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April 18th 2023 School Matters


April 18th, 2023

The Alexander County Board of Education held an April 18th meeting on the possible closure of Alexander Virtual Academy. Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner reports that the enrollment is 15 students and the costs of operating the school are prohibitive to keeping it open. There was one parent who spoke at the public hearing to support keeping the school open. The virtual academy was opened during the pandemic to meet the needs of families who wanted to learn at home. 

Shortly afterwards, the Board held its regularly scheduled meeting. Sugar Loaf Elementary 5th graders Felix Vang, son of Alexander and Mai Vang, and Maci Turner, daughter of Jessica Fletcher and Marcus Turner opened the planned meeting with the pledge of allegiance. 

Listed below are the reports and actions from the meeting.

Honors and Recognitions

Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner recognized Alexander Central High School junior Brennan Arguelles for his acceptance into Governor’s School. Arguelles was selected from 1,700 students across the state and is the son of board vice chair, Robert Arguelles. The acceptance letter touts Governor’s School as “the oldest institution of its kind in the nation and has a proud tradition of excellence.” Coordinators tell Arguelles, “We look forward to you joining us and adding your own experience to this rich tradition”. Brennan will study social science during his month at Meredith College in Raleigh.

Sugar Loaf Elementary Report

Sugar Loaf Elementary principal Joseph Mabry presented to the board about the school’s goals for math and reading. The school is working to improve performance after not meeting growth in the past school year 2021-2022. In tested grades third through fifth, the school has a lower teacher to student ratio than the rest of the district average and the state. Students will take the end-of-grade tests in May. The school also celebrates several clubs in operation, the work for the holiday canned food drive, and a Veterans Day Assembly. Mabry says the school is using Title One money from the federal government to help pay for substitutes on data days, a teacher assistant for art, library books and online subscriptions. He also thanked the school’s sponsors including Taylorsville Savings Bank, several area churches, and the Taylorsville Apple Festival. 

Covid Funds Update

Chief finance officer Sharon Mehaffey reported on the Covid money spent in 2021, which totaled more than one million dollars. The uses include: summer learning program, electronic devices, personal protective equipment and more. The state fiscal recovery funds totaled more than one million dollars and were used for employee bonuses. The Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds (ESSER I) equaled about one million dollars. Much of this money was used for personnel including classroom teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and more. The Governors Emergency Education Relief fund was just over $200,000 and helped employ social workers and was used for summer learning. The ESSER II funds equaled more than $3.5 million. Among other things, the money has been used on summer learning programs, a career accelerator program, and retention bonuses for child nutrition workers. The last funds from the pandemic will need to be used by September of 2024. The $9.2 million has been used so far to continue with the same positions, retention bonuses, summer programs, and tutoring. Mehaffey says we could use the remaining funds to improve the air conditioning at West Alexander Middle School. 

Old Wittenburg Recommendation

Board member Scott Bowman reported that the Facilities Committee members would like to get rid of the property for the school known as Old Wittenburg on 16 South. The members are proposing to get rid of the building and Bowman says the vacant lot will sell favorably for the district. The board voted to study how much money a potential business would pay for the clean lot before approving the demolition. 

Child Nutrition Updates

Child Nutrition Director Kathy Caudle recommended that the board approve several vendors that the district already uses. She also recommended to the board that the district keep cafeteria prices at the same level, $2.85 for lunch and 40-cents for reduced prices. Breakfasts would be $1.45 for full price and 30-cents for breakfasts.

Resolution on Charter Funding

The board also adopted a resolution to oppose a state house bill that would allow charter schools to collect money from the public schools for specific programs; however, the public schools would not be able to collect money from the charter schools for their specific programs. For example, if a school received a donation from a benefactor, under House Bill 219, the traditional public school would have to share a portion with the charter school. Under the bill’s language, the charter school would not have to share a donor’s contribution with the public school. Right now, districts do not have to share their fund balance, money saved through the years. Also, by law Pre-K and Head Start dollars cannot go to charters; however, under the proposal, the districts would have to share whether the charter operated those programs or not. 

