At the end of the Chatham County Schools Board of Education mid-year retreat Monday, the board unanimously voted to delay the start of in-person learning for high school students under Plan B to …
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At the end of the Chatham County Schools Board of Education mid-year retreat Monday, the board unanimously voted to delay the start of in-person learning for high school students under Plan B to Monday, Feb. 1, a little over one week after their originally scheduled return. The second semester will still begin virtually on Jan. 21.
Following that decision, the board passed another motion clarifying that high school staff will still return to in-person work on the 21st, unless they have approved accommodations through the human resources department. Board members said the decision to delay the in-person start date was made to give teachers additional time to plan and get accustomed to safety protocol.
Board member Melissa Hlavac, who made the motion to delay the in-person start date, emphasized the board’s commitment to best helping ease teacher anxiety regarding the return, also acknowledging many teachers have said they’re eager to get back in the classroom.
“We certainly have heard from some teachers (who have not), and I think all five of us are clearly taking that into consideration,” Hlavac said. “I know we all appreciate this discussion.”
The board also discussed COVID-19 updates at length, hearing again from the ABC Science Collaborative, a project which analyzes COVID-19-related data in partnership with Duke, UNC and surrounding school districts, including CCS. ABC Science Collaborative presenter Michael Smith began his presentation with a reminder that the group shares and analyzes updated data and trends, but does not make specific decision recommendations.
During the presentation, Smith emphasized that the group found schools are safe to remain open when the three W’s are followed, under Plan B and Plan A. He did express less confidence in the safety of Plan A over Plan B — not because Plan A is “not feasible,” but because the group has less data for Plan A. At the time of the presentation, the group was tracking data for 11 districts following Plan B and six operating under Plan A. Smith also stated that “schools are the safest place to be,” noting that districts have more control over compliance with COVID-19 protocol.
Board member David Hamm asked whether waiting two weeks to return to in-person learning was a magic number as some have suggested. Smith said the district should plan as if COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, also noting the district should be encouraged by its lack of community spread of cases and the approaching vaccine roll-out for school employees.
In Chatham County Schools, there have been 43 positive COVID-19 cases among students and 38 reported among staff since the district’s partial reopening Oct. 19. There have been 50 total cases of COVID-19 among staff since the district’s first day of classes on Aug. 17. As of Tuesday, there have been no reports of clusters, and only one known possible incident of any community spread.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, I just think the tunnel is longer than two weeks,” Smith said.
During its discussion on COVID-19, the board passed a motion postponing middle school winter sports schedule for four weeks to purchase and install Pixellot systems in each of its eight middle school gyms, costing $5,000 each. That system will provide live-event coverage; middle school athletics are not currently allowing spectators due to generally smaller gym sizes than in the district's high schools.
The board also presented a resolution to former superintendent Dr. Derrick Jordan — who has accepted a position with the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction — after swearing in Interim Superintendent Randy Bridges earlier in the meeting.
“I don’t think we can honor him enough for the things he’s done for our system,” BOE Chairperson Gary Leonard said prior to reading the resolution honoring Jordan’s service to CCS.
Dr. Bridges has filled several interim roles as superintendent since retiring from running school systems, serving as an interim superintendent most recently at Orange County Schools. During his nine years as a superintendent in North Carolina he was recognized by the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association as the top superintendent in the state.
During the retreat, the board also heard a superintendent search overview, presented by Jim O’Rourke, an attorney with the North Carolina School Board Association. O’Rourke presented a draft timeline, which lists an advertisement of job to start Jan. 12, with a March 8 application deadline, along with approving several other minorly edited search forms.
The board also reviewed advertising options for the superintendent position, ultimately opting to pay for all the options O’Rourke presented, along with all the free options. Of those options, the board approved several organizations meant to advance and support educators of color, noting the “current climate” and its commitment to hiring diversity. After deciding to double all 30-day advertising periods to match the 60-day periods selected, the total cost amounted to approximately $3,500.
Prior to leaving for his new role at DPI, Jordan thanked the board for its partnership and emphasized that he knew great things were ahead for Chatham County Schools.
“We’re in good hands — Chatham County has some of the best students, faculty, staff, members of the community, and I will put all of our folks up against anybody,” he said. “I am so fortunate to have been able to play a small role in the good things that I believe that Chatham County Schools has done for the past several years.”
Here’s what else happened:
• The board unanimously voted to apply for a one-year accreditation waiver for its 2021 accreditation review, noting that teachers shouldn’t get “bogged down” with accreditation meetings as they adapt to pandemic protocol.
• The board heard quarterly updates on construction projects on the two projects currently being funded through the approved Chatham County Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) budget: Seaforth High School and a new Central Services building. Seaforth is currently 98% complete, expected to be completed in early April under budget.
“The pictures are great but they don’t do it justice,” Hamm said of the new school, to open next fall. “It is one fabulous facility.” The board and district expressed commitment to continuing to spread funds equally across the district, including older construction, too.
• The Exceptional Children (EC) Department presented its program review, sharing major commendations, recommendations and progress made. Major EC recommendations included clearly defining EC Instructional Facilitators roles, maintaining staffing models that meet projected student growth and adding a coordinated approach to offering professional development opportunities for EC teachers.
• The board signed off on the Five Year Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Facility Needs Survey, required by each school system in N.C. every five years. This document requires signatures from both the board of education and the board of commissioners.
That survey was approved unanimously, and shows an average daily membership (ADM) of 8,980 students in 2019-20 and cost summary (0-5 years) of $7,392,158 for 2020-21.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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