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April 15, 2024

Superintendent reviews budget, public input

SCHOOL NURSES RECOGNIZED — Alexander County Board of Education recognized school nurses at the Dec. 12 meeting for passing their National Certified School Nursing Exams. Shown above, left to right: Board member Scott Bowman congratulates nurses Kendra Bowman, Elizabeth Church, and Ashleigh Sigmon.

By ANGELA FARR KING

The monthly meeting of the Alexander County Board of Education was held on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, at 6 p.m. Students Everett Myers, Ethan Rogers, Jason Campbell, and Jackson Hull, from Stony Point Elementary School, began the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and a student-led moment of silence.

One of the key portions of the meeting was when Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner shared her Superintendent’s Report. Included in the report was her sharing and analysis of the data collected at recent community, school, and parent meetings where the budget crisis was discussed. In each meeting, participants were asked to answer the following questions: What can we do without (least impact to students)? What are you not willing to give up? What to do when we run out of fund balance?

Dr. Hefner shared a color coded Heat Map to disaggregate the data, which shows the responses most often mentioned in green, those in the middle in orange, and those mentioned the least in yellow. This map can be accessed by going to the county website and reviewing the board meeting agenda from Dec. 12 under Boarddocs. This is a direct link to the document: https://go.boarddocs.com/nc/alex/Board.nsf/files/CYG28R7807D3/$file/Data%20Results.pdf.

She shared that the top two responses under “What are you willing to do without?” were “cut or consolidate positions” and “consolidate schools.” The three top responses to “What are you not willing to give up?” were “athletics, teachers/teacher assistants, and electives (Arts and Advanced Placement Classes).” Dr. Hefner said that these responses will be guides for directing the path forward when budget planning for the next school year.

She also shared a draft of a letter she has written to Josh Stein, the NC Attorney General, on the subject of companies who market vapes to children. The letter is a plea to aid the school system in fighting the constant problem of vaping in schools.

Here is a portion of her letter: “The insidious tactic used by certain companies to package and market vaping devices as innocuous items like pens, USB drives, and many more is alarming. These deceitful practices are contributing significantly to the prevalence of vaping among our underage population, thereby jeopardizing their health and academic prospects. Because consequences are required, students caught with vapes or in the act of vaping must serve in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension based on the number of offenses. Moreover, the harmful effects of vapes including nicotine or even marijuana, and chemicals like weedkiller endanger the students’ bodies and long-term health. We have teamed with the local law enforcement agencies and the health department to educate parents and the community about the dangers. While the responsibility lies with us to do our part, we urge your office to initiate active measures against companies that deliberately design and market vaping products resembling school supplies. Such predatory marketing tactics blatantly target our impressionable youth, leading to grave impacts on their health and academic performance.

“I also implore your office to rigorously enforce laws against stores and convenience shops who sell vaping products to underage students. These retailers must be held accountable for their actions, and strict penalties should be imposed to discourage the unlawful sale of vaping devices to minors.” Her entire letter can be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.

ART WINNERS — The winners in the Alexander County Schools Christmas Card Art Contest are shown, from the left: Caroline Bowles (Pre-K to 2nd grade), Zaiden Shepherd (3rd to 5th), Journey Barnett (6th to 8th), and Zoe Hunter (High School).

The winners of the Holiday Card Contest were recognized at the meeting by Dr. Hefner. In the PreK-2nd grade category, second grader Caroline Bowles from Bethlehem Elementary School won and Hefner noted that Caroline was also a winner last year in this contest. In the 3rd-5th grade category, Zaiden Shepherd, a fifth grader from Stony Point Elementary, was the winner. Journey Barnett, a seventh grade student from East Alexander Middle School, won in the 6th-8th grade category. Sophomore Zoe Hunter from ACHS won in the 9th-12th grade
category.

Dr. Hefner noted that these four students were chosen as winners out of 267 entries and their cards will be seen all over the state as they are sent to 114 other school districts in North Carolina.
Three nurses in the school system were also recognized for passing their National Certified School Nursing Exams. They were Kendra Bowman, BSN, RN, NCSN, Elizabeth Church, BSN, RN, NCSN, and Ashleigh Sigmon, BSN, RN, NCSN. Dr. Hefner noted the difficulty of passing this exam for these candidates and said they must recertify every five years to stay up to date on school nursing protocols.

FLAG CREW RECITES PLEDGE — Stony Point Elementary School 5th Grade Flag Crew Members recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the Dec. 12, 2023, Board of Education meeting. Above, left to right: Everett Myers, Ethan Rogers, Jason Campbell, and Jackson Hull.

