New school board members prep for terms
by Kellen Moore
Anything and everything was the topic of a Watauga County Board of Education work session Monday as incoming and outgoing board members gathered for a joint meeting.
The meeting was called to help ensure a smooth transition when the three new members elected Nov. 6 officially join the board next week.
“You three have big shoes to fill,” Watauga County Schools Superintendent David Kafitz said to new members Ron Henries, Barbara Kinsey and Brenda Reese, praising the work of outgoing members Deborah Miller, Steve Combs and John Welch.
Kafitz and Miller, the board chairwoman, reviewed recent school system changes and mentioned issues that may continue to demand board attention in the coming months.
LEADERSHIP CHANGES: In 2012, Watauga County Schools has added a new superintendent, assistant superintendent, human resources director, exceptional children director and transportation director. The school system also recently restored the elementary education director position and is hiring for a director of technology services at the central office.
“We went into this looking for a superintendent with long term in mind,” Miller said, adding that Kafitz and others have been active since the start. She also praised the new superintendent for communication that had been previously missing.
New principals also were selected this year for Watauga High School and Parkway School.
Miller added that the high school “seems to have had a complete turnaround” since Marshall Gasperson moved from the central office to the principal’s seat.
WATAUGA HIGH SCHOOL: Construction of the new high school, which opened in 2010, is finally finished after corrections to drainage issues near the tennis courts, Miller said. The LEED certification process is under way, and the board is responding to a few questions from the U.S. Green Building Council before it will learn whether the building will be certified gold or silver for its energy-efficient features.
STATE AND FEDERAL ISSUES: The General Assembly will convene in January for a
session likely to include several topics near to educators’ hearts, including the budget,
school calendar and teacher tenure. The N.C. School Boards Association, lobbyists and
superintendents will continue to speak with legislators, but Kafitz also recommended that school
board members visit legislators in Raleigh next year.
Federal sequestration will also take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress acts in time to prevent the billions in federal cuts. In Watauga County Schools, the amount of Title I money available would be slashed tremendously, Kafitz said. Title I money assists several local schools with high percentages of low-income families.
PRE-K/AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAMS: Four prekindergarten classrooms were closed and enrollment was cut 45 percent at the start of the school year due to budget cuts. The school system restored a half-class at Valle Crucis as the budget picture became clearer, and additional, one-time state money is allowing it to expand once again this fall. The Valle Crucis class will grow to full size, and a whole class at Mabel and a half class at Bethel will be added, Kafitz said.
“As of January, we’ll have a pre-K footprint in every school except Blowing Rock,” Kafitz said, adding that there’s no guarantee the money will be provided again next year.
The school system also is working to reform the afterschool program, which has struggled to stay in the black at several sites. Kafitz said afterschool program director Pam Shirley has been successful at raising enrollment and that the school system may consider increasing fees in the future.
GOVERNANCE: Board members were urged to get a working knowledge of system policies, to maintain confidentiality on private matters and to consider each topic as it comes before the board in meetings. Board members also must remember to earn the 12 hours of required continuing education credit each year, Miller said. Kafitz also urged board members to visit the schools to see the successes and needs of teachers.
BOARD-COMMUNITY INTERACTION: The board began this year hosting town hall meetings with parents at each school, which Miller encouraged the board to continue those meetings. The board is also preparing to use the eBoard system, an online software system that allows a governing body to post reports, agendas and other information. In addition to reducing the paperwork for staff, the eBoard system should promote transparency, Kafitz said.
SETTING GOALS: Kafitz reiterated five standards he has stressed to school
system employees: practice professionalism, be problem-solvers, work as a team, maintain a positive
attitude and strive for excellence. Administrators also are working to create a five-year
strategic plan to challenge the school system toward new goals, he said.
“A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and we should want to never be at rest,” Kafitz said.
The new board members will be sworn in at 9 a.m. Monday at the Watauga County Courthouse. The first meeting of the new board will be Dec. 10.
“Thanks again for choosing to serve,” Assistant Superintendent David Fonseca said Monday. “These are interesting times in education.”