February’s monthly School Board meeting opened its doors in the auditorium at 5:30 p.m. For the rest of 2020, every meeting is expected to occur at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium.
More attendees were able to find seating and the overhead was much more visible for everyone.
Present were Superintendent Jeanette Warwick, Chairperson and representative for Craig’s Creek Susan Crenshaw, Vice-Chairman and Simmonsville rep. Gina Smith, New Castle rep. George Foster and newly elected Craig City Clerk, Trace Bellassai. Potts Mountain representative Faye Powers was absent due to illness.
Also present was Clerk of School Board Sonja Switzer, Deputy Clerk of the School Board Diana Bayne, Director of Finance Heather Duncan, Director of Instruction and Technology Samuel Foster, Special Education Coordinator Elaine Wolfe, McCleary Elementary Principal Gerri VanDyke and Melissa Whiting, Craig County Middle and High School Principal.
Warwick honored the individuals who received the Craig Valley VFW Post #4491 Local Teachers of the Year Awards: Wanda Reynolds, Fred Moler and Andrea Jennings. Moler and Jennings also won the district award too.
February is School Board and Board Clerk Appreciation Month. Warwick presented each person with a certificate of recognition and a box of Junior Mints which had a special note that read, “Thanks for your co-MINT-ment.”
“I want to say thank you for all you do and for helping to keep us straight so we can get everything ready for the meetings,” Warwick said.
The floor was open for public hearing and Donna Deplazes commented on the budget process from the Craig County teacher’s viewpoint. She shared that a raise of three to five percent is needed, regardless of the Governor’s planned budget, just to keep up with the competitive surrounding counties salaries.
She explained that it was difficult to speak about the budget when the budget itself “has yet to be presented.”
Deplazes also suggested to have School Board Budget meetings in advance for the public to attend, which she feels would help others and herself, “as an employee and a citizen of this county.”
“Knowledge is power,” she stated before adding, “Those who are in the know are powerful and those who are not, are suspicious and have lots of questions.”
She also suggested conducting future open discussions to review new concepts and changes, which she believes would make implementation much smoother and prevent “possible chaos.” (This was referring to the most recent discussion on changing to a block schedule system which was to be voted on at the meeting.)
Warwick noted, “We cannot give a proposed budget as we only have the Governor’s budget and do not expect the Senate or House version to be released until the end of February. Now I am working with a crystal ball as far as funding goes.”
Warwick did announce that definite changes are a five percent increase in health insurance and the VRS rate increase by approximately $51,000. “With those kinds of challenges, the board will be looking at the budget, and as soon as we have a proposed budget we will make it public,” she said. Warwick noted there would be a proposed budget submitted at the March Board meeting.
Samuel Foster spoke on exempting students from exams.
Exemption policy for exams states that “if a student passes the SOL test, they are exempt from final exam and earned a 100 or if a student earned an A/B and had no more than five absences in semester 2, they were exempt from the final exam.”
Now, exams are eliminated for middle school students as eighth-graders are required to take five SOL tests and all high school students take at least one exam.
Foster added, “We have to ask the questions, why do we give exams and why do we need an exemption policy?”
He said that many teachers shared, “You prepare them for college,” which Foster said made much sense. However, Foster noted that the students who are most likely to make an A/B or pass their SOL tests are exempt and they are most likely the ones who are planning to go to college, causing the opposite of their goals to be done for the students.
Attendance was used as a ‘carrot’ for exam exemptions. “If you miss no more than ‘X’ number of days, you can be exempt,” Foster explained.
Foster noted that exams put students with a disability at a disadvantage. He explained, “An exam exemption policy infers that students who have an A or B have worked harder.”
Foster shared a real case where a student that worked hard every day but didn’t ‘make the grade was told they didn’t have the “magical grade to exempt them from exams.”
He continued, “Our students are over tested. From grades 3 and 12, students take 22 SOL tests as well as five alternate assessments, which are state mandated and one credential exam. By the end of grade 12, our students have taken 52 to 60 high stakes tests, not just tests.”
“At what point do we ask, are our students over-tested? When is enough simply enough?” Foster asked the Board.
Foster’s final thoughts were:
- Teachers often make study guides and take time during class for exam review
- Typical exams are 50 to 100 questions, usually multiple choice
- Grading exams takes time
- No opportunity to make corrections or to learn from mistakes. (We’re about learning, about correcting mistakes about trying to help kids to become better.)
- Projects and alternative assessments are preferred by the Department of Education(Not just a final test on the last day of school.)
- Exams take up instructional days that could be used in more creative ways
Foster truly believes that students are over tested and overstressed. “I believe we need to do something to relieve the stress on our kids and do something that creates alternate projects and assessments,” he said.
He noted too that colleges don’t just give finals anymore. Many have projects now. “It’s not the same as it was 30 years ago, and I think we should look at ways to be more creative,” Foster said.
Warwick shared her concern for students with disabilities taking exams and with gifted students who have to study very little to make an ‘A’ with little to no effort. She also noted that with the outbreak of the flu, attendance is affected.
“We have issues with students coming to school taking Tylenol to mask their fever and then by noon it wears off,” she said. “So, if you have a student that is stressing over attendance, it’s going to make students come to school ill.”
Smith stated that she believes attendance is a good motivation factor, as it worked for her own children.
She added, “I understand different kids have different views of learning.” She stated she would like to “have some incentive” to come to school.
Foster also shared the SOL changes in the last few years.
“What is the alternative? Have all kids take exams?” Foster asked. “Currently, the high school students are required to take the SOL to graduate. If they do not pass the SOL, they do not graduate.”
He added that the eighth-graders take a History SOL test, ninth-graders take a Math SOL, tenth-graders take Science and Writing SOL and Eleventh Reading SOL.
Again, Foster asked, “What’s best for the student?”
George Foster concluded, “If we take the exams away, are we taking away accountability?”
The decision was tabled for next month’s meeting.