Chatham County Schools board approves two principals, COVID-19-relief spending plan

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Education approved two new principals at its meeting Monday night during its closed session — Donna Barger at Jordan-Matthews High School and Matthew Wilkins at J.S. Waters School, a K-8 school in Goldston.

Both principals will begin their new positions on July 1.

Barger, an educator for 24 years, was the assistant principal at Jordan-Matthews for five and a half years. She’s served as the interim principal since February, after the board announced that then-Principal Tripp Clayton would be the first principal of Seaforth High School.

“Exceptional education requires passionate, dedicated and committed staff who value each individual student and teach the whole person, not just the curriculum,” Barger said in a CCS release. “We have that at Jordan-Matthews, and I’m excited to be part of the Jordan-Matthews school community with great expectation for the potential that lays ahead in all areas of the school.”

Barger transitioned to interim principal at J-M a little more than two weeks after students returned to in-person hybrid learning on Feb. 1 — the first time many stepped inside the building for a regular school day since March 2020.

Wilkins, who has been the assistant principal at Chatham Central High School since Feb. 2019, will replace current J.S. Waters Principal Chris Bowling, who is taking a teaching position at Chatham Grove Elementary.

Before moving to Chatham Central in 2019, Wilkins taught health and physical education at Perry W. Harrison Elementary School for several years. He also previously taught middle school science in another school system and grew up in the Goldston area.

In the CCS release, Wilkins said his educational philosophy is that all students can learn and be successful.

“It is an honor to receive the opportunity to be the principal of J.S. Waters School,” Wilkins said in the release. “They’re getting a leader who is passionate about them, passionate about the school community, and a leader who is ready to serve them to the best of my abilities. Servant leadership — I’m there to serve them. I’m also a transformational leader, meaning let’s keep what’s working and figure out what we might do differently.”

Approval of COVID-19-relief funding plan

The board also approved the district’s proposed Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) spending plan as presented, granting administration the ability to move forward accordingly.

Chatham County Schools submitted its application for its second and third rounds of COVID-19 relief funds — totaling about $17.4 million — to the state May 7, the district said during the board’s May meeting.

“Previously, we shared with you an overview of our funds, our allocation process that we plan to meet,” CCS’s Amanda Hartness told the board Monday night. “We’re happy to tell you that all of our plans have been approved at the state and federal level.”

Over the course of the pandemic, CCS received a total allotment of about $18.8 million as part of North Carolina’s Elementary & Secondary School (K-12) Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), to be received and spent over the next few years. The school system received nearly $1.4 million last year as a part of the CARES Act, and most of that funding went toward buying things to implement its COVID-19 safety protocol.

As part of December’s federal relief act (CRRSA), CCS was allotted $5.4 million, with $12 million most recently allotted through the American Rescue Plan Act, passed March 11. Both applications were due May 7 and opened during the first two weeks of April.

Twenty percent of the ARP funding must go toward mitigating learning loss, the district said, or $2.4 million. The remaining funding — from rounds two and three of funding — can be used to respond to COVID-19, prevent COVID-19 and reduce the spread of the virus. The board is using funding for four major areas: extended learning, human capital, health and safety and professional development and innovation.

Under the extended learning area, money will fund summer learning programming, technology devices for student and staff, connectivity supports, software subscriptions, a virtual academy K-12 standalone program, additional ESL services and more.

The district will use funds to add one certified instructional position for each elementary, middle and K-8 school, as well as a high school dropout prevention position for each high school. It’ll also hire two additional counselors, three social workers, two nurses, three ESL teachers and 23 instruction assistants to support K-3 learning loss and class sizes. Funding will also add a district translator, a digital learning instruction program facilitator, K-12 literacy program facilitator, equity executive director, Virtual Academy positions, behavior positions and contracted mental health services for in-school therapy.

“It’s a nice problem to have trying to figure out how to spend money,” board Chairperson Gary Leonard said at the May meeting. “I know you’ll work with our schools to put it to the best benefit of our students.”

Other meeting business

• Superintendent Randy Bridges recognized CCS’s Teacher of the Year and Instructional Assistant of the Year: Natalie Shaner, 2nd/3rd grade teacher at Perry Harrison and Larissa Dowdy, EC instructional assistant at Pittsboro Elementary.

• The board approved the expansion of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) to include George Moses Horton Middle School.

Each of CCS’s traditional high schools has an AVID program, as does Chatham Middle School and Virginia Cross Elementary School. The district said schools with AVID programs have shown improvement in student discipline and academic progress.

The school will officially begin planning for the program next fall, with the goal of offering it by the 2022-23 school year. The first year would cost the district $4,099, the second year $4,000, along with an annual $580 cost for the AVID Weekly subscription and a one-time library fee of $5,000. The district’s AVID funds, which come from its at-risk funds, will support the expansion.

• Several memorandums were approved, with the Hispanic Liaison, Pittsboro Boys and Girls Club and Siler City Futbol Club. You can read more about those in this week’s edition about the Hispanic Liaison and Boys and Girls Club MOU’s.

• The board approved the district’s mental health improvement plan as presented. The plan follows the General Assembly’s passages last year of Session Law 2020-7, which requires local education agencies to adopt and implement a school-based mental health plan that includes a mental health training program and a suicide risk referral protocol.

The district said Chatham’s improvement plan will focus on staff development, social-emotional learning and mental health supports for students, a partnership with a local mental health agency and a suicide risk protocol. Prior to the law’s ratification, the district had pushed for increased mental health services, as previously reported by the News + Record.

“Congratulations for already having so many things in place when the state mandate came down,” Board member Jane Allen Wilson said.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.


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