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By: Bethany Stephens

The Board of Education met via a Zoom call for their April session due to COVID-19 concerns. After sorting out call logistics, waiting to have enough members present (two members joined in later during the call), carrying out the invocation and pledge of allegiance, and approving minor agenda concerns, the board proceeded to receive a Financial Summary for the month of March from Sharon Penny, Finance Director. Penny explained that currently, the fund balance appears to be better than the budget predicted.

Jason Atkinson presented an update on final grading policies. The policies were released by the NC State Board, and Atkinson also presented an amended COVID-19 Remote Learning Plan.  Remote learning for all grades is expected to continue through June 5th. Final grades on the report card for K-5 will be blank, but teachers will provide detailed comments about the students’ progress, strengths, and areas of need along with other observations. For grades 6-8, the final course grade will be recorded as PC19 (denoting a passing grade as of the last day of regular instruction) or a WC19 (which will record the class as a withdrawal that will not affect the students’ future GPAs but won’t give the student credit for the course either).  Grades 9-11 will have scores listed as a numerical grade. For future transcript reasons, 9-11 students can opt to keep their numerical score or can opt for the score to be recorded as a PC19 or a WC19 instead.

Academic awards will be suspended for the 2019-2020 school year except for marshals and graduation honors for the class of 2020.  Posted grades on report cards cannot be less than the student’s average as of the last day of regular instruction. Grading will focus on maintaining the students’ averages as of that last day, will allow students an opportunity to improve their current average via remote learning, and will give students who had failing grades before the change a chance to bring their averages up to a passing grade.  Unique student needs that arise during this time will be considered and addressed as needed. Because of reliable internet availability being spotty in certain areas in the county, students can also do remote learning via paper packets also.

Dr. Robert Taylor, the Superintendent, explained what the county has been doing specifically to address needs that have arisen due to COVID-19. Twenty-five busses (and sometimes more) have been traveling across the county to provide students with meals and work packets. Roughly, 5000 meals have been distributed. In particular, the board is working to help 2020 Seniors pass their courses and aid them in any way possible. Graduation logistics are being considered, and the board is trying to make a plan for an alternative graduation for both of the high schools due to social distancing concerns.  Postponement of graduation is being considered, but other options are being looked into to allow more students to attend since some students will not be available at later dates in the year. Since remote learning may have to continue next school year, they are trying to refine their remote learning program and tools. Government funding has been allotted to help meet the financial needs of school employees that are currently unable to work.

Kimbrie Esters, ESL Services Director, gave a dropout report for the 2018-19 school year. The report showed that there was a decrease in students not returning back to school after dropping out over a span of five years. The county’s dropout rate was slightly higher than the state average, but the rate was similar between both of the county’s high schools, and some of the students that dropped out went to the community college instead.  Concerns about remote learning possibly contributing to a higher future dropout rate were briefly discussed, and the board is trying to address future ninth graders’ needs particularly to help prevent this from happening.

Budget Amendments that were recommended by Sharon Penny, Finance Director, were approved by all present except for Cory Singletary.  Singletary was concerned about local people not having easy access to surplus auctions (such as older people who don’t have online access or that do not understand computers). Because of the nature of the law plus time and monetary concerns, they can only be listed online, but Robert Taylor, the Superintendent, said that he would try to let more people know about the website.

Jason Atkinson, Chief Technology Officer, spoke with the county’s band directors recently and relayed their concerns about school-owned band instruments.  It has been about 17 years since an instrument lease program was in place. The instruments are needed as several of the county’s instruments have been being used for 30+ years. The instrument needs equal about $150,000 and the leasing would cost $38,497.69 for 4 years via a combination of Title 4 federal funds and Capital Outlay Funds. After the lease ends, the county will own the instruments for one dollar.  The board approved that the instruments be purchased for the band programs. Following this, the board proceeded to go into closed session to discuss legal matters, personnel, and student reassignments as needed.

Upon reconvening into open session, Glenn McKoy, Board Member, wanted to thank Robert Taylor and board for the job that they are doing during this hard time.  Logistics surrounding gathering students’ packets were briefly discussed. Additionally, the cost to repair the ceiling on East Arcadia School’s gym was reported to cost $136,000.  Dennis Edwards, Board Member, asked about COVID-19 affecting Drivers Education. Currently, Drivers Education instruction is on hold until NCDPI works out an alternative solution, and registration fees have been refunded to the students’ families. Update: Only those families that were registered and paid for classes through the end of the school year have been refunded. Those registered for the summer classes have not been refunded. No information about summer Drivers Education has been provided at this time.

The board members thanked Robert Taylor for his work during this time, and Taylor thanked the board and Amy Stanley, Child Nutrition Director, in particular for their work also.  Taylor also let the board know that the roof repairs at both of the high schools are ahead of schedule and less expensive than budgeted.

BladenOnline.com has a video inview scheduled with Dr. Taylor on Thrusday at 11 a.m.

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