grants and were awarded $1.35 million for roof replacement at Bethlehem Elementary School.

A topic of conversation was the need to fund a new gym and office area at Sugar Loaf Elementary School. Campbell noted that they are awaiting grant money to fund this project. Board member Brigette Rhyne and Board Chairman David Odom spoke to this need and said in summary that this project should be in the planning stages, regardless of grant status. Odom asked for a compilation of costs for the proposed project and Board member Scott Bowman, Chairman of the Facilities Committee, said he would have information on this to present at the next board meeting.

Dr. Betsy Curry, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, reported the findings of the Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA). The purpose of the assessment was to collect information from each of the schools and the district leadership to determine priorities for future action.

The CNA also includes results from the Teacher Working Conditions Survey (TWCS), a survey the state requires every two years. The survey is anonymous and collects data in the following categories: Time to Accomplish Duties, Adequate Facilities and Supplies, Community and Family Engagement, Managing Student Conduct, Teacher Leadership, School Leadership, Effective Professional Development, Instructional Support, Equity, Safety, and Teacher Retention.

An important topic of discussion from the survey was Teacher Retention. North Carolina and Alexander County Schools are experiencing difficulties retaining quality teachers. The board is seeking to find ways to recruit and retain quality teachers for all schools.

Dr. Curry noted that some school districts award Recruitment Bonuses. Alexander County instead chooses to award Retention Bonuses out of respect for employees who choose to stay in Alexander County. She also noted that the yearly annual supplement for Alexander personnel is higher than many surrounding counties and that is a plus for those seeking employment with Alexander County Schools.

Another topic addressed was chronic absenteeism. This has become an increasing problem during the Pandemic years and was at 26% during the 2020-2021 school year. Curry said that school administration will continue to empathize with students, but will also raise the bar for school attendance. Students will be expected to be at school, to complete assignments, and to adhere to school discipline policies. Much grace has been given over the past few years, but expectations will be higher as school begins in a few short weeks.

In the Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Jennifer Hefner noted that all leaders in the system will participate in an Annual Administrator Leadership Retreat August 15-17 at Appalachian State University.

New Teacher Orientation will take place on Thursday, August 18, in person for the first time in two years. Opening Session for all school system personnel is scheduled for Tuesday, August 23, beginning at 9 a.m. in the ACHS Auditorium.

She also shared great news that Josh Bowles, Career and Technical Educator at ACHS, has been selected as one of 50 finalists for the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. The award honors excellent teaching in skilled trades education in U.S. public schools. Josh is currently in the running for one of 20 prizes totaling $1.25 million dollars that will be awarded in October.

Sharon Mehaffey, Chief Financial Officer, brought the following Board of Education Revisions forward for review and approval after their second reading: #2410-Policy Development, #2430 Dissemination and Preservation of Policies, and #2600 Consultants to the Board.

She also brought forth eight policies for approval upon first reading because the changes were so minor: #1200 Student Success, #1300 Parental Involvement, #1400 School Initiatives, #1500 Safe, Orderly, and Inviting Environment, #1600 Professional Development, #1700 Removal of Barriers, #1720 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex, and #1800 Stewardship of Resources.
All policies passed unanimously without changes.

The board then entered into closed session. They will meet again on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 6 p.m.

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