Chatham BOE reapproves mask mandate, OK’s retention, recruitment bonuses

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Education again voted to require universal masking on all CCS campuses at its regular meeting last Monday night, in accordance with state legislation requiring school boards to vote monthly on face mask requirements.

The legislation, Session Law 2021-130/Senate Bill 654, is a wide-ranging COVID-19 bill that was passed Aug. 25 and requires school boards with mask mandates to hold monthly votes on whether to continue or modify such policies.

There are 14 active cases of COVID-19 at CCS, according to the district’s tracker dashboard as of Sept. 23, with zero current clusters and 168 total cases since the beginning of classes on Aug. 23. Only one cluster at Chatham Central High School was identified during the second week of classes.

In comparison, Chatham County is seeing an increase of cases among people 18 and younger — a group which makes up about 31% of cases locally and statewide, Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek told the board last Monday.

“Masking is slowing the spread of COVID,” said Zelek, who has repeatedly supported the district’s mask mandate. “They not only slow the spread of COVID, they keep kids in the classroom.”

About 39% of 12- to 17-year-olds in Chatham are at least partially vaccinated, he said at the time. The district offered two vaccination clinics at each of its four high schools the week of Sept. 6, to work toward increasing those numbers. Plans to offer COVID-19 testing on-site with state-approved vendor MAKO Medical are also under way. The district said at its Sept. 13 meeting it hopes to do testing of groups such as marching band and athletes.

As of March 8, three weeks after teachers were eligible to be vaccinated in Chatham, 550 of the district’s approximately 2,000 staff members had been vaccinated. The district has not previously collected staff vaccination data, but last Tuesday, CCS employees could start voluntarily reporting their vaccination status to the district.

Retention and recruitment bonus

The board also approved a retention and recruitment bonus plan for district employees, which would be in addition to the one-time bonuses given to employees last year; it would be paid for through part of the district’s $17.4 million allotted COVID-19 relief funds.

Under the plan, all full-time employees will receive a $1,250 one-time bonus and all part-time employees will receive a one-time bonus of $650. The plan now must be approved by the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction before it can be implemented.

“Before offering incentives to new employees, we felt it important to publicly and tangibly honor the outstanding work our employees have done under incredibly difficult circumstances because of the pandemic,” Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson said in a CCS release. “This is just one of the ways to let our employees know that we see their efforts and they are deeply appreciated.”

Under the plan, employees who join the district between Oct. 11 and Dec. 13 and who make a “firm time commitment” for how long they’ll stay in the system will receive a signing bonus — $1,500 for classified employees and $3,500 for certified employees.

Staffing shortages across the state span multiple industries and sectors, including education. Several school districts across the state adopted similar incentive programs to help address the problem.

“This will help fill vital vacancies that range from our bus drivers to instructional assistants in the classroom,” Jackson said in the release. “These incentives are designed to attract and retain high-quality faculty and staff in all employment areas.”

Other business

• The board approved Carla Murray as the Executive Director for Elementary and Middle Grades Instruction — a role previously held by Chris Poston, who now leads the district’s equity efforts.

Murray has worked for 23 years as an educator, 17 of which have been at CCS, where she has been the principal of North Chatham Elementary since 2015. She was named the Wells Fargo Principal of the Year for Chatham in 2021. Murray attended Siler City Elementary and Chatham Middle School. She also graduated from Jordan-Matthews High School.

“I am truly honored and feel privileged for the opportunity to serve Chatham County Schools in this capacity,” she said in a CCS release. “I look forward to collaborating with stakeholders to ensure we maximize outcomes for all of our students.”

• The board approved the consolidated grant application for federal grants, following the completion of the district’s needs assessment last year.

For the 2021-2022 school year, a federally funded consolidated grants planning allotment of nearly $2.1 million has been awarded for all consolidated grants — an overall increase of approximately $145,000 from the 2020- 2021 school year.

• CCS’s Amanda Moran, the assistant superintendent for academic services and instructional support, presented the district’s student achievement data to the board, based on state testing data released at the beginning of the month.

Though CCS performed above the state average in multiple categories, the majority of students failed end-of-grade and course state exams last school year — a trend reflected statewide. At CCS, 45.3% of high schoolers demonstrated grade-level proficiency on their exams last school year, as opposed to 53.3% in 2018-19, before the pandemic, according to district data. Among CCS elementary and middle schoolers, 48.6% of students were grade-level proficient on their tests, compared to 64.8% in 2018-19.

Chatham’s grade-level proficiency and collegeand career-readiness scores for reading topped the state average for all grades, and exceeded the state proficiency rate for math in every grade except 8th grade. In addition, the district’s high school score outperformed the state average in English II and Math I.

“We know that this year was not a typical or easy one,” Moran told the board, “but the successes that we have to share tonight are a direct result of the creativity and resilience and the hard work of all of us.”

• The district revised its technology policy, removing two portions regarding parental consent regarding use of third-party platforms by students and students’ “independent access to the Internet.” The board approved the updated policy.

“Obtaining parental permission for every third-party platform or project would not be reasonable or practical,” the district’s agenda read.

The state sometimes requires school districts to use third-party programs for courses and assessments. The district uses filtering and monitoring features to protect privacy and security of instructional technology tools, the district said, and does not sell information to third-parties.

“In addition, the internet is now a reasonable instructional tool that is required to teach and carry out the curriculum outlined by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction,” the agenda said. “It is not reasonable to allow parents to object to the use of technology tools for this reason."

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


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