BOE holds virtual meeting

The Avery County Board of Education held its meeting via Facebook Live on April 20 in order to keep with social distancing measures.

NEWLAND — In keeping with current trends, the Avery County Board of Education held its monthly meeting via a livestream on Facebook in which the board discussed a tentative plan for 2020 graduation and other business.

The school system resumed a basic level of operation this week after convening for Spring Break the previous week. During public comment, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman read public comments submitted by two Avery High School seniors.

“Senior year is everyone’s dream, and ours got cut short. It would be amazing to still have a graduation to send us off to college, the army or the workforce. Even if we had to push graduation into the summer months or next fall, please consider that option as well,” wrote Avery HS Valedictorian Caroline Laws.

“Even if graduation is not possible until mid or late summer, I feel like it is still important to keep. Graduation would bring many seniors back together who haven’t seen each other since mid-March. Coronavirus has already taken away enough, don’t let it take away graduation too,” wrote Sienna Hudson.

After the comments were read, Career and Technical Education Director Ellis Ayers gave a short presentation on what actions the schools system was prepared to take concerning graduation despite being limited.

“We thought what would be a special, one-of-a-kind opportunity, and the idea of MacRae Meadows came up,” Ayers said. “It’s a large space, and [we’re] looking at the idea of maybe doing, depending on what the meeting restrictions have to be, a drive-through recognition of the students.”

Ayers said that students would have a moment onstage in front of a limited number of family members and that the ceremony would be broadcasted out to the community as well. Despite still being in the brainstorming phase, Jesse Pope, Executive Director of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, gave the idea a thumbs-up.

Ayers said the tentative date for the ceremony is Friday, May 29, with a rain date on Saturday, May 30, and would take place during the day. This year’s senior class is made up of less than 115 students.

Dr. Todd Griffin gave an update on the federal programs monitoring review. On Feb. 6, four schools were selected for onsite visits: Avery Middle School, Banner Elk Elementary, Crossnore Elementary and Riverside Elementary. Representatives from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction conducted interviews with principals, teachers, staff and others.

The programs that were monitored included a program to include the basic programs, supporting instruction, English language acquisition, student support and enrichment and rural and low-income schools. The school system is still in the process of providing feedback for the plans but is experiencing holdups due to COVID-19.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Jaynes updated the board on the ongoing construction project at the high school. Jaynes said that the builders started the second floor interior walls, exterior walls should begin this week, steel erectors should begin on Wednesday, April 22, the front canopy should be extracted this week and the contractor will have the building shut down for a day or two while the manhole tie-in is being completed.

Work is continuing on the site and progress does not appear to be affected by the COVID-19 situation.

Prior to Easter Break, the schools system received a grant covering all outstanding meal charges. “We are very grateful for the angels in our community for taking care of our babies,” Brigman said.

Sixty-six percent of the projects in the capital outlay report have been completed, according to Jaynes. Maintenance has been working daily to play “catch-up” on items such as filters, light fixtures, faucets, water fountains and lights.

The school system received $103,000 from the state, funds used to cover benefit and salary changes, special education, second language and transportation. The board approved the budget amendments unanimously.

The board also passed an amendment allowing the finance officer to finalize the 2020-2021 draft budget presentation, as well as approved the previous year’s budget rollovers for child nutrition.

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