The School Board Watch – Excuses, Excuses…


But at the Buncombe school board’s Nov. 5th meeting, Mr. Pat Bryant blamed the test when two schools in the district he represents, Erwin, posted failing performance grades. Bryant said the test was flawed and that “the schools were not failing.” Although the criteria used to calculate the school performance grades isn’t perfect, it’s still the best indicator of where improvements are needed.

Johnston Elementary School scored a 46 out of 100 on their school performance grade while Erwin Middle School scored a 52.

When it came time to approve a remediation action plan for those two low-performing schools, Erwin District school board member, Pat Bryant, said he was willing to violate the state law by voting ‘no’.

The law says that school boards must submit a remediation action plan for academic improvement to the state for all schools scoring a ‘D’ or ‘F’, and not exceeding their academic growth targets. The Board voted 4-2 to not submit the plan, a violation of state law. Board member Max Queen (Enka district) recused himself from the vote because his daughter, Charlotte Hipps, is the principal of Johnston Elementary, one of the failing schools. Cindy McMahon (Reynolds), Amy Churchill (Roberson), Pat Bryant (Erwin), and Dusty Pless (At-Large) voted against submitting a plan for academic improvement. Ann Franklin (North Buncombe) and Chip Craig (Owen) voted for the weak remediation action plans. Assistant Superintendent Susanne Swanger explained that the plans submitted to the school board were the old school improvement plans with a few tweaks. A school board’s main concern should be academic success, so why didn’t they ask the school improvement teams to ramp up the plans?

During public comment I spoke on behalf of the group, Buncombe Students First, giving examples of academic reward programs that are working to boost achievement in low-performing schools with low income students and minorities. Cash incentives and prizes motivate kids at first, but the children eventually form good study habits and become interested in succeeding regardless of whether rewards are on the line. Some schools use pretend dollars and allow students to cash in “money” at the school store. At public charter school, KEY Academy in Washington, D.C., one student proudly clutched a pencil case she bought at the school store, “It shows how I work very hard to earn good grades.”

Buncombe schools can create a culture of high expectations that challenges students. If students can’t read at grade level by third grade, retention is recommended. The state is funding reading camps for these students, so camp participation should be strongly encouraged. Students can be grouped by abilities across their entire grade, not just within their own classroom. This model is working at Koontz Intermediate School and should be promoted at all elementary schools in the county. Middle schools can offer more academic challenges, such as honors classes, to stretch and grow students. Student achievement should be celebrated, not just perfect attendance. Have you seen any bumper stickers in Buncombe saying, “My child is an honor student at _______ school?”

Policy Changes – The school board approved changes to freshman GPA calculations in Policy 3450/615 “Class Rankings.” While the policy encourages recognition of academic achievement, not all schools have put it into practice, “While high school principals may designate a valedictorian and salutatorian, the Board encourages principals, with input from teachers, parents and students, to develop alternative or additional means of recognizing academic achievement.” It would be interesting if academically excelling high school students could receive the same recognition as those athletes designated,“Most Valuable Player.” Let’s bring back the honor roll.

School Calendar for 2016-17 – Per state law, school will start on August 29, 2016 and end on June 9, 2017. If BCS has more than eight snow days during the 2015-16 school year, then they will be eligible for a weather waiver and can start on August 24, 2016 and end on June 7, 2017. The school board approved two draft calendars submitted by the calendar committee, one for each scenario.

Spending – Although BCS employs two architects with total salaries and benefits exceeding $200,000, the school board approved hiring architect firm, ADS of Asheville, at a cost of $115,000 to design high school food lab renovations. Over the summer, ADS conducted a “study” of the Consumer and Family Sciences high school food labs at an additional cost of $50,000. The food lab renovations will range from $300,000 to more than $550,000 per school. Christy Cheek, Career and Technical Education Director, said that she wants students to be able to find jobs close to home in Asheville’s hospitality industry. She said, “It is about economic development for our county.” In other words, the school board is using taxpayer dollars to train entry-level food service workers for low-paying jobs in local restaurants and hotels.

No wonder the school board doesn’t care about low-performing schools – the kids can always grow up to be dishwashers or fast food service workers, all in the name of economic development. Although there is nothing wrong with these jobs, don’t we want our children to have more options and every opportunity to pursue their dreams?

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