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The School Board Watch


Look at poor academic performer, Erwin High School, which received a school performance grade of 55. No strategies for increasing academic achievement were mentioned at the school board meeting. Instead, the school board approved an increase in spending for Erwin’s soon to be constructed state-of-the-art running track. A contract for $525,497 had already been approved to replace the track; at last week’s meeting, the Board unanimously approved an additional $147,000 to meet N.C. Athletic Association standards and enhance spectator viewing, bringing the new total to $672,000. These upgrades will allow the track to be utilized for regional State-sanctioned track and field events. Students will be able to set state records for track and field while barely meeting state graduation standards.

Do school boards have a responsibility for academic achievement? Regular reports from school staff on academic progress is the norm in other districts. Studies show that school boards which prioritize academics do make a difference.

The overall conclusion of a 2013 study of The Impact of School Board Governance on Academic Achievement is that traditional school boards can and do influence academic outcomes, meaning, improving school board governance is a legitimate approach to improving academic achievement.

N.C. state laws put in place School Improvement Teams and charged them with devising strategies for improving student performance. The law explicitly states “it is the intent of the General Assembly that parents, along with teachers, have a substantial role in developing school improvement plans. To this end, School Improvement Team meetings shall be held at a convenient time to assure substantial parent participation.” Have you looked at your school’s improvement plan? Recently, the Buncombe school board voted to pay school improvement team chairs $1,000 for this extra duty. Let’s hope it makes a difference in student academic growth, especially in those 30 schools scoring below a grade of 70.

More Over-Budget Capital Spending

The architect for the Enka Intermediate School will receive an additional $122,000 due to the higher than expected cost of the school. The architect receives a percentage of the cost of the school as payment; over $1 million has been paid to the architectural firm, Bowers Ellis Watson (now owned by NOVUS of Charleston, S.C.)

The Discovery Academy STEM high school located in the BCS Central Office will require a Phase 2 construction plan which includes a gymnasium and commercial kitchen (the cafeteria built in Phase 1 can only warm food prepared at another school). Interestingly an existing cafeteria located in the building was not utilized for the school. The initial $5.5 million renovation was supposed to create classroom space for 400 students (100 per grade level); instead the school can accommodate only 238 (some of the 400 students will be at internships?) The school board approved $31,500 to begin design work for the Phase 2 construction and for furnishings/equipment for the 100 new 9th graders entering the STEM school in the fall. No one asked how BCS would pay for the phase 2 construction; however, the $31,500 seed money will come from local funds.

You may recall that in January the school board approved $619,000 for a metal storage building to be constructed on the central office property. This building was necessary because the STEM high school displaced existing warehouse space in the former Square D factory. Most school districts are putting STEM academies in their existing high schools because it is more cost effective and allows students to participate in music/band, athletics and extracurricular clubs.

The superintendent made announcements that snow days will be made up on April 6 and June 11 and that the number of Buncombe County high school dropouts decreased from 243 students in 2013 to 225 students in 2014. But can graduates read and write at grade level? The academic scandal at UNC highlights the problem of functionally illiterate high school graduates. The John Locke Foundation Education Director writes, “The fact that students arrived at Chapel Hill with few writing or research skills does not excuse the systematic fraud perpetrated by university faculty and staff. But it does call into question the value of a high school diploma. A high school diploma should signify students’ attainment of the skills and knowledge that undergird the roles and responsibilities of adulthood.“ The low performance grades of the majority of Buncombe schools will serve as an impetus for improvement if parents and taxpayers hold schools accountable for ensuring high academic standards.

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