By ANGELA FARR KING
Alexander County Board of Education Member Scott Bowman, as a member of the Facilities Committee, was called upon Tuesday evening, Sept. 13, 2022, at the board’s meeting, to give an update on the long talked about building project to construct a new gym and office area at Sugar Loaf Elementary School. He showed rough drawings that had been completed by an architect to show what the project could possibly entail. In this plan, the new gym would go where the current media center is located.
Board Member Harry Schrum made a motion to move forward to actually secure sealed blueprints for the Sugar Loaf project to assess needs and costs before going any further. The motion was seconded by board member Marty Loudermilt.
During the discussion phase of this motion, board Vice Chairman Matt Cooksey expressed his unhappiness that this vote was even being called for. He stated that he felt that there had not been appropriate communication about the project and he also felt the public had not been made fully aware of all of the facts surrounding the project.
He said he had done his own research and went on to state that when the schools in Alexander County had been down to 82% capacity, there had been discussion about consolidating two schools. He wanted to know why now, when schools are at 62% capacity, that isn’t being discussed again. He also wanted to know the needs of other schools before proceeding with this project. He said there needed to be work sessions before a vote for blueprints was taken.
He said he felt the need for more creative discussions about the project and said, “It feels like we are dumping money into a school just to keep it open.”
Board member Brigette Rhyne then offered her opinion on the Sugar Loaf project and said she has been serving on the Board of Education for 14 years and the Sugar Loaf gym project has been discussed numerous times. She told Mr. Cooksey that there had been many work sessions about this project prior to him coming onto the board. She also said she had learned that no community wants a school closed due to consolidation. People in Alexander County view their schools as centers of their communities. She also asked this important question, “Is it fair not to give the kids at Sugar Loaf a nice gym, just because their numbers are smaller?”
Board Member Marty Loudermilt said that he voted back in 2013 to complete the Sugar Loaf gym project and it has since been discussed numerous times and considered a priority. He stated that each year this project is put off, there are other things that get older and need maintenance. If the board keeps putting it off, then there will always be other needs to attend to.
Chairman David Odom added to the discussion by stating that he would not be “part or party to any school consolidation.” He did say that there are currently four large projects that the county has applied for grants to complete and they all require sealed blueprints for completion, so he suggested that blueprints should be secured for all four of the impending projects in case grant money becomes available. He then stated that there was a motion on the floor to proceed with blueprints for the Sugar Loaf Gym Project and called for a vote. All members voted to move forward with obtaining blueprints for the Sugar Loaf project, with the exception of Matt Cooksey, who asked to abstain from voting since he didn’t “think a vote should have been called for” on this matter at this time.
Janel Lingle was the first principal of the 2022-23 school year to give an update about her school, Taylorsville Elementary (TES). In her presentation, she noted that TES currently has 52 total staff members and 238 students. She said that her staff at Taylorsville work hard to make student needs a top priority. They plan to be intentional with instruction and move children closer to independence.
Lingle said that she felt like they are in the process of rebuilding after the Covid Pandemic, with math scores showing 73% proficiency and reading scores showing 60.3% proficiency.
She thanked their community partners, such as the YMCA, Taylorsville Savings Bank, and the First United Methodist Church, for helping to provide supplies for the kids at TES. She said they plan to invite parents in more often and make more school-to-home connections.
Child Nutrition Director Kathy Caudle gave a report to the board about the overwhelming success of the Summer Meal Program for children in Alexander County. They were able to serve 26,638 breakfasts and 26,154 lunches to children in Alexander County over the summer months. This was largely due to the wise management of government food commodities that she and her nutrition staff continually make use of. Caudle also noted that they cook real food using real recipes. School system Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner expressed her thankfulness that meal prices had remained the same with no increase in prices for families. Caudle informed the board that she has processed over 2,000 free or reduced lunch applications, which is the largest amount she has ever seen.
Jessica Anderson, Student Support Services Executive Director, presented the goals for the School Health Advisory Council (SHAC). These are the top five goals of this council:
• Provide information annually to students on the risks of social media.
• Increase student and parent awareness on accessing bullying reporting and supportive resources.
• Develop a process of resources to address the locations that show high incidents of bullying.
• Offer on-site fitness activities.
• Wellness opportunities will be offered during professional development days.
These goals will be part of a discussion at the October board meeting.
Director of Testing and Accountability Andrea Robinette reported the final portion of the district’s Comprehensive Needs Assessment. In her report, she showed testing data that indicated that Alexander County had surpassed the state’s average proficiency on overall scores, but the state had designated three schools as low-performing, including Hiddenite Elementary, Wittenberg Elementary, and East Alexander Middle School.
Three schools exceeded expected growth and they were Alexander Central High School, the Alexander Early College, and West Alexander Middle School. Schools were given letter grades on their “report cards” and those grades are based on a formula of 80% proficiency (passing) and 20% growth. NC is only one of 12 states to still issue school performance grades. When reviewing the testing data, it is apparent that there has been some positive growth, but there is still much to do to meet state standards.
The strategic plan was presented for review by Dr. Hefner. She noted that the plan contains four priorities, which is a reduction from the previous number of seven priorities. The priorities are:
• Instructional Excellence and Alignment.
• Family and Community Engagement.
• Planning and Operational Effectiveness.
• Professional Capacity.
Board members will be able to review the Strategic Plan in its entirety at the October board meeting and it will be set forth for approval.
Maintenance Director Chris Campbell reported on capital grants the district has applied for with the state. Grants have been applied for that would impact Sugar Loaf Elementary, Alexander Central High School, Taylorsville Elementary School, and West Alexander Middle School. The grant applications total almost $13,000,000, and Campbell said he expects to hear by the end of September whether or not Alexander County will receive any of these grant monies. The district must provide a 5 percent match for grants, if awarded.
In her Superintendent’s report, Dr. Hefner congratulated Mrs. Michelle Robinson from Taylorsville School for receiving a $15,000 grant to create an outdoor classroom at TES. The grant is sponsored by the Outdoor Heritage NC Advisory Council.
Hefner also reported that the projected student enrollment for Alexander County for this school year was 4,497 and, as of Day 10 of the school year, there is an enrollment of 4,425. If the final enrollment count has a difference of less than 100, no money will have to be returned to the state from their state allotment money.
Hefner said that she and Sheriff Chris Bowman will be attending the next County Commissioner meeting to request additional school resource officers. Some money for officers can come from state grants, but the county government will have to absorb some of the costs for these officers.
In the final portion of her report, Dr. Hefner read a resolution asking the federal government to restore the free meal program they funded during the pandemic. The resolution notes that even middle class working families will need to be able to pay approximately $2,000 annually for school lunches and breakfasts. The signing of this resolution joins ACS with school districts across the nation asking for a “fix” to this problem for families.
Four school board policies were brought forth after their first readings. These were: Policy #4110: Immunization and Health Requirements for School Admission; Policy #4260: Student Sex Offenders; Policy #4334/5035/7345: Use of Unmanned Aircraft (Drones); and Policy #5240: Advertising in the Schools.