Comprehensive Needs Assessment
Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Betsy Curry reported the findings in the district’s Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA). The assessment collected information from each of the schools and the district leadership to determine priorities for future action.
The CNA found a need to support students in behavior, social, and emotional learning. Curry gave statistics for the number of discipline referrals at each school. The CNA found student attendance is an ongoing concern that has not bounced back from the pandemic. She reported that the chronic absenteeism, students who miss more than 10% of school days, is on par with the state, but still not at an acceptable rate.
The CNA also included results from the Teacher Working Conditions Survey, a survey the state requires every two years. Alexander County Schools had a 98% percent survey response rate.
The survey asks questions such as whether teachers feel able to spend time on instruction versus discipline issues and routine paperwork. ACS teachers rated the time category higher than the state and on par with other districts in the region.
In questions about facilities and resources, ACS teachers reported having enough supplies, materials, and that their buildings are well-kept. The local positive ratings were higher than the state and at the top end of the region.
For questions about community and parent support, ACS teachers rated the district on par with the region and higher than state averages.
Questions about student discipline: whether students know the rules of conduct, whether teachers enforce the rules equitably was four points lower than the region average but is still not identified as a trouble area.
Teachers also rated the district on teacher leadership. Questions included were: Teachers are encouraged to participate in school leadership roles and Teachers are relied on to make educational decisions. For this category, ACS teachers were on par with the state but low for the region meaning the district may need to examine how to make teachers feel more engaged.
Among the other categories are safety, which had questions about whether the school is a safe place to work. ACS teachers also rated this category on par with the region’s average.
Curry also presented some information to the school board about teacher retention since the start of school is days away. It has been widely reported around the nation and state that schools have multiple vacant positions. Curry reported that Alexander County Schools is close to being fully staffed. The Teacher Working Conditions Survey showed that Alexander County Schools is about four percentage points below the region for teacher retention but was four points higher than the state average.
The CNA included results of exit interviews with staff members leaving the district including some retirees. Most of those who completed the interview were leaving education entirely; others left for family reasons or because their family was relocating.
Curry also presented information to the board about districts in the surrounding areas that are offering signing bonuses to new staff members who agree to work in the districts. Those bonuses range from $1,000 for certified positions in Yadkin County, for example, to $3,500 in Iredell County for hard-to-fill positions.
Superintendent of Human Resources and Auxiliary Services Dr. Alisha Cloer reported to the board what the county’s schools are doing to make sure students are safe at school. Overwhelmingly teachers in the district said in the Teacher Working Conditions Survey that they are safe in the building and know what to do in case of emergencies.
Fire, tornado, earthquake, and lockdown drills are conducted regularly. Students must also take part in bus evacuation drills.
Students are encouraged to use a “See Something, Say Something” website to report if they or someone else is a victim of bullying.
Cloer told the board that staff members are reminded that all doors are to remain locked from the outside and are never to be propped open. Visitors are to report to the office, so that they can be “buzzed in” to the school.
She reported on a spring table-top drill where emergency and school personnel discussed a tanker truck accident. They considered what a large-scale evacuation and reunification process would involve.
Most recently on August 8th and 9th principals, assistant principals, and district administrators participated in a two-day training. The training was a refresher on requirements from FEMA and was a cooperative effort between ACS and the county fire marshal’s office. Administrators were reminded to establish who’s in charge at a scene of an emergency. The training also emphasized planning and having clear lines of communication.
Safety is the focus for maintenance updates at the schools over the summer. Maintenance director Chris Campbell told the board about improvements for the fire alarm system at Stony Point, window coverings in critical places at Hiddenite, Sugar Loaf, and Taylorsville Elementary, and vape detectors at the high school. The vape detectors also pick up noise and send silent alarms to administrators if trouble is suspected in the restrooms. The school system will receive $500,000 dollars in state lottery money for this upcoming year to make such improvements compared to $300,000 in the 2021-2022 school year.
Also for the next year, the district has applied for state money to upgrade the gymnasiums and offices at Sugar Loaf, West Alexander Middle, Taylorsville, and Alexander Central High School. The state has already awarded the district $1.35 million to upgrade the roof at Bethlehem Elementary.
Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner also mentioned safety as the two-day training with county officials was featured on a Charlotte news station Monday the 8th at 5pm and 6pm as the lead story. She thanked the fire marshal’s office for the partnership to conduct the training.
Hefner reminded board members that district and building leaders will be on a leadership retreat next week. The group will take a deep dive into the district’s strategic plan while also working on team-building in Boone at Appalachian State University.
She also looked ahead to new teacher orientation, which will be next Thursday and Friday. And the back-to-school opening session to be held in the auditorium on the 23rd of August at 9:00am. It’s the first time in two years that the district teachers have been able to meet in person for the Back-to-School opening session.
Dr. Hefner also shared an article about the response that board members can have legally for harassment and threats from the public. She pointed out, of late, some language directed at board members and school staff can be hostile.
Hefner recognized high school CTE teacher Joshua Bowles as a finalist for a national award from Harbor Freight in the company’s prize for teaching excellence. Harbor Freight will select twenty winners in October and the winners will split a prize of more than a million dollars. Best to Mr. Bowles.
School Board Chair report
Chairman David Odom followed the safety report by saying, along with several other members, that he would like to have a School Resource Officer in every school. Right now, there are officers in the high school, the middle schools, and one split between Stony Point and Hiddenite Elementary Schools.
Facilities Committee report
Board member Scott Bowman reported that the facilities committee is waiting to hear on whether they will get a state grant before they move forward with a project at Sugar Loaf Elementary. He says he hopes the board would know before the end of the year whether the grant is successful. The committee would also like to upgrade Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems at several schools. The board noted that right now there is no outstanding debt in the county for any facilities projects for the schools.
Education Foundation Committee
Board member Bridgette Rhyne announced that the Education Foundation plans to hold the Sports Hall of Fame golf tournament on August 29th. The banquet is set for November 21st. She said now is the time to apply for a grant for teachers to be able to use $500 for projects in their classrooms. Those applications are due by September 30th.
School board policies revision approved
The board approved the following policy revisions presented by Chief Financial Officer Ms. Sharon Mehaffey.
Ms. Mehaffey presented six policy revisions which were approved on first reading because they included only minor changes.
Policy No. 1200 – Governing Principle – Student Success
Policy No. 1300 – Governing Principle – Parental Involvement
Policy No. 1400 – Governing Principle – School Initiatives
Policy No. 1500 – Governing Principle – Safe, Orderly, and inviting Environment
Policy No. 1600 – Governing Principle – Professional Development
Policy No. 1700 – Governing Principle – Removal of Barriers
Policy No. 1720/4030/7235 – Title IX Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex
Policy No. 1800 – Governing Principle – Stewardship of Resources
Ms. Mehaffey presented six policy revisions for a second reading, which were approved unanimously.
Policy No. 2410 – Policy Development
Policy No. 2430 – Dissemination and Preservation of Policies
Policy No. 2600 – Consultants to the Board
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.