Overcrowding of K-4 classrooms
Perhaps the most substantive issue the Board confronted was the issue of overcrowding and near overcrowding of K-4 classrooms at East Franklin, South Macon, and Cartoogechaye. Currently the Board has been allowing out-of-district students to attend these schools which has resulted in class sizes coming close to the state-allowed limit or poised to go over those limits given the projected enrollment for this fall.
Administration has attempted to solve this problem by inviting parents of out of district students to attend Iotla Valley which has surplus capacity both in terms of class sizes and physical plant (Iotla Valley has rooms for five classes at each grade level and currently only has three classes at each grade). Another option is to hire at least one teacher at East Franklin and create a split Kindergarten/First Grade of approximately 12 students. East Franklin principal Shirley Parks was given the option by the BOE to take temporary custody of an unused double-wide portable unit to handle the overflow but she indicated she preferred the existing space at East Franklin, saying that it was educationally sound. She also indicated she would like to know as soon as possible if there was going to be a split grade in order to give the teacher time to prepare. However, new superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan's advice to the BOE was to "wait and see" how many students actually appeared before incurring what may be unnecessary staffing expansions and/or student relocations and hire a new teacher and aid if necessary the first week of school. The Board seemed amenable to that advice and took no further action.
Human Resource Director Dan Moore noted that many parents, once they are advised of which teacher their elementary child has, especially at the kindergarten level, are loathe to dissolve that partnership -- that advice seemed to figure in the Board's decision not to relocate out-of-district students at this time. However, the Board indicated that a harder line on that issue would likely be forthcoming for future school years, noting that the district lines were drawn to prevent the type of overcrowding which is occurring. Currently 46 students are out-of-district which should be attending Iolta Valley with East Franklin having the most at 29.
First Reading of New Social Networking Policy
The item that generated the most animated discussion of the evening was a new social networking policy which proscribes the use of social networking sites such as Facebook by teachers during school hours, as well as explicitly forbidding teachers from "friending" students and their parents. (The policy can be accessed in full here) . Board member Gary Shields expressed concern that "teachers are already stressed" and that the policy as written created yet another potential landmine to consider and navigate in their daily activities. Shields complained that teachers are "going to get caught up in it (the policy}" inadvertently. Human Resource Director Dan Moore and BOE attorney John Henning responded that their concern was that students would be privy not so much to what a teacher might post him or herself, but what a friend of a teacher may post on the teacher's page which may cause problems maintaining a professional relationship with students. Moore pointed out to the BOE that he has to counsel teachers "at least twice a month" for inappropriate use of social networking sites and that MCS required a policy that "had teeth."
Shields pointed out that the policy allowed for disciplinary action up to and including termination.Shields argued that social networking sites were a "21st century tool" that teachers were already using and needed to use in a responsible manner. Shields cited as examples teachers giving "attaboys" online such as "great game last night" and other positive feedback which comes in a medium more conducive to communicating with current students. MCS Information Technology Director Tim Burrell argued that the portion of the policy forbidding the "friending" of parents by teachers was problematic as many teachers have pre-existing friendships with parents beyond and before their children may be enrolled in a particular teacher's classroom. Attorney John Henning maintained that "common sense would prevail." However, there is nothing in the policy mentioning "common sense.". Henning also argued that the policy was not a "blanket prohibition" but the policy appears to be just that. Shields argued that the policy was perhaps taking an overly punitive posture for a problem that may be small in size and scope. Both Moore and Henning agreed to solicit more input on the policy before a second reading. Dr. Duncan instructed Henning to benchmark MCS proposed policy with other LEA social networking policies at his upcoming school board attorney conference.
The Board will entertain a second reading (almost all new policies require two readings before they can be adopted) at the August meeting and may adopt the current policy, adopt a modified one, refer the policy back to HR and legal, or abandon the policy altogether.
(I would strongly urge concerned teachers and staff to review the policy and direct their concerns and suggestions to Board members, Dr. Duncan, Mr. Moore, and Mr. Henning. If you would like to pass them on by making anonymous comments below, I will forward them for you. Macon NCAE will certainly be weighing in on this issue.)
Free Eye Exam & Glasses Program
MCS Nursing Director Jennifer Garrett presented the Board with a program sponsored by the Essilor Vision Foundation and area eye doctors. MCS already provides K-8 vision screenings but this new program would provide actual eye exams as well as eyeglasses for students who cannot afford them and who do not have government provided insurance. Garrett explained that all too often students are identified with vision issues at the annual eye exam and parents are notified but for logistical and/or financial reasons, do not take their children for a follow-up eye exam. She cited an instance of a student who had been identified with vision issues at ten separate screenings but only this past year when Garrett took the family to the doctor was the eye disease diagnosed and addressed.