Dr. Hefner then held a special recognition for Kevin Brittain, who served as Alexander County Schools’ Interim Transportation Director from March 29 to October 31 of this year. She said he was instrumental in “taking the Transportation Dept. to a higher level with his expertise and experience and he was instrumental in helping to hire the new transportation director.”

BRITTAIN HONORED — Alexander County School Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner (left) and Board of Education member Scott Bowman (right) thanked Kevin Brittain, who served as the Interim Director of Transportation after the spring retirement of John McCurdy.

Stony Point update

Miss Jessica Mundy, who is in her first year as Principal at Stony Point Elementary, shared an update about her school. She shared that Stony Point currently has 231 students, 26 certified staff members, and 28 classified staff members. There mission statements are “Whatever it takes!” and “Grow the Whole Child!”

Miss Mundy shared her excitement about the progress of Stony Point’s English Language Learners (ELL) because their progress was documented at 76.9%, in comparison to the state average of 24.9% and the county average of 26.1%. She attributed that to her awesome staff, particularly the current ELL teacher, Molly Sipe.

Stony Point’s reading proficiency score last year was 33.3% and her team has set a goal to raise that to 60% by June of 2025. They also have set goals to improve behavior and attendance and have added several weekly, monthly, and quarterly incentives.

Stephanie Marshall, the new Head Start ERSEA (Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Attendance) Manager, gave a report about ERSEA training. She stated that Head Start is an income based program and is designed to serve the neediest children in the county first. To apply, children must be three years old by August 31, but they take applications year round because sometimes their student population fluctuates. When a new Head Start employee is hired, it is Marshall’s job to provide them with ERSEA training within the first 90 days of employment. She said a new component to recruitment and enrollment is that phone interviews can now be conducted to determine eligibility instead of just “in person” interviews.

Director of Maintenance, Chris Campbell, then gave a facilities update. He was happy to report that the Bethlehem Roof Project is complete and there are no leaks in the building. He also reported on the progress of the Sugar Loaf Elementary School renovation and construction project. He stated that he has been very pleased with the contractors for their organization of supplies in close quarters and their efficient monthly reports. They started the work the second week of October and they currently have walls that are 17 blocks high in most areas.

ACS Communication Director, Dr. Denita Dowell-Reavis, gave an update on the Family Academy. She said this idea was brought forth during strategic planning meetings and the goal is to “meet the needs of what parents need to know.” Dowell-Reavis said that during planning meetings in the spring of 2022, “Parents said they wanted resources and information on high interest topics that could range from balancing a checkbook to Apps on phones that should make parents wary.” They have a state paid consultant from RTI International working with them to help launch this endeavor. They will be sending out surveys to parents and ACS Staff soon about the best way to communicate for the Family Academy.

Chief Financial Officer Sharon Mehaffey reviewed the 2023-2024 Alexander County Schools budget by category. She noted that money in each category must only be spent in that particular category. Mehaffey noted that there are eight different budget categories for Alexander County Schools and they are as follows: 1. State Fund – $36,761,452, 2. General Expense Fund – $8,453,025, 3. Federal Fund – $7,437,196, 4. Capital Outlay Fund – $8,099,759, Child Nutrition – $4, 434,970, Child Care (Before and After School Care) – $297,337, and Local Fund – $3,766,254, for a total budget of $69,249,993.

For Mehaffey’s full presentation about the budget, see https://go.boarddocs.com/nc/alex/Board.nsf/files/CYFLN854F9E2/$file/Mehaffey%20budget%20presentation%20Dec%202023.pdf.

Mehaffey then presented the following board policies for approval: Policy No. 6402 – Participation by Historically Underutilized Businesses and Policy No. 6430 – Purchasing Requirements for Equipment, Materials, and Supplies. These were unanimously approved. Policy No. 6315 – Drivers will be revised and brought back at the next meeting.

The following board policies pertaining to the Parents’ Bill of Rights were also up for approval: Policy No. 1310/4002 – Parental Involvement, Policy No. 3210 – Parental Inspection of and Objection to Instructional Materials, Policy No. 3540 – Comprehensive Health Education Program, Policy No. 4335 – Criminal Behavior, Policy No. 4720 – Surveys of Students, Policy No. 6120 – Student Health Services, and Policy No. 7300 – Staff Responsibilities. These were unanimously approved.

The school board then held elections for the new Chairman and Vice-Chairman. Josh Dagenhart nominated Rob Arguelles for Chairman and there were no other nominations. The board voted unanimously for Arguelles to be the new Chairman. Ramie Robinson then nominated Matt Reese for Vice-Chairman with no other nominations. The board unanimously voted for Reese to be Vice-Chairman. New Board Chairman Rob Arguelles then closed the public meeting session and the board moved into closed session.

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