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June 13th School Matters



June 13th, 2023

The Alexander County Board of Education met for the regularly scheduled board meeting June 13th. The following include actions and reports from the meeting. The meeting opened with the pledge led by Alexander Central High School student body president Grant Sizemore, son of Eric and Angela Sizemore and by student body Vice-President Taylor Brown, daughter of John-Morgan and Amber Brown.

Honors and Recognitions

Dr. Jennifer Hefner recognized a local teacher for receiving the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) CTE Teacher of the Year Award. Angie Ford is the 2022-2023 Alexander County Schools Career & Technical Education Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Ford has been teaching for 14 years and currently teaches Health Science and Nursing Fundamentals classes at ACHS. In fall of 2022, 100% of Mrs. Ford’s students earned their Nurse Aide certification, which is typical of her rigorous program. Hefner says Ford’s “dedication and steadfast commitment to students and her program are what make Mrs. Angie Ford stand out as a teacher of excellence.” 

Alexander Central High School Report

High school principal Jacob Lail presented to the board about Alexander Central’s goals and progress this school year. Lail is completing his first full year at the school. He told board members the school has focused on positivity this school year and growing each student to his/her potential. Teachers and staff at ACHS set a goal of improving the school’s composite score by three percentage points this year and Lail reports that they have made good progress. He also reported the school has begun a schedule that allows students to receive intervention in classes where they may be struggling as part of the school and district’s goals. Lail told the board that through this scheduling switch the school has been able to reduce the number of students failing multiple classes and reduced discipline referrals.

Student Success Center

Coordinator of the Student Success Center (SSC) Amy Johnson updated the board on her staff and students’ goals for the year. The site has nine full-time employees and has served 35 students this year. Six of the students were able to transition successfully back to their home school and six of the students graduated this year. The staff promotes positive behaviors for students and in particular has focused on exploring careers this year. SSC works with several partners including The Bridge Community, a non-profit group that supports employment, education and counseling. The site also teams up with Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC). 

Alexander Early College Report 

Early College principal Mary Brown was able to brag to the board about her graduates from this year. All of the 34 graduates earned an associate degree this year and half earn two associate degrees. The graduates were also offered more than $2.7 million dollars in scholarships this year. Brown and the AEC staff have also reduced the number of students who initially enroll with the school and then decide to transfer back to ACHS. The early college continues to build relationships with CVCC and with potential students at both middle schools. Brown also reported that they are trying to meet the parent requests that the school include more job training and career classes. AEC exceeded state expectations for growth on standardized tests in 2021-2022 and hopes to continue the school’s and student success in the most recent school year. Brown also reported that AEC students were offered more than $2.7 million dollars in scholarships and grants this school year. 

Budget Committee Update

Chair of the budget committee, Robert Arguelles, spoke at the meeting about the work to be done in the next months to create a budget. Arguelles blamed inflation, a loss of enrollment, a loss of federal and state funding, potential state expansion of private school vouchers, and other considerations for what he predicts to be a three million dollar shortfall in 2024-2025. He said he believes the board should be strong stewards of tax dollars. The district budget for 2022-2023 was $64.5 million. 

Arguelles says that the board will divide into groups and include parent participation to look at options. He says that the board needs to look at ways to avoid adding a burden to the community for more taxes. He listed some possibilities.

  1. Consolidation of job functions across schools (PE teachers, music teachers, data managers, bookkeepers, etc.)

  2. Restructure central office staff

  3. Propose a four day week instead of a five day week. This would be a longer days for students but staff would still work five days

  4. Reduce offerings in the AP academy and work more with CVCC for advanced classes

  5. Look at potential school closures

  6. Eliminate sports programs that do not produce revenue

He said the groups will start meeting in November; the end goal would be to prepare a final report for the board in March 2024 and have a final plan presented to the superintendent in April. He and other board members encouraged the community to be involved in this discussion to develop the plan. 

