By ANGELA FARR KING
The Alexander County Board of Education met on Monday, March 13, 2023, for their regularly scheduled meeting. Second grader Sadie Lee, fourth grader Gracie Lee, and fifth grader Isaiah Thick, all from Bethlehem, opened the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Dr. Betsy Curry, Associate Superintendent of Schools, shared the midyear achievement results for the school system. She noted that the primary assessments used to gauge students during the school year are DIBELS (Daily Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy), I-Ready, and North Carolina Check-ins.
DIBELS are used to assess the youngest students and Curry noted that there are less kindergarten students scoring below benchmark requirements than there were at the beginning of the year. She is hopeful that these students who entered school with large amounts of learning deficits will close the gap as the year progresses.
She shared concerns about third graders who now have more students scoring well below grade level than at the beginning of the year. She pointed out that expectations rise throughout the school year and assessments get harder. She also discussed the fact that these particular students have had a tremendous learning loss due to the Covid Pandemic. They have basically lost two and a half years of direct teacher instruction.
When examining I-Ready data across the district, these assessments show that students across the county are growing more than the average of students in the nation. This is true of all of the schools in the county, with the exception of East Alexander Middle School.
Math midyear scores show more mixed results. Students are showing high growth in the county, with the exception of Stony Point Elementary, Wittenberg Elementary, and East Alexander Middle School. The grade levels doing the best on I-Ready data are kindergarten, first, and seventh grade. Curry says I-Ready data does have a tendency to correlate with end of year proficiency. She also reminded the board to remember that students may not show proficiency, but many will show growth. She made it clear that socioeconomic status does not impede growth, but it does typically impede proficiency.
Alexander Central High School showed positive growth even though they tested a bit earlier than other high schools across the state, according to Dr. Curry’s presentation. She also shared Daily Check-in results. There was a range of results among different grade levels, but Dr. Curry showed how deep the data will dive for individual schools and grades.
Curry was also quick to point out faults in the assessment process. Some schools have simply not taught some of the tested skills before testing time. Some eighth grade students are completely burned out on online assessments and don’t even try. Lots of components factor into these results, but the district does its best to track progress without over assessing students.
With these assessment results in mind, Alexander County Schools already have Summer Learning Opportunities in place. At the high school level, there will be credit recovery opportunities for students who may be missing credits but want to graduate on time.
There will be Read to Achieve Summer Camps for first through third graders. Curry noted that the state requires this for second and third graders, but the instructional coaches and principals in Alexander County felt it necessary to include first graders as well to catch them earlier.
There will be opportunities for rising sixth graders to get a “head start” on material they will be expected to learn in their first middle school year. Families with struggling students are urged to take advantage of this. There will be camps offered for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities for students in grades 3 through 8. There will also be a Career Academy offered for seventh through twelfth graders at Alexander Central High School, which will allow students to partner with local businesses and practice careers that are available locally.
During Honors and Recognitions, Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner recognized several members of the ACHS Beta Club who recently competed at the state convention. She noted that the students at ACHS participated in 58 state contests. Some of the highlights of their accomplishments included the entire club being recognized for a 10% increase in membership since the previous school year. Senior Meredith Miller received one of two scholarships that the State Beta Club offers in the amount of $1,000.
Those individuals who placed at the State Convention included:
• Hadleigh Houser, 9th Grade Agriscience – 4th Place
• Trace Chatham, 12th Grade Agriscience – 4th Place
• Meredith Miller, 12th Grade ELA – 4th Place
• Oscar Romero, 10th Grade French – 4th Place
• Ansley Scott, 12th Grade Science – 3rd Place
• Jessica Salinas, 10th Grade Spanish – 5th Place
• Judith Reynoso, Digital Art Div 1 – 3rd Place
• Judith Reynoso, Hand Drawn Anime Div 1 – 1st Place
• Judith Reynoso, Mixed Media Div 1 – 3rd Place
• Benny Heath, Woodworking Div 2 – 5th Place
• Judith Reynoso, On-site Painting Div 1 – 1st Place
• Terriona Helton, Poetry Div 1 – 5th Place
• Ella Mitchell, Spelling Bee – 5th Place
• Grant Sizemore & Team, Technology – 5th Place
There was also a Musicology Team that competed at the state level that included: Benny Heath, Charlie Herman, Ansley Scott, and Ethan Stocks. This team won third place.
