September 12th School Matters
September 12th, 2023
The Alexander County Board of Education held its regularly scheduled meeting for September on the 12th. Listed below are the reports and actions from the meeting.
Taylor Dellinger with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments presented to the board about demographics in the county. The information about population and housing, taken from the 2020 census, is relevant as the board considers the school system budget for 2024-2025. Dellinger pointed out that Alexander County’s population has declined by about two percent since 2010; furthermore, he says the state demographer predicts Alexander County to only grow over the next 20 years by less than a tenth of a percent. From 2010 to 2020 neighboring Catawba has grown nearly six percent. Dellinger reported that even Catawba’s growth is low compared to historic numbers. The biggest population losses in Alexander County are on the East side of the county bordering Iredell and Northeast bordering Wilkes County.
Dellinger reported that the number of white and black residents in Alexander County are going down and the Hispanic number of families are going up. The racial comparison is relevant because Hispanic families tend to be younger than other ethnicities. Younger means there are likely to be school-aged children in those families; whereas, there are not as many school-aged members in the black and white families and households.
Dellinger affirmed that the number of school-aged children has dropped dramatically over the past ten years. For example, children ages 15-19 went down by more than 10% and the number of children under the age of five has dropped by 20%. On the topic of age, Dellinger also predicts that with an aging population in Alexander County, there are likely to be more school system retirements in the next few years compared to prior years.
The census numbers also show new housing in Alexander County over the past ten years has increased by 4.5%. That is a significant drop from the previous decade of 14.6% growth in new housing.
Strategic Plan Update
Associate Superintendent Dr. Betsy Curry updated the board on the district’s three-year Strategic Plan (2023-2025) adopted a year ago. The plan includes goals such as increasing recruitment and retention for staff and improving opportunities to update parents when students are struggling with schoolwork. It also includes academic goals on target scores and what the teachers and staff are to do if students are not meeting expectations. Curry reported that improving attendance is an important goal for all schools.
Her report comes on the heels of the state’s release of test scores on September 6th. The state standardized test scores showed AEC with an “A”, ACHS with a “B”, six schools earned “C’s”, and three schools with “D’s”. The Virtual Academy earned an “F” but is no longer in operation due to low enrollment. The school grades are based 80% on the school's proficiency rates and 20% on growth. Curry said that the district is closer than the region and the state with our growth in recovery from the pandemic.
The Strategic Plan also addresses increasing engagement with the district’s community and business partners. Overall for the Strategic Plan, Curry reported that the goals are all well underway and district staff would continue to monitor progress.
Transportation Department Report
Transportation Director Jami Trojanowski introduced herself to the board; she began her work with the district on July 17th. She talked about the department's goals including becoming more efficient. Trojanowski shared the names and pictures of staff in her department and their job responsibilities. She told the board that the district just installed a system for bus drivers to log in and log out on the bus for their time instead of having to go inside the building. The department is also updating the county GIS map to make routing faster and better. She also invited the board to come visit her and the staff at the bus garage.
Maintenance Department Report
Maintenance Director Chris Campbell talked about work orders his department has completed. He also showed pictures of the gymnasium floor renovations at EAMS, TES, and WAMS.
He updated the board on the grants received for the Bethlehem roofing project, and the demolition of Sugar Loaf’s media center. The cleared space will be home to a new gym. Alexander County commissioners agreed to support the two projects (Bethlehem and Sugar Loaf) with $336,279 in matching funds in the latest school portion of the county budget.
Lastly, Campbell presented on the former Wittenburg Elementary building which is in need of leveling and putting on the real estate market. Another option for the property is to renovate for usage; however, that would cost as much or more than the property is worth. Old Wittenburg is on Highway 16 South towards Hickory. The board’s facilities committee has considered what to do with the Wittenburg property for some time but has not made a recommendation to the full board for a decision.
Board Committee Reports
Scott Bowman asked that the board be ready to vote on the Old Wittenburg property at the next meeting. He is the board facilities chair and intends the board take some action at the October meeting.
Member Brigette Rhyne says that the Public Education Foundation’s golf tournament is set for October 28th. The fundraiser helps support the PEF’s grant program that allows teachers to get supplies, projects, and trips for their students. Applications for the teacher grants are due September 30th.
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner delivered her monthly report to the board. She advised them that we still do not have a state budget; the budget is due per state law July 1st. Any salary increase at the state level would require more funds at the local level.
Hefner reported the district enrollment for day 10 of this year was 4,294 or about 131 fewer students than the same time last year.
The superintendent updated the board on an upcoming budget meeting. The administration and board intend to hear from invited families about the district budget for 2024-25 at a meeting Monday, September 18th. The parent groups will learn how school systems are funded at local, state, and federal levels and give input on suggested cutbacks. The district could face a shortfall due to a loss in what’s known as ESSER money, (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief). This money came from the federal government to fight through the Covid pandemic but expires September 2024.
The district and school also plan to get input on the budget from county leaders and other community members on October 3rd at the ACHS auditorium.
Hefner told the group about a partnership between the Town of Taylorsville and the district for a school resource officer who will split time between Taylorsville Elementary and the Student Success Center.
Lastly, Hefner has agreed to let Sugar Loaf use bricks from the gym demolition as a school fundraiser.
School Board Policies
The board considered the following policy revisions presented by Chief Financial Officer Ms. Sharon Mehaffey and unanimously approved them on second reading.
Policy No. 6125 - Administering Medicines to Students
Policy No. 6140 - Student Wellness
Policy No. 6220 - Operation of School Nutrition Services
Policy No. 7130 - Licensure
The school board considered first reading for several policies that have to be changed due to the new state law called the “Parents’ Bill of Rights”. The law includes things like schools will not take student’s DNA and parents have a right to inspect curriculum materials. Another part of the law says that parents have the right to be updated on the student’s achievement. Schools already send reports cards and progress reports to help keep parents up to date. Schools also already allow parents to review materials with a request in writing. The one new expectation from the bill is that teachers and schools get parent permission before conducting a survey of students. The majority of items in the law are not new to how Alexander County Schools operate; however, the local board policies must match the phrasing of the state code.
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.