As a follow up to Arguelles’ discussion on cutting costs, board member Scott Bowman spoke. Bowman said he refuted the claim a county commissioner made in May saying the school system is “broke.” He encouraged taxpayers and citizens to let the county commission know that education is valuable and to be part of the budgeting process. 

CTE Update

Career and Technical Education Director Crystal Hoke spoke to the board about the department’s goals for the year and asked them to approve the local plan. CTE leaders and teachers are trying to make sure that students who concentrate in technical high school classes graduate on time. The department is also encouraging surveys at the middle school level to help students plan their pathway and careers. Hoke told the board that they have more students interested in the agriculture and family and consumer science classes than they have the teaching time to enroll. The department has held a high school job fair this year, two middle school job fairs, and recently celebrated students who will work this summer as apprentices at local businesses. Hoke also told the board that the state had paid for a Career Development Coordinator at the middle school level for the past four years but is no longer providing that money. Hoke says that the state funds CTE for 8th through 12th grade students but does not fund other opportunities for middle schoolers. She says the state also gives the program money for students to pay for tests to help them earn their credentials. The board approved the local application plan in a unanimous vote. 

Academic Calendar Revisions

The board approved two minor revisions to the academic school calendar based on LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) training mandated by the state. The company that provides the training can only offer certain days for ACS elementary teachers to get the instruction. The changes mean August 17th and 18th will both be required but the training will be on the 18th instead of the originally planned 17th. Also, the training means the workday in December will be the 11th instead of the 4th. The LETRS training days are days elementary students are not in school while their teachers learn. The days are regular school days for middle and high school. LETRS is a state ordered training aimed at improving reading scores statewide.

Alexander Virtual Academy

The board voted unanimously to close the Alexander Virtual Academy at the end of this school year. The school opened during the pandemic for families who did not want to send their students back into the buildings. Enrollment dwindled to 15 students this year. Dr. Hefner and the district finance committee had presented keeping the school open in the system’s budget request to the county commissioners in May. It would cost $203,623 to keep AVA open. The county commissioners did not indicate they would be willing to pay the costs and the district cannot supply the money. 

Superintendent’s Remarks

Dr. Jennifer Hefner updated the board on several capital projects during her remarks. 

-The Bethlehem roofing project is expected to take 90 days and begins tomorrow.

-The bid opening for the Sugar Loaf gym project will be June 27th.

-She invited board members to do a walkthrough at the former Wittenburg school Wednesday June 14th to see the condition of the building. The board is considering selling the property.

-The tennis court replacement begins in early July.

Hefner also rebutted points from an opinion piece printed in the local paper regarding the state’s proposal to expand private school vouchers. She emphasized that she’s not told parents where they can enroll their children, but says public money should not be given to private schools. She also says that testing is not the public school mission (as was claimed in the opinion piece), but the district must follow state and federal testing mandates. Private schools are required to do some standardized testing but do not have to report the scores. Hefner concluded by saying the debate is not about public schools versus private schools. She said the issue is the legislature creating a system where private schools can receive public funds but not be held to the same standards as public schools.

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 following policies and approved them unanimously.

  • Policy No. 3220 - Technology in the Educational Program - REMOVED for further review.

  • Policy No. 3420 - Student Promotion and Accountability

  • Policy No. 3460 - Graduation Requirements

  • Policy No. 3620 - Extracurricular Activities and Student Organizations

  • Policy No. 4050 - Children of Military Families

  • Policy No. 4100 - Age Requirements for Initial Entry

The board considered first reading for the following policy revisions. 

  • Policy No. 3225/4312/7320 - Technology Responsible Use

  • Policy No. 4110 - Immunization and Health Requirements for School Admission

  • Policy No. 4155 - Assignment to Classes

  • Policy No. 4220 - Student Insurance Program

  • Policy No. 4240/7312 - Child Abuse and Related Threats to Child Safety

  • Policy No. 4300 - Student Behavior Policies

  • Policy No. 4310 - Integrity and Civility 

  • Policy No. 4400 - Attendance

  • Policy No. 4700 - Student Records

Those policies will be brought back for second reading at the July 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.