Dr. Hefner then recognized Alexander Central High School’s Class of 1992, who held a fundraiser to support the Cougar Vision Scholarship. This particular scholarship is sponsored by the Alexander County Public Education Foundation (ACPEF). The Cougar Vision Scholarship was founded by the Class of 1982 and students have benefited with over $61,000 in scholarship money because of it. Board Member Brigette Rhyne is the Chairperson for the ACPEF and she and Dr. Jennifer Hefner thanked the Class of ’92 and all of those who have contributed to this endeavor over the years.
The school system celebrated recognition from the state’s public relations organization for a Blue Ribbon Award in the category of publications. Communications Director Dr. Dowell-Reavis managed the design, editing, and production of the district’s new strategic plan, which earned the award.
Communications Director Dr. Denita Dowell-Reavis presented the 2023-2024 School Calendar for the Alexander Early College. The first day for AEC will be August 7th and the last one will be May 17th.
Mr. Charles Draper, Principal of Bethlehem Elementary School, gave an update on his school. He shared that they are constantly asking this question at Bethlehem: “How can we level up?” Their new vision statement is “engaging, equipping, and inspiring students to love learning and thrive.” They have analyzed their data and have set measurable, realistic targets to reach in reading, math, and science. His team is also focusing on parental involvement by meeting with families prior to the school year starting and opening their doors for parent nights. He gave each board member a guitar pick because he sees his school as a rock band, all working together in harmony to achieve success. Mr. Draper said that he was speaking as a representative of his school with approximately 70 employees. He was quick to give his staff and students the credit for making good things happen at Bethlehem.
In her Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Jennifer Hefner announced that bids for the Bethlehem Roof Project are now open. The state is giving the district $1.38 million dollars in capital outlay project funding for the roof and the bids are open until April 13th.
Hefner also addressed a public comment made in the last meeting pertaining to students dressing as animals or asking for litter boxes at school. She went on record as saying, “Litter boxes are not and will not be allowed in our schools. Children are not dressing as animals per Dress Code Policy #4316.”
In light of the recent Transportation Audit that was shared in the last board meeting, Dr. Hefner shared the issues that have already been addressed in the transportation department for Alexander County Schools with the following update:
New lifts will be delivered March 14 to replace borrowed lifts. New roll up doors have been ordered, but are 4-6 weeks out for delivery.
Career and Technical Ed. students and teachers are working on repairing the fuel containment area. The fuel tanks are scheduled to be painted.
A contingency plan has been put in place in case of a fuel storage shutdown and the plan will be to purchase from Bumgarner Oil.
The Director of School Maintenance, Chris Campbell, met with architects for future planning purposes and to get prices of recently constructed transportation facilities.
A fuel truck driver position was posted. Interviews were conducted and a new employee begins March 20.
It has been determined that all training and certifications are currently up to date.
Chief Financial Officer Sharon Mehaffey brought forth three board policy revisions for approval after second reading. They passed unanimously. These included:
• Policy No. 7241 – Drug and Alcohol Testing of Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators
• Policy No. 7810 – Evaluation of Licensed Employees
• Policy No. 9400 – Sale, Disposal, and Lease of Board-Owned Real Property
Mehaffey also brought forth one new policy for approval after a second reading. Policy number 8341 pertaining to Limited Claim Settlement was approved unanimously.
Three policies were brought forth for first reading, including:
• Policy No. 4400 – Attendance
• Policy No. 5071/7351 – Electronically Stored Information Retention
• Policy No. 8410 – Individual School Accounts
Board Chairman Ramie Robinson then recommended to move into closed session.
The next school board meeting will take place on Tuesday, April 18, due to the Spring Break holiday.