The program will operate somewhat similarly to the Molar Roller program but students will be bussed to one central location (a Franklin elementary school to be announced) for the eye exams. The exams will be by appointment. Parents can avail themselves and their children of the free program simply by providing an income statement and giving permission. Garrett projected that between 150 - 160 pairs of glasses will be given away in this charitable endeavor. Macon County Schools is the first North Carolina system to be part of the Essilor Foundation program. Dr. Duncan reported to the board that he had researched the program with a New York state principal who gave the project positive reviews.
Lowe's Charitable & Educational Foundation Grant
Franklin area Lowe's manager Van Crisp gave the Board the excellent news that Macon County Schools was chosen as a recipient of one of their grants, in the amount of $85,500. Crisp explained that it was the largest to date this year in NC. The monies are earmarked to renovate the some of the science lab and exceptional children classrooms at Franklin High. The work is slated to take place in the summer of 2013. Crisp explained that the Franklin Lowe's employees are ready to volunteer their labor for the project and FHS carpentry teacher Rick Rogers will also be part of the project. Consequently, the grant is essentially for materials and the volunteer labor will be able to substantially stretch the value of the grant.
NC School Nutrition Culinary Arts Competition Winners
Recently, the North Carolina. Public Schools Nutrition program held a competition for their cafeteria directors. Nantahala director Shirley Baldwin got first place for her yeast rolls and Franklin High director received second place for Lunch Plate Presentation. The Board and Dr. Duncan recognized their accomplishments and thanked them for what is frequently a thankless job.
Franklin High School Dance Team
Ten-year veteran cheerleading coach Jennifer Turner-Lynn, who stepped down as cheerleading coach last spring, didn't stay retired long. She and Franklin High principal, Dr. Chris Baldwin,presented the Board with a proposal to bring a dance team to FHS. Dr. Baldwin noted that with the departure of FHS's performing arts program and teacher a few years ago, students would be best served by creating a program which fostered performing arts skills as well as athleticism. Turner-Lynn projected that the team would have approximately 20 members. She has been in consultation with Western Carolina University and they will be conducting the mini-camp as well as overseeing the tryouts. The Board approved the addition of the dance team which will initially operate on a club basis.
Pam Collins re-hired
Former MCS Community Outreach Director Pam Collins was re-hired by the Board on a contract basis at $22 hr not to exceed 20 hours a week to oversee the New Century Scholars program. Collins had previously overseen the program as one of many duties before retiring last year. Oversight of the program had fallen to MCS Testing Director Pat Davis for 2011 - 2012. Dr. Duncan explained that while Mrs. Davis had done a fine job with the program, the increased workload coming from additional state testing requirements made the New Century program burdensome and that all parties would be best served by bringing Mrs. Collins back on a part-time basis.
Iotla Valley to be ready for occupancy "in a few days"
Terry Bell, who had been hired by the county to oversee construction of the new Iotla Valley School and to serve as liaison between the Macon County Commissioners and the BOE, reported to the Board that the top floor of the new school was merely days away from being ready for teachers and students to move in. Iotla Valley principal Gary Brown explained that the bottom floor will be blocked off for two reasons: there are no classrooms yet in use in that part of the building and finishing touches on construction will be completed while school is in session. Bell explained that the last pieces of tile were going down, that the water system was ready, the sewer system was ready and tested, and the phones were ready. IT Director Tim Burrell noted that the computer connections were "hot" and ready for new equipment to be installed. Bell signaled that much furniture was in the cafeteria awaiting the final tiling and waxing before being located in the classrooms and that more was on the way Monday July 23rd. Bell also noted that they had only days to work out any bugs compared to months when the move was made to Mountain View Intermediate.
Capital Outlay Expenditures Approved
The Board approved five separate capital outlay expenditures Thursday night:
- $20K for renovations at Union Academy
- $20K for a window upgrades at Nantahala
- $20K for a bell and clock system at Macon Middle
- $25K for custodial equipment at the new Iotla Valley School
- $12K for a new mower at Iotla Valley
Using monies from the sale of the old Cartoogechaye School, Board approved an expenditure of $27,900 to repair the roof the Highlands School campus middle school building.