Board Of Education Workshop Covers Several Topics – Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 2/12/2020 at 3:43pm

The Transylvania County Board of Education discussed topics ranging from the lack of a state budget and a dearth of bus drivers to athletic realignment and elementary school themes at a work session held on Monday, Feb. 3.

“There’s no good news for this year or the upcoming budget for next year,” Norris Barger, director of business services and plant operations, told the board.

Superintendent Jeff McDaris agreed that there might not be a budget for the next school year.

Board member Marty Griffin asked if there is not a constitutional requirement to pass a state budget.

Barger said the state could meet the constitutional requirement by passing a continuing resolution, which means the same amount of money from the previous year is automatically allocated to the next fiscal year.

McDaris, however, said that costs, especially health insurance and retirement, increase each year and when the state does not pass a new budget including those increases, then county governments have to pick up that cost.

Both McDaris and Barger expressed frustration the schools have not received a new budget since the state government has plenty of money.

“There’s a growing balance of money in Raleigh right now that is unassigned,” said McDaris.

Barger said the state has a “booming economy with a huge surplus,” yet there has been no additional funding coming to the schools.

“It’s unconscionable,” said school board member Alice Wellborn.

Athletic Realignment

McDaris said in the next 18 months the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) would realign the schools and reconfigure athletic conferences.

McDaris said Rosman High, which is classified as a 1A school, could be put in a new conference and that could be beneficial.

Rosman has been a member of the Smoky Mountain Conference for many years, but travel one-way to many of those schools is between two and three hours.

“There is a tremendous amount of lost instructional time playing in that conference,” said McDaris, who added that some teams who play spring sports leave school before 11 a.m.

He also gave the example of a basketball team participating in a conference tournament in which they might have to play three nights in a row at a distant location.

Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi also expressed concern about students missing so much time from the classroom.

McDaris said the Smoky Mountain Conference provides good competition, but if Rosman were in a conference comprised of schools to the North and east, travel times might be significantly reduced.

Griffin said 1A conferences tend to fluctuate from one realignment to the next, and sometimes there are split 1A/2A conferences.

Board Chair Tawny McCoy made it clear the board was just discussing realignment and not taking any position.

McDaris said the NCHSAA determines the conferences, but schools can appeal their placement in a conference.

He said the appeals go before a group comprised of superintendents, principals and athletic directors from across the state but those members may not have much empathy.

McDaris said there has been a movement to add an additional classification, 5A, in the state but some of the larger schools have been opposing it.

He said one coach in Charlotte was opposed to having a 5A classification because his team would have to travel an hour to away games.

Elementary Themes

The principals of the four elementary schools spoke of their school themes and how they are implementing those themes.

Carrie Norris, principal of Brevard Elementary, said the school is one of 64 A+ schools in the state that weave visual arts into all areas of the curriculum.

The benefit of belonging to this group is they receive free professional develop-ment and are part of strong network of similar schools.

Teachers from BES attend a conference each summer and the A+ organization provides professional development at the school. The instructors show teachers some of the best teaching methods and then demonstrate those methods by teaching students.

“They actually teach our students,” said Norris.

Outdoor education is the theme at Pisgah Forest Elementary. Principal Tonya Treadway said four years ago they decided they wanted to do outdoor education.

“They (the students) love to learn outside,” said Treadway. “We travel; we go out into the woods.”

The school worked with local businesses and built an outdoor classroom as part of its “no child left inside” initiative.

The school also has a pollinator garden and waystation for Monarch butterflies.

Treadway said the school has partnerships with local businesses, Muddy Sneakers and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. The latter provided training to the school’s teachers.

“We went up into the forest. We had to learn how to identify trees,” said Treadway.

Treadway said the school pays Muddy Sneakers $10 per child per excursion. Even though the cost is high, she said, “It’s money well spent.”

Rob Dinsdale, principal of Rosman Elementary, said his school is the only one without a theme.

He said they looked at being a Leader in Me school, but that would have cost about $30,000 a year.

Dinsdale said since the school staff has a gap between teachers with little experience and those who have been there for 20 years or more, they are trying to agree on a school identity.

“We look at the whole child,” said Dinsdale.

He said the school is trying to dedicate more time to music, art and outdoor education instead of just focusing on preparing for standardized tests.

The school now offers clubs for students in all grades.

The clubs are limited to 10 students and include origami, gardening, baking, community service and art.

Dinsdale said the staff is also promoting after school activities, such as a soccer team, because once parents and students get home, they do not come back for afternoon or evening events.

He also said teachers are looking to focus more on project-based learning and critical thinking because they want their students to increase their academic gains.

“We need to try something different,” he said. “We can only prep so much.”

Wellborn said she liked the fact that teachers were coming up with ideas to move students forward. She said instruction at Davidson River School has changed because what they were doing before was not working as well as they hoped.

T.C. Henderson Principal Audrey Reneau said even though the school has a focus on STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math), it also has two outdoor classrooms and two trails.

Much of the instruction at T.C. Henderson is “hands-on,” project-based learning and teaching real life skills with a focus on STEM.

The school also has after school clubs that include chess, gardening, track and robotics.

“We do a STEM camp in the summer,” said Reneau.

She said all of the students in grades preK-5 have Chromebooks, but the key to education is still “good teacher interaction.”

“We have some great community support,” Reneau said. “They want to support us 110 percent.”

Reneau said some of the classrooms are overflowing.

McDaris said the school system would like to start a pre-K class at PFE, but there is not enough room.

“The numbers are out there, we just don’t have the room,” he said.

McDaris said that while the elementary schools have a theme, every element is taught in each school.

“We all do have a lot in common,” said Reneau.

McCoy asked if parents are seeking schools that have a specific theme.

Treadway said many parents go “school shopping” at Brevard Elementary, Pisgah Forest Elementary and Brevard Academy to see what they highlight.

Norris said parents seem to select the school not on its theme but how they “feel” about the school.

“The tour can make or break it,” said Norris of parents’ selection of a school.

Board member Courtney Domokur said some people come to the county and send their children to private or charter schools because they want them outside taking hikes and working in gardens.

“We are already doing this stuff,” said Domokur.

Norris said many parents from the Raleigh area might not be used to good public schools, so they automatically seek out other alternatives, thus missing out on what the local public schools have to offer.

Bus Drivers

In a related matter, McDaris said the school system has a bus service plan that could transport students from BES and PFE to T.C. Henderson, but it can’t because it cannot find a bus driver for the route.

He said the route is too lengthy for a teacher assistant to drive and the school system is having trouble finding bus drivers, particularly to drive in the afternoon.

“It’s not something that is attractive to a lot of people,” said McDaris.

School bus drivers are paid $12.33 an hour.

Griffin asked if the school system had looked at hiring 18 and 19-year-old drivers, as well as recruiting students from Brevard College.

“We’ve advertised everywhere,” said McDaris.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Weaver said the school system had parked a bus in Ingles for several days with a sign on the side advertising for bus drivers.

McDaris said school bus drivers need to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), pass a physical with the Department of Transportation, have a clean driving record and agree to random drug testing. He said some people are not interested in meeting all of those requirements for a part-time job.

Weaver said the school system tries to combine custodial and bus driving positions into a full-time job.

“It’s just hard to fill those vacancies as well,” said Weaver.

McDaris said the school system would continue to explore other options to find bus drivers.


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