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Board of Education votes to close Booker T. Washington Primary

By Bethany Stephens

The Board of Education met Monday for its monthly session where several teachers and students were recognized for their various achievements. Regina Davis, a teacher assistant that works with exceptional children at Elizabethtown Middle, was recognized as Bladen County’s Teacher Assistant of the Year.

West Bladen had seventeen students recognized for completing and passing a national exam from the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals – a program similar to ServSafe that is acknowledged in restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores in North Carolina. The students were led by their teachers, Debra Kinlaw and Gail Marsh.

Jennifer Hair of East Bladen and Meredith Dowless of Bladenboro Primary were both recognized for completing their certification renewals as National Board Certified Teachers. Joy Matthis, Mitchell Newkirk, and Mary Todd (all Career and Technical Education teachers at East Bladen) were recognized for having classes that attained 100% proficiency during the Fall 2017 semester.

Seventeen East Bladen students were recognized for earning Microsoft Office Certification in Word and/or PowerPoint under the leadership of their teacher Jennifer Ballard.

Both East Bladen’s Men’s JV Soccer Team and East Bladen’s Men’s JV Football Team were recognized for completing undefeated seasons in which they both won the conference championships in their respective sport. The soccer team was coached by Jay Raynor and Dr. Ray Cross. The football team was coached by Richie Priest.

East Bladen’s Varsity Football team was also recognized. The team achieved an overall record of 12-2 and completed the Three Rivers 1A/2A Conference with an 8-1 record that put them in a three-way tie for first place. They advanced to the third round in the state playoffs and had several top players in the conference. The team was coached by Robbie Priest, who was selected as Three Rivers Conference Co-Coach of the Year and was named an assistant coach for the Shrine Bowl.

Annie Rhodes, a retired Bladen County Schools teacher and alumna of Booker T. Washington School, spoke on behalf of the Booker T. Alumni Association as the board was voting on closing Booker T. Washington Primary at the meeting. Though Rhodes acknowledged that her comments might be too late to affect the vote, she hoped that the board would postpone voting on the issue as the association wanted the school to remain open. Gary Rhoda, Board Member, voiced complaints about the plan and wished that Booker T. would remain open with Academically or Intellectually Gifted students being moved to Elizabethtown instead of remaining at Clarkton School of Discovery. The board addressed this more later in the meeting.

Before that discussion, a January Financial summary presented for information purposes only was presented by Sharon Penny, Finance Director. Willa Dean Williams, CTE Director, had an overview of CTE Local Plan Performance Indicators Data which was positive. Lou Nelon, Maintenance Director, gave an update on mostly completed roofing projects and continued plans to build a grant-funded barn at East Bladen.

Voting on both a bed bug policy and a student reassignment policy was tabled until March. Gary Rhoda, Board Member, complained of having only received the meeting’s agenda Monday morning after having checked his email all weekend. The other board members had received the email sooner, so Dr. Robert Taylor, Superintendent, promised to look into why it didn’t send like it had to the others. A school calendar draft for the 2018-2019 school year was also passed.

Budget amendments to accommodate received state and federal funding and other expenses were approved. Fall Custom Policy Updates were also approved, and voting on a high school handbook was postponed.

Voting on the consolidation of Booker T. Washington Primary was discussed and voted on next. During the discussion Gary Rhoda specifically voiced concerns about closing the school and questioned if the consolidation information was not presented in its entirety at the community forums (as Rhoda didn’t remember it from where he had attended them). Dr. Taylor replied that he could double check but was pretty positive that it had been. Additionally, Taylor said that the board had pursued the current plan due to continued pressure to cut expenses, it being the only consolidation plan with community support, and because it allowed each community to still keep at least one of its schools. The plan has been in talks for about a year and a half and will end in 5th graders at Booker T. being sent to Clarkton School of Discovery while the school’s K-4 students will be split between East Arcadia School, Elizabethtown Primary, and Bladenboro Primary. The board approved the plan with Roger Carroll, Chris Clark, Berry Lewis, and Dennis Edwards voting for the plan, and Gary Rhoda, Tim Benton, and Glenn McKoy voting against. As Board Chair, Vinston Rozier did not vote and Alan West, Board Member, was absent from the meeting.

Upon reconvening from the closed session that followed the consolidation vote, the board heard various updates and notes of interest from Dr. Robert Taylor, Superintendent. Taylor explained that the county is receiving funding for 10 enhancement teaching positions (such as art, music, and PE) in the elementary schools due to changes in state funding and legislation.

Tim Benton, Board Member, spoke of wanting to improve the county’s sporting facilities with funding that is only allocated for those specific type of projects so that Bladen County can host conference games and related events to hopefully bring in business to Bladen County. Following the above, the board proceeded to adjourn for the evening.

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