The Ashe County Board of Education (BOE) held their April meeting at the Ashe Arts Center Monday, where they were updated on state accountability standards, heard a presentation on the widening of U.S. 221 at the Fleetwood Community Center, and read the results of a superintendent search survey given to school system employees.
Ashe County Schools (ACS) Director of Testing and Accountability Phil Howell reported on continuing implementation of the state’s Accountability and Curriculum Reform Effort (ACRE), an initiative to redefine the K-12 Standard Course of Study, student assessment and school accountability.
The initiative was slated for 2009-13, but late changes to N.C. Department of Public Instruction accountability policies had delayed implementation, Howell told the board last month.
Howell informed the board Monday that the number of subjects assessed by End of Course Testing (EOCT), which accounts for 25 percent of students’ final grades, has been pared down. “The number that we had at one time included Physical Science, Physics, Chemistry, Social Studies, Algebra II, U.S. History, Civics and Economics,” he said.
“The state did remove some of those, leaving us now with English II, Biology and Algebra I,” he said.
A new standardized final exam series called Common Exams will now be implemented which will test Common Core subject matter in Science, Social Studies, Math and English not covered by EOCT, he said. “We will administer those this spring to the tune of 1,397 additional tests for the high school,” he said.
Board member Polly Jones asked if faculty would need training to score the tests, which contain open-response questions, or if they would be relying on their own expertise. Howell said the state had written rubrics for grading.
“Grading these will take some time,” said board member Terry Williams. “If we’re waiting ‘til the last week (of school), it’s going to be overload.”
“I guess our teachers will work harder for it,” said Jones.
Howell also discussed funding for the third grade intensive reading summer camp, an element of the 2012 Excellence in Education Act aimed at improving early reading comprehension.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Pat McCrory released a proposed budget allotting $28 million dollars to the program statewide, he said. A DPI official had since told him that $2 million was going to N.C.’s largest school system alone, Howell said, adding “that would mean very little coming to us.”
Tim Gowens of the Parsons Group updated the board on the widening of U.S. 221 at the Fleetwood Community Center.
Under Federal Highway Administration (FHA) legislation, the community center is protected as a publicly owned and operated resource, Gowens said. Highway easement would therefore be taken from the opposite side of the road.
The Parsons Group would do their best to minimize encroachment on community center property, he said, but some grading would be necessary, and a guardrail would put in place.
The project would also mean temporarily reduced right-of-way in front of the center, he said. Right of way will be purchased in April 2014 with construction beginning in February, 2017.
Referencing a blueprint of the proposal, Beckworth noted it would impossible to turn left out of the community center onto the divided highway. Gowens said a u-turn would be built 2,000 feet away at Railroad Grade Road.
“Are these kinds of things open to discussion?” Beckworth asked. Gowens said, “turnarounds have not been nailed down,” and that the plan had some flexibility.
Gowens said a letter of approval for the project from the board was required by the FHA, which Superintendent Donnie Johnson agreed to provide.
Superintendent search survey
With the board set to interview applicants for the superintendent position, board member Dr. Lee Beckworth presented results of a recent superintendent search staff survey given to all ACS employees. The 15-question survey was scored to make a top-five list of qualities employees would like to see in a new superintendent.
Beckworth said the top five responses were:
1. Understands how to provide a safe environment
2. Has strong people skills
3. Knows how to get staff, parents and community to work together
4. Is accessible and responsive to concerns
5. Understands current school programs
Respondents were invited to offer comments, which were ranked by frequency. “The new superintendent should be someone that wants to stay in Ashe County, and not use Ashe County as a rung on a ladder; someone with common sense that appreciates teachers, preferably someone that has been a successful teacher,” Beckworth said, listing top responses.
Beckworth thanked all employees for participating in the survey.
A group of ACHS students sought approval to apply for a State Farm Youth Advisory Board (YAB) grant to combat bullying in their school.
School Health Advisory Council Chair Stephanie Craven said that last year ACS participated in a Health Department Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant that funded training on “how to empower youth to get their voice out on wellness issues.”
Through the training, students had discovered a “big passion for anti-bullying awareness, ’ Craven said.
Laken Brooks, Luke Cullifer and Kayla Osborne of ACHS announced the formation of the “YES Team,” a student-led anti-bullying initiative. The team’s mission is taken from Rachel’s Challenge, nationwide program inspired by the example of Rachel Scott, the first student murdered at Columbine High School.
Presenting the board with a student questionnaire on bullying, Cullifer encouraged them to “answer them as you would when you were in high school,” and consider that “with the age of social media…it’s gotten even worse.”
To address bullying, the $67,000 grant was being written with program sustainability in mind, Brooks said. Students were writing the grant themselves with some adult oversight, she said, as encouraged by the YAB.
In-kind contributions from the school would include office space, phones and computers, she said.
Williams moved that the board “wholeheartedly support” writing of the grant, which was unanimously approved.
ACS Endowment Grants
Ashe County Schools Endowment Grant recipients will be receiving a total of $8,400 in funding this year, said Endowment Board Chair Ellie Prezel. Grants are awarded to “teachers who want to do something beyond the scope of what they do on a day to day basis,” Prezel said.
Twenty-six grant requests were submitted, totalling nearly $22,000, she said, and the board “had some paring down to do” to keep within budget.
“We are very pleased with the schools and proposals we were able to award,” she said. All 11 grant requests were unanimously approved.
Ashe goes to Science Olympiad
Requests from the Ashe County High School and Ashe County Middle School Science Olympiad teams to attend the Science Olympiad State Tournament in Raleigh April 26-27 were unanimously approved.
Science teacher Sarah Tugman said the ACHS team took third place in regional competition against 60 other schools last year, and placed in 93 percent of events. “We’re just getting that much closer every year” she said.
Science teacher Gordon Prince of ACMS said the school’s team had qualified for the state tournament for the 10th year in a row, and won the Spirit Award the past three years. Prince said that last year tournament officials told him they had never heard so many positive comments about a team.
Johnson presented the ACS April Employee of the Month Award to Ashley Brown, tech facilitator for Westwood Elementary.
The March Employee of the Month award was also presented, going to Career and Technical Education teacher Phyllis Ashley of ACHS.
Johnson recognized the Ashe County Educational Office Professionals for receiving the 2013 N.C. Strive for Excellence Award, given by the N.C. Association of Educational Office Professionals, Inc., to one outstanding local unit in the state.