October 10th School Matters
October 10th, 2023
The Alexander County Board of Education held its regularly scheduled meeting for October on the 12th. Listed below are the reports and actions from the meeting. Wittenberg Elementary 5th-grade Students Jaiden Miller, whose parents are Britni Minton and Edward Woods and
Samual Holcomb, whose parents are Shannon and Sigmond Holcomb, led the pledge.
Honors and Recognitions
Dr. Jennifer Hefner recognized several middle and school chorus students for making NC Honors Chorus. In front of judges, the students have to sing a piece they’ve prepared, a piece they’ve never seen, and audition showing their vocal range.
Those honored include:
Parker Payne (7)
Hannah Chapman (8)
Charlie Safriet (7)
Jaxton Carrigan (8)
Judah Cole (11)
Khalil Voss (10)
Rakin Dagenhart (9)
Carter Payne (9)
Student Council president Grant Sizemore spoke with board members saying that arts, foreign language, Career and Technical Education classes should not be cut as the board considers how to trim the 2024-25 budget. Sizemore said each of those programs make him a more well-rounded student and prepare him for university and the world of work.
Wittenburg Elementary principal Melinda Glenn shared updates on the school’s goals for the year ahead. After the recent state report card release, Wittenberg is no longer considered a low-performing school based on test scores. The school does still have TSI (Targeted Support and Improvement) status. This is a federal label Wittenburg was designated to have due to the gap between exceptional children’s test scores and the rest of the school population.
Wittenburg has 15 homeroom teachers, 2.5 special teachers, and three EC teachers. The school’s
Improvement plan intended to engage parents with celebrations including a daddy-daughter dance. Glenn also talked about the school’s goals of reducing discipline referrals. Lastly, she thanked the school’s partners for their support of Wittenburg.
Parents’ Bill of Rights
Communications Director Dr. Denita Dowell-Reavis updated the school board about the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights. The district already has several policies in place that cover what is described in the new law. The North Carolina legislature passed the bill late in the summer just days before school was about to start. It follows similar laws across the country including Florida, Virginia and Arizona.
Dowell-Reavis enumerated pieces of the legislation such as a parents’ right to know their child’s grades and attendance and the schools’ commitment to avoid providing healthcare to children. Specifically, the law outlines a timetable for challenging instructional materials. Alexander County Schools already has committees at each school called MTAC-Media Technology Advisory Committee. Those committees are called on when a parent asks for reconsideration of an instructional material. The state lawmakers made revisions to the Parents’ Bill of Rights during the budget process, so some pieces of the law did not go into effect until October 2nd. Other parts are set to take effect in January of next year.
Shannon Dennison presented to the board the results of the 2022-23 financial audit. Certified Public Accounting Firm Anderson Smith and Wike found a clean audit for the fiscal year. The school system received $7,317,427 in operating expenses from Alexander County for the year. The total fund balance, similar to savings, for the district is $1,905,388. The fund balance was near $5-million dollars in 2015, but the district has steadily used fund balance to balance the yearly budgets. Dennison said that fund balance should not be spent for recurring expenses but instead for one-time costs.
The audit also found that state money to the district had increased slightly from 2021-22 to 2022-23 while federal money decreased and the county contribution remained steady. The firm reported on Covid funding, which peaked in 2022 but is set to expire in September 2024. The money has been used to hire support staff, conduct summer camps for students, and provide pandemic protection at schools with water fountains, masks, and disinfectant.
The overall discussion about funding is relevant as the district looks at how to recoup money with declining enrollment and the expiration of Covid funding. The Alexander County School Board and administration is taking input from parents, staff, and the community in the planning for the 2024-25 budget. The board’s finance committee intends to report to the full board a proposed action plan in January 2024.
The facilities committee recommended based on a realtor’s advice on whether the board should put the Old Wittenburg property up for sale. The building’s assessed value is $1.37 million and was originally built in 1948. There is an additional lot on 1.5 acres worth nearly $34,000 at the property. An engineering consultant estimated getting rid of the building and cleaning up lead and asbestos would be more expensive than selling the property untouched. The board members agreed to have the district sell the property as is instead of tearing down the existing building.
Literacy Intervention Plan
Associate Superintendent Dr. Betsy Curry reported on the district’s literacy plan, required by the state. The plan establishes teachers will use Heggerty and Orton-Gillingham programs for early literacy. The plan is required to help pay for the cost of LETRS training; Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling is the early literacy training for elementary teachers.
Comprehensive Needs Assessment
Dr. Curry also reported on all the pieces of data the district uses to create improvement plans for the upcoming year. She reported on this year’s Beginning of Grade results for third-graders, which she says is promising. Curry also explained to the board how the schools try to dial in to find out how to grow students at each school. The schools’ leadership teams try to find bright spots to emulate that at other schools. She also reported that our district does well with third-grade proficiency compared to other districts who have more educated populations. Curry told the board both the two low-performing schools, East and Hiddenite, had solid growth. Hiddenite Elementary was within one point of being labeled a “C” according to the state scale. That would lift the school out of the low-performing status.
She also reported on the number of students who earned credentials through Career Technical Education classes, and on attendance and discipline data.
Dr. Jennifer Hefner reminded board members about the county commissioners meeting on October 16th. The meeting is relevant as the district tries to determine what to do for the 2024-2025 school system budget. She also invited board members to Wittenburg Elementary on October 16th to eat lunch in the cafeteria and tour the school. Lastly, she shared with the board that the state has said students only need 22 credits to graduate. Most districts, including Alexander County require 28 credits for students. Hefner told the board the fewer credits would interfere with those seeking advanced diplomas, those who get an associates degree while earning their high school credits, and those who are taking Career and Technical Education classes.
The state superintendents' association has met with the sponsor of the law, Senator Michael Lee. They are asking the senator to adjust the requirement to at least not take effect till the 2024-25 school year. Right now, the mandate for fewer credits is to take effect in January.
School Board Policies
The board considered the following policy revisions presented by Chief Financial Officer Ms. Sharon Mehaffey for first reading. No action was taken till input can be collected.
Policy No. 1610/7800 - Professional and Staff Development
Policy No. 3101 - Dual Enrollment in Higher Education Courses
Policy No. 4023/7233 - Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students and Employees
Policy No. 4310 - Integrity and Civility
Policy No. 5008 - Automated Phone and Text Messaging
Policy No. 5040 - News Media Relations
Policy No. 6330 - Insurance for Student Transportation Services
Policy No. 7810 - Evaluation of Licensed Employees
Policy No. 7815 - Evaluation on Non-Licensed Employees
The district will get input from parents on the changes due to the Parents’ Bill of Rights in November before approval of the next set of policies. These were up for second reading.
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
Policy No. 7300 - Staff Responsibilities
Alexander County Board Policies are available for review by the public at www.alexander.k12.nc.us or by appointment at the Alexander County Board of Education Office on Liledoun Road, Taylorsville, North Carolina.
Board Member Scott Bowman was not in attendance at the meeting.