By ANGELA FARR KING
The Alexander County Board of Education met for their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, June 13, at 6:00 p.m. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by ACHS Student Body President, Grant
Sizemore, and Student Body Vice President, Taylor Brown.
As the 2022-2023 school year comes to a close, it’s a time to celebrate success and to look toward the future. There were certainly many things to celebrate at the monthly board meeting, but there was also the sound of an alarm.
Vice Chairman Rob Arguelles gave a somber report from the Budget Committee. He reported that there is a need to formulate a plan for an enormous budget shortfall that is coming for the ’24-’25 school year. While reading from his report, he stated that due to the loss of the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER), as well as massive state budget cuts, including the Opportunity Scholarship Bill Proposals, inflation, and a loss of enrollment, the Alexander County School System will be able to “tread water” for the ’23-’24 school fiscal year, but his committee projects a $3,000,000 shortfall for the ’24-’25 Fiscal Year.
In an effort to be completely transparent and to communicate effectively with the public, Arguelles said that his committee is looking at possible solutions, including consolidation of job functions, restructuring at the Central Office, an alternative work or school schedule (a possible 4 day school week for students only), potentially cutting some Advanced Placement (AP) courses and capitalize on the school system’s relationship with Catawba Valley Community College, identify possible school closures or consolidations, and the possibility of eliminating athletic programs that do not produce revenue.
Aguelles went on to say that they are formulating work teams to address this coming shortfall and the School Board desires input from the community. Board Member Brigette Rhyne, who also serves on the Budget Committee, said that they are expecting to have at least six work groups to examine and plan for different areas of the budget. A board member will serve on each committee, but the public will be invited to sign up for these work groups.
Board Member Scott Bowman stated that citizens should voice their concerns for the school system to the Board of County Commissioners. Dr. Hefner added that the Alexander County Schools system currently receives for education 14% of the County Budget. Bowman again called for all taxpayers to voice the need for County Commissioners to support local schools.
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner recognized Mrs. Angie Ford, who teaches Health Science and Nursing Fundamentals at Alexander Central High School, as the 2023 NCCAT Alexander County Schools Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year. She has been teaching for fourteen years and Dr. Hefner noted that she excels at “holding high expectations and building strong relationships.” Horace Mann Insurance provided this award.
At each monthly board meeting, there is typically one school that showcases their success. This month, three schools gave updates and shared creative ways that they are leading students toward success.
In his first full year, Principal Jacob Lail and his staff made some changes to protect planning time for teachers and to offer Flex Time for students. After evaluating Teacher Working Conditions Survey results and testing data, he worked together with input from his staff to “Fail forward.” He explained that this means that trying new things requires risks to be taken. Sometimes those risks end positively and sometimes they end negatively.
He said the best thing that his team did was to change “Smart Lunch” to “Flex Time.” There are three different levels of Flex Time and each student attends one of the levels based on his/her own needs. 1. Priority: This is the highest priority for a student to attend. Students can ask for one-on-one support with a concept or an extension of the content through exploration, demonstration, collaboration, or peer instruction. 2. Secondary: These sessions vary in the structure with students who may need extra practice, assistance with a new concept, time for student/teacher conferences, or time for group work. 3. Learning Lab: These are used for make-up work or group projects/group work. Students can request a specific learning lab or a specific teacher.
Flex Time is also used for teachers to work in Professional Learning Communities (PLC) so their planning times are protected and not filled with meetings. Lail added that there is a voluntary Professional Learning Team that meets biweekly on Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m. They create critical goals and plan for support for PLCs and Flex times. He said there are typically over 20 staff members in attendance at these voluntary meetings.
Amy Johnson, the Coordinator for the Student Success Center, then gave an update on the progress of her students. She said that her students “sometimes don’t feel seen or don’t want to be seen.” She and her staff have employed a number of creative learning strategies to help with the success of these students. She said they served 35 students total for the year with six students transitioning successfully back to their homeschool, six graduating from high school, and suspensions are down as more students are being able to reset and return to the classroom.
She and her team have worked closely with the staff at Alexander Central High School to allow students to enroll in ROTC or Career and Technical programs. They have taken high schoolers to visit community colleges and middle schoolers have visited local businesses to learn about job opportunities and skills needed. They have hosted guest speakers and facilitated many hands-on projects to increase student engagement.
Johnson also spoke about their partnership with The Bridge Community, whose volunteers have provided them with Valentine’s Day gifts, a teacher for art classes, and tutors. They work with Pinnacle Services to provide counseling for their students and Johnson thanked the Department of Juvenile Justice for helping to keep students on track.
Mary Brown, the Principal for the Alexander Early College, reported that all of their graduates finished with Associates Degrees and half of them received both an Associate of Science and an Associate of Arts.
Brown attributed constant check-ins with staff members to the fact that they had fewer students on academic probation or failing in the Spring of 2023 compared to the Spring of 2022. Mrs. Brown said she “made it her personal mission to keep as many students at the Early College as possible so they could be successful” to the end. This year, there were only 8 students who transferred out of AEC in comparison to 16 transfers last year.
Sharon Mehaffey, Chief Financial Officer for Alexander County Schools, gave a transportation presentation explaining how the Department of Public Instruction calculates transportation allotments using a funding base and a transportation budget rating.
Mehaffey explained that the budget rating is a measure of efficiency and is calculated by examining the cost per student and the number of buses per 100 students. Factors considered include the number of students riding, the amount of money per child, and the number of buses.
Crystal Hoke, the Director of Career and Technical Education (CTE), gave an update. More and more students are delving into CTE opportunities and they are continuing to expand. They will need additional funding in this area to meet all of the student requests.
Their two year plan/goals will continue focusing on: Performance on federal accountability indicators, CTE Concentrator Graduation Rate, EOC scores of CTE concentrators, CTE state test proficiency, Credential Data Alignment to labor market needs, size, scope, and quality of programs offered, progress toward implementing Career Pathways/Programs of Study, and recruitment, retention, and training of faculty and staff.
Dr. Denita Dowell-Reavis brought forth a revised calendar for the 2023-24 school year. Minor changes were made due to the dates available to elementary teachers for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training. The board voted unanimously to accept the changes.
The board also voted unanimously to close the Alexander Virtual Academy. It would cost $203,623 to keep the AVA open and the enrollment had dwindled to just 15 students.
In her Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Jennifer Hefner gave a facilities update, explaining that the roofing project for Bethlehem Elementary School should begin on Wednesday, June 14, and take approximately 90 days to complete. She also stated that “four contractors attended the non-required pre-bid meeting for the Sugar Loaf Elementary Gym project.” The bid opening will be on June 27, 2023 at 2 p.m. in the ACS board room. There will be a special called meeting to approve the construction bid on June 29 at 5:00 p.m. at the Board of Education.
She also stated, “We are awaiting the architect’s plans for the Transportation Department, the West Alexander Middle School HVAC replacement project, and the Student Success Center addition.
Maintenance employees will be going to the old Wittenburg facility on Wednesday, June 14, at 9 a.m., for a building walk-through, if any board members would like to see the condition of the building.”
She added that “the replacement of the tennis courts will start in early July. We will be shutting them down in the last week of June to remove the fencing since that is needed for the project to start.” The public will be made aware of the exact dates when the courts will be closed.
She reminded everyone that Summer School Graduation will take place in the ACHS Varsity Gym on June 22 at 6 p.m.
The meeting was then moved into closed session.