Superintendent’s Remarks

Dr. Jennifer Hefner opened her remarks by congratulating the Appalachian State University Mini-grant winners.  

Ashley Huss (WAMS) $1,000 – Collaborative Accountable Discussion with Technology

Samantha Strathy (ACHS) $1,000 – Connecting Appalachia to Alexander with Street Art

Nancy Greiner (ACHS and WAMS) $555.35 – Promoting our Teacher Pipeline

Hefner also addressed language that has been used recently in public meetings, the phrase “potential overdose.” The district has had no students overdose on drugs this school year.  Hefner reported that the term “overdose” is being used in lieu of drug use and experimentation.  The schools have had some drug use and distribution and students have faced appropriate disciplinary measures. Hefner also asked parents to stress to children to avoid accepting or ingesting anything given to them by anyone other than a parent or trusted adult. She also remarked that a further caution for parents is to keep all medications (including CBD products) locked and away from children.

Dr. Hefner also reported on a day for school administrators to visit legislators in Raleigh.  The North Carolina Association of School Administrators sponsored the event, and communications director Dr. Dowell-Reavis was able to speak with Representative Jeffrey Elmore and Senator Eddie Settles; both individuals represent Alexander County.  Some informal discussion was held about budgetary requests for public schools, merit pay for the new evaluation model for teachers, increased transportation funding, proposed principal compensation revisions, and more.  

Hefner invited board members to Ellendale’s Leadership Day Friday, April 28th from 9-10:30. The theme this year is “Habits Lead to Happiness” and the students will be showcasing their leadership skills and all they have learned this year about The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.

The superintendent reported the district’s official budget request to the County Commissioners for the 2023-2024 school year was submitted on April 6, 2023.  The request totaled $9,211,130.  This was an increase of $1,893,702 in comparison to the current year.  The budget request includes information for the county commission about declining enrollment and higher expenses for employee benefits due to state salary increases. 

Lastly, Dr. Hefner spoke of the losses affecting two local families who were connected to the school system. She shared the following arrangements:

David Scott Odom (a member of the Alexander County Board of Education for 12 years)

Funeral Services will be conducted Friday, April 21st at 3:00 at Sulphur Springs Baptist Church, 116 Patterson Road Hiddenite, NC.  No visitation will be held.

Felix Hill Webster Jr. (father of School Board member Brigette Rhyne)

Funeral Services will be conducted Friday, April 21st, 2023, 3:00 pm at Damascus Baptist Church, 128 Old Arbor Ln. Statesville, NC 28625. Burial will follow in Stony Point Cemetery. Pastor Dale Wallace and Pastor Rick Norman will officiate. The family will receive friends Thursday, April 20th, 2023, 6:00-8:00 pm at Lindsey Hall, Stony Point Baptist Church, 231 Ruritan Park Rd. Stony Point, NC 28678.

School Board policies revision 

The board considered several policy revisions presented by Chief Financial Officer Mrs Sharon Mehaffey. 

The board considered the second reading of new policies and approved them unanimously.

  • Policy No. 4400 - Attendance

  • Policy No. 5071/7351 - Electronically Stored Information Retention

  • Policy No. 8410 - Individual School Accounts

The board also considered the first reading on the following policy revisions.

  • Policy No. 1510/4200/7270 - School Safety

  • Policy No. 2120 -Code of Ethics for School Board Members

  • Policy No. 2123 - Board Members Opportunities for Development

  • Policy No. 4320/5026/7250 - 100% Tobacco Free Schools

  • Policy No. 5030 - Community Use of Facilities

The board considered first reading for new policies for teachers and administrators. The policies were expectations for professional conduct beforehand but having the information as a policy now will make it more formal. 

  • Policy No. 7305 - Professional Standards of Conduct and Performance for Teachers

  • Policy No. 7306 - Professional Standards of Conduct and Performance for School Administrators

Those policies will be brought back for second reading at the May meeting after gathering input from the public. Alexander County Board Policies are available for review by the public at or by appointment at the Alexander County Board of Education Office on Liledoun Road, Taylorsville, North Carolina.

Board members Brigette Rhyne and Ramie Robinson were not in attendance at the meeting.